With no watch to guide him, it was hard for him to keep track of the passage of time. When he left the bathroom the sun had been slipping below the horizon; now the moon rode high, passing from one side of the arched window to the other during the time he had been sitting there, waiting for whatever retribution would be demanded of him for his outburst. Yet neither the Goa'uld nor Jack had emerged from the bathroom thus far and he wondered which of them was now in control of the body and if he dared to go and find out.
Pity we don't have one of those detection devices the Tollan used on Skarra, he mused, recalling fondly how relieved he had felt each time the device turned from red to the cool blue that indicated their young friend was in control.
He leapt at least a foot off the window seat at the sound of her voice, unaware that anyone had entered the room. Coming to his feet, he gave himself a mental slap, warning himself that it really was time he stopped daydreaming and started paying more attention to what was going on around him.
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to startle you..." she apologised. She was pretty and looked harmless enough, but he kept his distance and acknowledged her with a nod.
"That's - ah - that's..." Pulling the robe closer around himself, the belt having been lost in the fight with the Goa'uld, he settled back down again, determined not to make an exhibition of himself - in any way. "Who... Who are you?"
"Lieutenant Poulsen, sir. Colonel O'Neill sent me to bring these to you..." She handed him a pile of neatly folded clothes - black BDU pants, a black t-shirt and even a pair of boxer shorts and some fresh socks. He picked up the pants and shook them out, holding them against himself, noticing as he did so that the laundry tag inside the waistband bore Jack's name.
"I'm afraid it's the best we can do."
"They'll be fine, " he assured her, a reassuring smile forming on his lips. She was pretty, in a 'girl next door' kind of way - not that any of the girls he'd ever lived next door to had looked like her. Blond hair was pulled, perhaps too harshly, from a face free of make-up, and her green eyes were so dark they clearly reflected the silver disk of the moon shining through the glass. He found himself wondering what on earth someone so sweet was doing in such a situation.
"Sir, the colonel said that, once you're dressed, I'm to take you to see Major Carter."
"Sam?" His heart put on a sudden spurt, thumping heavily against his ribs. "Where is she? How is she...?"
"She's with the Healer and she's fine. She's been asking for you..."
"Really?" Surprise squeaked through his voice. Sam had been really sick when they had taken her from the cell, perhaps even on the edge of death, yet just a few hours later she had recovered enough to ask for him? This 'healer' must certainly know his - or her - stuff...
He snapped out of it then - "Oh... Oh, right... Of course..." and, jumping up, made a grab for the boxers and let the robe fall to the floor - only to snatch it up again at her cry of "Doctor Jackson!"
She turned her back on him hurriedly, but not before he had seen the rush of colour to her face. Well, at least she wasn't another of those predatory females that seemed to gravitate to him as a matter of course these days. By comparison, her embarrassment was delightfully refreshing.
"I'm sorry..." he apologised. "I-I wasn't - thinking... Well actually, I was thinking, just not about... I really didn't mean to embarrass you..."
"Doctor... please, just - get dressed!" she begged, a nervous twitch in her voice.
Fumbling, his fingers suddenly losing all co-ordination, he pulled on the shorts and pants, and slipped the t-shirt over his head. The pants were a little long - although as tall as each other overall, Jack's extra height was in his legs while Daniel's was in body length - the t-shirt a snug fit on his more muscular frame, yet it felt comforting to be wearing Jack's clothes, as if the man himself - the friend - was wrapped around him. Pulling up a handful of the top, he sniffed at it, hoping to catch some lingering trace of Jack's scent - but there was nothing.
"It's all clean," she said, somewhat indignantly, as she turned around. He decided not to try to explain his actions to her and instead sat down to pull on the socks.
"I left my boots in the bathroom..." he said absently, more an observation to himself than a request for her to fetch them for him. Poulsen, however, took it as an order and was there and back again, the boots in her hand, before Daniel could stop her.
"Thanks - but you didn't need to do that."
"Colonel O'Neill ordered me to assist you in any way you need," she explained, clearly used to such orders.
Daniel let it go, marking her attitude as just one more quirk of the whole crazy world he was currently inhabiting. "Where is the colonel?" he asked instead, looking past her to the bathroom door.
"He's in the control room, sir."
Control room? That was a new one. Just what was Jack controlling?
** "...........at a guess I'd say whoever was responsible for this was able to override the signal from our MALP with one of their own."**
Of course!! Sam had realised the problem while they were still at the gate, but there had not been time for them to explore the theory before they were all taken captive. So, the Goa'uld had the technology to jam their MALP feed and substitute - whatever image they wanted to present. That could be a probelm... he mused. They relied on the information gathered by the MALP in order to decide whether or not a mission was viable. How could they trust that information in the future?
There was something else in her reply: how had Jack left the bathroom without Daniel seeing him? He supposed there was another door somewhere, a secret passage to other parts of the fortress but, what if he was wrong? When Jack had infiltrated Maybourne's team, one of the pieces of Asgaard technology used to disclose the 'mole' - Makepeace - had been some kind of cloaking device that could make the wearer invisible. Did this Goa'uld have access to such a device?
"I see," he mumbled, sensing her need of an answer yet still busy working through this new mystery. "Well I - guess I'll catch up with him later." Stepping back, he spread his hands and looked at her enquiringly. "So... How do I look?"
There was the blush again, innocence lit by just the tiniest spark of interest in those sea-green eyes. She raked him from head to toe and the smile of appreciation sent the colour rushing to his own cheeks.
