Solo by PZ
Summary: The men need rescuing. Sam gets to go solo.
Categories: Jack/Sam Characters: None
Episode Related: None
Genres: Action/Adventure
Holiday: None
Season: None
Warnings: None
Crossovers: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: No Word count: 0 Read: 719 Published: 2003.04.03 Updated: 2003.04.03
Solo by PZ
Solo

Solo

by pz

Summary: The men need rescuing. Sam gets to go solo.
Category: Action/Adventure, Humor
Season: any Season
Pairing: Jack/Sam
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
Archived on: 04/03/03

Solo - Sam goes solo to save the team.SOLO

TitleSolo
Authors: pz
Summary: Sam has to go solo to save her team mates. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the authors. Thanks: To Charlotte for the idea.

Jack `Tell me again Daniel why we're walking 12 hours in rain through pouring rain to get to some lousy caves'.

Samantha Carter turned round and looked at her CO. Normally she backed Doctor Daniel Jackson when Colonel Jack O'Neill picked on him, but this time she had to agree. They had been walking all day and her saturated pack felt very heavy, the straps digging into her slim shoulders. She stopped for a moment to readjust it and to wipe away the water that was streaming down her face.

Jack `Carter, you ok?'

Sam `Yes, sir. Just adjusting my pack'.

Jack `Well, keep up Carter. There's no reason why shouldn't all be equally miserable'.

Sam grinned, tightened her waist strap and trotted a few yards until she was walking immediately behind Teal'c. She knew that Jack O'Neill had only just started in this current round of banter with Daniel. At least it made time pass

Jack `Come on then, Danny boy, inspire us. Make us feel that we all really want to be here'.

Daniel `This is a unique opportunity to study a civilisation that is basically subterranean. There are only a few such cultures known on Earth, the Troglodytes of central France from example. It's an interesting existence that brings it's own challenges. This is the first such indications of an underground society that we've seen off earth and the question is why. If the Goa'uld populated all the known human based cultures, why would they allow them to develop in this way? We already know that the Goa'uld are not keen on tunnels and enclosed underground places. It doesn't really add up. They always prefer the traditional Goa'uld architectures, Pyramids etc. It could be useful to understand why they don't like tunnels and caves. The Tok'ra have used that to their advantage in the past'.

Jack `Whoa, stop. That's enough for me. How long till we get there?'

Daniel `The telemetry indicates only another half mile or so'.

Jack `Ok, kids. Let's push on and make it before nightfall'.

The dripping team walked silently in single file through the gloomy forest. Rainwater was cascading down through the thick canopy of leaves that hid the dimming sky and the ground underfoot was spongy with layers of wet, fallen leaves. Daniel Jackson had long since discarded his glasses after failing to keep them dry and he squinted at his location device as he tried to make out the path. Suddenly he stumbled as he tripped over a large stone.

Daniel `Jack, this should make you feel happier. We can't be far. This stone seems to have markings'.

Jack `Thank God for that. First one to find a dry cave doesn't have to make supper!'.

As they rounded a particularly large tree, the forest opened out into a large clearing. Samantha Carter pointed a dark gash in the cliff face that made up the other side of the opening.

Sam `Sir, Over there'.

Jack `Carter's got it. Let's go see. Daniel, you lead, as this is your baby'.

Daniel Jackson's excitement was palpable as he led the way into the cave opening. He dug his glasses out from his jacket pocket and after cleaning them carefully he pushed them on his nose.

Daniel `Look at these markings, here and here. It looks like some derivative of a Celtic language.'

He pointed at some detailed rock carvings that surrounded the cave entrance. They had the appearance of intricate knots and faint traces of colour could be made out in the crevices of the carvings.

Jack `Real pretty, Daniel. But let's get camp set up before it goes completely dark. You can get all excited in the morning. We've got two days here'.

Daniel `But, Jack.....'.

Jack `No, Daniel. Camp first. Carter, you got a torch?'

Sam rooted in the large pack that she had thankfully taken off her shoulders and leaned up against the cave wall. She pulled out a long black rubber torch, switched it on and tossed it to Jack O'Neill. The bright beam cut through the black of the cave. The floor inside the cave looked sandy and dry.

Jack `This looks dry at least. Carter, Teal'c you set up camp, and don't forget to make sure that we're not sharing this accommodation with an unfriendly local. Daniel, your turn for supper. I'll go for a quick reccy'.

With an expertise gained from much practise Sam and Teal'c soon had the bedrolls laid out and the kit unpacked. They had found enough dry twigs to start a reasonable fire and following a quick survey of the cave ascertained that they were the only occupants. Daniel was muttering to himself as he stirred some glutinous looking powder the texture of cement into a large pan of water.

Jack O'Neill pulled the peak of his cap lower over his eyes as he headed back out into the rain. It was almost dark, but there was no let up in the continual drizzle, and as he looked round at the lush vegetation he suspected that it rarely did stop. He wandered across the clearing, noticing how the dense forest stopped abruptly at the edge. He scuffed the floor of the clearing with the toe of his boot. The soil was gritty and black; slightly crystalline in appearance. He walked slowly round the perimeter but saw nothing to raise undue concern. He took his cap off and shook it vigorously to dry it off a little, then headed back to the cave. The entrance was just a narrow gash in the rock face, but it looked like it had been a proper doorway at one time. He idly wondered what had happened to alter its shape so drastically.

Inside the cave, the fire was blazing warmly and he was drawn to its comforting glow. Daniel was stirring something indescribable in a large pan and Teal'c was sat cross-legged on the sandy floor, gazing into the flames.

Jack `Where's Carter?'

A blond head popped out from the side of a large pile of fallen rocks at the side of the cave.

Sam `Here, sir. Just changing into dry clothes'.

Jack `Hey, Carter. In the mornin' I think you should take a look at that clearing out there.'

Sam called out from her hiding place `Why's that, sir?'

Jack `Dunno. It's kinda strange underfoot. Black and sorta crispy'.

Sam `Crispy?'

Jack `Yeah, and shiny'.

Sam `Sounds like basalt. You know volcanic rock. Produced under very high pressures and temperature'.

Jack `I hope that volcano's dead'.

Sam grinned as she walked out from behind her rocks wearing a fresh black tee shirt and combat pants. Her hair was still damp and tousled. She carried her dripping clothes in her right hand and her boots in the left. Jack O'Neill smiled at the picture she presented. She spread the saturated pants, shirt and jacket over some boulders within the warming circle of the fire. Jack mused that in the years that Sam had been his 2IC, he could not remember her ever complaining or moaning about physical inconvenience. In fact her stoicism had stopped her complaining when perhaps she should have spoken up. Watching her he wondered how long she would be his 2IC. She was probably overdue her own command, he suspected that only her loyalty to SG1 prevented her bringing it up. He couldn't imagine continuing without her.

Jack `Feel better, Carter?'

Sam `Much. Thank you , sir'.

She favoured him with one of her dazzling smiles and looked at his dripping clothes.

Sam `Changing room's free, sir'.

Jack `Yeah. Good idea'.

Jack rooted in his waterproof pack and pulled out a fresh set of dry clothing. Ducking behind the rock pile, he quickly changed. Daniel Jackson spooned out some of the porridgy mush into bowls and handed it out.

Teal'c `Thank you , Daniel Jackson'.

Jack looked at the gloopy mess and then tucked in until the bowl was empty. Samantha Carter watched him and shook her head in amazement. She'd seen him eat virtually anything and sleep anywhere. Twenty odd years in the military had a way of stripping the fussiness out of anyone. She picked delicately at the mess.

After they'd eaten, Colonel O'Neill stretched his long lean body out on the bedding roll and folded his hands behind his head.

Jack `Teal'c, you take first watch if that's ok. Wake me for second, then Carter third. I've got a feelin' Daniel's gonna be up at first dawn anyway'.

At that he turned on his side and within two minutes, Sam heard his breathing slow as he fell asleep. She rooted out a small waterproof notepad and after making a couple of pages of notes, she stretched out on the bedroll next to O'Neill and tried to settle down. The sandy floor was relatively comfortable and it wasn't long before she started to doze.

Teal'c stood up smoothly from his cross-legged position and walked over to the entranceway. He had already noted that there were no other entrances to the cave, which meant that only the doorway posed any threat. He carried his staff weapon lightly balanced in one hand. Although he had been fully trained to use the Earth guns, he still preferred his traditional weapon and O'Neill had never objected. He looked out at the rain that still coursed from the now pitch black sky. Only the dim light flickering from the fire penetrated the gloom, and then not very far. He picked up some more dry wood by the entrance and after stoking up the fire he sat down on a large rock by the door. It was almost time to wake O'Neill when he felt rather than heard a deep rumbling sound . It penetrated the soles of his feet and the rock on which it was sat. He heard the others stir.

