Daniel Jackson ran, weaving through the underbrush and ducking under low branches. His injuries and inferior build had the enemy at an advantage, but he had a small head start and he intended to use it. Choosing a route at an angle to the main road he hoped to cut past its winding turns and reach the Stargate before the Jaffa could catch up with him. His smaller stature would also make it easier for him to get through the thick forest that filled the valley between the fortress and the 'gate.
The mission to PZX-760 had gone south fast and without warning. SG-1 had gated into a small clearing edged by a dense forest at dawn local time. There was not a cloud in the sky and the air was already warm, even though the sun had barely crept over the horizon.
The only way out of the clearing was a dirt road that appeared much traveled, indicating use of the Stargate by the locals. The pre-mission scouting by the UAV had shown only one site of interest: the ruins of a small village over-towered by a crumbling fortress. The whole area seemed abandoned, immediately raising question-marks concerning the road. There was no apparent sign of Goa'uld presence though so general Hammond had authorized SG-1 to investigate, much due to Dr. Jackson's interest in the ruins.
The dirt road was in no way a direct path to the fortress, but the team made the journey in just under three hours. The MALP had shown that the days on this planet were just slightly longer than on Earth so their early start would ensure that Daniel had plenty of time to look around the ruins. Unfortunately he wouldn't need that time though. Daniel knew immediately that there wouldn't be much to find in the village. It had been in the style of ancient Greece but he couldn't gather much more from the crumbled heaps of rock.
"This place wasn't left in a hurry," he told Jack O'Neill's only moderately interested back. "The people who lived here moved out, and tore the place down before they left. I want to take a look at the fortress as well, but I suspect the same goes for that. They seem contemporary so it only makes sense that it was torn down too."
Jack let him talk, even though he didn't really care beyond 'there isn't anything here'. He'd learned over the past year that the man he lovingly called 'his geek' needed to talk as he thought. So he grunted his agreement, ordered Carter and Teal'c to wait for them and accompanied his friend up to the towering building.
The fortress turned out to be an even bigger bust than the village. It showed some Goa'uld influences but it seemed to have been torn down with even more vehemence than the village and all the entrances were blocked by huge piles of rubble.
"Come on Daniel, the place is nothing but a pile of rocks anyway," Jack called as the archaeologist walked along the crumbled walls a second time. The disappointment was evident on the young man's face.
"Okay, Jack. Sorry I dragged us out here for nothing."
Jack gave him a pat on the shoulder as he radioed their teammates.
"Carter, Teal'c, we're coming back down. Get ready to head out. This place is a bust."
And so they set out on the three hour hike back to the Stargate, Daniel mumbling all the way. He couldn't quite shake the feeling that there was something wrong about this place. It wasn't until they were almost at the 'gate that he realized what it was that was bugging him.
"Jack," he called out to his team leader walking point. "How come there's a much traveled road to a place where no one lives?"
The answer came not from Jack, but from the 'gate-clearing opening up in front of them as dozens of hot staff blasts whizzed through the air, sending the team diving for cover. Daniel could hear Jack barking orders.
"Get to the 'gate! Carter, dial home."
He rose from the bush he had been hiding behind to run for the safety of the blue puddle leading home. Sam was taking up position at the 'gate while Jack and Teal'c laid down fire while racing to join her. Daniel took two steps, then something impacted hard with his face right above his left eye. The last thing he heard before he passed out was Sam's voice shouting his name.
He woke from a vicious kick to his midsection, but barely had time to catch his breath before a slap landed across his face and knocked his glassed crooked. Instinctively he put his hands up to cover his head but instead left his ribs unprotected from another kick. The cowering method wasn't going to cut it, he realized, but he could still use the fact that it had been his first response.
He curled into a ball, seemingly seeking to protect himself from the hailing of blows and kicks. As a kick impacted with his right side he let himself roll over to his knees. In a momentary pause of the assault he extended his legs and shot up into the air, flinging his arms out to contact with the Jaffa bending over him. The chock more than the blow itself knocked the enemy down and Daniel was off in an all out sprint before he touched the ground.
As he ran he tried to orientate himself, quickly recognizing the houses of the ruined village around him. His memory led him to the dirt road, but the Jaffa were close behind. His sudden break for freedom had caught them off-guard, but now they were gaining on him. Then he heard the tell-tale sound of a staff weapon opening. Knowing he was an easy target out on the open road he threw himself into the dense forest just as several staff blast whizzed through the space he had occupied a moment ago. Scrambling to his feet he felt the sting of a burn on his leg, but there was no time to stop.
Sweat poured down Daniel's brow. It had been a while since he'd heard any sound of the pursuit. Perhaps he could allow himself a rest. He sank to the ground, letting out a sigh of relief as his bruised ribs got a small respite from moving.
