The Hell Series Part Three:
Maj. S. Carter
I guess Colonel O'Neill and I didn't get out of the country fast
enough. All transfer orders have been suspended until things get
settled down here so we're stuck. In a sick kind of way it's been
a nice few weeks. I've been working with the guys down at the computer
center. It's a real change from Naquadah research but I like it.
My main duty station has been changed to Al-Jaber which is a lot
further from the front lines and closer the field Hospital so I
get to stop in and see the Colonel at least once a day. He's definitely
feeling better, the nurses are avoiding him.
I really thought they'd have shipped him home, being injured, but
I guess Dad did too good a job and he told me he'd be released to
active duty tomorrow. Tonight if the nurses have anything to say
about it. I don't think I'll be seeing much of him after that. He's
still based out of Al-Salem. Maybe I'll sneak a pizza into his room
tonight, can't get beer though.
Capt. Brad Tucker
I got the news yesterday Colonel O'Neill will be returning today.
I can't believe the guy is gonna stay after all he went through.
He could get a stateside assignment just for the asking, I'm sure.
He's requested to keep the team together, Corbin, Lambert, Tolbert,
Mitchell, and me. We're a good group, that weird mission proved
it to us all. But I must say I've got a new respect for science
fiction after that.
Col. J. O'Neill
I can't believe I'm back here again. They would've let me go back
to Cheyenne if I griped hard enough but when I look around here
at the young kids who are expected to fight a war, I can't bring
myself to go. There won't be anything happening back home for a
while anyway, George called and told me they've even suspended the
diplomatic and scientific expeditions for now. The President wants
all our attention focused where it should be- on matters here at
I was expecting the declaration of war even before I shipped over.
Sometimes it really makes me angry we get so tangled up in politics.
The human race needs to get a grip and look at the big picture.
Gen. Pike okayed my request to keep the team together thankfully.
I know I can count on them but I'd like to see how they deal with
the knowledge that's been entrusted to them. It's one thing to have
reality hit you in the face and another to be able to move on.
We've got a short mission coming up already but I suspect Pike
is holding out something a lot bigger. Maybe he's deciding if I'm
recovered enough to handle it. He made me talk to some Mackenzie
wanna-be who backed off the first time I glared at him, so much
Maj. T. Corbin
Went on my second mission under Col. O'Neill. I can't say how much
respect I have for a guy who can bounce back like that. Gen. P.
called me in for an assessment of how I think O'Neill is doing.
Nice to know the Gen. is listening. I told him the truth, the guy
is an irreverent smart-ass, and I don't know how he's stayed in
the USAF so long, and I'd be honored to serve with him any day of
the week. If for no other reason than I know he'd make sure I got
my butt back home. Pretty much he's just like he was before the
Maj. S. Carter
Over the past week Col. O'Neill called me four times, just to talk.
Today he wanted to make sure I was free for dinner- a la Mess Hall.
Like I'd be doing anything else out here in the middle of nowhere.
We ate and then just talked. He couldn't stay long, but we really
had a nice chat. I think he misses being able to drop by my lab
and harass me. I miss him too; wonder when I'll see him again.
Since part of my job is now gathering and interpreting Intel, I
have been able to keep up on the Colonel's missions. His team is
up for another run behind the border, verifying targets and collecting
Honey, I miss you and the kids so much I can't possibly tell you.
We just got word an hour ago they'd pick up mail to go out and one
of the guys had some spare letter writing stuff so I though t I'd
write a quick note. I gotta tell you about my new CO. The guy is
the most unconventional commander I've ever heard of. We went on
this really far out mission a few weeks ago (you know I can't tell
you stuff about it) and he went MIA. We put together a search and
rescue and got him back of course.
I figured he'd ship out after that mission, but not only did he
stay, he requested the same team, including me. We've been on a
couple short missions already and they guy is phenomenal. I've seen
the man put together a mission when the Intel we've got is nothing
but a pile of Post-It notes on his desk. He doesn't talk about it
but I think he's been through all this stuff before, must have been
in the Gulf War in '91.
Anyway I don't know when I'll get any mail from you or when I'll
be able to write again, so keep safe and hug the kids for me. Hey,
you ever thought about moving to Colorado?
Maj. S. Carter
I got as nice surprise today, Col. O'Neill showed up at the computer
center with Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, Chocolate Fudge Brownie,
of course. How does he do that? And I've been bribing the guys at
the commissary just to get blue Jell-O. He looked really tired and
I have a feeling he was on a mission already. He didn't comment,
but he did want to know why he's been getting Intel on Post-It notes
when we have a state-of-the-art high tech computer center. I told
him I'd look into secure e-mail and he made *that* face.
After I was through for the day he showed up with a Jeep and took
me out to the end of the runway. We just sat there and looked at
the stars for awhile. I could tell he's got a lot on his mind; he
hardly said a word. When we said goodnight, he told me he was going
on a mission tomorrow. I could tell by his voice it was going to
be dangerous and in his own way I think he was saying goodbye just
in case. I could have sworn he wanted to say something else, but
he didn't. Maybe I should have.
Col. J. O'Neill
We're on our way to a drop point XXX, Baghdad. I know I should
have gotten some sleep earlier but instead I went to Al-Jaber and
spent some time with Carter. I didn't tell her what I'm doing but
I'm sure she figured it out. She's smart you know. I really wanted
to talk with her about, stuff, but I couldn't get my mind off the
mission. Just as well, I need to stay focused for what's ahead.
Maj. T. Corbin
This will be my last entry for a while. The Colonel anticipates
we'll be on maneuvers for at least two weeks, possibly more. My
'talents' as O'Neill refers to them will be put to good use. Wish
we had some of that NaqXXX stuff right now, it would make this a
lot easier. Scratch that, I wish we had General Carter's ship! It's
turning out to be hard to go back to the *usual* way of doing things
after that mission to get the Colonel out. It's like I've seen the
future of warfare and the Air Force in particular. I just hope I
live to see it happen.
Capt. B. Tucker
The mission is going as planned. Our contacts on the inside have
proven themselves quite to O'Neill's satisfaction. We've got a few
more days to gather specific Intel and send messages home before
moving on. Mitch and I have been digging through stacks of old fashioned
paper Intel on biologicals. It's up to us to protect the rest of
the team. The Colonel is being amazingly supportive considering
when I try to explain something to him, I'm sure he doesn't know
what I'm talking about. I don't get the feeling he's patronizing
me or humoring me, it's more like he just trusts me to handle it.
You know he treated that Major Carter the same way. I guess I should
consider myself becoming part of an elite group- 'people O'Neill
trusts.' Believe me, there is no higher honor.
Col. J. O'Neill
We're moving on from our first point of contact today. Up 'till
now our mission focus has been gathering Intel. From here on, we
will be preparing to take a more active role. It will be dangerous
to move during the daylight hours but it's a necessity. I suggested
we dress in Birkas but the team did not seem to appreciate my idea.
Was that Yak butter they stuffed down my pants? Who said Americans
don't know anything about biological warfare? I hope we get to our
next contact soon, and I hope they've got showers.
Maj. S. Carter
I've been in Kuwait just over a month, and what a month it's been!
The Colonel went on a mission a week ago. I really shouldn't be
worried, he warned me it would be awhile, after all. He's got a
good team and I'm sure they'll be okay. Who am I kidding? The only
thing that would stop my worrying is if I'd gone along, or maybe
Teal'c. That brings up another matter. I really should contact the
SGC and let Hammond know what is happening. He knows why the Colonel
and I haven't returned but I'm sure he'd appreciate hearing from
me. Maybe if I let them know, I'll feel better, you know 'misery
Received word from Major Carter today that O'Neill has embarked
on another mission. If I understand her demeanor correctly, she
is concerned for his welfare. I returned the communiqué with
reassurances that O'Neill is a capable warrior and will indeed be
victorious. Major Carter knows this but I have observed frequently
humans must be reminded of that which is common knowledge.
In my meditations today I also noted concern for O'Neill within
myself. This is surprising, and I will endeavor to 'remind' myself
of that which I already know.
Col. J. O'Neill
We've arrived at our second contact, and for the record, yes, *I*
wore the Birka. Thanks to the lard I was smeared with, no one came
near enough to recognize who I was. They don't have showers here,
or baths, or running water of any kind. They do have a well and
buckets. I guess I'll just to have to make do. Tolbert is insisting
Our present host will provide shelter for a few days while we finalize
our plans. It's amazing how many people here are not loyal to Hussein.
The people seem to be divided down sharp lines, some loyal and some
not, the loyal ones far outnumbering those who might help us. But
things are changing, more people cross over every day. The ones
that are sympathetic are truly glad to see us and we've been treated
quite well. I was thinking of how I might get a message back to
Gen. P. Our host heard me mention it and showed me his computer
with a satellite internet connection of all things! Gotta love technology.
Maybe I should e-mail Carter? I found myself actually considering
taking him up on it, despite the fact even with internet security
it could put our host in danger, as Tuck not so quietly reminded
We heard about the 48-hour deadline President Bush has given Hussein,
looks like things are right on schedule.
Maj. S. Carter
President Bush declared war on Iraq today. I think Colonel O'Neill
knew it was coming and intended to be behind enemy lines when it
happened. It's been twelve days and finally a bit of Intel came
across my desk that could be linked to O'Neill's team. Someone reported
a small group of American-looking men at a town just west of Baghdad.
A regiment of the Republican Guard was sent to intercept them, but
no trace was found. Hussein made a public statement regarding American
criminals in his cities and his intent to punish them. In the video
clip an entire square filled with hundreds of people vowed to exterminate
the Americans. I can only hope the Colonel and his team are safe.
Maj. S. Carter
I'm becoming obsessed with Intel out of Baghdad. I've stayed late
every night for a week going over every report I can lay my hands
on. I feel like something will be missed unless I read the reports
personally. Damn, I've got to learn to read Arabic.
Maj. S. Carter
Today marks two weeks with no official contact from Colonel O'Neill,
however a pint of Ben and Jerry's showed up on my desk, still frozen
solid, packed in dry ice. The name? Would you believe it, 'Makin'
Whoopie Pie.' No, really. Of course it's chocolate. Did the folks
back in Vermont create this flavor just for him? It looks authentic,
but I'm tempted to have the lab guy's look at the carton, after
I'm done with it that is. I really want to know how he does this
stuff. I feel like I've been the target of a special op. I have
no reason to, but I feel a little better.
2nd Lieutenant M. O'Connor
Biological warfare Specialist
We are prepped to go in at 0200. I have explained the risks to
my CO, Colonel O'Neill, and his response has been a bit cavalier.
I have come to expect this. Capt. Tucker says it's his way of letting
me know he trusts my judgment. In reality its gonna take every one
of us and a huge amount of luck to pull this off.
Maj. S. Carter
The war has been escalating as expected. Bombing runs are being
made any time of the day, but more often at night. Tonight we were
called in to receive high priority feeds from our AWACs flights.
At precisely 0340 a large chemical plant west of Baghdad went up
in a ball of fire. We reviewed the footage and are confident this
was O'Neill's team at work, as we had no bombings scheduled in that
Col. J. O'Neill
Our mission was successful. Scratch one XXX factory. Now comes
the hard part. It's just before dawn and we are holed up in the
basement of some burned out building. We didn't make the escape
window in time. I hope our contact got away okay; he's a good man.
We've got our packs with MRE's, water and ammunition, and lots of
time on our hands. We can't risk moving until dark so I've ordered
everyone to rest. We'll have two men on watch at a time, I don't
want a dog to scratch in our vicinity and not know about it.
This would be a good time for Thor to need me for something. Of
course the explanations would take longer than this mission, but
what the hell.
Jahmed Abu Jabal
Friends did not return. Suspect route unfavorable. Possible capture
or elimination. Advise.
Return home. S&R not viable option at this time. Casualties
That was it, the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back. The
consummate professional Major Samantha Carter ripped the paper out
of the printer so fast the ink smeared at the bottom and stalked
into her CO's office. "Colonel!" She forced herself to
come to attention. "Colonel O'Neill's team has been compromised
and just what is the meaning of this?" She threw the paper
on his desk. "No rescue? Who sent this message?"
Colonel Wilkes liked the young Major but bristled at her insinuation,
"That is none of your business, Major. You do not determine
the course of this conflict nor do you assign missions. It has been
determined that some losses are acceptable."
She couldn't believe her ears. They were planning on leaving O'Neill
behind enemy lines to fend for himself and his team. Her shoulders
slumped visibly. Wilkes rose and walked around his desk. "Major,
I'm sure a rescue mission is still being considered, in fact they've
run a few in the last couple days. If it's possible they will go.
Just not right now, there are too many bombing runs going on. If
O'Neill can just lay low for a few days our forces will be within
shouting range of Baghdad, they'll get him out."
She turned away hastily and straightened her shoulders. After composing
herself she turned back to him. "Sir, There must be something
we can do."
"Our job here is Intel. If you can figure out something within
these confines that could help O'Neill, be my guest." He made
a sweeping gesture with his hand as he spoke.
She smiled just a little for the first time in several days; in
effect her CO had just given her permission to free-lance her abilities.
Little did he know she intended to make full use of the opportunity.
She went to her office and closed the door, eyeing the mountain
of paper that was her desk. She would have gladly converted it all
to files on her laptop but it just took too much time, time that
could be spent analyzing. She sat and stared at the blank computer
screen. There had to be some way to use all this information to
help O'Neill. The problem was if she could get information about
the team's whereabouts, then most likely Saddam could too. What
she needed was to intercept information before it got to Baghdad,
get what she needed out of it and send on tainted reports to Saddam.
At the same time she needed to get word to O'Neill and set up an
extraction. That would mean possibly sending false orders to a Search
and Rescue squadron.
She knew she could originate just about any kind of information
she wanted to send out, even Sat. photos and orders, but it might
be suspicious. She had to stay low. A better option would be to
get to the reports first and rewrite the information already there.
She was going to need an accomplice.
Just at that moment there was a knock at her door and her aide,
Lieutenant Beck poked his head in. He was a young Californian, who
here in the desert still thought it was worthwhile to work on his
tan, but she had to admit the kid was a genius. Or he could be if
he applied himself.
"Come on in, Lieutenant." She answered with a tired voice.