Teal'c `O'Neill!'.

Jack `Yeah, Teal'c. What's the problem?'

Teal'c `I am not sure, O'Neill. There is a noise'.

Jack `What other than Daniel snoring?'

Another louder rumble succeeded in rousing everyone to their feet.

Jack `Carter?'

Sam `Don't know what it is, sir. Sounds seismic. I can almost feel it rather than hear it'.

Daniel `Me too'.

Jack `Anything to do with that volcanic stuff outside?'

Sam `Doubt it sir. Not directly, although there could still be some tectonic movement happening. More likely to be some kind of rock slide. Perhaps initiated by all this rain'.

Jack `So we're not gonna get boiled in molten rock?'

Sam `Doubt it, sir'.

Teal'c was still stood close to the entrance when the ground suddenly tilted sharply sending a cloud of rock dust pouring from the ceiling. Daniel Jackson started coughing convulsively.

Jack `What the hell! Everyone ok?'

Sam `Yes, sir. Daniel seems to be ok, although he's coughing'.

Jack `Teal'c. You there?'.

There was a moment's silence.

Jack `Teal'c.!!'

Teal'c `O'Neill. I have hurt my arm. A rock has fallen from the ceiling'.

Jack `Stay there. Carter, you got the medic kit?'

As the dust cleared a little, Sam Carter made her way to her pack and then back to the entrance where Jack O'Neill was already bent over Teal'c who was sat on the rock with his head in one hand. The other arm was bleeding profusely from a long gash that ran from the elbow to the wrist. Jack was pressing hard on the gash to try and stem the blood flow whilst trying to balance a torch in the other. Without speaking she quickly emptied the pack onto the rock and picked up a pack of sterile dressing and a bottle of antiseptic. She doused the dressing liberally and mopped the cut. Teal'c remained unmoving even though she knew that it must hurt. After a quick inspection she flashed a look at the Colonel.

Sam `Teal'c. I'm gonna have to stitch this up. Sir, we need more light. Can you shine the torch this way?'

Jack passed the wadding over to Sam and jammed the torch into a rock crevice. He then dived over to the other side of the cave to where Daniel Jackson was still coughing.

Jack `Daniel. You gonna be ok?'

Daniel gasped a couple of times.

Daniel `Fine. No......... problem'.

Jack returned with another torch and shone it full on Teal'c arm.

Sam `This way sir. You ready, Teal'c? I'm sorry but this is going to hurt. I'll try be quick'.

Teal'c just grunted and Sam picking up the needle and suture, started to place stitches down the full length of the gash. After 15 or so stitches she was finished and after mopping it again with antiseptic she perused her work with satisfaction.

Jack `Neat job, Carter. Must be all those little biddy handkerchiefs you're always sewing.'

She flashed him a glare but then grinned when she saw his contrite expression.

Sam `Maybe I'll get chance to practise on you one day, sir'.

Jack `Maybe. Maybe not. I don't think I would suit little, teensy flowers embroidered up my arm'.

She laughed out loud as she saw Teal'c glance quickly down at her handiwork.

Teal'c `I do not see flowers, O'Neill'.

Jack just smirked as Daniel made his way over to them.

Daniel `You ok , Teal'c?'

Teal'c `I will be fine, Daniel Jackson'.

Daniel `Good, because I think we have a problem'.

Jack `We do?'

Daniel `Yes. Have you looked outside since the rumble?'

Jack spun round to look at the entranceway, but there was no entrance visible. The rock seemed to flow in one unbroken wall around them. Where the entrance had been was now as solid as the rest of the rock walls.

Jack `What the hell! Where's the door gone?'

Sam picked up a torch and spun around in one flowing movement. The powerful beam revealed nothing other than an unbroken expanse of rock. Jack walked over to the place where the entrance had been and ran his hands over the surface.

Jack `It feels like it's been there forever. Carter, suggestions?'

Sam `Well obviously the seismic activity or the rain has dislodged a whole sheet of rock that's slid down the slope and filled the entranceway. It doesn't look like small rocks piled up, just one continuous sheet, like the layers we see in slate. One seems to have dislodged.'

Jack `That's an explanation. What about a suggestion?'

Sam shrugged and looked blank.

Jack `Great. I suggest we go and sit round the fire and preserve what power we have in these batteries. Teal'c lean on my shoulder. Not too heavy'.

Jack grunted as he took the Jaffa's weight and they struggled over to the fire and switched off the torches.

Jack `Ok. Let's put all the supplies in the middle. Daniel, you sort it out. Carter, we need to think of a way outta here'.

Sam emptied her and Teal'c's pack onto the growing pile of supplies. Daniel sorted out the food, water and other supplies into groups. He added the contents of his and Jack's pack to the large pile. He then looked around for more firewood.

Jack `Carter?'

Sam `Well, sir. Should we use some battery power and take a good look around all the walls.'

Jack `Yeah. Come on'.

The two stood up and waited until they were against the wall before turning on the powerful beam. They carefully edged around the walls, scanning from floor to ceiling level. They were about half way round when Daniel called out to them.

Daniel `Hey, guys. Anybody notice that although we have a fire burning in here, there's no smoke?'

Sam `Daniel's right. There must be a natural chimney in here'.

Jack `Where?'

Sam `Follow the smoke'.

Sam walked over to the fire and shone the torch up the path of the escaping smoke. It whirled around a little, but made a relatively straight path towards a small opening in the ceiling about ten feet above their heads. She pointed the torch beam directly at the opening.

Sam `There, sir. There's a small opening. It looks about twenty odd inches by about nine inches. It looks like it must feed directly out, although there must be a chimney structure to draw the smoke out so well.'

Jack `Anything else?'

They completed their survey, but there appeared to be no other exits from the cavern.

Jack `Daniel, how are we for supplies and equipment?'.

Daniel `We've got about a weeks food, but water's on the short side. There isn't much firewood either. We've plenty of ordnance, but I don't think we need that.'

Jack `What about batteries?'

Daniel `Some, but I don't think we should use them unless absolutely necessary. Oh, and Sam's got plenty of medic supplies. Clothes are what we're wearing plus the wet ones.'

Jack `OK, guys, we've been in worse shape. Hammond should start to wonder what's happened to us in about two and a half days. Then with a bit of luck, we should get pulled out in four days or so. That a problem, Daniel?'

Daniel `We have about a day's water, Jack'.

Jack `Well, aint that ironical. It's raining enough to drowned a cat out there, and we're short of water in here!'.

Sam `Sir, there is an alternative'

Jack `At last, Carter. Out with it'.

Sam `We could climb out'.

Jack `I'm sure you're gonna to tell us how'.

Sam `The chimney'.

Jack `The chimney! A little on the small side, I think'.

Sam `For you, maybe. Not for me!'

Jack `You sayin' you can get out that tiny little hole?'

Sam `Yes, sir'.

Jack `And then what?'

Sam `I'll go back to the Stargate, contact General Hammond. We can come straight back and get you'.

Jack `But, it's a twelve hour hike back to the Gate; alone'.

Sam `Are you saying I couldn't do it, sir?'

Jack `Course not, Carter. But nobody goes alone off world'.

Sam `We've all done it before, sir. There's no particular danger here. It's completely routine'.

Jack `Hmm.'

Daniel `Sam is as capable as any of us, Jack.'

Jack `I know that. I just don't like it'.

Sam `With the water situation. I don't think you have a choice, sir'.

Jack `Whatever, nobody's going anywhere till morning, so I suggest we all get some sleep'.

Jack O'Neill lay back down on his bedroll and after a few moments he was obviously asleep. Daniel poked about for a while and then joined Jack on the sandy floor. Teal'c had already retired to a corner of the cave where he was in a state of kelnoreem. Samantha Carter couldn't sleep. She was annoyed. She felt that her CO was treating her differently than if she was a man. Jack had never made her feel that he expected less of her because she was a woman, but she still wanted to prove that he shouldn't. For half an hour or so, she rooted through the piled up equipment and sorted a small selection to one side. She left the water as it didn't seem in short supply outside, but added a couple of high protein bars. She selected a small hand pistol and a box of bullets, a Zat gun and minimal supply of antibiotics, antiseptic, painkillers and dressings. She packed them all in a small slim pack and added a rope and pitons to the pile. Jack O'Neill watched through half shut eyes. He saw her arrange her selected equipment and mentally applauded her choice. He knew that she was determined and that he was going to have to let her go. This was her call, and there was no valid reason why he should stop her, but the thought of her walking alone through that forest for the best part of a day made tied his stomach into knots. He watched her as she settled down, but he couldn't lie still. Quietly he sat up and whispered to Sam.