Like Jack had taught him, he used the time while resting to take stock of his injuries, assessing his situation. Carefully he stretched out his legs, first the left one and then the right, wincing from the stab of pain as the motion pulled in the skin on the latter that had been seared by the staff blast. That was a close one. A few inches to the left and I wouldn't have gotten away. There's no running on one leg. A snort of laughter escaped him at the thought that sounded so much like Jack. I'm spending so much time with him I'm starting to sound like him.
Moving on to the injury that was really worrying him he lifted his sweat-soaked t-shirt and ran his fingers over the ribs on his right side, increasingly applying pressure. He had to bite his tongue to not cry out from pain as he felt the broken rib give way under his fingers. Crap! Now all he could do was hope and pray the rib hadn't punctured anything.
Finally he ran his hands over his face and arms. He knew a real shiner was forming over his left eye from the blow that had taken him down at the 'gate, and he could feel the sting of a split in his lip. His arms were covered in bruises. 'Defensive injuries' he knew Janet would call them when he eventually found himself back in her infirmary. He almost laughed at the longing he suddenly felt for the room he normally couldn't wait to get out of. I must really be desperate to go home if I miss the infirmary.
Having concluded his examination he let his eyes fall shut. Just one moment, then I have to move again. Before he knew it he was falling down the well of blessed darkness into sleep. He jerked himself awake, willing his mind back from the precipice. He could not allow himself to lose himself to the darkness just yet.
The Jaffa couldn't be far behind him, and they had surely dispatched a group to guard the Stargate. Getting there before them would be his only chance to escape the planet. If he didn't make it he would have to hide and wait for Jack and the others to come back and rescue him. If they even got away in the first place. No, he wouldn't allow himself to think like that. They had to have gotten out. After all they were the warriors and soldiers, more accustomed to fighting their way out, and they had already had the 'gate open. He was the scholar, the weak one, and as such he had fallen behind and gotten caught.
Jack would be proud of him though, he had escaped almost at once and he might still make it off this planet all on his own. If he could just get himself into gear again. Spurred by the thought of his friend, and the prospect of making him proud, Daniel dragged himself to his feet and started walking. This time he took more care to not leave any tracks, bending the branches carefully not to snap them. If the Jaffa were still on his tail he would do his best to make sure they didn't have a clear trail to follow.
As he pushed forward, ignoring the pain in his side and leg, the forest stayed silent – almost eerily so. The sounds of pursuit he expected to hear at any moment didn't come. Before he joined the Stargate program he might have thought that meant he had actually lost them, but his experiences over the last year had cemented the fact of his uncommonly bad luck. If the Jaffa weren't coming after him it only meant they were elsewhere, making plans that would probably throw a wrench in his own.
Well, there was nothing he could do about it. He still had to try, and the closer he was to the 'gate when his friends came for him, the easier it would be for them to rescue him.
As he got nearer to the clearing where the 'gate was situated he walked slower, trying to keep low despite his ribs screaming in protest. When he saw a glimpse of the open space through the trees he stopped for a moment. Taking a deep breath he got prepared to rush for the Stargate, silently running the now familiar symbols for dialing home through his mind.
Luckily the Jaffa hadn't perceived the GDO as a weapon and thus left it attached to his wrist. It had even survived the beating that had left Daniel with a ton of bruises, a black eye and broken ribs. The handgun they had taken, they understood what that was, and the radio must have been crushed by one of the kicks cause there was nothing left of it but splinters of plastic and electronics.
The numbers of the iris-code followed the DHD symbols in their march through his head. He was ready. Carefully he inched his way to the tree line. The underbrush was thinner here, almost as if it had been cleared to make a stealthy approach more difficult. Jack had taught Daniel well though. Hiding behind the last tree he peered into the clearing, and his heart sank at what he saw.
A dozen Jaffa were spread out in the clearing, effectively guarding the 'gate itself, the DHD and the opening where the dirt road leading to the fortress began. They must have had an al'kesh. Perhaps that's why they didn't pursue me through the forest despite it being a shortcut to the Stargate. They knew they would get here before me anyway. Crap!
The Jaffa didn't seem to be giving much attention to the forest around the clearing, but that was a small consolation. Even if he would have the element of surprise on his side there was no chance he could manage to dial home, punch in the code in the GDO and leap through the 'gate before he was caught – or worse – killed.
Well, as Jack would have said: 'on to plan b' – hiding. Daniel crept back into the deeper underbrush and headed uphill, hoping there would be somewhere he could hole up while he waited for his friends and the rescue he was sure would come. He'd have to put his faith in Jack's unshakable motto: 'Leave no man behind.' He knew his friends would come for him. If they can. There he went again. Don't go there Daniel. They'll be here, I just need to hang on.