"I know you just came back from Wilkes office and I just wanted
to tell you I'm sorry about your old CO. Sometimes I wonder if the
Air Force cars about anybody. He really got a raw deal after all
he went through."
She eyed him thoughtfully. He sounded like he knew a lot more than
what he should have been able to pick up about the recent missions.
"Ian, what do you know about Colonel O'Neill?"
He flushed obviously. "Only what's in the reports Ma'am."
She knew he was lying. "Close the door and have a seat, Lieutenant."
Her eyes followed his movements to the chair beside her desk. "All
right, spill it. What do you know?"
He fidgeted in his chair before answering, "I, uh, noticed
the attention you have given to following his whereabouts and I
just wanted to know why."
She leaned forward, "And."
Under her scrutiny his only option was to come clean. "I know
he's been in Iraq before, as a prisoner of war and I know you served
together at Cheyenne Mountain. The reason you were both transferred
out here was some super highly classified operation. I don't know
what it was but you were both hand-picked by the Joint Chiefs for
He looked her in the eye, "I know how he was rescued."
Her jaw wanted to drop but she held it in place, they had been
so careful to hide her father's ship. She decided to bluff. "We
used a Helicopter and mounted a rescue mission."
"No, Ma'am. Those explosions a couple weeks ago, they're being
attributed to internal causes because no aircraft was ever found
on Iraqi radar or by us. Not a peep from satellite or AWACs. There
were sporadic reports of something on fire hitting the targets.
They're actually saying they were meteors. Kind of convenient that
a meteor just happens to hit a previously designated target, don't
you think? There was something in that hangar out at Al-Salem but
it wasn't any conventional aircraft. And it was not just good luck
that no one saw it. It was some kind of stealth technology and both
you and Colonel O'Neill are acquainted with it. I don't see why
the General doesn't use it again to go back and get them out."
Carter looked down at her hands. That same idea had occurred to
her as well, but things were different. They were at war now; it
was no longer an option.
He picked up on her body language, "Maybe he can't. Maybe
it's not here anymore."
"That will be all, Lieutenant, dismissed."
He rose from the chair and turned to leave, "You know he's
not dead. He's just pinned down west of the target site waiting
for an opportunity to get out."
Her head bobbed up, "How do you know that?" What had
he seen that she missed?
He smiled and his youthful cockiness came out, "I can read
between the lines. There's been an increase in activity in that
area. There are no installations out that way and no other targets
we might hit. I think Hussein is looking for something."
The honesty of the airman made her look more deeply at him. "We
might be able to help the Colonel and his team." She paused
to decide how much she could tell him. "It would have to be
outside ordinary channels and involve manipulating data."
His hand moved away from the doorknob. "Ours or theirs?"
His smile widened and he turned fully back toward her. "You
know how I got into the Air Force?"
She shook her head. "I got in trouble hacking government sites.
They offered me a deal. I could spend time in prison, or use my
talents to the benefit of my country. My old man was Air Force,
so here I am." He walked back and stood by the chair grasping
the back of it with both hands and leaning forward. "I'm already
in Saddam's network. I can intercept or send anything you want."
She couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. "Lieutenant,
sit down, we've got work to do."
Several hours of brainstorming later, Carter and her new accomplice
had come up with a plan. They needed to intercept reports of the
Republican Guard and rewrite them so Saddam would believe the Americans
had either died in the explosion or already escaped. Then they needed
to get a message to O'Neill to hold his position if possible and
keep him apprised of how close Coalition Forces were getting.
O'Neill and his team were definitely pinned down. They could hear
troop movements all around them and it had to be sheer luck none
of them made a sweep of the building. For fear of attracting attention,
O'Neill had ordered no fire, which meant unfortunately, no hot water
for coffee or to prepare the MRE's. They'd be drinking plain water
and eating only energy bars for now. It was hard, but they all understood
his prudence, the smell of coffee and food could easily give away
He'd intended to move to a better location and hopefully somewhere
in the direction of their contact but the whole first night the
Iraqis troop movements kept them in their original hiding place.
If they didn't move by the end of the second day water and rations
were going to be an issue.
The light was finally fading and O'Neill got up and stretched his
legs a bit, then took a seat beside his 2IC. Two days of inactivity
was making them all stiff and irritable.
"Sir? Are we going?"
"Yeah, soon, give it another 30 minutes." His eyes scanned
the room ascertaining the level of light. He dug out a crinkled
and dirty piece of paper that served as their map and laid it out
on the ground.
"I want you to take point with Tolbert, cut through here and
make your way along this wall." The Major watched as his finger
traced a line on the paper.
"That takes us back into Baghdad."
"It does." After a brief pause and noting the concern
on Corbin's face he continued, "Our contact is back that way.
I don't think we have much of a choice. Coalition forces should
be on their way by now, but we can't risk heading south or west,
the possibility of resistance is too high."
Corbin sighed, he knew the Colonel was right, at least they knew
what to expect if they went back the way they'd come and there was
a chance, however slight, they'd meet up with Americans.
Their conversation was cut short when an air raid siren was heard
in the distance. Tolbert was standing just inside an open doorway
facing east to Baghdad and a flash of light momentarily lit his
face. The young man didn't even flinch as the bomb hit, the sights
and sounds of war were already second nature to him. Captain Tucker
rose and joined him watching the display.
Corbin shuffled with his back against the wall, "You know
if we go out there, we'll be walking right into the line of Coalition
"Yeah." O'Neill answered quietly with his eyes downcast.
A few minutes later he rose to his feet, "Time to go."
Ian Beck had no problem hacking into the Iraqi database, and much
to Carter's delight, was able to divert field reports in their direction.
It was evident the American infiltrators had not been found and
though efforts were still being made to locate them, the onslaught
of war was taking it's toll. Iraqi forces in that area had been
cut back and ordered to return to Baghdad to aid in the fighting
Beck loaded up a Republican Guard field report and began hacking
away at it. He removed the current location of the unit and changed
it to a position several miles to the southwest, to an area he knew
was not far beyond where the Coalition Forces were making their
march. The report was made to imply the Americans were spotted making
a run to meet up with the advancing Coalition, but were yet some
distance from their goal. He ended by requesting additional units
be sent to close in on them before they could escape.
Carter looked over his shoulder cocked her head to one side, "Okay,
you're drawing them away from the Colonel's most likely position
but why are you giving them orders to move out?"
"No harm in spreading them a little thinner, is there?"
She smiled and shook her head, "You're a dangerous man, Lieutenant."
The sun was past setting and only a half moon lit the night sky.
Corbin motioned for Tolbert to hold position while he leaned around
a corner and took a quick look at their intended route. The way
was reasonably well cleared of people having been bombed the night
before, their walking would be hard though, there were pieces of
equipment and abandoned vehicles everywhere in addition to the debris
from fallen buildings.
O'Neill caught up with Tolbert and crouched beside him to wait
for Corbin to return. They hadn't even gone two miles yet and had
to change their course twice due to roving patrols or the route
being blocked. The air raid sirens had almost become background
noise to them; it was so constant now.
Despite the noise Lambert used the stop as an opportunity to try
to contact Command. Their Satellite uplink phone had been damaged
but he was convinced he could still get it to work.
The Major finally returned to report. He knelt and leaned up close
to O'Neill to make his voice heard, "No patrols up ahead, Sir.
The streets are in bad shape but I think if we circle to the north
and cut through those abandoned buildings we can get through."
O'Neill nodded and motioned to the three men behind him to move
up and follow the Major. He held back until they were all close
to the building before moving ahead himself, constantly scanning
the area with the nose of his MP-5 following his eye movements.
A nearby siren began to wail and to the south he could see anti-aircraft
fire. The bombs hit less than a mile away with a fierce explosion
and a shockwave rattling any windows that were still unbroken. His
team was too far ahead to warn effectively so he just dove for cover
and waited for the ground to stop rumbling. He figured they were
dropping J-Dams, as long as they didn't get any closer than a block
or two they'd be all right.
When he night quieted once again he made a quick dash to the doorway
and inside. Luckily everyone was okay, a little dirtier from the
dust and dirt that was stirred up from the shock but uninjured.
Just as he reached them the sky was lit by another explosion, this
one much closer.
"Shit!" O'Neill pointed to a doorway with steps leading
downward, "In there. Now!"
Tucker was the closest and immediately headed down the steps using
the light on his weapon to see into the darkness. He was followed
by two of the Lieutenants and then the Major. They were almost out
of time when O'Neill shoved Tolbert down the steps and followed.
It was too late to be concerned about running into hostile forces
right now, so they plowed into the cellar and hugged close to the
walls for some protection from the falling debris.
The chamber was inhabited, but not by soldiers, there were four
women and three small children huddled in the corners. A small lantern
made their forms just visible through the dust. At the sudden entrance
of unknown soldiers, they covered up and shrank back and hid their
faces. Corbin, being the most fluent in Arabic, quietly told them
they would not be harmed.
O'Neill wasn't in the room a minute when the bomb hit. It felt
like the whole building was coming down around them, an earthquake
wouldn't have been much worse.
Bits of plaster and glass were flying everywhere and when a beam
crashed down the stairway a great cloud of debris came with it.
One of the women was hit by something and fell to the ground unconscious.
In two long strides O'Neill was at her side crouching, using his
body as at least a partial shield against further harm until the
debris stopped falling. He snatched up the child she was holding
with one hand and with the other reached to touch her neck. "Lambert!
Get that Med kit over here!"
The young soldier has a hard time getting his feet to work with
the ground still shaking but managed to half crawl over to the woman
and started to check her injuries.
As soon as the shaking stopped O'Neill started shouting orders.
"Everyone Okay?" He didn't wait for verbal responses but
eyed each of his men and continued, "Mitch, Tuck, check on
the other women. Corbin, you and Tolbert see if there's another
way out of here."
They did as they were asked and when Corbin returned to inform
the Colonel of his findings, he had to stop in his tracks at what
he saw. O'Neill hadn't moved, he was still on one knee, beside the
unconscious woman, scanning the room and watching out for the group.
He seemed totally oblivious to the comfort and support he was giving
the child he still cradled in his arms. The boy was probably not
yet two years of age and had a death grip on O'Neill's vest with
one hand. His face was partially hidden but Corbin could see his
eyes were closed and he was sucking on his thumb, completely content.
The sight was not missed by the three other women who were still
seated and murmuring quietly to each other. One of them rose and
approached. Instead of reaching out for the child, she knelt and
assisted the Lieutenant to clean and dress the wounds of her friend,
often sneaking a look at O'Neill and the child.
Corbin's reverie was broken by the Colonel's irate voice. "Tom!
What the hell are you looking at? Is there a way out of here or
He stumbled at first but was finally able to spit out, "No,
Sir, just the stairway. It's not too bad though, I think we can
get it cleared."
O'Neill nodded his consent and rose to his feet. He moved to the
two women still at the far wall and crouched in front of them, speaking
to them softly in broken Arabic. It took some doing but the boy
relinquished his grip and was handed off to one of the women. The
Colonel patted the boy's head and ruffled his hair before rising
to rejoin the team.
In a short while they were able to open up the passageway enough
to get through. O'Neill took a look around above and decided to
move out. It was almost daylight now and a suitable hiding place
would have to be found. If the cellar had been in a little better
shape they could have just stayed there.
The injured woman was awake and able to move so O'Neill had each
of the women helped by one of his men up to the main floor. He intended
to take their leave at that point, but the eldest grasped his arm
and pulled him aside. She spoke hurriedly and gestured with her
hands in earnest.
Tuck tried to follow but barely understood a word. "What is
"It would seem we've made some friends. She wants us to follow
Corbin shook his head and said, "You're not really considering
that are you? You know one of the latest strategies they've been
using is to play nice and then shoot you in the back."
"I don't think so. This woman is saying her son was beaten
for just asking to be relieved of duty when his son was ill. She
hasn't seen him now in over six months." His eyebrows rose,
"She says Hussein is a very bad man."
The Major flailed his arms in the air, "Well, we can't argue
with that, now can we?"
"Major." O'Neill felt his ire coming up. "We don't
have a lot of options here. We are out in the open and we are out
of time. If we don't find somewhere to be a little less conspicuous
we're going to be in serious trouble." He sighed at the downcast
look Corbin was giving him and reached out to touch his shoulder.
"I know, it's dangerous, but we have to take the chance. Let's
O'Neill waved his hand to the door and the women headed out single
file. The eldest was last and as she left the building she instructed
O'Neill to stay put. She crossed the street and sent the other women
on ahead before motioning for the Americans to follow.
She weaved her way through several ruined buildings and finally
out through a courtyard area and into a small shop. At the rear
was a stairway down to a small musty cellar. It would suffice as
their home for the day. After they settled themselves as best they
could in the tight quarters, a young woman brought them a few hard-crusted
loaves of bread and a jug of water.
The day was spent either sleeping or talking quietly. Only one
of them at a time ventured to the surface to use the facilities
or stretch a little, with one of the women constantly present as
an escort. O'Neill agreed with the suggestion of the old woman and
insisted they stay covered up with thick robes whenever out of the
cellar, despite the heat.
In the late afternoon the older woman came to the top of the stairway
and called to O'Neill. She led them out to the front of the building
where a canvas-covered truck was waiting with the engine running.
The women and children who they'd met the night before were already
waiting in the cramped space. They were urged to get in and she
lowered a cover over the back. The driver was only a boy and drove
the vehicle far too fast for the road conditions, giving them a
bumpy ride, but he did avoid all of the patrols and most of the
debris. After what seemed like hours he pulled up to a narrow alley
and the woman stepped out from the front seat. She motioned for
them to come along. With a growing sense that he'd made the wrong
decision, O'Neill followed with his team close behind.
Just before the end of the alley she turned into a low doorway.
Even though the sun was full up, the room was dark and she moved
a drape back just a little to let a ray of light into the room.
Once they were all inside she led them through another doorway and
up a flight of steps. The room they entered was large and open but
bereft of any furniture except one chair, a desk and three cots.
At the foot of one of them was a large empty basin and a stack of
towels. The draperies were already open here and she drew a filmy
gauze fabric across as a screen.
She already knew O'Neill could understand her and spoke directly
to him. "You will stay here. Please rest. I will see you have
water and bread."