Jack `Carter, you still awake'.

Sam `Yes, sir'.

Jack `Can we talk?'

Sam `Whatever you like, sir'.

Jack waved towards a dark corner.

Jack `Let's go over there, so we don't disturb the others'.

Sam `Sure'.

Sam edged out of her sleeping bag and headed over towards the corner and sat on a large flat-topped rock. Jack followed.

Jack `Budge up, Sam. Let me sit on there'.

Sam looked at him with interest. Although they had a close relationship, he rarely called her by her first name. She found it touchingly intimate and moved over for him. Although it was dark, she could see his eyes glittering as he took hold of her arm.

Jack `Carter, do you really want to do this?'

Sam `Yes, sir'.

Jack `You're not just trying to prove a point are you. You know that you don't have to prove anything don't you?'

Sam `Maybe I do. Would you be having this talk with Daniel or Teal'c?'

Jack `I wouldn't let Daniel go, full stop'.

Sam `Ok, then. If I was Ferretti or Johnson?'

Jack `I hope I would be just as concerned. I don't think I'd hold their hands.'

Sam smiled and looked down at her hand wrapped in his. She felt her breath shorten.

Sam `I want to do this, sir. I can do it'.

Jack `I know you can, Carter.'

Jack sighed.

Jack `Can we rig up some kind of aerial up that chimney, so we can keep in touch for as long as possible.'

Sam `Sure we can. It should work for a few miles at least'

Jack `You better get some sleep then'.

He stood up from the rock and reluctantly let go of her hand. She followed him back to the fireside and curling up in her sleeping back she was soon fast asleep. He watched her for a while and then closed his eyes and slept fitfully.

After a few hours a narrow, dim light filtered down the chimney and Sam awoke. A feeling of anticipation was fluttering in her stomach. She stood up and re-sorted her pack in the semidarkness. When she'd finished, she sat by the fire, her arms clasped around her knees. It wasn't long before Jack O'Neill stirred. He rolled out of his sleeping bag and sat up, running his hand through his short, greying hair.

Jack `You packed what you need, Carter?'

Sam `Yes, sir'

He looked thoughtful for a moment and rooted in his top pocket. He pulled out his hand and held it out to Sam, palm up. Something glittered in the dim light thrown out by the remains of the fire. She squinted at it.

Sam `What is it?'

Jack `St Christopher'.

Sam `St Christopher?'

Jack `Yeah, you know. Guy who looks after travellers. Mom gave it me on my first mission when I joined up'.

Sam `It's been lucky for you then?'

Jack `Yeah. You take it and bring it back to me when you come back'.

She sucked in her breath and looked at him.

Sam `I can't'.

Jack `Yeah. You can. Please. Don't make me say pretty please, Carter!'

With shining eyes she picked it off his hand and fastened it round her neck.

Jack `Ok. Let's get this underway. Daniel, move yourself'.

Daniel emerged from his sleeping bag and reached immediately for his glasses.

Daniel `What I wouldn't give for a large cup of steaming coffee'.

Jack `Yeah. Me too!'

Teal'c appeared from the dark corner where he had been meditating.

Jack `Hey, big guy. How ya feelin'?'

Teal'c `I am feeling fine, O'Neill. My symbiote has been repairing the wound'.

Jack `Good ole' Junior.'

Jack O'Neill looked up at the small opening in the ceiling of the cave.

Jack `Carter, you got any idea how you're gonna get up there'.

Sam `Well, sir. If I stand on somebody's shoulders, I should be able to hammer in a couple of pitons at the chimney entrance and rig up a hoist. From there, I'll have to play it by ear'.

Jack `Ok, who's the volunteer'.

Teal'c `I am fine, O'Neill. Samantha Carter can stand on my shoulders'.

Jack `Tempting, Teal'c, but if she slips you could damage that arm. Looks like I might have the short straw, but don't kill me Carter; and I trust you're taking your boots off?'

Sam `Course, sir, and thanks.'

Sam wrapped a length of rope around her waist, fastened on a hand full of pitons and threaded a small hammer through her belt. She peeled off her boots and looked at Jack.

Sam `Ready, sir. If you are?'

Jack `Sit on my shoulders first and when I've stood up, you can get up onto your feet. Daniel, just make sure I don't overbalance'.

The three positioned themselves immediately beneath the chimney opening and Jack squatted down. Sam sat astride his shoulders and with a grunt he stood up.

Jack `My knees are gonna love this. Can you stand, Carter?'

Sam put one hand on Daniel's head and pushed up until both feet were on Jack's shoulders. He held her tightly around the ankles and she wedged one hand against the roof of the cave. With her other hand she took out a piton, placed it between her teeth and then pulled the hammer from her belt hook. She shifted slightly so that her shoulder was now wedged against a jutting rock and hammered the piton into a small crevice in the rock. After repeating the process a couple more times, she uncoiled the rope and threaded it through the hooks. She leaned against the rope until it was taking her whole weight.

Sam `You can go now, sir.'

Jack O'Neill slowly edged away until Sam was hanging completely by the rope. She used her weight to jerk it a couple of times and when she was satisfied that it would hold, she slid to the ground.

Jack watched from one side.

Jack `Good work, Carter'.

Sam `Thank you, sir'.

Sam carefully checked her pack and put her boots back on. She placed her jacket next to her pack.

Sam `You'll have to pass the pack and jacket up when I've got out. I'll never fit if I'm carrying that lot'.

Jack `What about communications?'

Sam `Once I'm up, I'll pass down a rope. If you attach one of the comms units, I'll fix at the opening of the chimney. We should be able to get a relay system working then, from my unit, to the one on the surface, to yours'.

Jack `If you say so, Carter!'.

Sam looked round at her three team members. She gave Daniel and Teal'c a hug and then looked at her Jack uncomfortably. He smiled at her.

Jack `Come here!'.

She walked up to him and he hugged her tightly.

Jack `You be careful, Carter. Remember I want that St Christopher back'.

Sam `I'll bring it back safe, sir'.

Jack `Ok, let's get this show on the road'.

Sam took a deep breath and shimmied up the rope until her head touched he ceiling. She manoeuvred herself until she was directly under the chimney opening. Taking another piton, she knocked it into the chimney wall just inside the opening and threaded the rope through the ring. As it took her weight and edged inside the gap, she got her first look at the entire chimney.

Sam `Looks just wide enough all the way, but it's at least ten foot to the surface. There's a bit of loose rock so watch out for falling debris'.

She continued to edge up the chimney slowly and after an hour or so her head emerged out of the opening and into the rain that was still streaming down. She quickly pulled herself out and lowered the rope back into the cave. She shouted after it.

Sam `I'm out, guys. Attach the jacket first, it's pouring up here.'

She felt a tug on the rope and pulled it up hand over hand. After untying her jacket she lowered the rope again for her pack. She soon had all her equipment and she rigged up the communication relay system. Pressing the button, she walked away from the entrance and talked softly into her unit.

Sam `Can you hear me, over'.

Jack O'Neill replied immediately.

Jack `Loud and clear, Carter'.

Sam `Ok, sir. I'm off now. We should be able to communicate for about ten miles or so'.

Jack `Contact base every fifteen minutes at the most. You hear me, Carter?'

Sam smiled.

Sam `Yes, sir. Over and out'.

She fastened the unit to her jacket and after sliding down the scree to the clearing in front of the cave she set off into the forest. She walked uneventfully for three hours, radioing in as ordered until she reached a point at the extremity of the comms unit range.

Sam `Sir, can you hear me?'

Jack O'Neill's voice sounded very faint as he replied.

Jack `Only just, Carter'.

Sam `We're at the limit of the comms range, sir, so this is it'.

There was a moment's silence.

Jack `Be careful, Carter. And remember, you have something of mine and I want it back'.

Sam `I remember, sir. See you in a day or so'.

She switched off the comms unit and stashed it in her pack. Consciously she ran her hand over the slim gold chain around her neck.

Although the sun was barely visible though the dense cloud, she glanced at it, estimating that she had maybe eight hours daylight left. She wanted to reach the Stargate before nightfall. If she had to spend a night en route, the guys would be running short of water. She hoisted up her pack and set off at a brisk pace.

Back in the cave, Jack O'Neill turned off his comms unit to preserve the batteries.

Jack `That's it guys. Guess it's a waiting game now. Daniel, exactly how much water have we got?'

Daniel `Well, if you forgo brushing your teeth, we have enough for the rest of today'.

