Jack took advantage of this second distraction to throw his opponent off balance, and a split second later, he had her neatly pinned to the mat, his own knife pressed firmly against her throat.
"Unscheduled off-world activation," announced the PA system.
She scowled up at him.
"See now, this is what I keep sayin'," he grinned back down. "Ya have to be ready to take advantage of any situation. That's what they teach at Special Ops school."
"There's no such thing as Special Ops school," Sam complained as Jack pulled her to her feet.
He shrugged and replaced his knife in its holder on his belt. Turning to address his question to the other half of the team, currently observing the action from outside the boxing arena, he asked, "Think we should head up to the gate room and see what disaster needs averting this time?"
Daniel sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Can't we let someone else deal with it this time, Jack?"
Jack finally succumbed to the urge to wipe sweat out of his eyes, using the front of his tee shirt to mop his face. He sympathised. He really did. They'd been on standby for weeks now, which meant they'd had to stay on base. Every couple of days, another problem seemed to arise that could only be dealt with by SG1, but frankly, that was beginning to wear a little thin. The four of them needed downtime as badly as any other team. But until the threat from Anubis was neutralised, there would be no rest for anyone, especially not SGC's flagship team.
Jack nodded and rolled up his sleeves. "Well all rightie then! Back to Hand-to-Hand Combat Techniques 101. Teal'c, would you care to help me demonstrate the art of pressure points?"
After twenty minutes of having a 250-pound Jaffa squeezing the life out of him, Jack was embarrassingly pleased to hear the voice of Walter Davis issue from the speakers. "SG1, please report to the briefing room immediately. I repeat, SG1 to the briefing room."
Kashira tossed her mane of long black hair over one shoulder and squatted down before the fire. Her second, Minari, tried to attend to her wound, but Kashira waved her away. The knife had been clean, the gash was not infected, and the blood loss was not enough to kill her, just enough to remind her that she had lost the fight.
The female warrior from beyond the gate had fought well, and skilfully. It had been a long time since Kashira had met her match in ritual combat. No one had even challenged her in years. Of course that might now change, since the younger warriors had seen her defeat.
She touched a finger to the wound and examined her own blood dispassionately. It could have been worse. After all, Kashira and her women had been whipping the slaves belonging to the white-skinned warrior when she had come upon them in the city. She would have been within her rights to show no mercy.
Despite that, the warrior had not only let Kashira live, she had then offered trade and friendship. Strange, indeed, were the travellers from beyond the Chappa'ai. But stranger still, was Fenissa's failure to have prophesied this visit. The Priestess of the Oracle was supposed to be omniscient. Why had the great and powerful Priestess failed to see this coming?
Kashira's eyes narrowed as she contemplated what that could mean. Perhaps the time was finally right. She stared at the now quiescent ring and waited.
Jack was a little surprised to find one half of SG6 already seated at the briefing room table when they entered. Colonel Rory Huston looked a little the worse for wear, what with the split lip and black eye he was sporting. Captain Lyn Tate seemed to be uninjured.
Jack nodded to the general and watched Daniel slide into a chair, his hand reaching without hesitation for the large slab of stone in the center of the table. Rocks were his 'thing'. The older the better. Jack would probably have done the same if it were a fancy new alien weapon sitting there.
The rest of the team sat down, Jack slipping into the last chair. He gave Rory a quick once over and winced in sympathy as the man's attempt at a smile caused his lip to start bleeding again.
General Hammond began without preamble. "Jack, Colonel Houston and his team have just come back from a survey mission of P4X-1745. They had just begun exploring a ruined city not far from the stargate when they were attacked and captured by a large group of natives."
Colonel Houston took up the tale from there. "They came out of nowhere, Jack. We were surrounded in seconds. Couldn't risk firing our weapons without hitting our own team. We were taken to their camp and roughed up a bit."
Jack scanned the battered and bruised man, thinking that might be an understatement.
"It seems that the whole city is held sacred to them, and what we were doing was considered sacrilege," Houston stated.
Jack nodded. SG1 had been in similar situations too many times for comfort. "What about the rest of your team, Rory? Are they okay?"
Houston nodded. "They're in the infirmary with mild concussions, and Dr. Lee has a broken wrist, but we got off lightly considering. Tate here escaped injury because she's a woman."
"Ah, chivalry is not dead." Jack grinned, but immediately regretted the glib remark when the tall, blonde captain rolled her eyes and sighed.
"It had nothing to do with chivalry, Colonel O'Neill," Tate said, her voice chilly. "The society is matriarchal, and quite primitive. We had no idea that the planet was even inhabited when we sent the MALP through. Most of the people don't actually live in the ruined city, but in a small village built outside the walls. Only the females are allowed into the city itself."
Seeing Jack's raised eyebrows, the captain continued with her tale, a small smile now evident as she watched the faces of her male colleagues. "Men are nothing more than slaves and chattel to these women. I managed to 'negotiate' for the release of my team, but not before they had been subjected to torture."
"Torture?" Jack asked softly, his eyes full of sympathy and understanding as they met Houston's.
"It wasn't too bad, Jack," admitted the officer, his eyes fixed on the table before him. "They started whipping us, but Tate came back before they could do any real damage, and when she said 'negotiate', she meant 'fight'. She had to take on the clan matriarch in hand-to-hand combat. Not only did she win, she then went on to trade medical supplies and food for our freedom."
Houston turned to General Hammond. "Sir, I'd like to recommend Captain Tate for a citation for bravery. If it hadn't been for her clear thinking in the field, it's my opinion that they would have killed us without blinking an eye."
As Hammond nodded in agreement, Daniel diverted everyone's attention to the slab of stone. "Is this from the ruin?" he asked quietly.
Colonel Houston nodded. "Doctor Lee managed to slip that into his pack before we were captured. He thought it might be in the language of the Ancients, but we didn't have time to translate before the attack. The ruins are quite extensive. It would have taken months to map the whole place out."
Daniel nodded enthusiastically as he ran his fingers over the alien characters. "Well, Doctor Lee was right. This is definitely in the language of the Ancients." He glanced at Jack, the shared memory of Jack's experience with the Ancient database mirrored in both sets of eyes.
"The only reason we still have this," Tate leaned forward and tapped one fingernail against the slab, "is that I was allowed to go back to the city to retrieve our packs and supplies. The walls there are covered with these strange markings, but I'm no archaeologist. We really need to get someone in there who can figure it all out quickly. Someone who can read this language to even a rudimentary degree."
Daniel glanced up from his study. "Yes, we do," he stated. "I'm not entirely sure, but this text seems to make reference to a 'font of ancient knowledge' or an 'oracle of the people', situated in a temple in the city. It says..." Daniel slipped his glasses further up his nose and he scrutinised the stone once again, "...that the 'children may ask for enlightenment'."
He glanced up at the expectant faces arrayed around him, flushed a little, and then returned his scrutiny to the slab of stone. "Either that, or the 'short people may ask for torches'," he muttered under his breath. "But I think the first option is probably a more accurate translation."
Jack rolled his eyes and refused to even glance at the slab. He was quite happy to have had the repository of the Ancients' knowledge removed from his brain, and if he never saw another piece of ancient text again in his life, it'd be too soon. Daniel and his team of linguists had been working flat out to translate the tablet they'd found, and progress had been made, but the language was one of the most complicated they had ever encountered.
"General, I have to go there," said Daniel, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "Imagine finding the key to translating the Ancients' language? Or perhaps this oracle can teach us about the gate system itself. Or..."
Jack signed, interrupting his friend, "Daniel. I think we can all see how important this is, but you *are* still a member of SG1. There have to be other archaeologists who could figure out the etchings on a bunch of ancient rocks."
Daniel flushed again, but the light of discovery in his eyes hadn't escaped Jack's notice. Given an opportunity like this, Daniel wouldn't argue against reassignment. In fact, he would demand it. The guy would work himself into an early grave rather than pass up an opportunity like this.
"Jack, I'm the only linguist on this base who is also qualified to excavate an ancient site."
"I'm afraid it's a little more complicated than that, Jack," said Hammond cryptically. "We do need Doctor Jackson's expertise on this mission, but in light of the taboos imposed by the structure of their society, we need it in female form."
There was a moment's silence around the table while everyone ran through a mental list of female archaeologists currently assigned to the Star Gate project, and came to the same conclusion; there were none.
"Drag?" asked Jack, his eyebrows almost clearing his hairline.
"Actually, I did briefly consider it," said the general with a smile, "but there is a better alternative." He pushed a piece of white paper along the table to Daniel who quickly scanned it. "While sorting through the mountain of memos on my desk this morning, I found this one."
"You have GOT to be joking," Daniel gasped, letting Jack snatch the memo from his fingers.
Hammond shook his head. "Does this look like the face of a man who is joking?"
Jack's eyes skimmed over the paper, understanding perhaps one in ever four words of techno babble before something jumped right out at him. He dropped the sheet of paper onto the table, where it was intercepted by Sam.
"They fixed it?" Jack asked incredulously. "They fixed Ma'chello's body swap machine?"
Hammond turned to look at Daniel. "Doctor Jackson, I can't order you or Major Carter to do this, but frankly, son, I don't see any alternative, unless you want to give the drag option a shot. You stated yourself how potentially important this mission could be."
Daniel looked like he was in shock. It had been years since Ma'chello's device had been shipped off to Area 51. After the team had gotten through playing musical bodies, the device had quite literally given up the ghost. With Ma'chello lying dead in the infirmary, and his secret code still just that, a secret, there had been no way to reactivate the thing.
Jack waved his hand in front of his friend's unseeing eyes. "Cuban heels, I think Daniel," he said, waggling his eyebrows, "and a padded bra, of course."
"Fuck off, Jack!" Daniel exclaimed, immediately looking contrite for having sworn in the briefing room. The memory of having his consciousness trapped inside the dying body of a frail old man was still very vivid in Daniel's mind. "Sorry, sir!" He directed his apology towards the general.
Hammond ignored the indiscretion. "People, take a couple of hours to think about this, but I cannot stress enough how important this mission might be to the future safety of this planet. I'll have a plane standing by to take you out to Area 51, if you decide to go ahead."
Hammond stood and left the room. Daniel threw his chewed pencil onto the table. "I hate it when he does that!"
Houston had one hand clamped firmly over his mouth, trying not to laugh, as that would definitely have reopened the cut on his lip.
Jack, on the other hand, had no such restraints. Leaning back, he started laughing, his chair tipping backwards precariously as he howled until tears were streaming down his face.
Daniel's eyes narrowed, a non-verbal cue that anyone who knew him well should definitely be taking heed of. Unfortunately, Jack wasn't paying attention, and neither did he notice Daniel slipping his foot under the raised chair leg. With one quick jerk of Daniel's leg, the chair tipped that little bit further, and....
"Owch! Hey! There was no need for...." Jack scowled, lying in a heap on the floor, but Daniel had already hurried out.
"My Lady, Kashira and her warriors have arrived. She requests audience."
Fenissa turned from the altar, where she had been performing a purification ritual, and scowled at the handmaiden who had dared to interrupt.
The ritual was difficult to perform in the prescribed, correct manner. The goblet of wine had to be filled to the brim, and not a drop could be spilled on the altar cloth, or she risked invoking the wrath of the gods she served.
"I am unavailable," she stated coldly. As she was about to return to her work, the handmaiden spoke again, but this time, her words caused shock, not anger.
"My Lady, please forgive me, but she brings news of travellers from beyond the chappa'ai. And she asks why the people were not informed of their coming."