O'Neill nodded his thanks as she left. "Well boys, this is
our new hideout for the day. Mama says she'll see if she can round
up some food and water for us." The smell of food cooking in
the various homes nearby was already wafting on the air and they
all realized just how hungry they were.
Everyone settled in as best they could, and O'Neill allowed Mitchell
to light up some sterno. In a few minutes he had heated the last
of the water from his canteen and made enough coffee for all to
Tuck sat on the floor and went through his pack, trying to find
something palatable to eat, and tossed a few MRE's aside with disgust.
"What I wouldn't give for a ham sandwich right now!"
Almost on cue the elder woman's daughter appeared at the doorway
with a covered tray. She lowered her eyes to not look at any of
them and demurely set it on the table. O'Neill had been sitting
in the chair and rose to help her. She showed obvious surprise when
he thanked her in her native language, and shyly smiled at him.
A young boy now approached, lugging two large plastic containers
of water. He stopped dead in the doorway when he saw the men. "Azir,
come, bring the water." The young woman waved her hand to call
him into the room.
He didn't move and Corbin took a turn with his language skills,
"Azir, is it? Come here, I'll trade you." He picked up
one of Tucks discarded MRE's and tore open the outer package. It
was supposed to be a balanced meal; complete with dessert, and after
a moment he produced something that at least approximated an oatmeal
cookie and another that might have been a graham cracker. He waved
them out to the boy, "For the water."
Waiting for a nod from his mother the boy took a deep breath and
waddled over to Corbin, letting the jugs smack against his legs
as he went. He set both jugs down with a plop and looked back at
his mother who was now hiding a giggle with her hand. She turned
to O'Neill and said, "He really isn't like this. He usually
cannot shut his mouth!"
Corbin got the boy's attention back by waving the treats and then
tossing them to him. He grabbed them in mid air and ran to his mother,
clutching her skirt. The comical sight brought a round of chuckles
from the group and an immediate release of tension.
O'Neill decided to see what gift the young woman had brought them
and lifted the cover from the tray. The contents before him were
nothing short of a feast. The tray was packed full with an assortment
of roasted meat, goat cheese and hard crusted dark breads sprinkled
with sesame seeds. There were several fruits too, small grapes,
dates and some kind of citrus that was cousin to an orange. He tossed
one of the seeded rolls at Tuck and grinned, "It's not ham
but it'll make a hell of a sandwich."
Any suspicions the group may still have had was banished when Azir
snatched a date off the tray and popped it into his mouth. The young
woman made a face and playfully slapped his hand, "Come now,
son. We must leave these men to rest." She turned back to O'Neill
before starting down the steps. "If your men need to-"
She cut her words short and blushed. "Call Azir if you need
anything, he will show you where to go." O'Neill smiled and
touched two fingers to his forehead in a salute which only made
her blush more and she quickly escaped down the steps.
Alone again and as safe as they could be, O'Neill grabbed a couple
dates and sat on one of the cots. He ate the fruit though he was
definitely more tired than hungry and a lot more than he wanted
to admit. The stress of the last few days was catching up with him.
Despite their present safety he found himself wondering if they'd
be able to make it out alive. Their best chance would be to sit
tight and wait until Saddam was defeated, but wars like this had
a nasty way of dragging on and on. If they left it would be a risk
no matter which direction they went from here, the woman had brought
them straight into Baghdad after all.
Carter was working furiously at her laptop and didn't notice when
Ian stepped into the room. He managed to get all the way in unobserved.
"So, you figured out how to get a message to O'Neill yet, given
we still have no idea where they are?"
She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of his voice so
close behind her and frowned at him, "Actually, no." She
admitted. With the bombing of the Iraqi telecommunications center
and most of the electricity being down throughout Baghdad and the
surrounding areas the options had become quite limited. "We
could broadcast a general message and encode it, but who knows if
they'd receive it? If they had a Sat Phone they'd have already checked
in. We have to assume their communications are down. It would be
a complete stroke of luck to contact them." She leaned back
in the chair; of all the things Major Samantha Carter did well,
admitting defeat was not one of them. "Maybe we should just
concentrate on finding them."
"Well, I've got something for you there. We've gotten a sporadic
signal from somewhere southwest of Baghdad. Charlie upstairs says
it's a ghost or an echo, but it's just off frequency for our Sat
Phones. How much do you believe in coincidence?"
"Not at all." She closed her laptop and stood up, "Okay,
lets go see Charlie and see if he can pinpoint his 'ghost' for us."
Charlie was a middle aged Captain with thick glasses and thin gray
hair. He reminded Carter a little of General Hammond, he was a bit
on the stout side and his uniform was just barely one size too small.
It fit but with no room to spare. His love of flying was evident
by the numerous photos and models of planes surrounding his cluttered
desk, obviously Intel and surveillance wasn't his first choice of
an Air Force career. Ian swore the man had a gift for it though.
After the introduction, Charlie removed a stack of papers from
a stool next to his desk and motioned for the Major to sit, leaving
Ian to scrounge a chair from an adjacent office. Charlie was far
from convinced that his 'ghost' was in fact a lost Special Forces
team, especially so deep in Iraqi territory but he humored them.
It helped that Carter was such a 'pretty little thing' and despite
their ranks and the impropriety of it, he told her so.
He brought up his logs of incoming transmissions and singled out
the unknowns. Of that list he deleted several, griping all the while
that his computer would log in garage door opener transmissions
if he didn't filter them out. He didn't miss Carter's grin even
though she tried to hide it. She wondered if he ever picked up one
of their 'GDO' transmissions- probably not, but the thought was
Eventually he narrowed the list down to a dozen viable options
and tied in the GPS system. In a matter of minutes he had four possible
locations identified. One was southeast of Baghdad, near Basra so
he scratched that as coming from the advancing Coalition Forces,
just off channel. Another was removed due to having only one transmission
setting the location; the error curve was just too high. That left
two. One was west-southwest of Baghdad and the other was much closer,
almost within the city limits. He was about to write that one off
too when Ian stopped him.
"What if they moved?"
Carter's ears perked up and Ian continued. "They could have
moved. I mean if the first location wasn't secure, or if they decided
to try to get back to their point of contact for evac. These frequencies
are the same. Remember what you said about coincidence?"
She nodded but pointed to the screen. "Still, these coordinates
are way too far in, if they went there, they would have gone right
past the contact point."
Charlie frowned and scrutinized the screen. "The area between
was bombed out pretty bad the past few days, I don't think anyone
would go through there. If your group wanted to get to that site
they'd have had to circle around, either north or south."
Ian's eyebrows rose, "Or maybe their contact was taken out.
Is there any other reason they would have gone into Baghdad?"
Carter shook her head, she couldn't even think of one.
Charlie started working his magic on his computer again, this time
with a program that would monitor the selected frequency and others
nearby. He saved his work to a disk and ejected it. "This will
monitor our friends. If they transmit again, it will zero in on
their signal and respond automatically. If they can receive at all,
we'll get them. We just need a little cooperation from the guys
at Communications Central Command."
O'Neill had stretched out on the slightly too short cot and managed
to get some sleep. The others were either sharing a cot or sprawled
out on the floor on unrolled sleeping bags. Azir had returned and
gotten over his shyness and now sat cross-legged on the floor facing
Corbin. He'd taught the boy a simple card game and they were engrossed
As the afternoon wore on the room became a little warm and O'Neill
took a trip down to the main floor where Azir's mother and grandmother
were busy preparing an evening meal. He was surprised to see no
men around. In the front room several children playing and recognized
the women they'd helped in the cellar the previous night.
The younger woman noticed him leaning against the wall at the base
of the stairway and motioned for him to come forward and sit at
the table. She poured a cup of water and set it before him. She
was still surprised at how well he spoke Arabic and struck up a
conversation with him.
He learned her name was Ramah, and all of the men from their little
community had been either enlisted to fight in Saddam's army or
imprisoned. A small group of the women decided it would be safer
to band together, and they had converged on 'Mama's' home. She was
the eldest and most respected among them and their unofficial leader.
O'Neill chuckled, "Oldest and wisest among us?" He earned
a scowl from the elder woman for that barb even though it was essentially
correct and held his hands up in mock surrender, "I swear,
Mama, it's just an expression." She snorted and turned back
to chopping vegetables, now with fervor.
He young woman who had been injured before was part of the group
and entered the room. She was balancing a large basket of bread
on one hip and her baby on the other. She didn't recognize O'Neill
and eyed him warily but the child knew him immediately and started
to squirm. Ramah just managed to catch the basket before it toppled
to the floor. The woman held the child in both arms and was shocked
to see him reaching out for the American. Ramah assured her it was
okay and lifted the child into her arms and carried him over to
"This is Terrin. I believe you've met."
O'Neill had almost forgotten holding the child though it was less
than a day ago. He grinned and settled the child in his lap. "Well,
you're a lot more clean than the last time I saw you." It wasn't
a moment later that Lieutenant O'Connor came tripping down the steps.
"Colonel! Lambert got a contact! He made contact!"
O'Neill handed Terrin back to Ramah and bolted for the stairway,
beating the younger man to the top easily by taking the steps two
at a time.
Lambert had his gear laid out in one corner of the room with bits
and pieces of electronic equipment scattered everywhere and the
outer cover off the Sat phone. He was listening excitedly through
his earpiece and jotting down notes. The Colonel crouched beside
him and touched his shoulder to let him know he was near. The young
man looked up and nodded, then quickly completed the note he was
"Sir, it's a recorded message, but it's specifically for us."
His voice was full of relief. "Apparently they've been looking
for us all this time, Major Carter doesn't give up does she?"
O'Neill grinned. "No, she doesn't. What have you got?"
Lambert handed over the pad and pointed out what he'd written.
"They've been using my attempts to get this thing to work to
triangulate our position. They've got it narrowed down but really
don't have a fix on us yet. They just know we're way too far into
The Colonel nodded. Now that was an understatement.
"They've honed in on the frequency I've been using and we
should be able to talk to a real person soon." His attention
was pulled away by a transmission coming through and his hand subconsciously
went to the earpiece, pressing it more firmly into place. His eyes
fell as he listened intently, and then rose to meet the Colonel's.
"Yes. Yes, I read you. He's here, hang on just a sec."
He removed the headset and handed it to the Colonel.
"Colonel?" There was quite a bit of static but the voice
was unmistakable and he grinned, it was Carter. "Great to hear
your voice, Sir!"
"Ditto, Major. Good work. Both you and Lambert need to get
medals if we get out of this. I don't suppose General Pike or any
other Commanders are there?"
"No, we're here at Al-Jab. And the CO is being notified as
we speak. My immediate CO is Colonel Wilkes, he should be here in
a few minutes."
"Roger. I gather you have a pretty good idea where we are
by now. How close are we to the line?"
She knew he had figured out his team was likely right in the line
of fire of the advancing Coalition Forces and he was right. "Smack
in the middle, Sir. Colonel Wilkes is here, go ahead."
There was a slight change in the level of static and O'Neill surmised
they had him on a speaker. "Colonel Wilkes. How's it goin?"
"Despite having a borderline insubordinate Major on my hands,
pretty good. They're getting your coordinates now but I think we
both already know you're not exactly in an accessible location."
"Yeah, but we're secure for the moment- even had some real
food. If we have to, we're prepped to move out tonight."
The General came in just in time to hear O'Neill's last statement.
"Colonel, General Osborne here, don't start thinking about
going anywhere just yet. The front has moved up more quickly than
we'd thought it would. The best thing you can do is sit tight, as
long as you're secure. It's gonna be a bit busy around here for
the next several hours so don't expect another contact for a while."
"Yes, Sir. We'll be all right. We're among friends."
The General spoke to the others in the room, verifying they had
the team's coordinates mapped. "Colonel, stay sharp. If there's
any change be prepared to move fast. We'll touch base in four hours
if the connection stays up. Good luck."
O'Neill acknowledged the orders and handed the headset back to
Lambert. "It's all yours. Do whatever you have to and keep
this thing working."
O'Neill returned to the lower floor and spoke with 'Mama' about
the group staying a bit longer than was originally planned and found
she was surprised he had even considered leaving. She was more than
aware of the position he and his men were in so far behind enemy
lines. She accepted it as something that couldn't be helped, a fact
of the state of war.
The first siren went off only a few minutes later. Corbin was conversing
with one of the older children and learned the adjacent building
had a large cellar. The women were afraid to go there since they
had been trapped underground once and didn't want to repeat the
mistake. O'Neill convinced them it would be for the best and ordered
the team to split up. Half would gather up their gear and the rest
would assist the women and children to gather whatever they needed
and get it to the protected location.
Lambert was sure the Sat phone wouldn't work underground and refused
to leave. Tolbert considered forcing the issue but was given a respite
when O'Neill showed up. He sent Azir back to his mother with Tolbert
and took a seat on one of the cots, he wasn't about to let one of
his men stay in a dangerous situation alone.
O'Neill's radio cracked to life. "Colonel?" It was Corbin's
voice. "We're all settled in, Sir. Are you coming?"
"Negative, Major. Lambert and I are baby-sitting the equipment
up here. Stay put."
A few hours later the sirens were still intermittently blaring.
There had been a couple of bomb hits but nothing close by, which
may or may not have been a good thing. If the bombing runs were
suspended it may have been due to the proximity of Coalition Forces,
but if that were the case, the possibility of confrontations on
the ground would be high.
Another hour passed and the sounds of gunfire and mortar explosions
could be heard over the alarms. Since they weren't going to the
war, it evidently was coming to them.
Carter was worried but not so much that she'd neglect her duties
and made herself useful scanning incoming data files. All the reports
showed the fighting was escalating far beyond anything they'd seen
to this point. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers had been dispatched from
their positions north and east of Baghdad. The northern front was
left all but open to the Kurds out of Turkey; apparently Saddam
was more worried about the Americans and Brits. If Charlie had the
location right, O'Neill and his team were in the thick of it.
Then one piece of information made her heart skip a beat. The Generals
had decided ground losses would be unacceptable with the great increase
in Iraqi troops present. They were going to pull back from the front
and send in bombers then return and retake the area. It would take
several hours to implement, and the bombing runs would continue
well into the morning. She immediately went to the Communications
Center with the intent of contacting O'Neill and giving him a heads
up but Wilkes stepped in and stopped her.