"You'll do," she informed him, the words counterpoint to her obvious reaction. What was that he had thought about predatory females?
He grinned. "Thanks - I think."
"Come on... I'll take you to the Healer."
As he followed her through the maze of passages, Daniel found himself wishing that everyone in this damn place was as nice as Lieutenant Poulsen. She seemed genuine, unlike the other guards, no hidden agendas, no dog-eat-dog mentality and certainly no sign on Goa'uld influence. Just a nice kid caught up in a web of evil and mistrust.
"Do you have another name," he asked, "besides Lieutenant Poulsen?" If he could make friends with her, build on what had already been established, she might be willing to help him when the time came for them to escape.
"Ayleen," she said, glancing shyly at him from beneath her thick lashes. He tipped his head and met the green gaze.
"Thanks. I think my mom got it from a book..." She looked away quickly, chewing her bottom lip nervously, then asked quietly "What about you?"
Bingo! Contact established, personal information exchanged, a link - however tenuous - formed. "Daniel," he told her. She tried it out.
"Daniel... That means 'God is my judge'."
"Yes, it does! I'm impressed. Not many people look up the meaning of their own name, never mind someone else's."
She shrugged. "It's a hobby of mine, trying to work out if the name matches the personality."
"So - does mine?"
"Ummm... Maybe. I don't really know you well enough yet..."
A little bubble of laughter, bright and affectionate, burst on his lips: the girl was flirting with him! Amongst all the horror, the frustration of scant rations and poor accommodation - he doubted that her quarters were anything like the ones he had just left - she was actually flirting with him. It sounded so absurd and yet he welcomed the moment of lightness after all that had taken place with Jack in the last few hours.
"Ayleen..." he began when their mirth had receded and they had resumed their journey. "Forgive me for asking but - why are you here?"
"I told you, Colonel O'Neill -"
"No, I mean here, part of all - this?"
"Oh..." She rolled her shoulders in a dismissing shrug. "Loyalty, I suppose. My fiancé was recruited by Colonel Maybourne but he didn't want to leave me behind so... the colonel said I could join him. I was trained as an engineer so he probably thought he could - find a use for me. We had no idea what we were getting into..."
He sensed her sorrow, her regret and - something more - darkening her pretty face and he asked "Where's your fiancé now?"
"Dead." The word was harsh, all the emotion drained out of it by time. "Six months ago. He was part of a raiding party to steal a teleportation device but the information was wrong. Heru'ur was waiting for them. Dale was injured, he couldn't keep up, so Major Dace... shot him. He said it was to save him from being taken as a host."
"But you don't believe that?"
She shook her head. "No. Dale wanted out. He was going to try to escape back to earth, tell them what was happening. Maybourne and his network would have been finished..."
But - Maybourne is finished, Daniel mused. Or as good as. Jack had infiltrated the covert network and exposed it, and Maybourne. The last any of them had heard, the man had destroyed all records concerning his operation and disappeared. Not that it wasn't entirely impossible he had set up somewhere else, of course. It took more than just one close call to put a slime ball like Maybourne out of business.
Daniel said nothing to the girl, choosing to keep what he knew to himself for the time being, the way Jack had taught him. **Never let the enemy know how much you know, Daniel. Always try to keep the upper hand.**
"I'm - sorry it didn't work out," was all he said, giving her a sympathetic look, which was partly genuine.
"Thank you." Tipping her head a little to one side, she looked at him intently. "You're not like the others," she informed him bluntly and he asked what she meant. "They don't care about anyone, they just - go in and take what they want and - they're cruel."
"Are they?" He shivered. "In what way?"
Her eyes narrowed to emerald slits. "They kill for sport. Major Dace is the worst. He lets prisoners go and then he and some of the others hunt them down. That's what they did with Major Kovacek."
The quiet explanation chilled Daniel to the core and when she mentioned Kovacek by name he felt the sting of angry tears in his throat. Stan was - had been - too good a man to meet such an end.
"And - Colonel O'Neill allows this?"
She chewed her lip again, shrugged, looked away - everything about her suggesting she had said more than she had intended and was afraid of the reprisals should it become known. "Major Dace usually waits until the colonel - isn't himself..."
"Oh," Daniel murmured, a part of him grateful for that small mercy, telling himself again that Jack could not be held accountable for something over which he had no control.
He would have probed more but they had reached the end of their journey and were standing outside a heavy wooden door.
"The Healer's quarters," she told him and he noticed the frightened deer look in her eyes as she added "I'll wait for you here."
"Won't you get into trouble for letting me go in there alone?"
"I'll take that chance." As if to emphasise her reluctance, she stepped back against the far wall. "You better go in, the Healer doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Nodding, Daniel approached the door and knocked, the sound reverberating through the passageway, as in a tomb.
" 'Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate'," he said softly, glancing back at the girl. She stared at him blankly, so he translated " 'Abandon all hope, you who enter' - it was supposed to be the inscription at the entrance to Hell. According to Dante anyway... and you still have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" he sighed, throwing her a look of apology and understanding.
Abandon all hope. While he appreciated the caution it was of little use to him, what few grains of hope that remained being constantly under threat by each new turn of events. Dante could hardly have imagined someone so lacking in hope when he had written those words.
He waited, until at last a male voice from within called for him to enter. Drawing a deep breath to steady himself, he eased the door open and slipped through.
Go to Part 11