Fenissa's hand shook at this revelation, and a tiny splash of the potent red wine splashed onto the pristine white cloth. Taking a moment to school her features into a mask of calm, she finally turned back to the cowering woman.
"Very well. You may admit her to my chamber and see that she's offered refreshment."
The handmaiden backed out of the room. Once the door was firmly closed, Fenissa allowed herself to sag back against the altar. Never in living history had travellers come through the chappa'ai. Fenissa, along with most of the other priestesses, had not believed the ancient legends of visitors with glowing eyes and awesome, deadly weapons.
Now it seemed that perhaps she should have paid more attention to the old tales. That in itself was terrifying enough, but that the visitors should make their presence known not to the High Priestess, but to her rival for power, to the protector of the people - her sister, the clan matriarch, rather than to Fenissa, their spiritual leader; that boded ill.
Smoothing down her robes, she took a steadying breath and went to hear her sister's demands. Kashira had been looking for weakness in the Sisterhood for quite some time. Fenissa could only pray that she was yet to find any.
Jack threw down his hand in disgust, scattering cards all over the small table. He should have known better than to play poker with Carter and Teal'c. He hadn't won a single game since they'd taken off almost an hour ago in the cramped C-40B military transport jet that would take them to Nevada.
Getting stiffly to his feet, he made his way to the back of the cabin, where Daniel sat all alone, staring out of the tiny window. "Hey, Barbie, buy ya a drink?" He knew that his friend had more than a few misgivings about the upcoming mission, and in his place, Jack would have had them too, but he was having way too much fun at Daniel's expense to be supportive right then.
Daniel threw him a filthy look as he stood up and rummaged around in the overhead compartment, finally withdrawing a six-pack of Pepsi and slipping into the seat next to Jack. A moment later Teal'c dropped into the seat on the other side of the aisle from Jack, and Sam's head popped up from the row in front. They were all a little worried about Daniel.
Sure Hammond had told them it wasn't an order, but really, what choice had there been? Sam had accepted the situation readily, her scientific curiosity aroused by the sheer physics of the thing. Then again, she was the only member of the team who hadn't already experienced Ma'chello's machine. Maybe if she had, she wouldn't have been quite so quick to agree to what they were about to do. Or have done to them.
Sam smiled hesitantly at the look on her friend's face. "It's just for a couple of days, Daniel. Think of it as an experiment in how the other half lives."
Daniel took a deep breath and turned intense blue eyes onto his teammate. "Sure, Sam. A couple of days. No problem. But let me ask you this -- what about, you know, bodily functions?"
Sam looked blank. Jack choked on his Pepsi, spraying it all over Teal'c, who raised an eyebrow in disgust. Once Jack had himself back under control, he looked at Sam through streaming eyes. "Carter, I think what Daniel is trying to say, is that he isn't keen on you getting your hands on his... his dick!"
"Oh? OH!" Sam flushed a lovely shade of crimson as that sunk in, and slipped back down out of sight, while Daniel lobbed a scrunched up napkin at his CO and alleged 'friend' with more force than was strictly necessary.
Jack dissolved into peals of uncontrollable laugher once again. This was the best goddamned mission ever! Jack hardly ever got to put one over on his friend. If he wasn't careful, he was going to rupture something before this mission was over.
Getting over her embarrassment, Carter popped back up and smiled widely at them. "Well I'm looking forward to losing this body for a couple of days, even if you aren't, Daniel. It might be fun."
Jack nodded. "So Daniel," he asked with as much innocence as he could muster, " what do you want to be called once you're a woman? Felicity, Angela, Lulu-Belle?"
"Actually, sir," Carter interrupted before Daniel had the opportunity to lob his bag of peanuts at Jack, "it might be less confusing for us if we kept our own names. Sam and Danny can be either sex."
Jack frowned. After the transformation, things were going to get a little confusing. He would be looking at Daniel, but it would actually be Carter, and vice versa. If he or Teal'c shouted out one of their names, at least this way, the right person would answer. Even though it would be the wrong person... Jack sighed and swallowed the last of his Pepsi. "Anyone got any Tylenol?"
Jack's eyes darted from one to the other. "So, I don't see any difference."
Daniel and Sam were sitting next to each other on the same hospital bed, their legs dangling a few inches above the floor. Daniel was staring down at the front of his shirt, but on seeing Jack, he raised his eyebrows enquiringly. Sam jumped off the bed and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her BDU's. She tried to cross her arms across her chest, winced, tried it again from a different angle, stuffed her hands back into her pockets and glowered at her CO. "The difference is all inside, Jack. I thought even YOU understood that much!"
That didn't sound like Carter. "Daniel?" Jack asked uncertainly, scanning his 2IC's face carefully.
"Yes, sir, that's Daniel," said Daniel from his perch on the bed, offering Jack an apologetic smile. Now THAT sounded like Carter.
Slumping down onto the bed beside Daniel/Carter/whoever, he sighed in confusion. "Oh, boy! I could really use that Tylenol now. "
Doctor Hoffman hooked the chart back onto the end of the bed and shrugged. "I'm happy to release them into your care, Colonel O'Neill. The transference should remain stable for several weeks." He glanced sideways when the blonde air force major snorted rudely. "Your CO will arrange to have you all flown back here after the mission, and you'll be happy to know that no third party will be necessary for the reversal."
Jack had forgotten for a moment that the guy he was sitting next to was actually Carter, until he/she/fuck it/whoever leapt up, blue eyes ablaze with scientific fervour. "You mean you've solved the non-reversible transference anomaly? Did you reconfigure the control crystals pattern or..."
"Carter!" Jack barked "Headache!"
Jack frowned as the body of his best friend hung its head and shuffled its feet.
This was going to take a LOT of getting used to. He supposed it must be harder for Daniel and Sam. Or should that be Danielle and Samuel? Sheesh!
"Why did the oracle not foresee their coming? Or perhaps it did, but the seer did not find it necessary to inform her people." Kashira paced the ornate veined marble chamber like a caged tiger, hair loose and flying around her shoulders.
Fenissa's fingers closed tightly on the arms of her chair, as she fought to remain clam. It would do no good for her to lose her temper now. A calm head was needed to diffuse the situation. "The oracle speaks in riddles, as you are aware. The seers do their best to interpret the words of wisdom."
"I do not believe the seers understand the oracle at all. Again, I ask you why the oracle is not made available to all the people? Could it be that in so doing, you would admit that for years, you have had only your own best interests at heart?"
Fenissa got slowly to her feet, eyes as cold as the marble chamber they occupied. "Enough! I will question the oracle myself about these visitors. Its wisdom in this matter will be obeyed."
Before she could exit the room, Kashira made a grab for her arm, forcing her to turn back. "They have said they will return. I believe their coming is an omen, but for good or bad, I have yet to determine."
Fenissa did not even attempt to break her sister's grip. "The oracle will decide."
"We shall see." Kashira released her sister and left the temple with a toss of her head. She had seen what she had come to see.
Fear in her sister's eyes. The time was right.
As the team made their way across the landing strip to catch their flight back to Peterson, Jack hung back, taking a moment to look closely at his two interchanged friends. To say the situation was weird, was putting it mildly.
He had found the idea hilarious at first, but was finding the reality of the situation disconcerting. He couldn't help but notice that the body of Sam Carter was walking with a very masculine gait and that the hips of Daniel Jackson were swaying in a most alarming fashion. The kids where gonna have to work on that.
Jack was also struggling a little with the familiarity his 2IC was showing towards him. Of course, the sarcastic tone and defiant attitude were a constant reminder that he was actually speaking to his buddy Daniel, but it still made him more than a little uncomfortable.
Teal'c seemed to be taking the whole thing in his stride, which pissed Jack off. The big guy never seemed fazed by anything. He watched as Teal'c and 'Sam-in-Daniel's-body' reached the steps leading up to the jet, deep in conversation. Under normal circumstances, he would be right up there with them, joining in the banter, maybe sharing the joke, but right now he felt all 'joked out'. Secretly, he was worried.
His own experience with Ma'chello's device had been less than pleasant. Having his conscious dwelling inside Teal'c had been a revelation in a way. He'd enjoyed the sensation of having a physically superior body with 'working' knees well enough, but the part he hadn't liked was having "Junior" along for the ride, and he really didn't want to dwell on the head shaving incident again. He was so deep in the moment that he almost ran into Daniel when she stopped dead and bent over, clutching at her stomach as though in pain.
"Problem?" he asked, grabbing her elbow.
"I... I don't know, Jack," Daniel said through gritted teeth. "I think - I think I need to find a bathroom."
As the other two were boarding the jet now, Jack shouted them to go ahead and let the pilot know they would be along presently. He located the restrooms in no time and was about to steer Daniel inside when she pulled back, waving her hand vaguely at the sign on the door.
"This is the men's room, Jack!"
"Jesus, Daniel, you've only been a woman for half an hour, and already you're getting picky about where you wanna throw up?" Despite the sarcasm in his tone, Jack was now even more worried. He leaned against the wall outside the ladies' restroom and waited, wishing that Daniel had let him come inside.
Something could have gone wrong with the transformation process. Daniel could be lying on the floor in there, unconscious. Jack was just about to throw caution to the wind and go in, when the door flew open and a very pasty-faced Daniel Jackson stormed out.
Jack had to trot to keep up with her. "Daniel? Daniel, wait up. What's wrong?"
Daniel stopped dead, and was almost knocked flat on her face when Jack barrelled right into the back of her. "What's WRONG?" she screeched, staggering a little but managing to stay upright through sheer force of will. "What's wrong? I'll tell you what's fucking wrong! I just discovered why Sam was so keen on getting rid of her body for a couple of days!"
Jack took in the wild eyes, the pale face, the hand still clutching at her abdomen, and his mouth dropped open. "Monthlies?"
Back at SGC, General Hammond met the team as they stepped off the elevator. His face took in the four grim expressions, and his eyes widened. "It didn't work," he stated flatly.
Jack stepped past him, a long-suffering look on his face, "Oh, it worked, all right. Tell me we have a go, sir, as in right now? The sooner we get these two back into their own bodies, the happier everyone will be."
Hammond scanned the faces of Carter and Daniel, seeing the venomous looks the two were exchanging and then fell into step beside Jack. They headed for the briefing room. "We sent a MALP through, and Captain Tate spoke with the Matriarch again. She has agreed to allow one team back through the gate to trade, but not until tomorrow morning. It's the best we could do, Jack."
Hammond glanced over his shoulder at the sound of muttering, but neither of the two disgruntled teammates behind him cared to elaborate, so he continued along the corridor. "It has something to do with how long it would take for the male serving slaves to get to the gate without being able to cut through the city. They want to give you a proper welcome."
Jack held open the door to the briefing room for his CO. It wasn't George's fault, Jack knew that. But he had just been forced to spend two hours in a small jet with his best friend trapped in the body of a menstruating woman. Carter had obviously learned over the years, how to channel all that PMT nastiness into killing Goa'uld. Poor old Daniel was a complete novice to the world of messy personal hygiene, mood swings and chocolate cravings. Frankly, Jack was reaching the end of his rope. Fast.
This delay to their departure would mean the team being confined to the base for the night. There was no way Hammond would let them go home in their present state. As the team filed past him into the briefing room, Jack silently prayed for an Asgard transport beam to come and spirit him away, but of course, those things never happen when you actually need them to!
It was a little after 2300 hours when Jack dragged his attention away from the taped hockey game he was watching. He looked over at where Sam stood, bouncing nervously from one foot to the other, biting his lower lip and looking very worried indeed.