"Sir? Colonel O'Neill really needs to know this. His entire
team could be wiped out."
"I can't let you call him. Not right now. You know that. We're
on blackout except for coded transmissions. This is a major change
in our tactics and it is vital the plan succeeds. We've got his
position, and the bombs won't be dropped there."
"Right." She snorted. "And what if they had to move?
And if they are in the same location, how long will it take the
Iraqis to figure out we're purposefully avoiding a particular area
and investigate to find out why?"
He placed one hand on each of her shoulders, "I know, Major.
But we can't do anything right now. Not even contact them. Why don't
you go get some rest? In the morning we'll see. I'll talk to the
General and suggest we move O'Neill's team up a notch on the Search
and Rescue roster."
She had to agree a little rest might give her a fresh perspective
and left for her quarters. When she arrived the duty officer handed
her a message, Ian wanted her to call him as soon as she got in.
The only available phone was a community use one in the officer's
lounge so she plopped down in a chair beside it and dialed the number.
A panting 'hello' the other end made her take notice.
"Ian, what's wrong?"
"Major Carter, we got a transmission from O'Neill's communications
man- it was pretty garbled but I'm sure he said they were going
to move, their position was compromised."
She closed her eyes and took in the news. The one thing she most
feared had happened and she already knew Wilkes' answer to it. She
thanked him for the information and added, "It's okay. I already
discussed the possibility with Colonel Wilkes. I've got some things
to do right now, I'll be in touch." She hung up before he could
Instead of lying down she decided to borrow a Jeep and drive just
a short ways from the base to clear her head.
Forty-five minutes later she found herself at Al-Salem Airfield,
where O'Neill's team was based, and less than forty miles from the
Iraqi border. Not that it mattered much anymore; Coalition Forces
had taken control of the area past the border for well over a hundred
She sat at the side of the road, just inside the gate and wondered
what she could do. A thought suddenly struck her like a bolt out
of the blue. There was one person who had been a member of the original
team who wasn't with O'Neill and out of reach right now. Captain
Hastings, the helicopter pilot, O'Neill had hand picked the man
for the original mission so his credentials were above scrutiny
as far as she was concerned. If he weren't already on a mission
he'd help in any way he could, or at least be a willing ear to her
She knew she'd find Hastings either hanging around the Mess Hall
or sacked out in bed and opted for the 'awake' version first. Even
though the base was not the size of Al Jaber, the Mess had it's
own parking lot as did most of the larger buildings. Even though
it was early evening the lot was nearly empty.
She pulled up close and turned off the ignition. The end of the
runway was just visible from where she'd stopped and she sat still
a minute to watch three large planes taking off in rapid succession.
They weren't bombers, more likely support aircraft for the Coalition
Forces that were camped far into Iraqi territory. She noted there
were several helicopters sitting near their respective hangars,
apparently not needed just yet until the ground assault was underway.
Her face and neck felt dusty from the ride out and she ran her
fingers through her hair and wished for a ball cap. Not standard
issue with dress blues but she'd come to like wearing one through
all her exploits with SG-1. The front room of the Officers' Mess
doubled as a recreation room complete with two large television
sets, one at either end of the room. The place was much more crowded
with people than she expected; it seemed every off duty person was
there watching one of the news broadcasts currently tuned on the
TV screens. She'd forgotten how privileged she was to get as much
information on the war as she did. These soldiers didn't have that
edge and the satellite broadcasts were often more up-to-date than
what filtered on down to them through command.
A few airmen turned in her direction when she entered but they
were more interested in the news footage; all except one, that is.
Hastings recognized her immediately and stood to his feet, waving
her over. She joined him at a table with six other men, all pilots
or mechanics she presumed. The ground crews and flight crews were
often a very tight knit group, taking responsibility for their assigned
He introduced her and then leaned back in his chair, "What
are you doing out here, Major?"
"I have a problem and I thought you might be able to help
He gave her a half-cocked grin, "Me help you? Ma'am, if you
don't mind me saying so, you are a person who has more answers than
I will ever have questions. I doubt there's anything I could do
to help you."
She smiled at his relaxed manner, she knew why O'Neill liked this
man; he wasn't pretentious in any way. "Not me personally,
but there might be something you can do for Colonel O'Neill."
At the mention of that name his demeanor changed in an instant
from light amusement to deadly serious. "What's happened?"
He certainly wasn't one to beat around the bush. She made a quick
scan of the room before answering, "I've got a Jeep outside,
you want to go for a drive?"
He switched back to his lighter mood for a moment, "With you,
She flipped him the keys as they exited the building, "Find
a quiet spot, Okay?"
Once in the passenger seat she pulled out her ever-present laptop
and turned it on. In the five minutes it took to drive out to an
empty hangar she'd brought up everything she wanted to show him,
and when the vehicle came to a stop she turned it sideways on her
lap so he could see the screen. The first image was a map of Iraq.
"What I am about to reveal to you is classified and I do not
have any authorization whatsoever to divulge the information."
She looked into his eyes and paused, waiting for his reaction.
Hastings nodded and said, "I understand." Carter took
a breath and pointed to an uneven red line drawn west and south
"Our forces advanced to here and met extreme resistance. The
Iraqis didn't outnumber us but there were far more of them than
we predicted. A new tactic has been set in motion to counter them.
Our troops were pulled back and now a series of bombing runs are
scheduled to go all night to clear the area for them to retake it
in the morning."
"Sounds like a good plan, so what's wrong?"
She switched to the next view, which was a close up of one section.
"O'Neill was here." She pointed to a spot on the map.
"His team was pinned down, and he was ordered to stay put if
possible. The bombers were given the coordinates and instructed
to stay clear of that location but-" She blew out a deep breath,
"The Colonel's location was secure and they would have been
all right, but the last word we got was that something happened
and they had to move. We don't know where he is and he doesn't even
know the bombers are coming."
Hastings frowned, "Major, I really don't think I can do anything,
I mean as far as getting a Helio or two into the air on short notice,
that's no problem. The General has been pretty lenient with rescue
missions; I guess we kinda blew his mind with that big one we pulled.
It's just, where would we go? If we don't have coordinates we're
Her head dropped, but not in defeat. "I have an idea about
that." Hastings was all ears.
"Everyone on the team is carrying a pocket radio. Standard
issue. If we can get close enough we can contact him."
The pilot made a face, "You know they're limited to a mile
"Yeah, we'd have to get pretty close, but I know where they
started from and how much time has passed. I can estimate how far
they'd get on foot traveling through debris and trying to stay out
of sight. I think it's worth a shot." Her eyes belied the calm
voice with which she spoke.
Hastings suddenly understood. "They won't let you go will
they? They've got a war to carry on and they're willing to allow
O'Neill and his team to become casualties." His head fell back
against the seat. "Major, they 're not bad men, the Generals.
But they have a really huge picture to deal with."
She was sure he was going to refuse to help.
"So." He paused and looked her straight in the eye. "That's
why they give some decision-making power to officers lower down
the ranks. Such as search and rescue to a protected area."
Her eyes narrowed as she tried to grasp his meaning.
He pointed to the spot on the map where the bombers were told to
avoid. "It seems to me, that section of the front line has
been designated 'protected', at least from friendly fire, if you
know what I mean. If that's the target pick up zone, I have standing
orders to go."
He was stretching his 'standing orders' to the limit and she knew
it but didn't care one whit. She could have burst at that moment
but settled for jumping up so quickly he had to grab her laptop
to save it from flying onto the floor. "Can we go now? It has
to be soon. I don't think they'll get far but if we delay, it will
make them that much harder to find." The words tumbled out
of her mouth. "And Captain, I'm going with you."
He shook his head and grinned. "Major, if you have half the
tenacity of your Colonel, believe me, I would not presume to try
to stop you."
Lambert was furious; the equipment he worked so hard to get working
was trashed. Several hours after their initial contact with the
Communications Center, a whole brigade of Republican Guard showed
up in their vicinity. O'Neill made the decision to move out before
they were found. The Lieutenant was able to just make one last contact
before a grenade was lobbed in the window. His CO had spotted it
long before he did and literally dragged the young man to the stairway,
leaving all the equipment to be destroyed.
They hurried to meet the others and while the Iraqi soldiers were
checking into the results of their handiwork, O'Neill's team was
led away by the women. The cellar they were in was connected to
two others by underground tunnels and once they were at the farthest
point they had no choice but to go to the surface.
This time the entire group covered up with loose robes. Not quite
Birkas, but definitely less conspicuous than their uniforms. Their
packs were a bigger problem. They had to leave them behind with
much of their equipment. O'Neill opted in favor of defense and ordered
them to load up all the arms and munitions in any sack or carrying
bag they could find. The women packed up the water containers and
first aid supplies in addition to their own their own rolled up
blankets and small packs of personal items.
The children were surprisingly silent; this was not the first time
they'd had to flee and even the youngest ones seemed to instinctively
The group traveled quickly, keeping to the shadows as much as possible,
O'Neill allowed the old woman to lead, but stayed close by her side,
frequently offering his hand to help her over rough areas. They
intended to keep moving as long as they were able but after two
hours the children were becoming restless and the women obviously
tired. O'Neill figured they had gone barely four miles.
The old woman stopped for just a moment and sat on a low wall surrounding
what looked like a market area. The Colonel took the opportunity
to check all of his men and have a look at the women as well. They
were all exhausted.
He returned and sat beside their leader, taking her hand. "Mama,
my men were able to rest and can keep moving but the women cannot.
Is there somewhere you can take them nearby? My men and I will go
on, it will be safer for you if we're not together anyway. If we're
She turned her hand over and clutched his tightly. "No, Colonel
Jack, it would not be more safe, they will know what we have done.
We have made a choice, all of us, I want my grandson to grow up
and have children, if he must do it in a country not of his birth,
then so be it. We must all stay together, I will show you where
we can go."
He smiled at the name she'd used for him and wondered how she came
up with it, he didn't recall giving her any name other than O'Neill.
Her sincerity touched his heart and he nodded silently, agreeing
to her wishes, and then helped her to her feet. She pointed down
a wide street to the north, and led him around a corner to see the
way more clearly. "There is a house of worship there, not far.
It has a large underground space with several rooms. There is a
tall tower as well, you may be able to use it as a vantage point."
"Mama, if I didn't know better I'd say you have some military
training." She blushed and playfully slapped his hand.
Just then two Iraqi soldiers stepped out of the shadows and waved
their guns at the group of women and robed men, shouting for them
to submit. O'Neill heard the commotion and ran back to the corner
of the building where he crouched and peered around it. "Dammit!"
They'd been found after all.
He had no choice but to take them out. Even though gunfire would
surely bring more soldiers it might buy them a little time. It was
the best he could hope for. He could feel the old woman's eyes on
his back; she too, knew what must be done.
Without a moment of hesitation he fired two shots in rapid succession,
expertly hitting one man in the head and the other in the chest.
Both fell to the ground, the first already dead. The women shocked
their American 'protectors' by bashing in the head of the second
man with a couple of large rocks they picked up.
O'Neill glanced at Mama, then turned and ran to his team giving
orders in a hushed tone. "Hide the bodies and take whatever
weapons they have. There's a church down the road this way, we'll
have to make a stand there. Move, now."
Hastings got out of the Jeep and motioned for Major Carter to follow
him into the hangar. Once there he went on in to the office and
started making phone calls. Whoever he was talking to, Carter noticed
he didn't hold back one bit, he told them exactly what they planned
to do and what he needed. When he got off the phone he said to her,
"You're lucky we haven't been called out lately, Search and
Rescue One is geared up and standing by, takeoff in sixty minutes."
He wagged a pen in her direction, "If you're coming along we
need to find you some appropriate clothing."
She looked down and grimaced, she'd totally forgotten she was wearing
a skirt uniform, standard for the Communications Center.
"One of the crews has a Latino navigator who's just a kid,
he's not much bigger than you. I think we could steal a flight suit
from them. C'mon, let's go."
Thirty minutes later Hastings and Carter arrived at a hangar in
the middle of a long row. He parked the Jeep and motioned for her
to get out. There were three helicopters on the tarmac and men were
busily performing their pre-flight checks.
Carter grabbed the Captains arm, "There are three of them.
I thought we were going alone."
"You're kidding me, right? Go into hostile territory alone?"
She looked back at him sheepishly. Obviously the go-it-alone-and-come-back-in-one-piece
attitude around the SGC had gotten under her skin. She should have
known better and felt naïve for thinking this would be a quick
little low profile mission. Hastings pointed to the helicopter with
a large red cross on the side. "This is a standard setup for
search and rescue, the armament is minimal, but there's plenty of
room and if anyone is injured we'll have everything we need."
"But these-" He swung his arm toward the other two aircraft,
"are state of the art AH-64D Apache Attacks, just upgraded
and fully fitted out. They've got sixteen Hellfire missiles each
plus a 30 millimeter Chain Gun. We're not planning on getting into
a conflict, but if the situation arises, you're gonna be glad these
babies are backing us up. Come on, I'll introduce you to the pilots."
As they walked over she couldn't help but ask him what he had to
do to make this happen. "Joe, you can't tell me you have enough
authority to order all this."
"You're right. I had to run it past my CO, but it wasn't a
problem. You'll never guess who he served with about twelve years
ago." His eyes slid toward her to see her expression. "A
certain brash young Major named O'Neill. He gets around doesn't
Her jaw dropped. Maybe it wasn't such an odd thing that a number
of high-ranking officers gave support to O'Neill so easily, he seemed
to have friends everywhere.
O'Neill's team found their new accommodations acceptable and much
more roomy than the last place. The women used a small back room
as a sleeping area and put all the children to bed. O'Neill left
Tuck and Lambert to stay while the rest of them scouted out the
building. The old woman was right about the tower; it reached high
above the rooftops of all the nearby buildings and made a great
After checking their radios, Tolbert and Mitchell were left to
stay on sentry duty. O'Neill and Corbin continued the survey of
the main floor but found nothing of interest except more blankets
and several terra-cotta jugs of water. They carried what they could
to the cellar and handed them over to the women.
