(See Exile #1 for Disclaimer and Rating)
Author's Notes: Special thanks to Suisan for naming the dog.
Jack O'Neill was having a very bad day. Being clapped in irons would do that to you. Teal'c didn't look exactly thrilled about it either. Daniel... Danny was still unconscious. And Sam was missing.
It was, Jack reflected, the worst mission ever.
He leaned back against the rough mud brick of the cell wall, and closed his eyes. He was never trusting the Tok'ra again. Never ever. Not even Jacob. None of them. This was all their fault.
It had been a joint mission for the Tok'ra and the SGC. A milk run, really, all that cultural developmental xeno-anthropological type stuff that got Danny frothing at the mouth with excitement. Nothing was supposed to go wrong. Famous last words.
They were testing a new version of the Tok'ra memory device, this one meant to be a tool for deep cover agents. Because the big metal disc on the temple was a big giveaway, this was a miniaturized version implanted deep inside the ear, and it was programmed with all the background information on the native culture, allowing the agent access to whatever arcane behavior was appropriate for bizarre local customs, through an interface in the form of an alternate persona, who functioned as a "native guide" for whatever situation. In this test case, they were being gypsies, traveling traders, in a low-tech Goa'uld-free culture.
It had been kinda fun, though unsettling. Maybe the Tok'ra were used to it, but 'Jaq' yammering away in the back of his mind was driving Jack up the wall. Especially during the slavers attack on the caravan camp. Did he hesitate? Was he afraid for a moment? Confused? And did that contribute to losing a member of his team? No... not losing. Sam Carter was just... misplaced. Not lost. She might have gotten away, gone through the gate.
He had to believe that.
They were in for some rough treatment, he knew through 'Jaq's' memories, but nothing too severe. They didn't damage their merchandise, the slavers; it was bad for business. It was being sold they had to fear, and their new owners.
They already were talking about selling Daniel to a brothel. It was probably a good thing that he wasn't awake to hear it.
Jack tried to ignore the little squabble of fear inside, over Sam, and what would happen to her if she had been taken, if she was sold.
One of the slavers, a skinny guy with lank blond hair and a scar over one eye, opened the cell door and gestured for them to come out. Daniel was just coming around; he followed Teal'c, stumbling and blinking, without his glasses. They walked out onto a platform. Jack's mouth tightened as he recognized the set-up. Auction block. Casually, he looked around the crowd. The stargate was only a few feet to the left. As he watched, the last chevron snapped into place, the event horizon plumed outward and stabilized.
A small group of farmers came out, leading a donkey that was pulling a cart laden with bushels of vegetables. Jack could see onions, and some kind of peppers. The farmers moved into the market square and began setting up. The gate shut down.
Jack caught Teal'c's eye, and gave a slight nod toward the gate, then looked at their skinny auctioneer. Another subtle glance at the foot of the stage, where another slaver was sorting through the valuables that had been taken from the slaves... SG-1's zat guns, radios, and GDOs in the pile. Another calculating glance at the rest of the slavers... one other on the stage, on the far side. He raised his eyebrows. Teal'c inclined his head in agreement.
The chain between the shackle cuffs had just enough give to function as a makeshift garrote. Teal'c put his to good use as Jack decked the on-rushing slaver before leaping down to collect a zat and a GDO. The watching crowd hooted in appreciation of the free entertainment, then panicked as Jack snapped the zat into firing position and blasted the remaining slavers.
Teal'c grabbed the still dazed Daniel Jackson, and Jack cleared a path in the crowd to the gate, he punched in the seven symbols that would lead to Earth, and then charged through the stargate into Stargate Command.
The unscheduled activation alert was still ringing through the Embarkation Room as Jack charged through the event horizon, followed by Teal'c with Daniel slung over one shoulder.
"Shut the iris," he shouted as soon as they were clear.
The great iris spiraled shut, blocking the gateway.
General Hammond was coming down the steps from the control room, concerned. "You're not due back for a week, SG-1. And where is Major Carter?"
"Good question," Jack snarled.
He seethed through his shower and the compulsory medical exam, hot coffee and clean BDUs doing little to cheer him. Anger was boiling in his gut by the time they met in the briefing room, anger at himself for not thinking to grab one of the slavers for interrogation, anger at having to leave one of his people behind. A woman. There was part of him that would never accept that, though he knew Carter was a soldier as well as a science geek. Women didn't belong in combat, where they could fall into enemy hands. Anger at himself for not making sure the team stayed together.
He sat, and stared at a point above General Hammond's head, and in a clipped voice made his report on the mission, on the raid on their camp, and their escape. He listened to Daniel and Teal'c make their reports.