Jack still couldn't get used to a guy that looked and sounded exactly like Daniel Jackson, talking to him with such respect. It was weird. "Yeah, Ca...Sam... Samuel...shit! Whatever."
"Sir, can I talk to you in private?"
Jack followed Sam's gaze to where Daniel's head rested against his shoulder, drooling from the corner of her mouth. Whatever Sam had to say, he obviously didn't want to risk being overheard. Gently extricating himself, Jack followed Sam out into the corridor. After a few moments of purposeful striding, they reached the men's room, and Sam held open the door. Jack looked puzzled, but went inside.
Sam paced the floor, hands jammed firmly into his pockets. It was obvious to Jack, that his former 2IC had something pressing to discuss, something embarrassing probably. Jack sighed and reaching for his fly, he turned towards the urinals, deciding to kill two birds with one stone. In the nick of time he remembered that the person currently wearing a hole in the floor only LOOKED like Daniel and hastily zipped his fly back up.
"Sir, I have a little problem. You know that joke you made earlier?"
"Which one? I made a few," Jack grinned, leaning back against the tiles.
"On the plane, about Daniel's... erm...."
Sam was turning a lovely shade of red. He took off his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Sir, I need to pee."
"Permission granted." Jack gallantly turned his back.
"No, sir, I mean 'Daniel' needs to pee, and I.... I cant.... Sir, I don't want to...."
Jack leaned back against the wall again and folded his arms across his chest. "What? You want me to hold it for you?"
"Could you, sir?"
Jack's eyes bugged out of his head. "I was being facetious, Carter!" he spluttered with as much dignity as he could muster.
Pushing away from the wall, it was all he could do to keep his face straight long enough to make it to the door. "Anyway, you know how he freaks when other people touch his stuff!"
And with that, Jack left Sam to deal as best he could.
Two airmen brought breakfast to them the next morning. By mutual consent, the team had decided that the fewer curious eyes following them, the quicker they could get used to their new dynamic. They all met up in the stateroom attached to Teal'c's quarters, and Jack couldn't help but smile at his two friends' state of dishevelment.
Daniel's blonde hair was matted and sticking up at odd angles, shadows under her eyes a good indication that she had managed very little sleep the previous night. She flopped down into a vacant chair beside Jack and reached for the coffeepot. Sam was not faring any better. His morning stubble seemed to be bothering him a great deal, as he scratched absently at his jaw while pouring a mug of tea.
Jack swallowed his mouthful of toast. "So, it's all psychological then?" he threw out to no one in particular.
Daniel looked up from her scrutiny of the assorted preserves on the tray with a slight frown marring her face. "What is?" she asked, curiosity piqued despite Jack's barely concealed amusement.
The colonel leaned back in his chair, looking between the two teammates. "The coffee thing," Jack explained. Seeing only a blank reaction, he elaborated, "Daniel can't speak until he's had at least two cups of coffee each morning. Carter prefers tea." He raised an all-encompassing hand and waved it between the two. "If it were physiological, you would both be drinking what your bodies are used to. Old habits die hard, I guess."
"F'off!" Daniel muttered into the depth of her coffee mug.
Jack's grin grew wider as Teal'c entered the room and nodded politely. He lifted a carefully arranged fruit bowl from the table, threw a loaf of crusty bread and two packets of crackers on top, then retreated to the sofa at one end of the room. Making himself comfortable, he reached for the remote control and settled back to enjoy breakfast time TV.
Daniel drained her coffee, poured another, drank half then rested her head on her folded arms on the table, closing her eyes and ignoring Jack completely. Jack turned his attention to Sam. He wondered what it must be like to have a face full of stubble for the first time ever. Judging by Sam's ever more frantic scratching, it wasn't an experience his former female 2IC was enjoying.
"Hey," he drew her attention softly, "you okay?"
"God, no, sir, it's driving me insane. How do you put up with it?"
Jack shrugged. "We shave."
"Yeah, well, I don't know how." Sam sighed and took a sip from his cup.
Jack got to his feet and took the cup from Sam's hand, placing it quietly on the table. Taking his hand, he pulled the startled man into the tiny bathroom. Throwing open the cupboard over the sink, he was pleased to find that along with all the other standard issue supplies, it was stocked with a packet of disposable razors and some shaving cream.
Jack had already shaved that morning, but it couldn't hurt to go again. He smiled reassuringly at Sam's reflection in the mirror and began to fill the sink with hot water.
"Sir, I don't know if this is such a good..."
"Carter, it's a piece of cake, trust me. Here..." Jack grabbed Sam's wrist, bringing his hand up to accept a liberal squirt of shaving cream. He then squirted some into his own palm and showed Sam how to apply it to the right areas. Finally, he ripped open the plastic packaging on the disposable razors and handed one to a very dubious looking Sam.
"All righty. So first you have to remember not to cut against the grain, so to speak." Jack dragged the razor across his cheek and watched while Sam attempted to do the same.
Jack winced in sympathy when he saw that Sam had nicked her chin. Suddenly, the bathroom got a whole lot more crowded. Daniel's blonde head appeared between the two men.
"Jack, what the hell are you doing?"
"Teaching Carter how to shave."
Daniel stared at 'his' reflection in the mirror. His own blue eyes stared back at him, but he had no control over his reflection's actions. He watched in morbid fascination, as his hand lifted the razor again and once again, a fresh bloom of red marred the pristine white shaving foam.
"Well you're not doing a very good job of it!" Daniel whined, trying to get Carter to relinquish the razor.
"Daniel, I have to learn how to do this sometime. How would it look if the Mistress was constantly shaving her slaves all the time?"
There was a moment's total silence as the three occupants of the tiny room processed *that* visual image. Jack quickly cleared his throat and tried nudging Daniel out of the way so that he could get better access to the sink.
Daniel made another grab for the razor. "C'mon Sam, let me do it. You're gonna need a transfusion at this rate. They have to fly it in, you know. I'm a very rare blood type!"
While Sam and Daniel tussled over the razor, Jack rinsed out his own razor and using his free hand, pushed his nose up like a pig to get access to his upper lip. The tussling changed direction, as Daniel finally got a hold of Sam's wrist and the ensuing melee resulted Jack gaining a few shaving cuts of his own.
Things were beginning to get a little ugly when the door flew open and Teal'c appeared over their heads. "O'Neill, DanielJackson, you will leave now."
Jack and Daniel looked at each other in the mirror then turned to face their non-so-friendly Jaffa. Jack hitched his thumb towards his blood and foam festooned 2IC. "But Carter..."
Teal'c's voice allowed no argument. "*I* will see to it."
Jack squeezed round Teal'c's body, tugging Daniel behind him. The last thing he saw as the door swung shut was Sam's eyes growing huge in the mirror as Teal'c pulled his version of a shaving kit out of his jacket.
Daniel chewed on her lip as she started at the closed door. "He still uses that jewelled dagger to shave?"
"Face, head, chest and..."
"I give it thirty seconds."
Twenty three seconds later, the door flew open, and Sam bolted from the room, leaving a very confused looking Jaffa warrior standing framed in the doorway, wiping shaving foam from his head.
Jack looked down at the roughly woven brown pants and over-shirt with disgust. Somehow he had imagined that a male slave would be clad in flattering black leather or comfortable silk. This shabby, itchy fabric looked incredibly uncomfortable, and felt worse, but was probably more realistic than his little fantasy had been.
He'd spent such a lot of time laughing at poor old Daniel's plight that he hadn't thought much about the second part of the mission. Now it was Daniel's turn to sneer. He didn't really blame the guy/girl/fuck it/whatever! Scratching his chest through the itchy fabric, he cast a critical eye over the other members of his team.
Sam and Teal'c were similarly clad in varying shades of brown. Daniel, on the other hand, was fairly dripping with satin and fur. Her slate grey satin tunic over black leather pants was distracting enough, but added to that was the floor length black cloak trimmed with what looked remarkably like arctic fox fur. Jack noticed that his friend in female form seemed to be rubbing her face ecstatically into the fur collar.
"So. First time in fur, huh?" he asked conversationally.
Daniel peered up at Jack through half closed eyes. "Never managed to get this close before." The by way of an explanation he added, "Allergies."
As if to illustrate that point, beside her, Sam sneezed loudly and Daniel grinned, reaching into the satin tunic she wore. She handed Sam a small brown bottle of tablets. "Antihistamines. Welcome to my world."
Jack raised his eyebrows and went back to adjusting the wide leather belt round his waist.
The belt had large metal hoops attached at either side, and he wondered what their function was. He got the answer to that a moment later when Captain Tate slipped a sturdy chain through the loops. The chain was fed through the loops of Teal'c and Sam's belt also, then Tate handed the end of the chain to Daniel.
"Good luck, Doctor Jackson. Remember that although the women on this planet are warriors, they are still in awe of our technology and weapons. If they give you any trouble, just wave your P90 at them."
Daniel's hand moved to her chest, where Jack's beloved weapon hung from its strap, looking alien and out of place among the finery and trappings she wore. Daniel patted the weapon absently and gave Tate a small smile. "Do I have to hold this chain the whole time?"
Tate shrugged, offering Daniel a conspiratorial grin, "Well sure. They're your harem, doctor, you want them to know you're the Mistress, don't you?" Her grin grew wider at Daniel's blush. "Have fun."
Daniel gave the chain an experimental tug, smiling as Sam jerked forward, his face a picture of indignant rage. Teal'c and Jack eyed her quizzically but remained suitably subservient.
General Hammond arrived through the double doors and cast a critical eye over his flagship team. "SG1, I want you in and out as quickly as possible. Doctor Jackson..." The general looked directly at Sam, still sneezing and rubbing his eyes, realised his mistake and redirected his gaze towards the female Doctor Jackson. "Try to trade for access to the ruins, and get as much information as you can about the race that lived there and this 'oracle'. Everyone else, keep your heads down and your ears open. We will check in again with you all tomorrow morning. Good luck, people. You have a go."
The team turned to watch as the chevrons clunked into place and a moment later, the familiar whoosh of the wormhole establishing filled the room. From the back of the line of 'slaves', Jack gave his last overt order as leader of SG1. "Move out, kids."
When the travellers had first come through the Chappa'ai, there had been no witnesses to their arrival. Kashira and her warriors had come upon the males inside the city walls during a routine patrol. She had discovered that their Mistress had gone to speak with her Leader, leaving the men to fend for themselves.
On her return, the Lady Tate herself had issued the challenge, and it had not been until later that Kashira had learned from whence the strangers came.
This time, there would be a proper welcoming party. She had sent for a caravan of slaves to bring the best food and wine she had. If these travellers were indeed the good omen she surmised, then it would be wise to treat them well.
In her lifetime, Kashira had never seen the chappai'ai in operation until the Lady Tate and her slaves had left through it to go and speak with her leader. At the time, she had felt fear crawling up her spine, and was glad that the travellers could not read it in her eyes.
This time, as the huge ring began to spin, screaming like a banshee in the early morning mist, she managed to stand poker straight, even as her warriors cowered away from the eruption and blinding flash.
Her vision returned to normal, and she watched in fascination as another tall, blonde woman with sparkling blue eyes stepped through the now quiescent ring, tugging with her three impressive males on the end of a long chain. Personally she found the chain distasteful, but understood the woman's need to establish herself as dominant.
She ignored the chained men, walking in a slow circle around the female, raking her eyes over her from head to foot. To her credit, the woman remained motionless, staring straight ahead, determined to show no signs of weakness. Kashira stood nose to nose with her. "You are the one the Lady Tate claims speaks for your people?" Kashira asked, disbelief lacing her tone.