While they settled in O'Neill took a few minutes to relax. It would
likely be quite a while before they could rest again if the Iraqis
He tried to focus on the present circumstances but kept drifting
off to thoughts of the SGC. Oddly enough he missed the place. With
all the strange things that went on there, it was still home to
him. He missed the people, so different yet so much the same as
here, good people, trying to accomplish a worthy and honorable goal.
His pensiveness must have showed because presently the old woman
came over and eased herself down to a blanket beside him. Her knees
creaked as she lowered herself, but when he raised a hand to protest,
she stopped him. "The getting down is easy, Colonel. You can
help me when I want to get up."
After settling herself against the wall as comfortably as she could
she said, "Tell me about her."
O'Neill looked at her with a hint of surprise on his face, "Who?"
"Oh, uh, not married. I mean, I was, but not anymore."
Sara had been the furthest thing from his mind.
"Do you still love her?"
Despite the personal nature of the question he answered. "We're
still friends, but we've both moved on. Why are you asking me this?"
She clasped her hand over his and leaned in closer, "It seemed
you were thinking about someone. Am I wrong?"
The relative anonymity of the situation made him suddenly able
to voice the truth. "No, Mama, you're not. There is someone
I care for very much. I miss her."
"She is in America?"
"No, actually she's here. In Kuwait rather, she's in the Air
The sounds of sirens and explosions cut their conversation short.
O'Neill was at once back to his military alertness and rose to his
feet. He reached a hand down to the old woman. "I think you
should go back to the others."
She nodded in agreement and let him help her up. Before going she
hugged him tightly and said, "Be careful, Colonel Jack. We
are in your hands."
O'Neill thumbed his radio, "Tolbert, report!" He could
barely hear any reply over the sirens wailing and cursed under his
breath. He quickly dug out his earpiece and fitted it into place.
"T, negative copy, repeat."
"Sir, our bombers are in the air. Not close yet. They're hitting
to the south and east of our position."
"Any sign of ground forces?"
"Stay put for now. If those bombs start coming this way, get
out of there. Understood?"
Tolbert replied in the affirmative and the radio went silent. O'Neill
headed to the back to get the rest of his team up and moving. This
night was just getting started.
In an hour the three helicopters were in the air making good time
into Iraqi airspace. Baghdad was about 250 miles from the base and
their target area was just to the southwest. S&R One was sandwiched
between the Attacks giving it the best cover. Amazingly they went
nearly all the way without ground resistance.
When they were within a mile of the targeted coordinates Hastings
gave Carter a sign. She nodded and pressed the 'talk' button on
her handheld radio. "Colonel O'Neill. Come in. Colonel O'Neill.
This is Carter. Come in."
When there was no response her heart sank. She knew they'd moved,
but how far and in which direction? Hastings acknowledged the shake
of her head and turned back to the pilot. After a short exchange,
which included all three pilots he directed his attention back to
her. "Major, it seems there are significant ground forces to
the east and north of here. The consensus is that a rescue attempt
there would not be successful. We'll be heading due west in a moment.
I suggest you continue to attempt to make contact every half-mile
She nodded, trying to look grateful that they weren't just going
to turn back right now. From here on out, they'd be defying orders,
she knew every one of the airmen would be acutely aware of that
fact and wondered if Hastings' CO had factored in the possibility
of them straying wide from the pick up zone. If he was anything
like O'Neill's other friends, it wouldn't be a problem.
As they veered away from the 'safe zone' it became clear the survival
of O'Neill's team would be nothing short of a miracle. As far as
they could see were the ragged shells of buildings. Not a single
block had escaped at least some damage and the clouds of smoke and
dust in the air were constantly limiting their vision.
When Hastings turned and informed Carter they were coming up on
the ten-mile mark she still had not made a contact. It didn't really
surprise her though, she didn't think they'd have gone five miles,
let alone ten and was glad they were turning back for another sweep,
this time a mile north of the first run.
When they got back to the pick up zone she had to admit she was
really worrying. What if their radios weren't functioning? Or worse,
what if they'd gone somewhere else altogether?" she shook off
her pessimism and tapped Hastings on the shoulder.
"We're going another mile further to the north, right?"
He nodded. "Okay, only don't go the whole ten miles this time.
There's no way they could have gotten that far. Turn around at five."
Hastings opened his mouth to say something but thought better of
it and nodded again. He spoke into his headset and explained Carter's
request to the pilot, who she could see nod in answer.
On their third leg of the grid she got a static-filled open channel
when she called for O'Neill. Hastings had the pilot pull back on
the throttle to give her a chance to try it again. She lost the
signal completely and made a circular motion in the air with her
finger to Hastings. He had the pilot turn back and swing out a little
further north. It wasn't a problem for the S&R but was playing
hell with the larger and somewhat less maneuverable Apaches and
Carter made a mental note to thank the pilots for being so accommodating.
Hastings turned to ask if she had any luck yet and was greeted
with a million dollars worth of smile. This time Carter heard a
scratchy voice and cupped her hand over her earpiece as she listened.
"Carter? Is that you? Where are you?"
Her grin widened, "Look up, Sir."
"You're kidding, right?" O'Neill made a beeline for the
nearest doorway and heard the helicopter blades just as he got there.
Hastings switched out his helicopter headset for an earphone to
another handheld radio and thumbed the talk button, "O'Neill,
where the Hell are you, man?"
"Hastings? They'll let anybody fly these days! You see a church
with a steeple? Tolbert, you on frequency? Wave your light."
Carter scanned the area and pointed to a tall bulbous tower ahead
of them. At the uppermost level two dark figures could be seen against
the dimly lit night sky, both frantically waving lights. At the
base of the building she could just make out another light waving
from a darkened doorway. "Colonel! We've got you. Anyplace
we can set down?"
"Keep going around the other side. We'll light the way."
He yelled back to his team to break out whatever light they had
and outline the rear courtyard. They were going home. As he ran
to the back to prepare the women to move his radio sparked to life
again in one ear while the sound of gunfire echoed in the other.
He stopped in his tracks and covered the earpiece so he could hear
his teammate. Tolbert's voice was fearful, "Sir! The Iraqis!
They followed the choppers, they're here!" It was the one bit
of news O'Neill hoped he wouldn't receive.
"From the south, Sir. Right behind the choppers."
The orders flew out of O'Neill's mouth. "Tolbert, Mitch! Get
down here! Tuck! You got those lights up yet? Lambert! Get the women
ready to move. Now! Corbin! C-4. Meet me at the east entrance. Move
it! Carter, we've got women and children who need a lift out, take
He barely heard her acknowledgement as he raced through the building.
His brain was in full ops mode; by the time he met up with Corbin
he had a plan.
"How much C-4 have we got?"
"Four large bricks, Sir. If you're looking for a big bang,
O'Neill pointed to a side stairway going up then took two of the
bricks and detonators from his 2IC. "We need to blow the tower.
Timers on three minutes. Lay the charges on the south side, I don't
want it falling into the courtyard."
"Can't those Apache's help us out any?"
"Too close for the missiles." He had another idea. "Carter?
You on the ground yet?"
"Almost there Colonel, descending now." Her point was
emphasized by a pulsing whooshing noise from behind the structure.
"Good. Can you get those A-tacks on either side of the tower?
We'll need cover fire, but not too close. The tower comes down in
three minutes. Copy?" As he spoke he waved to Corbin to go
and start setting the charges.
"Roger, Sir. Relaying message."
The gunfire was now very close but most of it was directed at the
helicopters that were returning it with their rapid-fire 30 millimeters.
The positions O'Neill requested them to take turned out to be quite
advantageous, they were able to fire at the forward ground advance
as well as pivot to either side and hit flanking forces.
The decibel level all throughout the mosque was deafening as the
sounds of a small war converged there. From the front and sides
the Iraqis were shooting rifles and light anti-aircraft weapons
while the Apaches hovered above. They created their own racket in
the sounds of their engines and blades punctuated by the rattling
firing pattern of the big guns all echoing off the sides of the
buildings. From behind, the small courtyard amplified the sound
of S&R One on the ground where Tuck and the Lieutenants were
herding the women and children rapidly across an open stretch and
into the waiting door.
Carter and Hastings were standing outside the helicopter on either
side of the opening helping the refugees get in. As the last ones
arrived Tuck ordered the airmen to load up as well, then stepped
Several large blasts rocked the stone structure and the tower fell
forward. A plume of dust blew out of the windows and doors facing
the courtyard as it came down. The Apache pilots, always ready to
improvise took O'Neill's lead and were ready each with one Hellfire
missile hot. As the tower blew they lit them off to targets just
far enough away to amplify the diversion but not pose any threat
to the rescue operation. Carter and Hastings stood open-mouthed
at the unexpected display.
Carter's heart lurched in her chest as she realized O'Neill was
nowhere to be seen, nor Major Corbin. She took a step away from
the helicopter and felt Hastings grab her arm but wrestled it free
and glared at him. "Don't." She warned him.
Hastings knew the drill, 'We don't leave anyone behind.' It had
been brought home much too recently and with this same Colonel involved,
as well. He shook his head in defeat and ordered Tuck and Mitch
to hand over their submachine guns, then yelled at the pilot to
He followed Carter away from the swirling dust and handed her a
weapon. "Let's go find them."
They were barely into the building when bullets started raining
down on them from two sides so they dove for the nearest cover and
began to return fire. Some of the Iraqis had evidently escaped the
tumbling walls and mortar.
O'Neill and Corbin peered out of a protected doorway at the front
of the building's second floor. The battle between the Apaches and
the ground was still in full swing. O'Neill spotted a duo of soldiers
with missile launchers and shook his head. "Oh, no you don't.
Not this time, pal." He pulled out a grenade and lobbed it
with his best baseball pitch right at them. The explosion sent them
both flying several feet. When no more appeared, he turned his attention
Explosions and gunfire seemed to be coming from everywhere as Corbin
spotted a target of his own on the first floor below them. They
were firing at someone else on the ground. He was sure the others
had gotten off all right and waved to O'Neill.
The Colonel immediately sized up the situation; someone needed
help and they were going to get it. He motioned to the best vantage
points they could get to and waved Corbin on before going himself.
In a few minutes they had flanked the Iraqis and began a barrage
of their own.
With four Iraqis down and the others in retreat, the sound had diminished
enough for them to hear another unwelcome sound. The Coalition bombers
had arrived in the area and were making a run. A single J-Dam fell
two blocks away and caused enough of a shockwave to make the still
standing walls of the Mosque shake and large pieces of plaster fell
O'Neill rocked back his head and rolled his eyes. Never a break,
it could never be easy. He called to Corbin to follow him down to
the lower level. There was enough light to spot two Air Force uniforms
slouched against one wall where more debris had fallen in the last
shockwave. They each went to one thinking they'd find a team member
but were in for a shock. Corbin reached his man first and gasped
as he looked into the face of Captain Hastings. He recognized the
man immediately and shouted to O'Neill.
The Colonel was busy with his own surprise. He knelt at Carters
side and lightly touched her neck, checking for a pulse and feeling
her neck before lifting her head and shoulders under his arm. His
head was spinning a million miles an hour. What the hell was Carter
doing here? Stupid question, coming for him of course, but how did
she manage to get herself hurt?
He patted her cheek and called her name several times before getting
"Sir? Colonel? You're all right."
"More than I can say for you right now, Major. Think you can
She nodded and let him slide his arm down her back to help her
up. She swayed a little so he didn't yet release her and started
picking bits of plaster out of her hair. "What the hell were
you thinking, getting off that chopper?"
She flushed and pulled back regaining her balance and quickly dusted
off her uniform. That done, she picked up her weapon and stood up
straight. "Sir, we're here to rescue you."
All O'Neill could do was burst out in a laugh. "That I figured
out, but I think now we all need a rescue. By the way the Apaches
are a nice touch." The remark was punctuated by another explosion.
He grabbed Carter's arm and hurried them both out from under the
Outside was far too exposed and once Corbin and Hastings arrived
the group made their way through a narrow alley and to the back
of an adjacent building. As long as they stayed to the north side
it seemed the Iraqis wouldn't spot them. They stopped in the deep
shadows of an arched entryway.
O'Neill turned to Carter and Hastings and asked "I suppose
you have a plan for getting us out of here?"
Carter for once was lost for words. No she had not planned, she
assumed they'd signal a helicopter and get a lift out, but with
all the noise their small radios were near useless. Hastings wasn't
so reserved as the Major and produced a flare gun from his vest
pocket. "Thought this might come in handy."
O'Neill nodded and turned to peer out of their hiding place. He
surveyed for possible landing sites and decided there were none
on this level. "Unless we can get to a roof I don't think a
helicopter will be able to land for us. Any ideas?"
Corbin agreed. "There's a way up over there." He pointed
to a stone stairway leading up the exterior of the next building.
"It's not very high but the rooftops all seem to be level,
might be our best shot."
They moved out toward the stairway up, keeping in the shadows as
much as possible, they would soon draw enough attention to themselves
when Hastings fired the flare.
The roof was a lot smaller than it looked from the ground but it
was flat so it would have to do. From where they stood they could
see S&R One hovering back from the firefight and how the two
Apaches had pulled away from the Mosque to get a better angle on
the ground forces. None of the helicopters were close to their position
so O'Neill gave Hastings a go to signal. He could only hope someone
was watching for them.
Hastings held the gun at arms length, pointed it straight up, and
fired. The flare burst forth from the short barrel with a loud pop
and immediately filled the sky with a blinding red-tinged trail
In a split-second one of the Apaches swung around and moved toward
their position. The second one adjusted its position to widen their
Once in position overhead the helicopter began to descend but before
it got very far it pulled back up. A man in the open side door of
the helicopter waved his hands back and forth and shook his head,
It was too risky for them to land here; they 'd have to go with
their second option.
Several harnesses were dropped from above and after Hastings retrieved
them, a single winch line was dropped. Each of them strapped on
a harness and prepared to be lifted off.
O'Neill insisted Carter go first and under protest she complied.
He assured her it wasn't some male gallantry thing, it was just
that she'd been the most seriously hurt.
Hastings went next, also under protest but this time was overruled
by rank. As the winch dropped for the third time O'Neill and Corbin
were forced to drop to the ground to avoid debris from a grenade
going off near the corner of the roof. The Iraqis had found them
and the tension went up a notch for both men.