He was waiting for the moment General Hammond gave the order for SG-1 to go back and search for Major Carter.
They came through the gate on Petru as an SG team this time. In uniform, loaded for bear, and without any experimental alien technology.
The last thing Jack expected was to be recognized, but as they started the hike out of the city, someone pushed through the crowd calling out his name. Well, the local variant of his name.
"Jaq! Jaq!" Jondo, the Master Trader and leader of their caravan, came up at a fast trot. "Thank the gods you are free," he called, then eyed their olive drab uniforms dubiously. "Or... is this your master's livery?"
Jack said "No" at the same time Daniel paused thoughtfully and opened his mouth. Before Daniel could get sidetracked by an analysis of uniforms, livery, and general social cues in costuming, he asked, "Sam, Samarra, our sister. You seen her?"
Jondo's eyes fell. "No. She was not among us when we regrouped. So many lost... Lir's oldest son, Verise... so many. I am sorry, Jaq."
Jack tamped down his own feelings, recognizing the real regret and sympathy in the other man's voice.
Jondo, with the air of someone trying to salvage something from tragedy, fumbled with his belt pouch. "We scavenged what we could of the goods for market, here's your share." He proffered a handful of copper and silver coins.
Jack hesitated and took the coins, with thanks. As the caravan master headed off on his own business, he turned to face the quizzical gaze of his teammates as he began to divvy out the money.
"Spread out. Question the merchants and beggars near the gate. See if they saw anything. Describe Carter, she was wearing that green skirt and white blouse when they took her. See if anyone caught the gate address when they left."
No one had.
It was a grim group that reconvened in the briefing room at the SGC. Jack was still coldly furious and sick with guilt. Especially while seated across from Carter's father. Jacob Carter kept himself composed, except for a haunted look in his eyes. Formerly an Air Force General and now host to the Tok'ra Selmak, he had plenty of experience holding it together. Malek and Anise were at his side.
"It is with great regret," General Hammond was saying softly, "that I must formally declare Major Samantha Carter officially Missing In Action."
"We'll find her," Jack gritted out. "Pull SG-9 and -14 off their assignments and we'll..."
"You'll what?" General Hammond's Texan twang was gentle, but unyielding. "You've looked, Colonel. And if there was any sign of her, the slightest chance of finding her, I'd commit the full resources of this base to her recovery, but as much as it pains me, you don't even know where to look, and we cannot devote any more time to this search."
"Life goes on?" Jack snapped, angrily.
"It always does." Jacob Carter's calm acceptance of grief shamed him and Jack subsided. "We've torn Petru apart. The slavers have gone to ground."
Malek spoke up. "We are not the only ones seeking the slavers. A Caidosian lord has begun a manhunt. It's promising that the ruling class of the Chain of Twelve Rings are beginning to adopt new moral and ethical codes along with advanced offworld technology, but in practical terms, the men who took Major Carter have a price on their heads. They've gone into hiding," he flicked a glance at the female member of their party, and looked away. "And now new information has come to light."
"New information?" Hammond prodded.
Anise did not look up from her folded hands. "One of the devices was malfunctioning. It was to be set aside for study and repair. It was... inadvertantly... given to you for the field-test. It is possible that," she paused and swallowed, "the memory construct might override the subject's identity."
Daniel translated. "So... not only is Sam out there somewhere... she doesn't even know she's Sam? For all intents and purposes, she is Samarra?"
Jack slammed one fist down on the table, then pointed at Anise. "You take your toys and go home, we aren't playing with you any more!"
Perhaps Anise surrendered control to her host Freya. She didn't reply, but kept her eyes downcast in shame.
"We are sorry for our own part in this," Malek said quietly, "but the fact remains, we cannot locate Major Carter, and it is unlikely she will attempt to escape and report in on her own. She is gone, and we mourn her loss."
Jack folded his arms and watched Malek and Anise walk up the ramp, then cocked an eyebrow at the older man standing at his side. "Not going with?" he asked Jacob.
It was Selmak who answered, in the reverberating tone of the symbiote. "We're going to San Diego. Jacob needs to see Mark and the grandchildren."
Jack nodded. "That'd be good." He'd thought that the death of his own child was the hardest thing a human could bear. He stared at the still rippling event horizon within the gate. Now he realized how much worse it was to have a child lost, and not knowing their fate. Sam Carter was out there somewhere, they didn't know if she was dead or alive, or what terrible things might be happening to her, wherever she was.
Continue on to Exile #5: Memory (Conclusion)
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Page last updated 8/15/03.