Jack `Humph'.

Daniel `Jack, Sam'll be fine. She's great at this kind of thing'.

Jack `Yeah, I know. Just don't like anyone to be alone, out of communication range, on a strange planet. We have no idea what's out there'.

They all sat silent for a minute.

Daniel `Perhaps if I take a better look at some of the inscriptions on these walls we might get a better idea of that'.

Jack `Now he makes the suggestion!'.

Daniel ignored the sarcasm and picking up a glowing ember from the fire, he walked over to the cave walls and started studying the painting and inscriptions.

Daniel `Like I said before. It looks like some kind of Celtic derivative. There are paintings here and here. Hmm, that's interesting'.

Jack `What is?'

Daniel `These drawings are figurative. Many cultures have taboos around the depiction of figures in paintings. Not here obviously.'.

Jack `And?'

Daniel `Ah, also interesting. All the figures depicted appear to be female'.

Jack `And that means?'

Daniel `Not sure, Jack. Probably a matriarchal society'.

Jack `Matri... what?'

Daniel `You know, women rule and all that'.

Jack `Oh. Carter'll fit right in then?'

Daniel `Oh, I would guess that these drawings are at least a thousand years old'.

Jack `Ok, so not significant?'

Daniel `Maybe not'.

Daniel continued his survey of the walls. Jack stood up and wandered over to Teal'c.

Teal'c `O'Neill?'

Jack `Hey, big guy. How y' doin''.

Teal'c `I am still fine, O'Neill'.

Jack `Good. Good'.

Jack scuffed his toes against the sandy floor.

Teal'c `Did you want something else. O'Neill?'

Jack `Not really'.

Jack mooched about some more.

Jack `Teal'c. You ever wonder what'll happen when Carter gets her own command?'

Teal'c `Not really, O'Neill. I expect that General Hammond will get us a replacement'.

Jack `Can't see it'll be long, Teal'c. She's ready. Not sure anyone could replace Carter'.

Teal'c `General Hammond will make the decision when the time comes'.

Jack `Yeah, he will'.

Teal'c `O'Neill. You cannot deny Samantha Carter her chance'.

Jack sighed.

Jack `No, I can't, but it's gonna be real hard'.

Teal'c `I concur, O'Neill'.

Jack `Who do you think we'll get as replacement?'.

Teal'c `I do not know'.

Jack `Teal'c. I don't know if I would want to carry on without Carter'.

Teal'c `I will carry on the fight against the Goa'uld until the day I die'

Jack walked around uncomfortably for a while, then taking a deep breath, he replied.

Jack `Yeah. I know. But I already retired twice before, I could do it again'.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

Jacks eyes glittered in the dim firelight before he muttered to himself.

Jack 'Who the hell am I kidding?'

Daniel Jackson interrupted the introspection.

Daniel `Jack. This is fascinating. I have the gist of the wall script. I was right about the matriarchal society. The writings tell a kind of story. Like the Celtic Sagas back on Earth'.

Jack walked over to Daniel.

Jack `Tell me Daniel'.

Daniel `If you follow these pictorials, it all seems to derive from a particular woman, a kind of chieftain. The rough translation of her name is Brenna. Her husband played away and as penance, all the men from that time were banished to a separate settlement outside the city. We may be in that place.'

Jack `So this was a kind of guy's club?'

Daniel `In effect. Although, if you follow the story. There was a certain amount of force employed to keep them here'.

Jack `History repeats!'

Daniel `In a strange kind of way, you're right Jack'.

Jack `What happened then?'

Daniel `I haven't got to that bit yet'.

Jack `I can't wait!'.

Daniel scowled at Jack and returned to his paintings. Jack returned to the remains of the fire and added a couple more branches. He sat down beside it and waited.

Sam's journey continued without event although the rain refused to stop the entire time. As the light started to fade fast, she finally emerged from the forest edge. She knew that she was only a mile or so away from the Stargate, so she wearily took off her pack and rooted in it until she found her torch. She carried on walking until she stumbled over a rock and almost fell face forward. Taking the obvious signs of approaching nightfall, she turned on her torch and swept it in front of her. Speeding up so that she was almost trotting, she saw the gate loom out of the mist in front of her. She let out a sigh of pleasure and subconsciously fingered Jack's St Christopher.

Sam `Thank you for keeping me safe. See you soon, guys'

As she walked to the DHD, she rooted in her pocket and drew out the SG-1 signalling device.

Sam `Home time'.

She knew where the DHD had been when they arrived, but as she swept her torch round, all she saw was the bare rocky floor of the clearing. She was disoriented as she desperately tried to remember what they had seen as they arrived. She was sure of the location of the DHD, but it wasn't there. Frantically, she scanned the area with her torch, but the only sign was a disturbance of the ground in the area where she thought it should be. She sat down in dismay and quickly ran through her options. After a moments consideration, she realised that she was going to achieve nothing in the dark, so she unpacked her meagre supplies and tucked into a meal bar. Moving close to the comfort of the Stargate, she made a bed and settled down for the night, her handgun within immediate reach. She slept fitfully, unused to the absence of her team mates and feeling the pressure of time. She knew that they would be able to survive without food for some time, water was going to become a problem in another 24 hrs. She was tormented by the thought that she had not restocked their water supply when she got out of the chimney. She had been so sure that she would be back in plenty of time. She had the horrible feeling that her overconfidence was going to cost dearly. She'd been so determined to prove herself that she hadn't even followed the most basic of life preservation rules : Enough air, Enough water, Enough warmth. The unexpected absence of the DHD had ruptured all her plans of being the triumphant saviour.

Jack O'Neill was pacing the cave like a caged tiger. Sam had been gone 12 hours and he knew that they couldn't expect to hear anything for at least another 14 hours. Daniel was still fully occupied deciphering the wall markings and Teal'c was meditating in a dark corner. He broke off his endless walking and went over to where Daniel was stood on a large rock examining the top of the walls.

Jack 'Daniel, this is driving me mad. This waiting. You need any help with this stuff'.

Daniel got down off his rock and studied the Colonel, pursing his lips. He fidgeted with his glasses for a few seconds then said in a patient voice.

Daniel 'Sure, if you like, Jack?'.

Jack ran his hands through his hair for about the hundredth time that day and sighed.

Jack 'Nah. You're right Danny. I'd just mess up what you're doin'.

Daniel 'That's ok, Jack. I am finding some interesting stuff. This over here was done much later, and it continues the story.'

Jack 'Go on then. Tell me, I can tell you're dying to'.

Daniel 'It is fascinating. The matriarchy thing obviously stuck. In these later drawings it seems that men were traded between villages in a similar way to cattle. Looks like they were used as a symbol of wealth and prestige'.

Jack 'Nice!'.

Daniel 'It does mean one thing, Jack. Sam is probably safer out there than we would be. If she meets up with any locals, they're likely to be sympathetic'.

Jack 'Yeah. Unless she tells them about us. We could end up being next week's market special!'.

Daniel 'If you care to think of it like that. Sam wouldn't let that happen without a fight'.

Jack 'Maybe. Perhaps she'd like the idea!'.

Daniel resumed his place on the rock while Jack kicked around a few pebbles.

Jack 'How we doing for water, Daniel?'

Daniel 'We aren't, Jack. It's all gone'.

Jack 'All?'

Daniel 'Yes. There wasn't much.'

Jack 'So, if Carter's delayed, we could start getting into trouble?'

Daniel ''Fraid so'.

Jack looked up at the chimney opening.

Jack 'Bet it's still raining out there. Wonder if we can rig somethin' up to channel some water down that hole?'

Daniel grabbed the opportunity, and as he spoke he saw Jack's jaw jut with the challenge.

Daniel 'I bet you can't work something out Jack. That's more Sam's thing. We'd be better waiting for her'.

Jack muttered under his breath.

Jack 'Damn scientists. Think they can do anything and nobody else can'.

At that Jack strode off and Daniel gave a sigh of satisfaction. He hoped that trying to sort out some water would keep Jack busy for a while. Jack went straight back to the little pile of supplies that Daniel had earlier salvaged from all their packs and started methodically rooting through it. He picked up each object and examined it, then placed it in one of two piles. After an hour or so he had two neat groups of objects. Those (like food) that he couldn't use and those (like plastic sheeting) that may be useful. He carefully put away the useless objects, and started resorting the useful pile. Stretching his legs, he stood up and walked over to Sam's makeshift climbing harness, still attached to the chimney opening. He grabbed the rope and gradually allowed it to take his weight. After ascertaining that it would, he quickly shimmied up until his head touched the ceiling. He looked at the chimney opening and shook his head, thoughts tumbling through his mind.