O'Neill clipped the line to Corbin's vest while they were still
lying down and waved for the pick up to proceed. The winch retracted
and the helicopter pulled up and away just slightly to distance
themselves from the gunfire below, which was now directed solely
Corbin made it safely aboard and the helicopter had to swing out
and around to get in position for O'Neill. This time a mortar shell
just missed them. The pilot swung the tail around forcibly to avoid
it and the entire craft shuddered in response before stabilizing.
It came in close to drop the line but had to back off when bullets
began to pelt the fuselage again. The pilot called to the other
two for support.
S&R One had been holding back but now joined the foray with
machine gun fire. It's only real weapon to speak of. This time the
Apache moved in but not as low as before. The winch was dropped
to its full length and hit the roof with a loud thud. O'Neill had
been off to the side in the shadows and now dove for it, tossing
two grenades over the side of the building as he went. He clipped
the line to his vest and stuck his thumb up in the air.
He was jerked unmercifully up into mid air as the helicopter rose
and started moving away from the site at full throttle before the
winch even started to reel in. The explosion from the grenades gave
only a momentary respite from the ground assault and another mortar
lit the sky. Bullets continued to whiz by O'Neill and he ducked
his head into his shoulders for minimal protection knowing full
well he was a wide-open target.
The second Apache moved in a wide arc to the north and then turned
back to the base of the buildings and fired off two Hellfire missiles.
It then turned to the southeast and joined the other two helicopters
already on their way home. Behind them the remaining walls of the
Mosque exploded and it fell in upon itself, completely destroyed.
It was quite dark away from the battle but long before Carter could
see O'Neill's face she knew something was wrong. He wasn't clutching
onto the rescue line or even ducking his head against the wind.
His body was completely limp, supported only by the single hook
at the end of the line. She presumed he'd been knocked unconscious
by the severe jerk up from the ground.
As he neared the opening Tuck and Tolbert leaned out to pull him
in. They were already a mile from the Mosque when they managed to
drag the unconscious man aboard.
Unfortunately they weren't on the rescue helicopter so medical
supplies were only the bare necessity standard issue. One of the
benches along the side of the helicopter was vacated and O'Neill
laid out on it. Carter knelt beside him and started to loosen his
clothing to look for any signs of wounding. She berated herself
for not at least grabbing an additional med kit or getting Lambert
to come along, he was their medic and the best suited to deal with
this kind of thing after all. She should have realized at least
one of them might be injured. Why did it always have to be him?
Tuck watched her struggling with the clasps on the vest and came
over to help her. He saw it was not due to any lack of aptitude
on her part but rather because the whole front of the vest was saturated
with sticky blood. She pulled her hands back and gasped at it. In
the darkness she'd assumed it was dirt or sweat or even mud, but
She let Tuck finish the task and called to one of the airmen, "We
need a med kit! Anything will do!"
A young man jumped up in response and opened an overhead compartment,
pulling out a standard kit and a large pack of extra bandages. He
didn't wait for the Major to take them but laid them out on the
floor and started tearing open wrappers for her. With Tuck doing
the harder task of getting the clothing out of the way, Carter was
able to focus on the two gushing bullet holes in O'Neill's chest
and hold pressure to them. She could barely feel his chest move
under her hands and at one point had to pause to check for a pulse,
fearful she might not find one.
It was there, though not strong, and far too rapid. She recognized
the sign of shock setting in and cursed under her breath. Corbin
leaned over her to get a better look and saw her reaction. "It's
bad, isn't it?"
She nodded. "He's lost a lot of blood. Can you raise his legs
up any? We're supposed to do that for shock." Her words felt
hollow in her own ears. He complied and then found a blanket and
tucked it in around O'Neill's body. He remembered from somewhere
that a patient in shock should be kept warm, too.
Carter thanked him and rechecked the dressings. The blood had all
but stopped flowing, at least on the outside, and his pulse slowed
a little. They were doing what they could but his only real hope
was the base and it's wealth of medical technology.
Once they crossed the Coalition Front line the three helicopters
touched down at a makeshift base camp. O'Neill was rushed to the
medical unit and stabilized for transport to Kuwait. Carter and
the others tried to stay near but were promptly told they were interfering
with his care and forced to keep their distance. All they could
do was pace around at the tent entrance.
The body that was moved out of the ward and loaded up on the rescue
helicopter was vastly different than the one they wheeled in. He
was now surrounded by an assortment of medical devices and tubes
including an oxygen mask, two IV's, portable heart and blood pressure
monitors and the worst thing to see, a large-bore tube coming out
of the right side of his chest. His lung had collapsed and had to
be re-expanded so he could breathe. It was clamped off at the moment
but was still gruesome to see.
The helicopter had been freshly refueled and checked while O'Neill
was being seen and was now ready to fly again. He'd be taken directly
to the hospital at Kuwait City where several ICU nurses were prepared
to meet them at the helipad. Carter assumed at least one or two
of them would be allowed to accompany O'Neill on the final leg of
his journey but was stopped from doing so by the Base Commander.
The whole affair was up for scrutiny and O'Neill's team, Carter
and Hastings were to report to Al-Jaber at once for debriefing.
The women and children who accompanied them were now considered
refugees and would be 'processed' as such. It meant food, water
and decent living conditions, but not freedom. The only available
transport was a large troop carrier class helicopter and everyone;
Iraqi and American alike were loaded up for the trip to Kuwait.
O'Neill's flight was high priority and the speed of the aircraft
was not curtailed in any way, but the troop transport carrying the
others was much slower and would take nearly twice as long to cover
the same distance. That is if they were going to the same destination,
which they weren't. The refugees were being housed at Camp Doha,
an army base east of Al-Jaber. That would be the first stop and
then Carter and the others would be taken on to the airbase, presumably
to be debriefed although she was sure she and Hastings were in for
an earful from General Osborne at least.
She sat scrunched up in a corner of the cargo area and considered
her actions. It really had been worth it in the end, and no American
lives were lost. It was not always a dependable gauge of success
but still made her feel better. Every one of those men had volunteered
as well, Hastings made sure of that. They all knew what they were
getting into and made the decision without pressure.
As she sat lost in thought Corbin made his way over to her and
said. "How are you holding up, Major?"
"Well, considering I might be court-marshaled, not too bad."
"You don't really think it will come to that." He took
a seat beside her.
"Maybe not, but the General is gonna be pretty mad, although
I technically wasn't AWOL until I didn't show up at work this morning."
He didn't respond and she realized he wasn't even paying attention.
"Major, was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"
He jerked his head back to her, caught. "Um, Mama, the old
woman who came with us. She wants to talk to you. She doesn't speak
any English so I'll have to translate."
"What could she possibly want of me?"
He blushed. "She has this idea that you and Colonel O'Neill
"We're not. It's just not something that- what did he tell
her?" Her eyes narrowed.
"I don't think much really, not about that, but they talked
quite a bit over the past few days, she really likes the Colonel.
You could humor her, make her feel better about having to go to
It wasn't until then Carter understood there was something more
between these men and the Iraqi women they'd 'liberated.' She could
tell Corbin was genuinely concerned about their welfare.
He leaned back against the wall and spoke again. "It was the
boy, I think."
She looked at him; he'd completely lost her now.
He blushed again when he realized he'd spoken that thought out
loud. "Sorry. Um, there was a kid, a little boy. We were trapped
in a cellar while the building collapsed over us and the mother
was hurt. The Colonel actually shielded her from the worst of the
debris and picked up her kid and held him like he was his own and
it was the most natural thing in the world. He still gave us orders
and saw that the mom was tended to, but he held that kid."
He rubbed his hand over his face, lost in the memory. "Kinda
reminded me of something. I know it sounds stupid but those women
saw it too, and in a split second they trusted him. They hid us
and fed us for two days without question. I never woulda believed
"So? You were Americans. There are a lot of sympathizers out
"Uh, uh. It was more than that."
Carter grinned, "What? She thinks he's some kind of hero?
Sure I'll talk to her."
Corbin slapped his hand to his forehead, "She didn't say that!
And neither did I, just forget it. Come on."
She followed behind him suppressing a case of the giggles as they
moved forward in the cabin to the old woman's location. Corbin spoke
to the woman and motioned for Carter to sit across from her. So
far the only part Carter understood was her name.
The old woman, Mama, took her hands and smiled. She began to speak
in the throaty Arabic language Carter had heard so much of the past
few weeks but was never able to comprehend.
Corbin listened for a minute then began to speak, never taking
his eyes off the old woman's face. "She wants you to know how
grateful she is that you brought the helicopters to save them. She
knows the only one you really wanted to save was O'Neill, and the
rest of us were a lesser concern."
Carter bristled. "That's not true! Sure, I've known the Colonel
longer than any of you, but it was the whole team in trouble, not
He glanced at her and rapidly translated it back into Arabic, eliciting
a grin from the woman. She spoke again. "She says you should
not be ashamed that he was your reason for coming. You should, ah,
treasure, I think, what you have with him. The future is uncertain,
we must all live for today."
"Sounds like an oldies recording."
Corbin looked at her, suddenly irate. "Major, this woman has
lived through Saddam's entire regime, she just might have a point.
Who knows how many loved ones she's lost. The fact she can even
imagine a future is amazing."
Chastised, Carter swallowed and bit her lower lip.
The old woman didn't get the words but understood Corbin's tone
and raised a hand to hush him. She offered a few harsh tones of
her own then turned back to Carter and continued. Corbin translated
"She knows what happened to him and isn't surprised he was
the only one to be seriously hurt. She thinks he makes a habit of
putting others first and thinks its time someone did the same for
A short conversation passed between Corbin and the old woman then
he turned back to Carter and shrugged. "She says you know what
She had an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach. These last
several weeks had distanced her from her intended career path and
had been, in a way, refreshing. Instead of being to totally wrapped
up in advanced technology and saving the world, she'd focused on
a very small part of it, and her eyes were opened to the real 'big
picture.' It wasn't about saving the world, it was about people,
and making just one life better impacted the whole.
She scrubbed her hands through her hair. O'Neill already knew this,
that's why he was so adamant to protect all of them. From Catherine
Langford all the way through the many planets they'd traveled to,
even when they didn't need it, and especially when they didn't want
it, he was determined to make that small difference. Maybe that's
why the arrogance of the Tollan's irritated him so much; with all
their superiority he could see their individual lives were no better.
Probably the only race he felt were truly living up to their potential
were the Nox. Even the Ancient's had their issues.
She had to agree, the quiet strength of Lya and her people was
unrivalled except-" Her thoughts were interrupted when the
old woman grasped her hands again.
She didn't speak but only held on tightly. Carter responded by
squeezing her hands in return and smiled. Point made. Her whole
world had revolved around the SGC for many years now, and though
she admitted it outwardly only once, the center point of it all
was Jack O'Neill. Through all this time she'd managed to keep her
distance. Perhaps it was time for a change.
After the interrogations, or briefings as the General called them,
Carter was finally able to go see about the Colonel. He'd been in
surgery most of the day anyway she learned from one of the General's
aides. It was late that night when she arrived at the ICU.
Despite her own familiarity with the SGC infirmary, it was still
a shock to see the room full of machinery with blinking lights and
soft pulsating noises. It made him look so small. She sighed at
the site of the ventilator. It wasn't surprising he'd have to be
on one after all the trauma to his chest.
He was uncovered above the waist and the right side of his chest
was plastered with bandages and tape, some to secure the chest tube
and the rest no doubt covering a large surgical incision.
One of the nurses came in and fiddled with the IV tubing. She noticed
Carter was sitting there quiet as a mouse. "You know, you can
talk to him, he's already been awake several times."
Carter was surprised. "I thought he'd be kept sedated, on
the ventilator and all."
"Oh, hon. Sorry, I thought you knew, we're not keeping him
under, just relaxed enough to not fight the tube; and we're giving
him some pain meds although he insists he doesn't need anything.
The machine is only set to monitor. He's been breathing on his own
since he got here, already griped about wanting the endotracheal
tube out, but the Doctor says not until morning." She grinned
and held up a clipboard. Scrawled on it in the Colonel's handwriting
were the words 'tube out now' with the word 'now' underlined several
times. "Was he ever in a bad car accident or something? He
acts like all this is old hat to him."
Carter smiled and replied, "Yeah. Something like that."
The nurse completed her chores and left, pulling a curtain partway
across the large glass opening giving them a little privacy. Carter
got up and walked to the bedside.
"Colonel? Are you awake?" There was no response at first
but she thought she saw a small twitch at the corner of his mouth.
She leaned in closer to look. "You *are* awake aren't you?"
His eyelids flicked once then opened with a bit of effort. She
noted he really was used to the ICU routine. He didn't struggle
against the tube or try to talk, just relaxed and breathed. His
only movement was to extend one hand in her direction.
She clasped it tightly in both of hers and told him, "Jack,
I'm so glad you're okay."
His eyebrows rose and he turned his head toward her to see her
face. No way was he sedated enough to let that slide. He couldn't
remember Carter *ever* calling him by his first name. Not without
some alien influence anyway. Now he *did* want to talk. He pointed
to the clipboard and motioned with his fingers for her to give it
The first thing he wrote was totally expected. 'My team? The children?'
"Everyone is Okay, except you. We are all here and safe. The
women and children are at the refugee center."
He nodded, though a shadow crossed his eyes at the mention of the
refugee center. He understood it was a necessity though. Next he
asked about the rescue. 'You rescue how?'
She cleared her throat and gave him a much-abbreviated version
of her meeting with Hastings and the events that rapidly followed.
He thought about her answer for a few minutes then wrote, 'not
She bit her lower lip. "Uh, no."
He looked into her eyes and then wrote a longer note this time,
'you always seem to be saving my butt. Sorry to put you in that
position. Now and all the other times.'
She read it and shook her head, "No don't even think of it
like that. We're a team, and if there's one thing I've learned from
you it's that no one gets left behind. You'd do it for me in a heartbeat."
'Thanks SAM.' He wrote her name larger than the rest of the words.
He wanted to see if she'd react.
When she read it she blushed. Yep, he'd noticed all right. She
decided to push the envelope. "You're welcome, Jack."