Although the woman was tall and obviously no weakling, she was of slim build, with soft curves and doe-like features. Surely this was not the best warrior they could send?
The woman raised her chin and looked right into Kashira's challenging brown eyes. "I am. My name is Danny Jackson, and I bring gifts."
The woman tugged on the chain and her 'slaves' dutifully stepped forward, heads bowed, and posture submissive. They carried baskets containing an assortment of strange and wonderful looking fruit. Kashira nodded, motioning forwards her own slaves to take the baskets, and then she squatted down facing the chappa'ai. The other female attendants that had accompanied her did likewise, forming a semi-circle
Daniel glanced at Jack, acknowledged his imperceptible nod with one of her own, and followed suit, squatting down beside the dark-haired warrior. She seemed to be looking at Daniel with disapproval.
"Tate is a great warrior. We did battle in the Sacred Arena and she proved herself a worthy opponent." As she spoke, Kashira tugged aside her silk robe to reveal a long angry looking gash that travelled from her collarbone, up over her shoulder. A knife wound, no doubt inflicted by the Captain during the ritual battle. Daniel nodded, keeping her face neutral.
"She said the same about you, my lady."
It was definitely the right thing to say. Kashira let out a whoop of delight and clapped her hands. Within moments, slaves were appearing seemingly out of nowhere to honour the visitor with huge cups of wine.
Jack edged closer to Teal'c, whispering quietly in the big guy's ear. "Will you look at that? Even as a woman, he's charming the pants off her."
"Indeed." Teal'c inclined his head. "I believe it is called mojo, and DanielJackson possesses it by the shit-load."
Jack's eyebrows were getting quite a workout on this mission. "Who the hell taught you that word, T?"
"Major Giff. He has been tutoring me in the finer points of Tau'ri language and culture."
"God help us!" Jack groaned, returning his full attention to the Matriarch. She had to be one of the finest looking women Jack had ever seen. She moved with an assured grace, black hair flying around her face as she related the finer points of her battle with Captain Tate. She was tall, over six feet, with the longest legs Jack had ever seen. Jack was a leg man. Legs and asses. Oh yeah!
"You're drooling," a soft voice whispered in his ear, breaking him out of his wistful musings. It had been way too long since Jack had seen any 'action'. The lopsided grin and sparkling blue eyes were so familiar, that for a moment, Jack forgot who he was really talking to.
"Will you look at that ass, Daniel - hubba hubba!"
"Does nothing for me, sir!" Sam answered wryly.
Jack winced, biting at his lower lip. To hell with the Tylenol; it was time to break out the Ativan.
Kashira drained her cup and observed the traveller over its rim. The Lady Danee was a clever one. She'd deliberately made no promises, nor any demands. Her demeanour had been one of gentle curiosity, stating that the most important thing her people believed in was peace and friendship.
Kashira had no way of measuring the woman's words, no way of knowing if she spoke the truth, but as time marched on, she found herself hoping that it could be true. Danee's world sounded like a dream incarnate to the tired warrior Queen. It allegedly was a world where hunger and illness were things of the past, and where men and women were equal.
She glanced over towards her own slaves. Makus caught her eye and smiled a small, secret smile. He may be looked on as her property, her chattel, but he owned her heart. One day, Kashira dreamed of giving him, and all her other slaves their freedom, but that day was yet far in the future. Perhaps she would not even live to see it.
If people like Fenissa had their way, slavery would continue on forever. How else would they obtain breeding stock? Kashira shivered at the thought. It was barbaric, and demeaning, and in her opinion, totally unnecessary.
The Priestesses had far too much power over the people. Kashira might be their leader, but Fenissa controlled them through fear and deceit. But the tall yellow haired stranger brought with her a vision of something better, and for the first time in years, Kashira once again had hope.
"Jack, What is it? Why are you staring at me?"
It was midday. They had stopped to rest and prepare a meal, and Kashira and her attendants had gone into the ruined city to meet with the High Priestess who looked after the oracle. Daniel had not managed to get much information about the device yet, but apparently, this Priestess was the one they had to talk to if they wanted to get anywhere near the Oracle.
Teal'c and Sam were off collecting more firewood with some of the male slaves, so for the moment, Jack and Daniel were alone.
Jack had been watching Daniel for quite some time, a strange look on his face that was beginning to freak the archaeologist out. She stopped gathering up what was left of the wood and dropped it onto the soft ground beside Jack.
"Jack?" she repeated.
Jack shrugged. "Are they supposed to do that?"
"Huh?" Daniel's eyes followed Jack's speculative gaze to the front of her satin tunic, where two impressively hard nipples poked through the fabric like welders' rivets. "Oh!" she exclaimed. Instinct told her to cover them with her hands. Fear of what Sam would do if she found out kept them firmly at her sides.
"How come they went like that?" asked Jack, all eyes and innocence. "I mean, it's not cold out here...." Jack managed to drag his eyes away from the twin peaks, and took in Danny's flushed face. "I never noticed Carter's boobs do that before. And aren't they moving around a bit more than usual?"
Daniel expelled her breath in one long whoosh and squatted down by the campfire, poking it viciously with a stick. "Friction, okay?" she muttered darkly.
Jack hid his grin, wondering if this would be a good time to offer Daniel the Snickers bar he had been keeping for an emergency. He'd been married for twelve years, so he knew full well how important it was to keep chocolate on hand at all times. Deciding that things were not quite so far gone that the peace offering would be necessary, he picked up a stick of his own, and keeping his eyes fixed on the campfire, he waited for Daniel to break. It only took another three seconds.
"I can't figure out how to put it on, okay? It's like some weird instrument of torture. I got all tangled in it!"
Jack bit his lip in an attempt to keep the laugher at bay. "Tangled in what?"
"The -- thing."
"You know, the - thing."
"Rope, chicken wire, fishing line?"
"Bra! Jack, bra! Why the fuck don't they come with instructions?"
Jack couldn't help it. He fell backwards onto the soft ground, clutched his stomach and howled with laughter. This was too much. This was worth all the shit Daniel Jackson had ever thrown his way. He decided to keep hold of the chocolate - he might need it as a bargaining tool later.
Daniel was scowling at him, not in the slightest bit amused. "Oh yeah, laugh it up, flyboy. Remember this the next time some weird alien shit happens to you. Don't expect any support from me....oh, damn it, you know what I mean!"
Daniel trailed off as Jack erupted into peals of laughter again at her unintentional pun. It took him a little longer to get himself back under control.
"Did you ever think of asking Carter to help you?" he wheezed, eyes streaming.
"Are you kidding? And get a ninety-minute lecture on breast care and pros and cons of under-wiring? I thought *you* might help."
"You were married."
"Yes, Daniel, but Sarah wore the bra!"
"Fuck off, Jack! I meant you must have some experience of...."
"Getting them off, not putting them on."
Silence descended, punctuated only by the occasional pop and hiss from the fire. Jack's ribs hurt. He cast a sidelong glance at his best pal and decided it was time to take pity on her.
"Okay, okay, I'll help. Wanna go fetch it?"
Daniel frowned. "Out here? Jack, shouldn't we go into the tent?"
Jack threw his stick into the fire and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "You and me disappear into a tent and start fiddlin' with bras and there *will* be talk! Nah, go fetch it and I'll show you a neat trick. Sarah was a master at getting dressed on the beach. See you put it on back-to-front and then...."
"I don't know Jack." Daniel shook her head. "What will Sam think if she finds out you were looking at her -- her --"
"Breasts, Daniel, they're called breasts, and I won't be looking at them. And neither will you. Although, I have to admit, it's tempting!" Jack leaned forward and tugged at the front of Daniel's tunic, trying to peer down the front.
"Stop that! What the fuck are you doing?" squealed Daniel, grabbing at her neckline and pushing Jack away.
"Don't tell me you're not tempted to look? You might be a geek, Daniel but you're not dead. C'mon, just a quick peek?"
"Jesus, Jack, you sound like a horny fifteen year old on his first date. Back off!" Daniel scrabbled backwards across the ground as Jack advanced on her, the comical leer on his face forcing a smile to Daniel's lips despite her indignant outrage. "And anyway, I have more respect for Sam than that. I kept my eyes closed this morning when I got dressed and...."
Jack made a lunge, grabbed the front of the shirt, and stuck his face inside, emerging a moment later with a bemused grin. "Does it hurt when you run?"
Daniel peered down inside the shirt that Jack was still holding open and sighed "Like a bitch!" she whined.
It felt good to laugh until they were both wheezing, but they had to rein it in when the sound of footsteps approaching heralded the return of the slaves. Jack grinned at the sight of Sam struggling to carry a huge load of firewood.
"What the fuck is she trying to prove?" he muttered, drawing Daniel's attention to Sam's predicament.
Daniel sighed. "I swear, Jack, if she ruptures anything...!"
Jack got up and went to help his friend, leaving Daniel seated at the fire. The other slaves ignored the newcomers completely. Currently, several of the slaves were arguing. It would seem that some of them were less than impressed with the new Mistress' choice of slaves, although everyone was in agreement that the dark coloured one with the tattoo was impressive enough.
Jack's eyebrows drew together when he heard himself referred to as 'the ancient one' but was immediately grinning again to hear that they all thought Sam must be gay. He wasn't too surprised to hear that. After all, Sam had been doing a lot of butt staring since they came through the gate.
A huge shadow fell across him, and Jack looked up, and up, and up still further into the less-than-friendly face of Kashira's massive slave.
"What name does your Mistress give you?" the slave enquired, distain oozing from every pore. Jack decided to get to his feet. There wasn't actually that much difference in their heights, but the slave had a big advantage widthways.
"O'Neill. And you are...?"
"Makus. I am Leader among the men." Makus walked slowly around Jack, raking him from top to toe with scornful eyes. Jack remained relaxed, his eyes following the other man's progress with practiced nonchalance. "Would you offer challenge, old man?"
Jack chewed on his bottom lip, but refused to rise to the bait. He recognised the tactic, and it wouldn't work on him. "Only if I thought you incompetent to lead. Right now, I don't know you well enough to make that decision."
Makus smiled, white teeth flashing in the moonlight. "That is a wise answer Owneel. We would be honoured to cook at the banquet for your Mistress. Unless you do not trust us?"
Jack could use a microwave, was king of the barbeque circuit and knew all the best takeaway phone numbers by heart, but cooking a banquet might be just a little out of his league. He nodded his head regally. "You may have the honor. I'll... supervise, of course."
Kashira and her warriors returned to the camp just as the midday meal was being served. She looked more than a little pissed off, and Jack was itching to find out what had rattled her cage, but it wasn't his place to ask. Fortunately, Daniel seemed to have noticed too. She approached the group of women as they handed over their weapons and fur-lined cloaks to their slaves.
"My lady, I trust all went well?" she asked. Kashira crouched down before the fire, warming her hands, while trying to school her features into something less angry.
"My sister is being difficult. She and I have long disagreed over the Ancient One's intentions when it comes to the great 'oracle'. I do not believe that the creators intended it to be accessible only by the Priestess. It should be for all the people."
Daniel dropped to the ground beside the Matriarch. "She will not give us access?"
"She will. But she will make us squirm and beg first, like Sibbets in a trap. She will make unreasonable demands. No doubt, she will again try to 'borrow' several of our best slaves."
Daniel could feel her cheeks burn, but she had to ask the question anyway. "For what purpose?"
Kashira accepted a mug of hot, spicy wine from Makus and gave the man an affectionate smile before returning her attention to Daniel. "They take a vow of chastity when they are called to the sisterhood. Their place is in the city, and men are not permitted to enter there. However, once a year, during the Purification Ritual, they must take a mate. It is how they increase their numbers."