Jack 'How did she get through that teensy opening?'

He peered up the length of the chimney shaft. He could see the pitons driven at regular intervals into the chimney walls all the way to the surface.

Jack 'Damn, she's good. I couldn't have done that even if I could fit up there. Knees would never have taken the strain. Perhaps it is time you retired Jack. Leave it to the younger, fitter ones. Even if that means Carter'.

A feeling of melancholy swept over him. Maybe it was time to stand to one side. Before his feelings could deteriorate, he mentally shook himself and applied himself to solving the problem. He would need something long enough to reach the surface, a funnel of some kind to catch the water and something to feed it back down to a container below. He slid quickly back down the rope and went back to his stash of items. The container was easy, they had two water canteens. He had no tubing to carry the water, but he did have a good length of fine silk rope. He knew that water would run along this and drip into a container from the end, if he could just fashion some kind of capturing mechanism. Daniel watched him from the side of the cave. He knew that Jack O'Neill often put on a front of stupidity as a kind of defence mechanism, but that in fact he was far from stupid. His intelligence had a kind of native cunning that could cut through the more disciplined thinking of a trained scientist. He had an instinctive and intuitive feel for problem solving that had proved it's worth more than once. He had a stubborn resistance to failure, never accepting that there was no solution. Daniel strongly suspected that Jack would resolve their water difficulties, and he turned back to his wall paintings.

As soon as morning came, with the same dreary rain that they'd seen for the last couple of days, Sam quickly repacked and walked over to where the DHD had been. The daylight revealed a distinct track leading from the DHD location to the encroaching woods. Rutted wheel tracks indicated a vehicle had been used to remove it. Quickly she trotted along the track until she came to disturbed undergrowth beneath the ever dripping trees, and taking more care, she drew her Zat gun and headed into the woods. She only travelled a few hundred yards before she came to a heavy wooden stockade. The walls were made from heavy wooden poles and as far as she could see in the murk, the stockade was unbroken, completely surrounding a rough habitation. Sam positioned her back to the wooden wall and proceeded to edge her way around it. The area immediately surrounding the enclosure had been cleared of trees and undergrowth, leaving a wide sort of 'no mans land'. Before she reached the first corner, she could distinguish two large heavy doors set flush into the wall. Doors large enough to admit a wagon.. Cautiously she edged up to the doors, and spotted a smaller opening set into one of them. Lowering her Zat gun, she tapped on the window with her fist. Almost immediately it opened and a strongly featured female head protruded and looked at her.

Woman 'Sister, welcome'.

Sam was relieved by the apparent friendliness of the woman, and remembered how Daniel usually greeted people that they met.

Sam 'I am a traveller. I have come from very far away, and I need your hospitality'.

The woman looked her up and down for a moment and with a nod of her head, Sam heard her draw back the large door bolts. The door slowly swung open and without hesitation, Sam walked in.

Woman 'Welcome to the House of Brenna, sister. All sisters are welcome here'.

The woman held out a welcoming hand and Sam took it. She was tall and strongly built. Sam estimated she must be at least six foot tall, and she was wearing some kind of hide leggings and shirt. Behind her hovered a man. He was much smaller than the woman, and he had a cowed expression on his face, similar to some she had seen on women in the repressive societies that existed on a few planets. The women gestured to the man who obediently scurried out of the room and returned after a short while with a rough goblet containing a sour smelling wine. He cowered and handed it to Sam.

Sam took the goblet and sipped tentatively.

Sam 'Thank you'.

The woman raised an eyebrow and spoke.

Woman 'My name is Elise. From what House to you hail?'

Sam 'My name is Major Samantha Carter, and I have come from a House very far away'.

Elise persisted, 'What is the name of your House?'

Sam 'Earth'.

Elise 'I know of no such House'.

Sam 'It is very far, and I need your help in returning there'.

Elise 'How can I help?'

Sam 'I believe that you have the DHD. The device that sits by the stone ring? I need this device to return home'.

Elise 'We have the device, but I cannot let you use it. It is our law that the device must be moved away from the stone circle when the moon has passed it's zenith. It will be replaced in five days. Until then you are welcome to stay with us in the House of Brenna'.

Sam felt a slight feeling of panic settle over her, and she knew that her only chance of getting the DHD alone, was to go along with Elise's suggestion, so she smiled and nodded.

Elise 'Good, sister. Now let us go and eat'.

Sam followed her as she exited the stockade gate house and crossing the compound, entered into the long-house that sat in the middle. The man followed some distance behind.

The house consisted of one huge room, criss-crossed by tables and benches. A couple of large fires blazed in the centre of the room. The air was smoky and the light dim, but Sam could make out a number of women sat around the tables. Most of them were eating huge chunks of bread and drinking from stone mugs. A number of men hovered in the background, bringing more bread and drink when summoned. Sam noticed with interest that all the men appeared small and underfed and that they all adopted a submissive posture. Elise walked over to a table and sat down. Sam followed. Immediately, a man appeared with bread and drink for them both. Elise took the food without looking at the man, but Sam gave him an encouraging smile and he looked startled and scurried off.

Elise tucked into her food with relish before she addressed Sam again.

Elise 'So, sister. How goes trade in your House?'.

Sam was unsure what she was asking, but before she could make up a reply, Elise made her meaning clear. She motioned to the man who had been at the stockade entrance with her and he came over. She grabbed his arm roughly.

Elise 'I have just traded for this man, although I am yet to be convinced of his worth. He is untested. What do you think, sister. How compares he to the men of your House?'

Sam looked at him.

Sam 'He looks small'.

Elise snorted and released his arm.

Elise 'You are right, sister. I said so to Jenet, but she would not accept it. I do not know how it goes with you, but men seem to be getting smaller every year. In my mother's time, it is said that men as large as women were sometimes traded'.

Sam suddenly understood. This society was built solely on the trade of men. A germ of an idea began to form in her mind.

Sam 'Elise, I will be straight with you. I have some men to trade. Three of them. They are fine and healthy specimens. As big as women'.

Elise's eyes opened wide with excitement.

Elise 'I knew it was so. I knew it was not a story, as some of my sisters maintain. I knew that you came to us for a reason. Where are these men? Let us do business, sister!'.

Sam 'Ah, that is my problem. I was bringing them here, but we became trapped in a cave some twelve hours walk from here. A cave with paintings. A rock fall has pinned them in and they are so large and well fed that they could not escape, but I could. I need your help to free them. If you help me, you can take your pick from them. They are no worth to me as they are'.

Elise clapped her hands in joy.

Elise 'This is a good day. I know the caves, they are the holding pens of my ancestors, where men were originally kept for trading. The ground became unstable many years ago and we moved to this place. Let us go at once. I am in need of a new man to bring me luck and fortune'.

Elise quickly loaded up her man with food, bedding packs and explosives and with two more of her men, the party set out, heading back to the caves.

Things had not quite gone as Sam planned, but she had no option. If she waited the five days for the DHD to be replaced, Daniel and the Colonel would certainly be dead due to lack of water, and even Teal'c would not be in good shape. She knew that she did not have the power alone to take the DHD, transport it back to the gate and re-establish contact with the SGC. If she could get them out of the cave, maybe they would have the power between them to reinstate it.

The women walked quickly and they reached the caves just before nightfall. Sam was feeling exhausted after her third 12 hour hike in as many days, but she felt the adrenaline flow as she recognised the rocky outcrop in front of her.

Elise studied the blocked doorway.

Elise 'I see your problem, sister. This looks difficult to move. How did you get out?'

Sam wearily pointed up the slope and leading the way, she scrambled to the top. Even in the dusky light she could make out something strange poking out of the chimney opening. It looked like an upturned umbrella, crudely made, it's ribs resting on the rim of the chimney. She walked up and studied it with interest. The umbrella shape itself was made of plastic. The ribs were concocted out of an assortment of objects. She recognised the stiff nylon ribbing that normally reinforced the back of a pack, and a couple of splint stays from the medical pack. The downwards pointing apex of the umbrella had a hole and a fine silk rope led down into the depths of the chimney. She recognised the water collection device immediately and she was impressed by it's simplicity and functionality. She grinned and realised that she had underestimated her colleagues. At least water should not have been a problem.

Elise was following and she looked at the water collector.

Elise 'You have taken good care of your men. They should not be harmed by their stay in the cave, although they may need a little calming down. They can get skittish'.

Sam smiled at the though of Daniel, Teal'c and the Colonel being skittish.

Sam 'I will climb down the chimney and calm them down. Do you think you can widen the chimney enough for them?'

Elise snorted with derision.