Twice in one day! That had to be a record. It was enough to elicit
a coughing fit and when it was over he looked exhausted. Carter
squeezed his hand, "You really should get some sleep."
He nodded just slightly and let his eyes drift shut. Coming to
terms with this *new* Carter would have to wait. She stayed just
a little while until she was sure he was asleep then left. Her day
had been every bit as tiring as his and her eyes were feeling heavy
At 0600 the Physician's Assistant came and removed the ET tube and
by the time Carter arrived at 0830 O'Neill was verbally abusing
the nurses. Of course they weren't about to let him have his way
without a fight.
"Colonel! You can't do that! If you pull that tube out, you
will answer to the Doctor yourself!"
"Fine! I will! I just want to sit up a while. I thought you
people were always gung-ho about getting patients up and moving.
So why not me?"
"Sir, *most* of our patients stay put until they're told they
can get up and *most* of them weren't *shot* and then had major
surgery less than twelve hours ago. Do you realize what they had
to do to put you back together?"
"Spare me the gruesome details. I've got a pretty good idea."
Carter stood at the door and giggled. O'Neill was halfway between
the bed and chair clad only in hospital issue pajama pants with
the nurse behind him, pushing the IV pole and dragging a large plastic
box; the sealed suction system attached, at least for the moment,
to the chest tube. He settled himself in the chair and allowed the
nurse to tuck a blanket around his shoulders. She turned to leave
and caught Carter's eye, "Stubborn Irishman."
O'Neill heard it and snorted, "Power-monger."
Carter slipped into the room and sat in a chair beside the Colonel.
"So, the nurses giving you everything you need?"
"Hmmph. Ice chips, infomercials and-" As he waved his
arm the monitor suddenly made a high -pitched squeal then went back
to it's quiet beeping. "And no peace and quiet whatsoever."
"I see you managed to get pajama bottoms as well."
Why not? There's nothing wrong with my bottom that any nurse needs
to be concerned about and that flapping in the breeze stuff isn't
Carter lost it, she laughed so hard she almost snorted. "Jack,
you're a nurse's worst nightmare!"
He looked at her, suddenly deadly serious. "Carter, what are
She swallowed her laughter long enough to say "Nothin'."
He had the oddest sensation one of those 'time-loop' thingies had
happened again, only this time Carter was the one who knew what
was going on. She looked way to smug to be innocent.
This time he spoke in full command mode. "Carter. Something
is going on and you are going to tell me what it is. Right now."
Her Air Force persona kicked in and she snapped her head up at
his tone. Somehow she managed to keep her mouth shut, but a moment
later he leaned forward and raised his eyebrows at her. "Samantha?"
Okay, she was blushing now. She could feel her neck getting hot.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, I think you do. You haven't called me 'Sir' yet."
"I just got here! And it's not like you're on active duty
"Major, like I can't tell when you're dodging. You didn't
yesterday either. So, why are you calling me Jack?"
She frowned. No getting past the direct approach. "Oh. Well.
Um." Her knuckles suddenly became interesting. She glanced
back up at him and saw he was still waiting for an answer. Crap.
"I guess it's the war. I've had to re-evaluate how I think
about some things. And. Maybe I need to change how I do some things."
"We've been through worse before. Why now?" His eyes
were soft; she could see he wasn't pushing; he just really wanted
to know. If he only knew how hard it was to deal with him when he
was being so gentle toward her.
"If it bothers you I'll stop-"
He reached across and took her hand. "No. I don't mind. Just
not used to it." He decided to give up the inquiry; it was
obvious she either didn't want to say or hadn't really thought about
it enough to be able to answer. He let go and leaned back in the
chair, pulling the blanket a little closer around his shoulders.
"So, you said everyone got out Okay? Now that I'm more awake
tell me again how you procured those Apaches."
The rest of the morning they spent in quiet conversation. He didn't
realize how much he'd missed her. It was great just to sit and talk.
Since she hadn't been working on any technological marvels lately
her conversation wasn't peppered with five and six-syllable words.
Over the next several days she came to visit often. With the war
winding down she was on downtime quite a bit. The doctors wanted
to transfer O'Neill to the Air Force Hospital in Germany, but he
absolutely refused. He insisted he wasn't hurt that badly and the
space should be saved for the POW's they'd be rescuing in the next
As it turned out he was right. Before the week was over several
Americans were brought out of Iraq, most of them in fairly bad shape.
He remembered what it was like just several weeks before when he
was rescued from imprisonment. If it wasn't for Jacob, he might
have had to retire on a medical discharge. These folks didn't have
a Tok'ra Fairy-Godfather watching out for them and would have to
rely solely on human medicine to restore them.
The end of the week brought more good news for O'Neill. The doctors
decided he was more than ready to have the chest tube removed and
though it was yet another painful experience, he was thrilled to
have his last yoke of medical bondage removed. He celebrated by
going outside and getting some sun.
It was just after 1300 and he considered going back inside; it
was getting a little warm and the bandages covering the right side
of his chest were a little itchy. Before he moved to get up he was
surprised to hear a child's laughter coming from the building behind
him. He turned to see Carter with a wriggling bundle in her arms,
followed by two Iraqi women and a young boy.
"Azir! Come here boy! What are you doing here?" Every
eye in the vicinity turned to O'Neill as he broke into the Arabic
The youngster smiled a grin that threatened to touch his ears and
ran to him. "Colonel Jack! I did not know we would be seeing
you!" He noticed the stark white bandages peeking out from
O'Neill's open shirt and touched it with his hand. "You are
hurt. Are you going to die?"
Carter noted the worry exhibited by such a young child when he
saw the large bandage on her CO, but didn't understand the words.
O'Neill scooped him up into his lap and ruffled his hair. "No.
No one's dying anymore. We're all safe."
The boy responded by suddenly becoming shy and leaning his head
against O'Neill's chest. His hand stayed on the bandage, fingering
it thoughtfully. O'Neill hugged him and addressed the other visitors.
"Mama, Ramah, you look well." He said as he reached one
hand out to them. The women hurried over to him and touched him,
it seemed all over, running their hands up his arms and shoulders
and patting his head, as if verifying it was really him. Mama came
to stand in front of him and cradled his cheeks in her hands. Carter
gasped and could barely hold back a giggle when the old woman bent
over to soundly kiss him on the mouth. It didn't faze O'Neill in
the least; he was grinning so much it was almost painful.
The women sat in the other chairs at the table and began to converse
rapidly in their native tongue, far too fast for O'Neill. He had
to get them to slow down but eventually was able to speak back and
forth with both of them. After a few minutes he waved to Carter
to come closer and join them.
She handed off the child she was still holding to Ramah and said
to O'Neill, "It's okay, I can't understand anything you're
"Come on, Carter. Mama insists. I'll translate as we go. Pull
up another chair."
When she was seated he touched her arm for a moment, "I don't
know how you pulled this off, but thanks, this is great!" He
squeezed Azir a little tighter, making him protest but he settled
right down when O'Neill handed him the glass of lemonade from the
The next hour was spent in a lively conversation as the women related
their experiences at the refugee camp and their treatment, which
they considered to be well above what was expected. Azir had been
introduced to several elements of American culture including pizza,
potato chips and fish sticks. Apparently O'Neill's team had taken
a personal interest in the welfare of the group they'd brought back
and at least one of them visited daily, usually bearing a gift,
and more often than not, it was some kind of food.
Finally O'Neill was beginning to look tired, most likely from all
the laughing he was doing, and his side was getting really sore.
Mama noticed it before the others and told him it was time for them
to leave. He protested the visit was too short, but she promised
to return when Major Carter could make the arrangements again.
Before she stood to leave she scooted forward in her seat and told
Azir to get down. She took O'Neill's hands in hers and spoke softly
and very seriously to him. Carter didn't think anything of it until
she noticed him glancing in her direction. Mama was talking about
her; she just knew it.
He rose to walk out with them but was unable to hide the pain and
a passing nurse scolded him and called for an orderly to take him
back to his room in a wheelchair. After saying his goodbyes to the
women and Azir, O'Neill spoke to Carter. "We'll talk, later.
Thanks again for the surprise."
Things began to happen on the war front very quickly over the next
several days and Carter was called back to work curtailing the time
she could spend with O'Neill and the others. Less than a week later
all eyes were glued to every available television set as Coalition
forces entered Baghdad and set up a Command Post in the heart of
the city. Cheers went up from Americans and liberated Iraqis alike
as murals were defaced and a huge statue of Hussein was dragged
off its pedestal. There would still be much to be done but the back
of the beast had been broken for all to see.
Several prisons were opened to the Coalition soldiers and hundreds
of political dissidents were set free in the days that followed.
Lists of names began to come in to the refugee camp of men who had
been released. The most badly injured were transported to Kuwait
for treatment but most would have to wait to be reunited with their
loved ones who had already left the country.
O'Neill was allowed to leave the hospital for short excursions
provided he let them know exactly where he was going and not stay
away for more than a few hours at a time. He was healing well but
still showed some signs of infection and they'd put him back on
a course of IV antibiotics. He was warned that missing one or two
doses could set him back.
So after assuring the nurses he could not live without them and
would never consider trying to, he met Major Corbin at the door
for a drive out to the refugee camp.
As they drove up there was near pandemonium at the front gate.
Apparently a new list was released and the names were being given
out by an Army spokesman. It took a while to get through the crowd
but finally O'Neill and Corbin made it to the bunker where their
friends were assigned. Mama and several others were inside, quietly
praying and hoping for a good report from the two women who went
to the gathering.
When O'Neill entered Mama called his name and patted the cot beside
her. When he sat she hugged him and quickly explained already two
of the women had news of their husbands. Both were alive and only
had minimal injuries. They were free to go to their homes and as
soon as the city was secure and things settled down, the women would
be escorted back home by American soldiers. Word had already been
sent back to the men as to the whereabouts and safety of their wives
Now Mama was praying to hear of her son. She really didn't expect
to hear his name among the others; he'd been more vocal than some
and she believed he'd been executed a long time ago. Still an old
woman can hope, she told O'Neill.
Ramah and another woman entered the bunker and gave out the names
they'd heard. As the list went on, occasionally a woman would stand
and shout that she knew of the man, or was related in some way.
Three of them were husbands and one was a nephew.
When the list was done and Mama's son was not mentioned O'Neill
clasped her hand tightly and said, "There will be more names.
Don't stop praying yet." While the celebrations began throughout
the camp O'Neill stayed beside the old woman and allowed her to
cry on his chest. There was nothing he could do to console her.
When he returned to the hospital he placed a call to Carter. He
hadn't seen her in a few days but his intent wasn't to chat; he'd
collected the names of several men who had not been heard from and
wanted to see if she could do anything to help.
She was intrigued by his request and immediately set Ian to work
on the problem. She promised to get back with him before the end
of the day with at least an idea of what they would be able to do.
Late that evening she showed up at the hospital and slipped into
She found him dozing with the sound of an aria coming from a CD
player beside the bed. She never pegged him as an opera fan but
somehow it fit the O'Neill persona and made her smile. She recognized
a familiar interlude and turned up the volume slightly.
"Love or hate?"
"What?" She spun around to find him awake and looking
"There's no middle ground with opera. You either love it or
hate it from the moment you first hear it. So, love or hate?"
"I'm not sure." She stumbled. "I never really listened."
"Okay. Listen now. There's a great part coming up in just
a minute." He patted the bed beside him. "Come on, listen
She cautiously approached the bedside and sat just on the very
edge. He smiled at her discomfort but ignored it and leaned back
with his hands behind his head. "Ah, here it comes." He
closed his eyes to listen.
The room was filled with the most beautiful music she'd ever heard.
A deep male voice rose and fell within the tones of the music as
much a part of it as any instrument in the orchestra. She found
herself caught up in the emotion of the melody closed her eyes to
more fully experience it.
When it was over and she opened her eyes she had to blink back
tears that had formed there. As she wiped under one eye she saw
O'Neill staring at her and flushed. "Sorry."
He broke from the stare and smiled, "Don't be. That music
has stirred the souls of kings and rulers for over a hundred years.
I think a war was fought over it once."
She looked at him in shock. A cultured Colonel? Who knew? She'd
have to chalk up another 'O'Neill's a lot smarter than he lets on'
item to the things she knew about him.
"I believe you're in love."
The statement made her eyes widen more. "What?"
"Opera. You either love it or hate it. I think you're in love.
Unless you've got something in your eye, that is."
She grinned and blushed. "Oh, yeah, it was great. Yeah, I
His head cocked at her odd reaction but he let it go. "So,
any success today?"
Brought back to her reason for coming she got over her embarrassment.
"Yes. Actually. We located a few of the men." She handed
over a list of names with almost half of them checked off. The first
name on the list was Mama's son, with a checkmark beside it.
He grinned, "We have got to get these men back together with
their families as soon as possible."
"Usual channels are full up right now with all the changes
over the past few weeks, I don't think you should get your hopes
up for a quick way to do this."
He leaned back and read over the list several times. "There's
got to be a way." After several minutes he set the paper down
and asked, "What's Hastings doing lately?"
After two days they had a plan. Carter used her influence and Ian's
skills to make contacts within Iraq and set up meeting times and
locations, Hastings got approval for a humanitarian flight into
Baghdad and O'Neill went to work on the nurses, Physician Assistants
and Doctors to release him. He finally convinced them with a minimum
of threats after agreeing to diligently take the oral antibiotics
as prescribed and have a trained medic check the incision and listen
to his lungs at least a couple of times a day.
Carter picked him up at the hospital front entrance in a Jeep and
they set off immediately to the Helicopter hangars at Al-Salem.
In the back of the Jeep she'd stowed two large gear bags, one for
herself and one for O'Neill containing extra clothing, med kits
and other items they might want. Hopefully they would not be staying
long in Baghdad and not need the supplies but it was best to go
in fully geared up.
Hastings was to enlist crewmen for the Helicopter and O'Neill was
pleased to find Corbin and Tuck among them. He clasped the men's
hands and greeted them warmly.
The flight out was made in midday and all the effects of the war
were in full display under the bright sun. The further they went
into Baghdad the more destruction was evident. Not only were there
still fires burning and many obviously bombed buildings, but there
were pockets of people milling about, some lost, perhaps homeless,
but at least now free.