Daniel's eyes widened at that thought. Mistaking her horror for simple curiosity, Kashira continued. "Male offspring born to such a union are sold at the slave markets, but the females are retained and trained in the ways of the sisterhood of the oracle. Because they have no slaves of their own, they come to us, looking among our men for suitable candidates."
Daniel shuddered. "And if you refuse to... rent out your slaves?"
"We cannot refuse. The gods would wreak vengeance upon us if we did. At the moment, we are still in control of who gets picked. But as Fenissa gains more power, she makes more demands."
Daniel's eyes darted over to where Jack was standing with the other slaves, filling their amphoras with a ladle from a huge cooking pot. She hoped that Fenissa wouldn't expect her to donate any of her 'slaves' to the cause. The only one she knew for sure would probably have no problem with this was Jack, who was flirting outrageously with one of Kashira's warriors. Knowing Jack, he'd probably jump at the chance.
The journey to Kashira's village took well over six hours to complete. The watery yellow sun had long since disappeared beneath the horizon when finally they arrived at their destination. They had been skirting the city walls for almost that entire time, and Jack was more than a little impressed by the area the city covered.
The walls themselves had to be close to 100 feet high even at their lowest point. Made of dark, dense granite-like stone, identical to the small sample Dr. Lee had smuggled into his pack, the walls stretched out ahead into the gathering gloom, as far as the eye could see in both directions.
The stopped only once more, to eat, and to water the horses. Jack spent the time getting further acquainted with Makus and the other slaves. It didn't take him long to notice that for slaves, they seemed to have a little more freedom than one would have expected. Not one of them were chained or bound in any way, and they had the freedom to come and go from the camp as they pleased.
Jack also noted the way Makus and Kashira looked at each other. Oh yeah, there was more between those two than a mistress and her slave. Perhaps no one else had noticed the lingering looks and the genuine warmth in their shared smiles. But Jack, who would threat-assess a children's birthday party, saw it all.
The village was overshadowed by the city wall against which it nestled. Little more than a shantytown in places, it sprawled outwards from the edifice. Torches burned at the entrance gate, guarded by two warriors armed with lethal looking spears that were at least eight feet tall. The warriors bowed to their Queen and pulled open the wooden gate for the party to pass.
No sooner were they inside the village, than the warriors dismounted, handing the reigns to waiting male slaves. Kashira helped Daniel to climb down stiffly from the saddle and took her by the elbow.
"Quarters have been prepared for you in my compound. Shall I have your slaves sent to the barracks?"
Daniel rubbed at her stiff neck, and smiled. "No. I prefer to keep them with me at all times, my lady. Will that present a problem?"
"No, the room is large. Makus will show you the way. Sleep well, and in the morning, we shall go into the city and meet my sister."
Kashira lifted a burning torch from its holder on the wall and followed her fellow warriors across the compound. Makus took a second torch and moved off in the opposite direction, followed by the weary travellers.
"Nice!" commented Jack, bouncing up and down on the massive circular sleeping platform. The 'bed' was soft and yielding, stuffed with feathers, and strewn with luxurious silks and furs. It hadn't escaped his notice, that it was the ONLY bed in the room. The floor looked hard and cold, made from blocks of the same stone that the city walls were fashioned from.
Daniel gingerly sat on the edge of the bed as it wobbled and undulated beneath Jack's enthusiastic bouncing. He looked around. "We're not all supposed to sleep in this are we?" she asked dubiously. The bed was certainly big enough for more than one occupant.
Teal'c pulled his field issue sleeping bag from his pack and shook it out. "The bed is for you, Danieljackson. The slaves are required to sleep on the floor."
Daniel turned and raised an eyebrow at Jack who was stretched full length on the bed with his hands cradled behind his head.
"What?" asked Jack innocently. He'd been hoping no one would notice him.
"I believe you're place is at my feet, Jack." Daniel grinned, using said feet to nudge Jack towards the edge of the bed. Jack's hand snaked out and fastened onto Daniel's ankle, the evil smile on his face indicating that if he went over the edge, then so did Daniel. A hesitant knock to the door had them all leaping to their feet.
"Enter," shouted Daniel, smoothing down her robes.
The door opened a crack to reveal a small slave clutching a candleholder in one hand and a jug of steaming water in the other. "Mistress, I am ordered to bring you water for washing, and enquire if there is anything you need?"
Jack took the jug from the nervous looking man and handed to Sam. "Hi, I'm Jack, that's Sam and over there is Teal'c. What do they call you?"
"My Mistress calls me Luri. I am a household servant. If you need anything at all, I can bring it to you." The man was backing away as he spoke.
Jack wasn't about to let the guy flee. Grabbing him by the sleeve, he hauled him into the room and closed the door so they could all get a better look at him.
He was very short, the top of his head barely reaching Jack's shoulder. He had huge brown eyes and a shock of spiky black hair. Jack couldn't even begin to guess how old he was, but the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth hinted that he could be close to Jack's own age. He looked absolutely terrified, hanging his head, unable to make eye contact with any of them.
"Listen, Luri. Don't be scared. We're not gonna hurt you or tell anyone you talked to us. What we need is information. My mistress here," Jack cocked his head in Daniel's general direction, "will be heading off tomorrow into the city, and we'd like to know how safe she'll be."
Luri glanced up from his contemplation of the floor. "Your concern is understandable. But your mistress will be safe. The priestess will not be foolish enough to attempt anything while she is under Kashira's protection." Luri's eyes went wide, when he realised that he had probably said too much.
This time, Jack wasn't fast enough to stop him, and he bolted out the door letting it bang shut behind him. Jack let his hand rest on the wood. The guy hadn't said much, but what he *had* said, was enough to set off Jack's inner red alert.
Daniel kicked off her boots and dived head first onto the bed. "See, Jack? You can relax. Nothing is gonna go wrong. Get some sleep."
Jack glared at his friend, sprawled happily all over that lovely, soft, comfortable bed. Sam was also looking mournfully at the bed.
Teal'c had already made himself as comfortable as possible in one corner, preparing for an evening of meditation. He lit the single church candle he carried in his pack and closed his eyes.
Jack gave the circular bed one last lingering look just as Daniel let out a soft snore.
"Bastard," muttered Jack under his breath as he and Sam started to shake out their bedrolls. "Easy for you to say!"
"Oh my God!"
Jack sat bolt upright at the sound of panic in Daniel' voice, his hand reaching automatically for his P90. In a split second, he'd assessed the situation and found nothing amiss. It appeared to be just after dawn, birds were chirping, crickets were... making whatever noise crickets made, and his team was all here.
Wait, that couldn't have been Daniel he'd heard. Jack's mind was still fuzzy as he tried to sort out what was going on. Daniel was still snoring like a pig, spread-eagled on the only bed in the room. Teal'c was still sitting cross-legged in the corner, deep into his kel no'reem and Sam was...
Oh, yeah. Sam, who now owned Daniel's voice. Sam was staring down into his own sleeping bag with a look of sheer terror on his face.
Jack froze. He'd seen that look once before. Several years ago in Iraq, a Desert Horned Sand Viper had crawled into his friend's sleeping bag. The snake, referred to by the locals as Um Grun, was fortunately still quite sleepy when discovered, and Jack had managed to skewer it on his knife before it bit his buddy. Good job too, as the venom from that particular snake was hemorrhagic, and they had not exactly been in a position to medevac a snakebite victim.
On his belly, Jack crawled over to his teammate, his hand reaching for his knife. If Sam stayed absolutely still, there was a chance he could dispatch the snake before it did any damage. In hushed tones, he let Sam know he was ready.
"Snake?" Jack whispered, trying to get a fix on its position. By the look on Sam's face, it must be a big one.
Sam shook his head slightly, his wide eyes taking in the knife in Jack's hand. "Sir, what are you planning on doing with that?" he whispered back.
"Shhhh! Quiet! I'm gonna stab the fucker!" Jack made demonstrative thrusting motions with the blade.
Sam shook his head vigorously, his cheeks flushing red. For a moment he chewed on his lip, obviously fighting some inner battle. With a sigh of resignation, he pushed the sleeping bag down to reveal that the snake in question was of the 'trouser' variety.
Jack's mouth fell open in shock.
"I swear to God, sir, I wasn't even thinking of anything smutty. I just woke up, and there it was!"
Jack dropped his knife and collapsed back onto his belly on the floor, his head lowered onto his arms. Sam had a hard-on? This was too much. Sam had a fucking hard-on! Of all the weird, twisted, fucked-up things that could have and indeed *had* gone wrong on this mission, this was the weirdest, most twisted, most totally fucked-up-so-far wrong... on SO many levels! As the shock dissipated, though, a slow smile began to spread over Jack's face. It was also probably the funniest.
Jack lifted his head, regarding Sam's horrified face with amusement. "Well, hallelujah!" he hissed, trying to keep his voice down. "Seeing the other side of the coin now, hey, Carter?"
"It's not funny, sir! What the hell am I supposed to do with it?"
Jack glanced down at the impressive tent pole in Carter's boxer shorts and snorted rudely. Judging by Sam's earlier reaction to the whole 'peeing' fiasco, the man would have a heart attack if Jack mentioned the word 'jerk-off'.
Retrieving his knife from where it had fallen, he crawled back to his own little corner of this nightmare, casting his final advice over his shoulder. "Try thinking about Kinsey being elected President. Nothing guaranteed to wilt a man's enthusiasm quicker'n that."
As he settled back into his sleeping bag, he caught a glimpse of Sam taking a surreptitious glance inside his boxers, and Jack's grin grew wider. He remembered a drunken family birthday party many years ago and a slurred conversation with his ex-wife, Sarah. She'd admitted that she would have loved to know what it felt like to have a hard-on. Just once.
Well, Carter was in the perfect position to see now. Rolling over so that he had his back to Sam, giving him some privacy, he shook his head. Maybe curiosity would outweigh the risk of a heart attack after all.
//Go for it, girl. What he doesn't ask, we won't have to tell him.//
Suddenly, he didn't feel so bad about the whole 'bra' incident either.
Luri was waiting for them in the huge kitchens when Jack and the other two men arrived to prepare their mistress' morning meal. He still seemed very nervous, but now that he had something constructive to do, his confidence had increased. He busily bustled around the large cooking stoves, explaining where everything was kept, then left them to it.
Once alone, Jack flopped down at the massive oak table. "Did anyone bring Froot Loops?"
Sam shook her head. Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "This food is not to your taste, O'Neill?"
Jack poked one long finger at the dry and rich looking loaf of bread and shrugged. "Meh - it's okay. But we're gonna have to smuggle Daniel up some coffee. Otherwise she won't be worth living with."
Sam nodded and used a taper to light the fire under a pot of water. He had brought a dozen sachets of instant, by way of a peace offering to Daniel for the menstruation thing. He knew Jack had chocolate with him for similar reasons. Teal'c, had nothing to offer, but then Teal'c had nothing to apologise for.
Jack began sawing the bread into thick slices while Teal'c arranged an assortment of cold meats and fruit on a tray. By the time the coffee was poured, Daniel's breakfast feast was ready.
Luri reappeared, sniffing at the dark, potent beverage with interest, but then he wrinkled up his nose in disgust. He turned to Teal'c. "This liquid. Is it used it to clean your weapons?"
"Indeed not," Teal'c replied stoically. "Our Mistress consumes this beverage with great relish."
Luri shuddered, as he held open the kitchen door for Sam and Jack, who each carried a laden tray. "Now I see why she complains of stomach cramps," the little man murmured under his breath.