Elise 'I will remove the entire part of the roof from here to the back of the cave. If you can keep them calm by the old entrance, they will not be harmed'.

Sam was beginning to enjoy the way that Elise regarded the men.

Sam 'I hope they will be unharmed. They are valuable property'.

Elise looked respectful.

Elise, 'If they are as you have said, then they are valuable indeed. I will be most careful. As one is to be mine, I will take especial care'.

Sam quickly dismantled the rain catcher and quickly climbed down the rope into the cave. As she fell the last few feet, she felt an arm grab her from behind and the cold steel of a weapon pressed to her side. She didn't struggle, just enjoying the close contact for a few moments.

Sam 'Sir, it's me, Carter'.

The arm immediately released her and instead a hand grabbed her arm and spun her around. Although the fire was only putting out a dim, reddish glow, she could see Jack's grin and he took advantage of the dark space and quickly hugged her.

Jack 'Carter. What are you doing back? Where's the others? Dammit, I'm glad to see you'.

Sam 'Thank you , sir, but please listen quickly. There's a change of plan. Where are Daniel and Teal'c?'

Two voices came out from a dark corner.

Teal'c 'I am here Samantha Carter'.

Daniel 'Here, Sam'.

Sam 'Quick. Both of you. Over here, by the door. The roof's going to blow any time. Now listen, I haven't time to explain right now. I'll do that later, but I've had to team up with some locals and they have different customs to those you're used to.'

Daniel 'How so, Sam?'

Sam 'Men are second class citizens here, actually more like third class. Don't answer back or speak until spoken to. You belong to me and I'm trading you like cattle. It's the way things are done here!'

Jack 'You're what?'

Sam 'Sir, please. It's how things are. Oh, and I've promised one of you to the head woman in payment for getting you out!'.

Jack 'Major, you've got some explaining to do'.

Sam 'Yes, sir. But it'll have to wait'.

Just as she finished a loud explosion rocked the cave and the back part of the roof fell in, leaving a large opening. Elise's face appeared over the rim and her voice echoed as she shouted.

Elise 'Sister. I will secure a rope and you can climb up. Can your men climb a rope?'

Sam grinned as Jack cursed under his breath.

Sam 'Yes, Elise. They can. I will come first and they will follow.'

Under her breath she whispered to Jack.

Sam 'Please, sir. Just be quiet and we'll get out of here in one piece'.

A thick rope unfurled from the ceiling and Sam grabbed it and climbed quickly up.

Jack 'Teal'c you first. Then Danny. I'll bring up the rear.'

Teal'c pulled himself up hand over hand until a strong arm reached down and yanked him out. He was quickly followed by Daniel and Jack. The three of them stood in a small group while Elise walked round them.

Elise, 'Sister. I am overwhelmed. Never have I seen such specimens. I do not know which to choose for myself. They are magnificent'.

Sam sniggered and Jack flung her a malevolent stare.

Elise, 'Come. We will set camp for the night and then I will decide'.

She marched down the slope with the three men following and Sam following at the rear. Elise's men had already set up shelters and were in the process of constructing a fire. She sat under one shelter and watched the men critically. She waved Sam over.

Elise `Come, sister, let us talk business whilst the men prepare supper'.

Sam looked quizzically at Daniel, Teal'c and Jack.

Sam `Men, make supper, and be quick about it'.

Jack spluttered whilst Teal'c simply tilted his head to one side. Daniel grabbed Jack's jacket and nodded towards one side. They edged over to the pile of supplies and started rooting amongst them.

Elise watched carefully.

Elise, `The younger one looks obedient. Is he always so?'

Sam had to restrain her smile.

Sam `He is quite well behaved'.

Elise `Yes, and strong I think, but maybe not resourceful. Are his teeth good?'

Sam, `Oh yes, I think so'.

Elise, `The one with grey hair looks older, but appears to be in good condition. I personally am fond of that lean and hungry look. Experience can be pleasurable'.

Sam actually sniggered as she saw Jack's head jerk up as he listened.

Elise, `The large one is most unusual. I have not seen such as he before. I am intrigued. Is he truly as strong as he appears.'

Sam glanced at Teal'c.

Sam `Oh yes he is.'

Elise, `This is most enjoyable, but I think that they need some training. I see no sign of supper yet'.

Sam `Being in the cave has disturbed them'.

Elise `Ah yes, of course. Men are only settled with a good routine'.

Sam wondered how far she dare go, but then decided that it was worth the try.

Sam `Men. Hurry up with that meal'.

Jack shuffled over with two large bowls of something disgusting looking. He held them out to Sam and Elise, his eyes glaring at Sam as he spoke.

Jack `Food, Ma'am. Enjoy'.

She smiled at him.

Elise watched the exchange.

Elise, `I think that the old one is your favourite. It does not do to become attached to your trading stock, sister. You should know that. Come let us eat and then we will discuss business'.

Sam and Elise tucked in to their supper by the fire, whilst the men huddled under what cover they could manufacture beneath the dripping trees. Sam felt a pang of guilt as she watched them shivering, especially when Jack started coughing. When she was finished, Elise sat back and looked at the three men again.

Elise, `I have made up my mind, sister. I will take the old one.'

Sam spluttered over the spoon full of food that she was just eating.

Elise, 'I have watched all three and they are indeed good specimens but I see a certain defiance in the eyes of the old one, and I like a challenge. It is many years since I have seen a man that I could enjoy breaking. He is also lean and strong. He will take less feeding than the large one. Besides, he is also your choice, and I trust you, sister!'.

Sam, 'I will not release him to your care until we get back to your House, Elise. I know him, and as you say he is wily. He may run if he knows that he is yours here'.

Elise shrugged.

Elise, 'As you wish, sister, although I could do with warming this night. Elrond will have to do. I will take the shelter prepared over there, you may have this one'.

At that she walked over to the miserable huddle of scrawny men that she brought with her and pointed at one. He stood up with a barely suppressed scowl on his face and followed her into the makeshift tent on the other side of the fire. As Sam watched the proceedings, she caught Jack O'Neill's eye and he raised one eyebrow and tilted his head in question. Sam pointed at him, imitating Elise's gestures and waved him over. He looked behind him in mock shock and then he tugged his forelock and shuffled over to her. She had to restrain from laughing at the expression on his face. As soon as he sat down next to her, he leaned over and hissed in her ear.

Jack 'Carter, for cryin' out loud, what the hell's........'

Sam interrupted him with a sharp shhhhh.

Sam 'Shhhhh, sir. If she hears you it'll all fall apart'.

Jack leaned even closer until his warm breath tickled her ear and she squirmed.

Jack 'What will?'

Sam 'The deception. You've got to play along, sir, and tell Daniel and Teal'c to do the same. Otherwise, we'll not get home'.

Jack 'Carter? Explain!'

He tilted his ear in her direction. She hesitated for a moment, then shuffled up until she was sat very close to him. Cautiously she cupped one hand around his ear and whispered into it, resisting the temptation to blow into his ear.

Sam 'The journey back from the cave was uneventful, sir, but when I reached the gate, the DHD was gone'.

Jack frowned, and she continued.

Sam 'I had to wait for daylight then I tracked some cartwheel markings to a kind of stockaded village. It appears that the society here is ruled by a matriarchy. The women appear to be the power base and I'm afraid, sir, that men are simply considered symbols of wealth. They trade the men backwards and forwards between villages. I suppose it helps circulate the gene pool'.

As she was running though her story, Jack was wriggling more and more until he held up his hand and pulled away from her shaking his head and murmuring as softly as he could

Jack 'Whoa, Carter. Tickles. Gotta stop'.

Sam grinned broadly and shrugged. She held her hands out in a gesture, asking for suggestions. O'Neill looked around and then glanced towards the makeshift tent where Elise and Elrond had retired. He nodded in that direction and flickered an eyebrow suggestively. Sam had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. She shrugged again and looked at him wide eyed. With a smirk on his face, he rolled down the tent covering which made an enclosed area about five foot square. With his fingers over his lips in warning, he pointed at the ground and whispered.

Jack, 'Carter, lie down. Flat on your back!'.

Sam obeyed but whispered back.

Sam 'Sir! I always knew you'd know how to treat a girl'.

Even in the dim light afforded by the tent she could see his eyes gleam. As she stretched out, her feet stuck out from the tent covering. Jack edged over to her and laid on top so that his feet interlaced with hers. He supported himself on his elbows and rested his head in one hand. When she heard a loud flurry of coughing and spluttering that she recognised as Daniel's did she realise what this must look like from outside. Jack O'Neill's face was very close to hers as he spoke softly.

Jack 'Ok, Carter. Carry on with the story'.