Sam winced as Jack bit his lip. Might be time to break out the Snickers bar.
Jack watched the mounted warriors until they disappeared from sight around the curve of the wall. Daniel rode in their midst, her blonde mop standing out among the darker haired women like a beacon. Once he could no longer see them, Jack turned back towards the city gate, trying not to let the worry show. He hated not being able to watch Daniel's six.
Teal'c and Sam could look after themselves. They were both trained soldiers, warriors, skilled with both weapons and their bare hands. Daniel was a civilian, a scholar, and despite their best efforts, a pacifist who carried a gun because regulations and common sense demanded it. Jack had taught him basic marksmanship, and the guy knew which end the bullets went in, but he rarely used his weapons.
Jack didn't really mind. His job was to protect Daniel so that the archaeologist could do *his* job. He was damned good at looking out for Daniel's interests, as were the other members of SG1. Most times, Daniel wasn't even aware that he was being protected.
Jack hated this set up, but he also knew he had to trust Daniel to be sensible. Luri had invited Jack and the others to accompany him later, when they went to meet the warriors outside the city gates. Until then, he would have to put his concerns on hold.
Once back inside the village walls, Jack noticed that all the men seemed to be heading towards a large structure built up against the overhanging city wall. There was an air of excitement about them, of good-natured frivolity that obviously went along with their mistress' absence.
Jack met up with Teal'c and Sam outside the building. Luri was deep in conversation with the big guy Makus, so Jack turned to Sam. "What gives?" he asked, tossing his head towards the constant stream of men passing them to enter the building.
"I dunno, sir. Luri talked about a ceremony tonight. I think the men are preparing for it."
If Daniel had been there, he would have extolled the virtues of learning all that could be learned about a new culture, and demanded that they go take a look at the preparations. Jack supposed the building could house anything, maybe even the local version of a barber, and he could use a shave and a trim himself, so he shrugged and slipped inside the building.
Inside, the three male members of SG-1 froze. Not a barber. It was a steam-room, a sauna if you will, full of sweating, semi-naked men.
A handful of slaves pushed past them, happily throwing off their mantle of subservience along with their clothing, laughing and cavorting like a bunch of Marines in the showers after a ten day hike in the desert.
Jack didn't really feel like joining in the horseplay, but he'd discovered long ago that there was nothing truer than the advice, "When In Rome". He reached for the fastening of his scratchy tunic, looking forward to getting out of the thing, which he was sure was infested with fleas, when a hand on his arm made him turn round.
"Sir?" Blue eyes looked at him pleadingly.
Jack looked down at the strong hand clamped firmly around his wrist, then back up at the strained face. Sam didn't seem to be able to keep his eyes off the acres of bare flesh parading unashamedly around them. Jack tried not to smile, but was fighting a losing battle.
"You'll be fine, Carter. Just keep your eyes above waist level." With that advice, he tugged his tunic over his head and threw it on the growing pile in the corner. Beside him, Teal'c was already stripping off his undergarments. Sam screwed his eyes shut and reached for the fasteners of his tunic. "I really don't deserve this, you know," he muttered.
Jack threw his breeches onto the pile and sauntered off into the steam. He threw Sam a parting shot. "Actually, there is some measure of poetic justice at work here, Carter. PMT- I'm just sayin'..."
Sam kept his eyes closed as he disrobed and staggered blindly after his CO, hoping that the steam would make getting an eyeful impossible. The last thing he needed was for his body to react to all that yummyness. Especially after this morning's little incident. "Hey, it was all over but the shouting by the time we swapped bodies. He's lucky this didn't happen three days ago, then he'd know the meaning of... holy shit!"
Sam had made the mistake of opening his eyes to negotiate the steps down to the sauna. Now he found himself surrounded by naked men, lots of tanned, rippling, sweat-drenched man-flesh. And nowhere to hide his growing appreciation.
Jack yelped in surprise as Sam plastered himself to his back, trying to hide the evidence of his excitement where it had no business hiding. Fortunately no one seemed to have noticed, so Jack steered them into a corner and found a nice deserted bench to sit on.
"Jeez, Carter, you wanna be careful with that thing? Daniel's gonna want it back in one piece."
Carter was scarlet with embarrassment. He had no option but to cover his groin with both hands, even if that meant touching Daniel's dick yet again. When this mission was over, he was gonna have to marry the man at this rate! He was trying not to look at anything at all. The floor was a nice, safe place. Nice tiles, nicely smooth, nice pattern..."Sir, couldn't I just go back to the room and... and I dunno... clean my gun or something?" he whispered.
"Is THAT what they're calling it these days?" sniggered Jack, leaning back against the wall and carding his fingers through his hair, making it stick straight up. Carter groaned and hid his face in his hands, then immediately though better of that and recovered his groin.
Jack felt a pang of sympathy, sort of. If this were a room full of naked vestal virgins, he would be having a 'hard' time of it himself.
"Okay, okay, get dressed and head on back. We won't be too long." He looked around for Luri among the other men and smiled when he saw Teal'c talking to him.
Without another word, afraid that the colonel would change his mind, Carter fled the steam room, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the ground.
Jack got up and went to join the last member of his team, to see what was going on.
The Priestess of the Oracle turned out to be Kashira's twin, but while Kashira wore leather and fur as befitted her position as tribal leader and warrior, Fenissa wore a long white tunic that reminded Daniel a little of Greek statues. Her black hair was braided and pinned up, held in place by ornate golden pins and clips.
Fenissa stepped forward and looked deeply into Daniel's eyes then stepped back to take in the whole party. Inclining her head respectfully, she said "Valete, si vales, gaudeo."
Daniel wracked her brain. "Er... If you are well, I am happy? Ah eh, ego valeo recte - I am very well."
The Priestess smiled and with a sweeping hand gesture, bade her enter the city. Daniel hoped that the priestess would be content to carry on the rest of their conversation in English as his Latin was more than a little rusty. He could write it well enough, but hearing it spoken was a different matter, not unlike when he had first gone to Abydos and heard Ancient Egyptian spoken for the first time. He had taken a while to recognise it at all.
"You will remain here," Fenissa said coldly, addressing the command to Kashira and her warriors. Daniel held her breath, hoping that the woman would not react violently to the snub. If Kashira took exception to the dictate, Daniel stood next to no chance of getting near the oracle. Then there was the rather worrying thought that the priestess was trying to separate the newcomer from her bodyguards. Jack would probably not approve. But then Jack wasn't there.
But Kashira merely returned the cold stare, only looking away when Fenissa turned her back on her sister and walked away. Daniel cast a reassuring smile at the warrior and followed the small contingent of priestesses deeper into the city.
She was aware that the Kashira's warriors were following, albeit at a distance, and was sure that Fenissa must know too, but as no one seemed to want to make an issue of it, she remained silent, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as she could.
She was overwhelmed by the majesty and splendour of the city. Although the outskirts were most assuredly in ruins, here in the centre, close to the temple, the city was anything but ruined. Perhaps the priestesses and attendants had rebuilt this area, and now maintained it to the best of their limited ability.
They walked for over an hour, with Fenissa pointing out things of interest to the newcomer. Daniel had seen Jack in action too many times not to be aware that the Priestess of the Oracle was threat-assessing the shit out of her. Daniel made all the right noises, nodding and smiling like a real diplomat even when her face began to ache with the effort.
As time went on, she was able to translate more and more of the writing that covered the walls, and she was beginning to form a theory. More hard data was needed before she could be absolutely sure, but even before she entered the temple, Daniel was fairly sure she would be proven correct. Jack wasn't going to like this.
The temple was blessedly cool compared to the intense heat outside. Floor to ceiling tiles in shades of azure, midnight blue and white covered every surface. Daniel's mouth fell open at the beauty of it.
"You approve of our temple, my lady?" Fenissa asked, unable to hide a small smile.
Daniel nodded mutely, unable to drag her eyes away from the high arching ceiling and tinkling waterfalls.
The priestess took her by the arm and led her towards a massive door carved out of wood and inlaid with gold and silver filigree. Two female attendants dressed in short, very flimsy togas pulled the double doors apart to let them enter.
Daniel glanced at Fenissa nervously. She was afraid of doing something to mess this up, and wanted to take her cues from the priestess. With a serene smile, Fenissa stepped into the chamber first, giving Daniel a moment to take a deep breath and compose herself. What was the worst that could happen?
Daniel had a fleeting mental image of a huge floating green face bellowing out, "Who dares disturb the great and powerful Oz?" but managed to dispel the image with little more than a shake of her head.
The inner chamber was even more impressive that the outer room. Here, the walls, floor and ceiling were all hewn from white marble inlaid with gold. In the centre of the pilloried room stood a raised altar on which many objects were laid out. Daniel could only guess at the function of any of them.
Hesitantly, she approached the altar, trying to read the inscription carved into the marble at the front. As she drew closer, she could see that it was the same words as had been on the slab of stone she had examined in the briefing room.
Fenissa stepped up to the altar and took down a golden goblet, encrusted with precious gems. She took a small sip, intoned some ritualistic words, and handed the cup to Daniel.
The cup contained some potent red liquid, which smelled strongly alcoholic. Daniel took a tiny sip, felt the liquid scalding its way down her throat, and handed in back to Fenissa with a small nod of thanks.
Fenissa replaced the chalice on the altar. She then leaned down and pressed her hand against a large glowing crystal set in the centre of the marble.
When the ceiling above the altar dissolved and a strange orb descended downwards, stopping at waist level just in front of the altar itself, Daniel took an involuntary step back.
Fenissa dropped to her knees, and Daniel did the same, keeping one eye on the orb and the other on the Priestess.
"Great Oracle of the People. It is I, your handmaiden. I seek knowledge."
Daniel watched the orb pulse with an inner light, then flinched as a voice, amplified to impressive levels, boomed out a reply.
"Speak, child. What is it you seek?"
Daniel tried to hide her smile. The urge to leap forward and yell 'if I only had a brain' was almost overpowering. She concentrated on translating more of the text on the altar while the 'good witch' Fenissa continued with her audience.
"How much further, Luri?" Teal'c asked, pausing to help the smaller man scramble up a steep bank.
"Not much. If memory serves, the cave is just beyond the rise and the edge of the forest. You will not be disappointed, my friend."
Teal'c nodded, falling into step behind him. Luri might be small, but he was in possession of seemingly endless reserves of enthusiasm and energy. Teal'c almost had to run to keep up with him. They had left O'Neill and MajorCarter outside the city walls, awaiting the return of DanielJackson and the warriors, to seek out this cave, which, according to Luri, held wonders untold.
As they walked, Luri talked ceaselessly. Mostly he asked questions, but he offered information as well, all of which Teal'c committed to memory for when he next reported to O'Neill.
So far he had learned that many of the Mistresses were unhappy with the concept of owning slaves and would gladly free them all were it not for the Oracle. The priestesses insisted that males should be kept subservient at all costs, although Teal'c had yet to determine the reasoning behind the belief.
He had also learned that Kashira had seriously been contemplating some sort of coup before they had arrived, and that she apparently considered their arrival an omen. Teal'c hoped that cooler heads would prevail. If their hostess acted now, then any chance Daniel had of accessing the oracle would be at an end.
"There!" said Luri suddenly, pointing to a dark cut in the green hillside, almost hidden among the shadow of trees and shrubs. "The cave," he added unnecessarily.
Teal'c picked up the pace. He was curious to see what his new friend deemed so important.
"Your Mistress is a strange one, Teelk. Does she treat you well?"