Sam 'Yes, sir. Well they have the DHD hidden away somewhere in the village. Seems that it's some kind of tradition to remove it during certain times of the lunar cycle and replace it later. If we want to get back, we're going to have to highjack it and reinstall it at the stargate.'

Jack looked thoughtful for a moment.

Jack 'And the plan is?'

Sam 'We should get back to the village by tomorrow night, sir and I suggest we plan to locate the DHD immediately and under the cover of night try and remove and replace it back at the gate. We'll need a vehicle to carry it and some kind of diversion creating.'

Jack 'Sounds like a plan.'

Sam 'I think it's a good idea to make sure we act tomorrow night and not leave it longer'.

Jack 'And why would that be, Carter?'

Sam 'Hmm. To get Elise to come back to the cave and help, I had to promise her something, sir'.

Even in the dim light, Sam could see O'Neill squint and screw up his face.

Jack 'Carter!'.

Sam 'The women here trade men as symbols of wealth. I had to promise her one of you in return'.

Jack 'Carry on, Carter!'

Sam 'Seems she picked you, sir. She likes you.'

Jack 'She does?'

Sam smiled to herself.

Sam 'She says you'll take less feeding than Teal'c'.

Jack 'Hmph'. And Daniel?'

Sam 'She thinks he's a bit young. She prefers a bit more experience'.

Jack 'Experience in what?'

Sam grinned.

Sam 'Can't comment on that, sir. But if we stay the night at the village, I think she'll expect you to prove your worth!'

Jack 'She will?!!'

Sam 'Yes, sir!'.

Jack 'She scares me. You're right we've gotta get out as quick as we can'.

Sam fluttered her eyelashes at him and spoke in a mockingly sweet voice.

Sam 'We could stay on a while, if you'd like , sir?'

Jack 'Carter!!'.

She had to clamp her hand over her mouth to keep in the laughter. O'Neill shifted slightly to one side to take some of his weight from her. He found he was very reluctant to move far. He leaned against one hand, his legs still tangled round hers. They were both quiet for a while.

Jack 'Reminds me of that Antarctic cave we were in, Carter'.

Sam's voice was decidedly sleepy as she murmured in response.

Sam 'Mmm. Not so cold'.

Jack 'No, it isn't. Seem to remember you inflicting pain on me last time too, Carter'.

Sam 'My pleasure, sir'.

Even in the very dim light, he could see her eyelids flutter as they closed almost against her will. A small sigh escaped from her lips and her breathing started slowing almost immediately. He realised that she was probably exhausted. He doubted she'd got much sleep last night on the top of two days strenuous hike. He took the opportunity to scrutinise her face. She had some smudges across her cheek which he tried to wipe away with this finger tips and he gently moved a loose strand of hair that slipped down her forehead towards her eye. She stirred as he touched her face, and he quickly withdrew his hand. In her sleep she edged over to him and nuzzled her face into his shoulder. He found he was holding his breath as she moved unconsciously, but as she settled again with one arm flung across his chest, he breathed out slowly. He remembered back in that ice cave, he'd been surprised as she'd clung to him as they slept. Even with broken ribs, he'd enjoyed the feeling. He knew that she'd kept him alive on that day, something she'd repeated a number of times through the years. He couldn't think of any other 2IC that he'd trust more with his life than her. She wasn't so stupid as to be fearless, but she dealt with her fear rationally. She was totally reliable and he knew that she would give 110% to carry out her job. With a soft sigh, he carefully untangled himself from her and edged out of the makeshift tent. With a stretch he looked over to where he'd left Daniel and Teal'c. He could see Daniel's glasses glinting in what remained of the firelight, so he ran in a crouched stance back to them.

Daniel 'Jack, surprised to see you. You looked comfortable where you were.'

Jack glared at him.

Jack 'Just sorting out a plan of action with my 2IC'.

Daniel snorted.

Daniel 'Didn't look like you needed a plan'.

Jack 'Danny, you implying something?'

Daniel 'Not me, Jack!'.

Jack 'Well don't. Now if you've finished gossiping, I'll let you in on the plan'.

Teal'c 'I would like to know the plans, O'Neill'.

Jack 'Thank you, Teal'c. The voice of reason. Look, seems these women, oh and you were right about the matrix thing....'

Daniel 'Matriarchy'.

Jack 'Whatever. These women have taken the DHD, and we need to get it back if we want to go home. They seem to have some thing going with trading men as well'.

Daniel looked excited.

Daniel 'I told you that from the pictographs in the cave. So it's still continuing. Interesting. Must have worked well or it would have fallen into disrepute long ago. But why do they remove the DHD?'

Jack 'Dunno. Something to do with the moon, Carter said. Loony cycles?'

Daniel 'That makes more sense than you know, Jack. In societies dominated by women, their monthly cycles all tend to coincide eventually. It's to do with pheromones. Female cycles are also supposed to be associated with the lunar cycles, gravitational pulls and so on. I'd like to bet that the women remove the DHD at the time they are most fertile in the month. Stops the men from getting away!'

Jack 'Daniel. Is there anything you don't know? You beat Carter hands down on this one and she's a woman'

Daniel grinned so Jack thought that he would put a stop to that.

Jack 'Oh, and one of us is a present for the big gal. She made her choice'.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

Jack 'Sorry, big guy, seems you'd be too expensive to feed'.

Daniel tilted his head on one side and pursed his lips.

Jack 'Not you either, Danny boy. Seems she appreciates a bit of experience.'

Jack O'Neill grinned triumphantly.

Daniel 'You're welcome, O'Neill. If you've any energy left after planning with your 2IC.'

Jack frowned.

Jack 'Daniel, watch it! You're talking about Carter here'.

Daniel looked contrite.

Daniel 'Sorry, Jack. You going to let us in on the plan?'

Jack 'We go back with them tomorrow to the village and when night falls, we need to create a distraction so that we can nab the DHD and return it to the stargate. We'll need a wagon to move it.'

Daniel 'And that's the plan?'

Jack 'The simpler the better!'.

Daniel 'If you say so, Jack'.

Jack 'Yeah, I do. Now I know those guys look underfed, but I'd still feel better if we had a watch. You go first, Daniel, then me, then Teal'c.'

Daniel 'Ok, Jack. But you sure it's the little guys you're thinking of and not the big woman. She might fancy a try out before she settles on her choice'.

Jack glared at Daniel, and then curling up, he laid on his side and within five minutes was fast asleep.

Next morning, they arose early. Elise made the men pack up all the equipment, and they set off as soon as it was light. The journey back was uneventful, if long, damp and tiring and Sam was glad when the stockade came into view. She glanced round at Teal'c, Jack and Daniel who were walking behind with the other men, and flashed them a quick smile. Once inside the House, Elise's men vanished, but Daniel, Jack and Teal'c were soon surrounded by admiring women who squeezed their arms and thighs and ran their hands over them. Sam shooed the women off and stood protectively in front of the men.

Sam 'Sisters, please do not handle the merchandise'.

A very tall dark woman shouted from the back.

Woman 'Elise. Which have you chosen?'

Elise shouted in return.

Elise 'I have chosen the old one. You know me, I like experience'.

The other women cackled loudly as Daniel whispered into Jack's ear.

Daniel 'Old!'.

Jack responded immediately.

Jack 'Experienced!'.

Sam interjected in the discussion of the merits of the men.

Sam 'Elise. Is this not a celebration? Is there no wine?'

Elise 'My sister is correct. Men, bring the wine. Plenty of it, and food'.

The women all sat down at the long tables as large flagons of wine appeared on each table and large crusty loaves of bread. When they had served all the women, the men took seats at the bottom of the room. Sam kept a constant eye on 'her men'. She saw Jack slip out of the door at the back and knew that he must be looking for the DHD as planned. After 30 minutes or so, he returned and she caught the imperceptible nod that he gave in her direction.

The men brought yet more wine and she saw that Elise was in a state of high intoxication. Elise was sat in a group of very raucous women and they were pointing at Jack, Daniel and Teal'c and laughing loudly. She noticed that her team had also noticed the interest that they were generating and as Elise stood and staggered towards them, pointing at Jack, she saw Teal'c pick up a bowl of food and dump it unceremoniously on one of the other men's heads. Daniel flung a large goblet of liquid at someone and within a few seconds a huge melee had broken out. Sam recognised the confusion as the planned diversion and she sprinted for the door at the back, hoping that in the fracas, no one would spot her. She slid round the door and looked up and down the corridor at the other side. A familiar voice caught her attention.

Jack 'Carter. Over here'.