Teal'c was unsure how to answer that question. He still found the Tau'ri capacity to lie with such alacrity more than a little disconcerting. He knew how to lie, had done so on enough occasions, but still found it uncomfortable. He finally settled for, "She treats me well enough."
"She allows you the freedom to choose?"
Again Teal'c was unsure how to proceed. He had the impression that Luri's words were in reference to matters of intimacy. Jaffa warriors did not speak of such things. So he settled for nodding his head non-committaly.
"My Lady Kashira is the same. She takes only Makus to her bed, and he goes willingly. Some say they are in love, but none would say it to My Lady's face for fear of her wrath."
Teal'c could not help smiling a little. Kashira was a formidable looking warrior, one he would be honoured to do battle with. And one he would be honoured to bed, had he not already had a wife. The experience would be... interesting. "Indeed, she would appear to have what O'Neill would call a 'short fuse'."
Luri laughed, "As with all the women, her 'fuse' as you call it, is only short for one week out of four. The Priestesses provide a powder to alleviate the pain, but I do not think it works well."
Teal'c reached into his tunic and withdrew a long silver wrapped object, handing it to Luri with a small nod.
"O'Neill has found this to be of benefit. He calls it 'Snickers.'"
"What's taking so damned long?" Jack paced back and forth outside the city walls, eyes frequently darting towards the firmly closed wooden gates. They remained stubbornly closed.
"I don't know, sir," answered Sam testily. "But surely, the longer it takes, the more information Daniel will acquire?"
Jack cast his teammate a furtive glance. Sam still hadn't forgiven Jack for making him go into the sauna.
Daniel had been inside the city for nearly four hours now. Usually, Jack would have to drag his engrossed archaeologist away from whatever artefact he had unearthed in order to eat, drink or rest. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option this time. Jack had to rely on the warrior's time sense.
Teal'c was doing some long distance recon with the slave called Luri. Jack had found the odd friendship he saw forming between the two men a little humorous to begin with. It would be difficult to find two men more different in appearance, and yet they had formed a bond.
Teal'c had approached O'Neill, asking permission to accompany Luri to a place the little guy seemed to think his new friend would find interesting. Jack had seen no harm in it at the time. Teal'c and his diminutive friend had yet to return, and Jack was getting a little fidgety, to say the least.
Sam shifted uncomfortably on the hard dusty ground, pushing himself farther back against the city wall. There wasn't much in the way of shade as it was midday now, and the harsh bright sun was almost directly overhead.
Jack flopped down beside Sam and ran a hand through his sweat soaked hair, making it stick up in tufts. "How're you holding up, Carter? Still enjoying your manhood?"
Sam sighed. So far he had faced the humiliation of peeing, shaving and getting an embarrassing hard on every time a half naked slave walked past, fighting the urge to square up to every male that even looked at him twice and only this morning, he had caught himself leaving the top off the toothpaste! 'Enjoying' was not a word he would use to describe what he was going through, no!
Jack looked into stormy blue eyes and regretted asking. Fortunately he was spared Carter's rant. The footsteps approaching them belonged to Teal'c and Luri.
"O'Neill, I have found..." but before Teal'c could finish his sentence, the huge wooden gate began to swing open.
Jack and Sam scrambled to their feet and took up flanking positions on either side of Teal'c and his small friend, heads bowed, eyes averted.
Under the cover of his brows, Jack glanced up as the small contingent of women passed by, Kashira and her warriors were all scowling, but the Priestess and her handmaidens smiled openly as they led Daniel towards the waiting horses.
Jack immediately stepped forward, offering his cupped hands to allow his mistress to mount her horse, then moved to the animal's head to untie the reins. He was dying to know what had gone on inside the temple, but it wasn't a slave's place to question his mistress, so he remained silent.
Once all the warriors were mounted, the Priestess smiled up at Daniel. "Your wisdom and knowledge have been beneficial to our people today, Lady Danee. Be it known that you are welcome within the walls of the city at any time. The Oracle deems you worthy."
From her perch on the horse, Daniel smiled back, nodding regally back at the Priestess. "That is a great honour, Fenissa."
Jack frowned at the slight catch in Daniel's voice, almost like she were trying to hold back laughter, but it would be inappropriate for him to raise his eyes. He caught Sam's eye. She was frowning too.
"Di te incolumem custodiant," Fenissa offered, turning back towards her city.
"May the gods watch over you, too," replied Daniel.
As the warriors spurred their horses into motion, Jack handed Daniel the reins.
He chanced a quick glance upward, and was surprised to see that his initial reaction had been right. Daniel was trying to fight back the giggles.
"Been at the altar wine, Daniel?" he whispered under his breath.
Daniel smirked back down at him and tugged on her horse's bridle. 'Later!' she mouthed.
The slaves jogged along in the horse's wake. As he ran, Jack wondered what the hell could have been so funny. Had the ancient runes on the walls turned out to be the Ancient version of rude knock-knock jokes? No point is speculating right now. He'd find out soon enough.
Fenissa returned to her chambers. Things had gone much better than she had hoped. The traveller had asked many questions and smiled a lot. She had instructed her closest handmaidens to be prepared for the worst, but the visitor from beyond the chappa'ai appeared to have no knowledge of the oracle's language and had not argued with her interpretation of its answers.
The more she 'translated', the more the visitor had smiled, until Fenissa began to doubt the woman's sanity. When finally she stood to leave, Fenissa had asked her if she was satisfied that the priestesses were fulfilling their roles adequately.
The blonde woman had smiled and nodded. "Yes, my lady. You are definitely exploiting your niche."
The words had been unfamiliar to her, but the smile on Lady Danee's face had seemed genuine enough.
Fenissa watched them ride off and breathed a little more easily. Obviously these visitors were no threat to the balance of power. Kashira must have hoped to frighten her, by reawakening the old legends.
Tonight was the Feast of Atonement and Purification. Fenissa would demand that Kashira hand over one of her slaves to atone for her sins, but this time Fenissa was determined to have Makus. She would accept no more old and infirm men. The priestesses needed good strong blood to add to the gene pool.
There had been no opportunity to talk to Daniel when they returned to the village. Kashira had immediately hustled Daniel into the main hall, leaving the men to deal with the horses. Jack got the impression that Kashira was displeased about something, and his hackles were up. It didn't take a genius to see that something was wrong.
"Sir, I've been talking to some of the slaves," said Carter from the other side of the huge horse he was grooming. "This ceremony tonight might be a little fraught."
Jack tapped the animal's leg so that it lifted its hoof for his inspection. He carefully picked a couple of stones form the horse hoof and let the leg drop. "Any idea why?" he asked, throwing the grooming kit into a large metal bucket.
Carter did the same and followed Jack over to the bales of hay, helping him carry one back to the waiting horses. "I think that the Priestesses are allowed to 'take' one or more of the Queen's salves. I don't really understand that, though. Luri told me that the Priestesses don't own slaves. What would they do with them?"
"Sacrifice?" speculated Jack, tearing open the bale of hay and shaking it into the feeding trough. "Who the hell knows? Maybe this purification ritual needs blood or something icky like that."
"More likely they need semen. They have blood of their own. The only thing they could get from the slaves that they couldn't get from themselves is semen."
Jack made a disgusted face then suddenly stood up, his face brightening. "Sex slaves! Maybe they need the men for mating purposes. You think it's only Kashira's slaves that are up for grabs, or can she take anyone?"
Carter snorted rudely and turned on his heel. "Yeah, I just bet you'd love that, sir."
Jack grinned and followed in Carter's wake. The women on this planet were all absolutely striking. Not one of them could claim to have been hit by the ugly stick and it HAD been a while since he'd seen any action.
Then a thought occurred that had ice water tricking through his veins. What if Fenissa chose Carter? He was fairly confident that Teal'c would put out for a good cause, and he KNEW he was up for it, but Carter was still Carter inside the well-toned, muscular body of Daniel Jackson. Fuck! That could be a real problem.
Back in their room, Jack found Teal'c examining a pile of clothing that had been laid out on the sleeping dais. Apparently, Luri had swung by and brought suitable garments for them to wear to the ceremony. Sam immediately began examining the colorful fabrics.
"O'Neill, earlier, I was about to inform..."
"Yeah, later, T. Right now, I have bigger concerns. You have any idea what will happen at the ceremony tonight?"
Teal'c inclined his head. "Indeed. The priestesses performs an atonement ritual, where the warriors must ask forgiveness of the Oracle for all sins committed over the past year."
Jack picked up a toga-like garment in pale green silk and sucked in his breath. "Nope, ain't got the legs for this," he mused, tossing the garment aside and examining the others in the pile. "Yeah, I got that, but what to you know about this sex slave thing?"
Jack held a sapphire blue tunic against his chest and smoothed a hand over the soft fabric. He turned to Carter. "Will this make my ass look fat? No? Cool." Quickly stripping off his brown tunic, he struggled to get the blue one over his head and continued questioning Teal'c. "Yeah, this business of taking a slave to mate with. What's up with that?"
Teal'c watched his team leader's struggling. "Is it not obvious, O'Neill? They require mating in order to continue their species."
Carter picked up the green toga and held it against his chest. "You mean to continue their 'line' Teal'c. Unless the warriors..."
"Are all sterile." Interrupted Teal'c.
Jack's head popped through the neck of the toga, gaping at his friend in surprise. "Say what?"
"Only the priestesses have the ability to reproduce. Even though the warriors appear to be fertile, not one single pregnancy has occurred among them for centuries."
Jack looked at Sam with one eyebrow raised. "Radiation?"
"No, sir, then the men would be affected too. I'm thinking it must be some natural form of birth control that the warriors are unaware of. Something that the priestesses don't eat, or drink."
Jack finished adjusting his toga. "Right, then. So we find out. And we need to speak to Daniel as soon as we can. He might have more information on this."
Jack was livid. The whole thing had been a farce from the beginning. He hadn't liked the idea that Daniel would be forced to fly more or less solo inside the city, hadn't liked the idea that he would be taking orders from Daniel this time out, hadn't liked his itchy clothing, the inequality, the humidity, the percentage of trees to people, or the way his head was pounding.
But this took the prize. Daniel had taken it upon herself to make what could only be described as a command decision without running it past Jack first.
If he had managed to calm the fuck down for even a minute, Daniel might have had time to explain just exactly 'why' she had spent the last two hours in a closed meeting with the warriors, altering the balance of power on this planet by telling them their enemies' weakness.
"Jesus H Christ, Daniel, what were you thinking?" Jack raged, pacing up a storm. "You're an anthropologist, for God's sake. You must know that you can't just waltz in and fuck around with a culture's infrastructure without doing serious damage to that society."
Daniel frowned. Social reform was necessarily a long and drawn out process. Radical and sweeping change never worked. She knew that. It surprised her that Jack did too. Never the less, she felt no guilt over setting the record straight. The time had been right.
"Jack, calm down and listen to me. Surely you agree that slavery is wrong. And Kashira was very close to open revolt before we even arrived. All I did was give her some facts."
"What about the fucking mission, Daniel?" Jack demanded. He had stopped pacing, but he was in Daniel's face, almost in his personal space. "If they go to war, what chance do we get to access the Oracle?"
Daniel flushed red and lowered his eyes. "Ah, the Oracle. Well, you see..."
A loud knock interrupted Daniel's words. The door swung open, and Luri smiled at them. "The ceremony is about to begin. You must take your places."
Daniel sighed with relief as she followed Luri into the corridor, aware of Jack's eyes boring into the back of her head.
The Great Hall was festooned with banners and pennants, fragrant pine-smelling boughs and bowls of flowers adding to the festive air. It reminded Jack a little of trips he and Sarah had made in years gone by, to see their son in his school nativity play at Christmas. The memory unexpectedly stabbed at him, and he pushed it aside, knowing that it was neither the time nor the place.
Kashira and her warriors were all seated on ornate carved chairs at the far end of the Great Hall, their male slaves standing respectfully behind them. Luri ushered Daniel into the one remaining seat, and scurried away as Jack and the others filed into their places. A hush descended, and for a while, time was only marked by the pop and hiss of pine logs crackling in the huge fireplace.
At the sound of a loud rap, Luri hastened to open the massive wooden door. Outside, the Priestesses had gathered, many carrying torches to light the way. Others carried pitchers and urns full of spicy smelling oils.
Fenissa crossed the threshold, and her handmaidens fell into step behind her. Regally, they swept through the hall, their white fur travelling cloaks trailing along the dusty floor.
As they drew near, Kashira stood and stepped down to meet her sister. She extended one hand, placed it on the other woman's shoulder and inclined her head, in a gesture that reminded Jack eerily of Teal'c.
"Hail, sister, and welcome to the Hall of Warriors. Wilt thou drink with me?"
To Jack's ears, it all sounded very old-fashioned and ritualistic. He didn't dare ask Daniel to elaborate, not without risking a three-hour lecture.
"I will drink with thee," answered the priestess, accepting the chalice Makus handed to her. She took a tiny sip, and handed it back. Then she turned to face the warriors.
"Dost thou ask atonement for thy sins?"
To a person, the warriors looked to their Queen. Not one of them spoke. Fenissa repeated the question, a little louder this time. Again, not one answered. She whirled around, angry eyes seeking out those of her sister.
Kashira's smile was terrifying to behold. She was pulled up to her full height, looking down her nose at Fenissa, imperious to the toes of her boots. "Dost thou ask atonement for thine own?" she intoned.
Clearly, it was not the correct answer. Fenissa's eyes flew to Daniel's face, betrayal and anger warring for dominance. Kashira stepped forward, neatly placing herself between Daniel and the irate priestess.
"The oracle is a fraud. For centuries, the priestesses have used it as a means of controlling us. We were afraid to question their interpretation of its so-called wisdom. I challenge my sister to refute any of this."
Fenissa stared at her sister coldly. She had been betrayed. The newcomer had been revealed as a wolf in the fold. But she still had one advantage. One that even the newcomer could not refute. "What you believe is irrelevant," she said coldly. "You are barren, as are your warriors. Without the good will of the priestesses, there can be no more children. This you cannot challenge."
"We do not ask for your good will."
Fenissa stepped forward, right into her sister's face. "Unless it is your will that our people die out, you must provide the priestesses with slaves."
Kahsira did not break eye contact. "I will not. Hear me now," she proclaimed in a loud voice that echoed from the ceiling joists. "From this day, my slaves are free to do what they will."
A huge cheer echoed through the Great Hall. Slaves and warriors alike clapped and thumped their feet on the dusty floor.
Taking advantage of the shouting and revelry, Jack collected his team and pulled Daniel out into the deserted corridor. It was time for answers.
"It's a WHAT?" Jack blazed, his face contorted with incredulous disbelief.
Sam stopped his pacing to get right in Daniel's face. "You're telling me that we went through all of this... this... STUFF," he frantically gesticulated between himself and Daniel as he spluttered, "all of THIS for a child's TOY?"
At least Daniel had stopped giggling. She couldn't quite wipe the smile off her face though. "I'm afraid so. My translation in the gate room was a little more literal than I had thought. The children may seek enlightenment meant just that - 'children'. Sorry, but it's a very difficult language to master."
Sam stalked away, and Jack stepped in to take her place inside Daniel's personal space. "It's a fucking Speak-and-Spell?"
"Yeah, something like that. The Priestesses ask it questions, it gives then very basic answers and they 'interpret' the words of wisdom in whatever way suits them best. That way, they maintain their high position in the society. Quite a sweet deal, really."
Sam shouldered Jack out of the way again. "God damn it, Daniel, I got a hard-on!"
For the first time, Daniel looked nonplussed. "Pardon?"
"This morning. I got an erection! Do you have any idea what it feels like to wake up with a hard-on Daniel?"
"Well, actually, since you ask, yes I do. If you must know, I quite miss it."
Jack had been watching the exchange and started grinning in spite of himself. All this fuss, and the piece of supposedly ancient technology they had found was nothing more than a teaching aid for children. It was really quite funny, hilarious actually. But right now, he needed to step in before his 'children' hurt each other.
"Kids, if we could focus for a moment here." Jack squeezed himself between the two combatants before the fur started flying. "This mission is a bust. Daniel started World War Three. I think we should make a strategic withdrawal here."
Sam and Daniel retreated to opposite corners of the room, glaring at each other, but Teal'c, who had been even more quiet than usual, spoke up. "On the other side of the city, deep inside a cave in the forest, there is a cave containing several pieces of ancient technology."
Suddenly Teal'c was the center of attention.
Jack crossed his arms over his chest. "And you didn't think to tell us this T?"
"I did attempt to insert a word upon its side several times."
"You mean, get a word in edgewise?"
"Indeed. Luri retrieved several items for me to study." From his tunic, Teal'c pulled out a teardrop shaped bronze and blue object the size of his hand. "This is one of them."
Carter immediately took the item and began examining it closely. "This could may be a communications device, but I don't know how to get it to work. We should maybe have a closer look at the cave's contents."
"Ya think?" drawled Jack. The thing looked faintly familiar to him. He racked his brain, but he had no clue where he would have seen something like it before. Either the Priestesses had been yanking their chain, or they knew nothing about this secret cash of goodies. What bothered Jack was how the short dude knew about it.
"So Teal'c- your buddy, Lurid, how'd he know this stuff was there?"
"His Mistress allows him to go there to hunt. Apparently, there is none better. While tracking his prey, he found the cave and explored inside. As yet, he has told no other of its whereabouts."
"So why tell you?" asked Sam, a little puzzled that the man would share his secret on such short acquaintance.
"I had been telling him of our battle against the Goa'uld, and of my fight to free my own people. This was what he wished for as well."
"Aww, T," groaned Jack. "Buddy, I've explained the whole 'need to know' thing to you a million times. You could have blown our cover here, big guy."
"I did not, however, blow up the covers, O'Neill."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, who controls access to this cave?"
"All the ground outside the city is under the warriors' control," answered Teal'c. "If we wish access to the cave, we must negotiate with them."
"So what do we have, and what do we need?"
Daniel handed the opaque crystal back to Teal'c. "We have the technology to determine what causes the warriors' infertility. I think that will be a much more valuable trade tool than a dozen bunches of bananas and a kiwi fruit."
Carter nodded. "Good point. I'm fairly sure that the catalyst is something added to the food or drink, but we can run tests. There are a number of things Kashira trades for in the city. We can start with samples of those."
Teal'c stood up. "Luri made mention of a powder provided by the priestesses. It is used to alleviate the pain suffered by the warriors during their menstrual cycle. That may also be a source."
Jack nodded, trying to ignore not only the weirdness of hearing Teal'c use the word 'menstrual' but also the increasingly loud voices from the meeting hall, and the distinctive sound of the balance of power shifting. "Carter, stay here with Daniel and try to get some samples. Teal'c, I need you and your little toto to show me where that cave is at."
The team stayed planet-side for another three days. Daniel travelled through the city to the stargate, asked for a female medical team to be dispatched and within hours of their arrival, the cause of the warrior's infertility was isolated. Teal'c's guess had been correct; the powder supplied by the Priestesses was indeed a very effective contraceptive. They had been fully aware of what they were doing.
As the warriors now had the means of reproducing themselves, and also had control over the 'cave of wonders' their new off-world allies wanted access to, Kashira could now be considered a true leader of her people.
Daniel negotiated with her for access to the cave in return for medical help and supplies, and by nightfall on the third day, SG1 was more than ready to gate home.
Jack watched surreptitiously as Sam and Daniel loaded their treasure onto the MALP. He was startled when Teal'c spoke from behind him.
"It will be interesting to return here, O'Neill, in a few years, to see what changes have been made."
Jack nodded. "I suppose. But one thing I've learned. The more things change..." He watched Sam and Daniel playfully nudging each other and smiled. "The more they stay the same."
Teal'c nodded his agreement.
The briefing was mercifully short. General Hammond was disappointed that the 'oracle' was a bust, but happy that his team had managed to find something almost as good. At least the NID would have something to keep them occupied, and off George's back for a few months.
As SG1 filed out of the room, Jack caught Daniel's eye. They walked along the corridor, side by side, with Sam and Teal'c bringing up the rear.
"Hey, how're you doing, Danny?" Jack asked, casting his friend a sidelong glance.
Daniel shrugged, patting his broad chest absently as they walked. "Feels weird. Like I lost something."
The reintegration process had taken place a few hours previously, after which they'd been flown back to base. Jack had finally started breathing again. "I'll say you lost something all right. But look what you got back!"
Daniel drew Jack a dirty look, "I meant, I feel like I lost something spiritual. I think I miss it, Jack. I miss the female perspective."
Jack clapped him soundly of the shoulder. Behind them, Carter had been remarkably quiet too. They reached the elevator just as the doors were opening, and Jack turned to his 2IC. "How 'bout you, Carter? Missing Daniel's dick?"
The airman inside the elevator stumbled as he stepped out, doing a double take at the team. Sam stared back at the airman, a speculative look on her face. "It's true, you know."
The elevator doors slid closed, and Jack raised a speculative eyebrow. "What's true?"
"That you guys think about sex every six seconds. It explains a lot, actually. But I certainly won't miss that horny, frustrated feeling."
The elevator stopped on the level that housed the SG1 locker room, and Carter stepped out, leaning in a little to stop the doors closing. "Right now, I'm heading home, then I'm phoning a certain Denver cop. If I don't get laid pretty soon, I think I might explode."
Jack snorted as the elevator doors slid shut. "Way to go, Carter!"
The three men arrived at the commissary. Jack held open the door and grinned as Daniel scowled at him. "Quit that, Jack. I'm not a woman any more."
"Hey, I'm just being polite!" groused Jack.
They made their food choices and found a table. Daniel was about to take a bite out of his apple pie when he sneezed. This was followed rapidly by several more sneezes, causing Jack to shield his plate with his arm.
Daniel was sniffing and wiping his eyes. Jack broke off a piece of his own pie and observed his friend carefully. "Allergies bothering ya?" he asked, trying to remember the last time Daniel had looked this bad.
"Yeah, I guess Sam forgot to take the meds I gave her." Daniel scrubbed his sleeve over his red-rimmed eyes. "Not that I really blame her. I mean we had an awful lot on our minds. After all, I may have forgotten to..."
Suddenly Daniel went pale.
"Daniel?" Jack dropped his spoon onto his plate, where if bounced on the pie and clattered noisily to the floor.
"What, WHAT?" Jack had gone pale. Whatever was wrong was scaring the shit out of his friend. NOTHING scared the shit out of Daniel. At least nothing Jack had yet to encounter.
Daniel's huge blue eyes met Jack's, and the colonel could clearly read the other's man's terror. "What happens if a woman doesn't take her birth control pills every day, Jack?"
There was a long silence.
Two chairs scraped back, hitting the floor with a thud as both men bolted for the exit, hoping to reach the surface before Sam did.
Teal'c blinked at his friends' retreating backs and returned his attention to the five plates of assorted pies and cakes on his tray. Under his breath, he observed, "I would inform Jerry Springer, but even he would not believe it!"