She followed the sound of the voice and saw a large wooden door that was slightly ajar. She pushed it and walked in. The door opened into a large storage area in which there was stood a heavy looking cart. Strapped to the back was the DHD. It was obvious that the women didn't even bother to unload the DHD between removing and returning it. A heavy looking horse was grazing quietly in a stall at the side of the cart. At the far end of the room, double doors were open, showing the forest track beyond them. If the distraction could be maintained a while, they should be able to harness the horse and get the DHD out without raising too much alarm. Once back to the stargate there was no reason why they should even unload the DHD. It should work from the back of the cart as well as on the muddy ground.

Sam 'Can you harness a horse, sir?'

Jack 'Not a clue, Carter. What about Teal'c or Daniel?'.

Sam 'I'll see if I can get them'.

Sam exited the store room and edged back down the corridor. She could still hear the sounds of the melee coming from the large hall, and guessed that the fracas was in full swing. Tentatively she pushed open the door just as a large jug smashed against the wall and splattered her with sour smelling beer. A quick glance convinced her that things were going to plan. At least twenty men and ten women were pushing and fighting each other. Sam caught sight of Daniel just as he took a smart right hook to the chin from a burly middle aged women. She hissed at him.

S, 'Daniel. Over here. Fetch Teal'c'.

Shaking his head, Daniel turned and jumped over two men who were rolling on the floor in front of him. With one more stride, he'd reached Teal'c and grabbed him by the sleeve, nodding towards Sam. She saw Teal'cs acknowledgement and the two men made their way over to her and followed her out of the door. They quickly ran up the corridor and back to where Jack was wrestling with a pile of leather harness. Daniel took one look at the situation and grabbed the harnesses.

Daniel 'Here, give that to me. I didn't spend a year on Abydos doing nothing, you know. I'll harness and drive, Jack open those gates. Sam keep watch out.'

Sam looked at him in surprise, but obeyed. Jack raised an eyebrow, but silently did as he was told.

Teal'c 'Daniel Jackson, I will steady the DHD on the wagon'.

Daniel 'Good Teal'c'.

Daniel quickly and deftly harness the huge horse to the wagon and as soon as Jack had opened the gates he leapt on the horse's back and encouraged it to exit through the stockade wall. Sam jumped on the back of the wagon as it passed her, keeping an eye on the path behind them. It was difficult to persuade the horse to go at any pace because of the darkness that descended on them very quickly after they had left the House. Realising that the diversion would not last very long, they went as quickly as possible and were soon in the clearing and close to the stargate.

Jack 'Carter, where do we need to put this thing?'

Sam 'This should do, sir. I'll try reconnect the DHD from here. Pass a torch please'.

Jack tossed a torch over to her and Sam started work immediately. Within a few minutes she was ready and they started dialling home. Suddenly there was a commotion at the side of the clearing and ten well armed women erupted from the foliage. Elise was in the front. She stormed over to Sam and started shouting.

Elise 'Sister, I think you have something of mine'.

At that Elise made a lunge for Jack who dodged out of the way. Sam drew her Zat gun and from her vantage point on the back of the cart, she pointed it at her and shouted forcefully.

Sam 'Stop there or I'll fire. We want to leave peacefully and if you let us, no one will come to harm'.

Elise, 'I will leave when I have my property'.

Sam 'That's not possible, sorry. He comes with me'.

Elise, 'Then I challenge you by right of the sisterhood. Winner takes the prize'.

The group of women let out a huge whoop of excitement and immediately formed a large circle with Elise at its centre. Sam looked at Elise and weighed up her chances. Although Sam was tall, 5ft 9in, Elise was at least 3 inches taller and weighed at least three stone heavier. She also looked an experienced and wily fighter.

Jack 'Carter, don't even think about it. She's too big'.

Sam hissed back at him.

Sam 'Other suggestions, sir?'

Jack 'Zat one of them and just dial out while they're distracted.'

Sam 'And what stops them following us through, sir'.

Jack 'Good point, Carter'.

Sam warily stepped into the circle and Elise immediately crouched into a ready position. She was shifting from foot to foot her eyes glued to Sam. Sam walked cautiously round the circle watching Elise. She saw her take a slightly deeper breath and stepped to one side just as Elise lunged towards her. The big woman sprawled in the mud and let out a shout of frustration.

O'Neill, Daniel and Teal'c were watching from their vantage point on the cart.

Teal'c `I think Samantha Carter will fight well. But what happens if she looses, O'Neill?'

Jack `Good question, Teal'c'.

Daniel `I guess you'll have to go with your new girl friend, Jack, and we can go home'.

Jack `If you don't keep quiet, Danny, I'll offer you in exchange. You're nice and young and fresh'.

Daniel `But I thought she liked experience, Jack'.

Jack `Watch it, Danny boy'.

Just at that moment Elise managed to grab hold of Sam's sleeve and proceeded to throw her high though the air. She landed flat on her back, the breath knocked out of her. She shook her head to clear it and rolled to one side before Elise could land on top of her.

Teal'c `I think that will have hurt, O'Neill. This woman is big and strong'.

Jack answered through gritted teeth.

Jack `Yeah! We've gotta do something to stop this before Carter gets badly hurt'.

Jack leapt onto the cart side and holding his hands up he started shouting.

Jack `Can I have your attention please................'.

Before he could finish, Teal'c nudged his arm.

Teal'c `Watch Samantha Carter, O'Neill'.

Jack turned and watched. Sam was back on her feet and taunting Elise with a few open handed slaps across the face. As her team watched, she suddenly spun lightly on one foot and kicked out with her other one, catching Elise full in the chest. Elise staggered backwards and before she could recover Sam started with another barrage of kicks and punches and within a short space of time, Elise was prostrate on the floor and Sam was brushing herself down.

Daniel `Wow. Don't tangle with Sam'.

Jack `I didn't know Carter knew Martial Arts!'.

Sam held her hand out to Elise and pulled her up.

Elise `Sister, I bow to you. In accordance with our traditions, you have the prize.'

Sam `Thanks Elise, but you know you should allow your men more freedom. It's much more fun when you're equal, when you do things together, share things'.

Elise shook her head.

Elise `I cannot see how that is so'.

Sam `May we use the stone circle now to go home'.

Elise `You have earned the right to do so. Come back and see us sister if you wish to trade. `

She winked at Jack.

Elise `The old one still interests me'.

Sam smirked.

Sam `I'll bare that in mind and if I want to trade him, I will come to you first, Elise'.

Jack glared at her.

Sam `Teal'c, can you dial up. Men follow me'.

Jack tugged his forelock and following Daniel, he muttered.

Jack `Stay back, Danny. You don't want to be on the wrong end of that kick!'.

Teal'c dialled home and when the ripple appeared in the Stargate they stepped through.

Sam finished drying her hair and threw the damp towel into the wash basket. She stretched her arms up and turning round, she examined the large bruise on her back that Elise had done when she was unceremoniously tossed onto the floor. It was good to be back to hot water and a few home comforts, even those offered on the base. After quickly pulling on clean pants and tee shirt, Sam headed off down the corridor to Colonel Jack O'Neill's office. As she approached, she could see a yellow post it note stuck on the door. She sniggered when she saw what was written on it in bold letters:

FREE TO GOOD HOME : ONE EXPERIANCED MAN !

She pulled the note from the door, and knocked lightly.

Jack `Yeah?'

Sam `Sir? Is this convenient. Oh and I think you should take this off your door'.

Sam held out the note to O'Neill. He took it and read it frowning.

Jack `One of these days I'm gonna kill Daniel!'.

Sam smiled and held out her hand towards him with the St Christopher in her palm.

Sam `I've brought something back for you, sir. It worked well, thank you'.

Jack took it without speaking and put it back into his top pocket.

Jack `You did well, Carter., and where the hell did you learn those fancy martial art moves?'

Sam `Dad started me off initially, then I had lessons for a few years, till it got hard to go to a regular class. Sir, I want to apologise'.

Jack `Lost me there, Carter. What for?'

Sam `My insistence on proving myself put you, Daniel and Teal'c at risk. I didn't sort out your water situation before I left you in that cave. I was too full of myself. Too full of the thought that I was going to be the one to save everyone. I didn't think of the team, I was thinking of me'.

Jack `Sam, you don't have to prove anything to anyone. Least of all me, Daniel and Teal'c. We all know how good you are. We wouldn't trust you with our lives, everyday if we didn't think you could cut the grade.'

Sam blushed.

Sam `Thank you, sir. It means a lot to me.'

Jack `Now prove you're just one of the guys. Grab your jacket. We're going out for pizza. Which will include the chance to get my own back on Danny'

Sam `That'll be great, sir'.

End

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