O'Neill felt an odd sensation flying over the city in broad daylight
and being so exposed. Only a few weeks before and they'd have been
shot down in a minute. He couldn't shake the dread and the memories
but was determined to complete this self-appointed mission no matter
what the personal cost.
When they reached the first contact point they were waved to the
ground by a group of regular citizens who pointed to the large Red
Cross and American flag on the side of the Helicopter and cheered.
O'Neill and the others were greeted like heroes and as the non-Arabic
speaking members of the team passed out packets of food, O'Neill
and Corbin mingled with the people and asked questions. They soon
located two of the men on the list and ushered them aboard.
Within the hour they were aloft again and on their way to the second
contact. When they arrived the area was crowded with such a throng
of people they thought it would be impossible to locate the one
they'd come for. Fortunately their contact was waiting atop a building,
waving an American flag. Hastings brought the Helicopter to just
a few feet above the rooftop and they hauled him aboard.
The final leg of their journey took them past the ruins of one
of Saddam's palaces and to one of the largest prisons in the country.
Here they were to pick up three men, one of who was Mama's son,
As they circled the prison so Hastings could locate an acceptable
site to set down, the dread returned to O'Neill with force. His
stomach turned at the sight of the heavy black bars on the windows
and the courtyards with row after row of black boxes. They seemed
just barely large enough to contain a man and Carter leaned over
and asked him if they were coffins.
He shuddered as an ice-cold chill ran down his spine. That word
was almost appropriate. He'd spent part of that lost four months
inside one of those boxes, all but forgotten by the guards. For
all intention he was buried alive, completely cut off from any human
contact and left to rot, he just wasn't underground. The Iraqis
used the boxes as a form of torture and sometimes left prisoners
in them until they died of hunger or thirst or neglect. O'Neill
had been fortunate to not be one of them, his time was cut short
when his name was added to a POW exchange list. Whatever angels
there were had to work overtime on that one he was sure.
His hard breathing made his side begin to ache and his color paled.
Corbin was seated directly across from him and watched his CO closely.
Something was affecting the man, and he was all too sure what it
was. He knew O'Neill had been imprisoned twice in Iraq, once recently
when he'd undergone extreme torture and once a long time ago. He
didn't know the details of that instance but it certainly was no
more pleasant than the last time
Carter noticed Corbin's scrutiny and scooted a little closer to
O'Neill. She didn't push him to answer her question but only set
her hand on the bench between them so her hand was touching his
thigh. He looked down at her hand and then up to her face without
raising his head and nodded just slightly, giving her a silent thank
you for the support she offered.
Hastings chose a spot and brought the helicopter down.
They needed for someone to go in and given that O'Neill and Corbin
were the only ones fluent enough in Arabic, it would have to be
one of them. Corbin insisted he go since O'Neill was injured but
was out ranked. After a short discussion and much protesting by
everyone else, O'Neill compromised. They'd both go.
The large courtyard led to a somewhat smaller one that served as
a sort of vestibule. The first thing O'Neill noted was the long
row of black boxes they'd seen from the air. He hesitantly walked
along them and seeing that every padlock was either open or missing;
he knew the boxes should be empty. His nose told him otherwise.
At least some of the boxes were occupied, although what remained
inside was far beyond any help at this point.
Corbin fell in step beside O'Neill and touched his shoulder. "Sir,
we really should go. We can't help anyone here."
He was met with a rather glazed-eyed look from his CO, but then
O'Neill nodded and turned to the large double doors at the far end
of the enclosure. They weren't here for him to reminisce after all.
They crept along the hallway unsure why they hadn't seen any people
as yet. Perhaps this part of the penal complex was still held by
guards loyal to Saddam. If so they'd most likely be walking into
Neither man spoke as they moved along keeping to the shadows and
hugging the walls. They came to another hall and passed an interrogation
room. The door was ajar and O'Neill pressed his hand against it
to widen the opening so he could peer inside. The sight of chains
hanging from the ceiling jerked his mind away from the present and
back to a time he'd been in a room just like this one.
Corbin double-timed it to his side when he saw O'Neill wasn't moving.
"Shit." He cursed under his breath. For the first time
since he'd known the man, he allowed himself to think of O'Neill
as a washed-up and broken old soldier.
He was wrong. As he crept over to what he thought would be 'shake'
O'Neill out of it, he found himself with a machine-gun barrel in
his face. Flashbacks notwithstanding O'Neill's reflexes were in
perfect working order.
"Corbin!" O'Neill whispered harshly. "What are you
doing?" He lowered the weapon immediately.
"I thought you needed help." The Major admitted somewhat
O'Neill knew what it must have looked like and he had to admit
he'd been acting overly nostalgic lately. He put his hand on the
younger man's shoulder. "I know what you're thinking, and I
don't blame you. But I'm not about to freak out on you here. It's
just; there are a lot of memories. I'm Okay, Tom. Trust me."
Corbin nodded quickly and glanced at O'Neill's weapon. "Oh,
yeah, Sir. Not a doubt in my mind."
O'Neill chuckled. "You really are a bad liar. You've gotta
work on that. Come on."
The pair continued to the end of the section and heard voices ahead
of them. From their hiding place they could see no guards, only
a few small groups of men talking quietly. O'Neill decided it was
time to find out whether they were friend or foe and stood and openly
approached the nearest group.
Corbin held back preparing to give cover fire if needed. After
a few moments of conversation O'Neill motioned for the Major to
come forward. Indeed this part of the prison was no longer under
the regimes control.
As they walked down the hallway they passed several more men and
by the time they were at the end word had already spread that Americans
were in the facility, There was a large room full of men and they
began to cheer when O'Neill and Corbin entered. They were ushered
forward through the crowd, all the while being patted on their shoulders
and heads. It seemed the men all wanted to touch them. If either
of them had been claustrophobic it would have been a horrid experience;
there was barely room to move at all yet hands propelled them through
the room. Any man who wanted to do them harm would have had ample
Corbin tried to get some information but there were so many speaking
at once he couldn't understand them. O'Neill was having more difficulty
dealing with this than he wanted to admit; he cringed back into
himself and avoided eye contact with anyone but Corbin.
Eventually the forward motion stopped and they found themselves
face to face with two very elderly men who introduced themselves
as the unofficial leaders of the group. O'Neill explained quickly
why they'd come and was answered with a rousing applause from everyone
in the room, then they all started to speak at once again.
Corbin was able to get bits and pieces of conversation from all
around them. The wanted to know the names of the men the Americans
sought and were more than willing to help track them down.
As it turned out one of the men was there in the room, so they
only had two to locate.
One of the old men and several of the younger ones led the way
out and down to a lower level of cells. Once again O'Neill felt
the depressive atmosphere of the place closing in on him. It was
not silent in the hallways as he remembered it though. Back then
even quiet talking would have made a prisoner into a target for
the guard's amusement. He recalled more than once earning a beating
for nothing more than offering kind words to another inmate. Now
the cell doors were all swung wide open and men were chatting quietly
here in there in small groups.
It seemed less than ten percent of the prisoners were incarcerated
for what would be considered a true crime; everyone else was a political
dissident and treated more severely than thieves and murderers.
Now they were all free, just a very few were still in cells but
were permitted to speak and given the same food and water available
to the others.
Even here as O'Neill walked by hands reached out to touch him and
he recognized prayers of thanks being offered for the 'American
The entourage stopped near the middle of the row in front of a
cell with three men having a discussion. The old man pointed to
one of them who surprisingly showed no fear of being singled out
from the others. After an explanation was given the young man broke
into a grin and with much excitement gathered his meager belongings
and joined them.
O'Neill took a moment to check in by radio as the man gathered
"Colonel? Where are you?" Hastings called back.
"Not sure, Joe. One of the lower cellblocks. We've got two
of our friends. You wouldn't believe how they're treating us!"
Carters voice came over the radio, "Yeah, we would. They're
up here, too, There's gonna be a big party and we're apparently
the guests of honor."
O'Neill silently swore at himself for leaving them without someone
who could speak Arabic. "Sorry, Carter. I don't think they'll
hurt you. Just don't let them get too close to the chopper. We'll
check back in thirty, okay?"
"Yes, Sir. We'll be all right. Carter out."
Back on the main floor the old man led them out through another
courtyard where the black boxes had been hacked to pieces and heaped
in a great pile. They now served only as fodder for a raging bonfire.
The section just beyond was where the old man told them they must
This time only the younger men moved forward. There were many guards
still loyal to Saddam in this part of the structure and it may become
dangerous. They were armed with weapons taken from guards and whatever
other sticks or knives they'd been able to find. They seemed a bit
too rag-tag for O'Neill and he tried to convince them to let he
and Corbin go it alone. At least they were Special Forces; they'd
have a much better chance even if outgunned and outnumbered.
With some indignation one of the young men answered O'Neill. "We
may not be *American*, but we are well trained. All of us here served
as soldiers for Saddam. We are trained to shoot well and obey orders.
We know the location where your friend is sure to be. You lead,
give us orders and we will fight for you."
It almost made O'Neill shed tears to be the object of such loyalty
from these total strangers. He clasped the young man on the shoulder
and nodded. Like an old man once told him back on Abydos, give hope
to the lost and they will rise up in astounding ways.
The young man's name was Saadhi. He drew a crude map in the dirt
and showed O'Neill where he believed the Republican guards were
likely to be and the entrances to the wing beyond where Muhamar
would be found.
The plan was set and O'Neill and Corbin led the way. The first
thing they needed to do was quietly take out two sentries. With
much protest the Iraqi soldiers relented and held back while O'Neill
and Corbin put their training to use. Within a few minutes both
lookouts were taken down and their equipment and weapons confiscated.
The young men rejoiced when presented with the additional weapons
and O'Neill had to remind them to be quiet.
They moved on to their primary goal, weaving their way through
passageways and abandoned cellblocks to the far end where the next
wing began. Here they could relax a bit before moving on. The man
they sought would be here somewhere in the lower level of cells,
most likely still incarcerated. Saadhi believed the guards intended
to use the prisoners for human shields if the need arose when the
Coalition forces showed up to subdue them.
Only two more guards were in the cell area and were taken out quietly
by two of O'Neill's new team. They took the padlock keys and headed
to the row of cells. The prisoners were watchful and aware of the
incursion and were all standing at the bars trying to see who was
coming. O'Neill and Saadhi started opening cells as Corbin and the
others went ahead to encourage the ones further down the row to
be quiet. Their turn would come soon. No one would be left behind.
Third from the end Corbin found Muhamar and was telling him of
his mother when O'Neill arrived with the key. The man was about
O'Neill's age but looked much older; he'd spent too much time out
in the desert and too much time in prison. When O'Neill turned the
key in the padlock he saw tears streaming down the man's face and
passed the key on to Corbin to free the rest. He wanted the honor
of releasing this man himself.
Muhamar stood still for a moment with the door to his cell open
wide and stared at the American. He only came forth when O'Neill
stretched out his hand and encouraged him. The Iraqi clutched that
hand like it was a lifeline and allowed himself to be led out from
behind the iron bars.
When the doors were all open fourteen men walked out without fear
for the first time in months. They gathered together in the center
of the hallway and crouched down, listening as the escape plan was
outlined. They'd go back the way they came in, this time with O'Neill
and Corbin at the rear. It was imperative for them to remain as
silent as possible; it was only a matter of time before the sentries
were discovered to be missing and once that happened the going would
be much more dangerous. For now they still had the defense of being
They were well out of the cellblock and passing the sentries' location
when shouts were heard from an elevated position above them. The
sentries' bodies had been found. It was time to hasten their move.
Corbin went on ahead and joined the men at the front to lead the
prisoners out. O'Neill stayed at the rear with Saadhi and crouched
against a wall, preparing to give cover fire if needed as the others
crawled single file along a low wall. The men moved forward slowly
on their bellies, matching Corbin movement for movement. Once on
the other side Corbin motioned for O'Neill to come ahead.
Before they could move machine-gun fire began to echo through the
hallways, the bullets flying only inches over their heads. Pinned
down for the moment, O'Neill signaled the others to stay low as
he lobbed a grenade in the direction of the firing.
After the explosion more gunfire erupted; the guards may have been
surprised but were not too injured to continue their assault. This
time it was met with a tremendous response from the freed prisoners.
Every one of them who had a weapon was firing it.
O'Neill and Corbin barely had to fire their own weapons at all
there was such a barrage from around them. When it was over, O'Neill
turned to Saadhi and said in English, "I take it you've never
heard the term overkill?"
Saadhi grinned back at him. "Sure. Overkill. It's what they
have done to us for many years."
O'Neill was stunned; he never considered some of these people might
speak English. He'd been struggling with his broken Arabic to make
himself understood to all of them. He wagged a finger at the young
man. "You're good. That's really funny." He shook his
head and rolled up to his knees to survey the scene.
He quietly moved on toward the area where they'd concentrated their
fire and found several dead men, but there were not nearly enough
bodies to have gotten them all. Before O'Neill could discuss this
with Corbin, machine gun fire echoed out of the cellblock area.
They all dropped and covered again.
O'Neill received a frantic call from Carter on his radio. "Colonel!
This is Carter. We're hearing gunfire. Are you all right?"
Still ducking he thumbed the switch and spoke. "We're Okay.
Just met a little resistance. Hold your position."
Carter wasn't placated that easily. "Sir. We've got a loaded
30 mm gun here. Hastings can take off and provide air cover."
O'Neill thought for a moment then replied, "All right Major.
We're in the hallway between the main building and the south cellblock.
Hostile fire is currently coming from the south wing. All you have
to do is keep them busy so we can get out."
Hastings answered, "Roger, Sir. We've got your six."
In minutes the helicopter was hovering over the citadel and firing
bursts of shells into the lower cellblock. O'Neill and Saadhi joined
the others and quickly ran through a series of hallways to the courtyard
where the bonfire was still burning. Once there they were home free.
With the fire in sight O'Neill called to Hastings to cease-fire
and return to the pick up point. As he concluded the transmission
he stopped and leaned against the wall heavily. He still wasn't
up to par physically and the day's events were finally catching
up with him big-time.
Muhamar was at the rear of the group and saw the American stop.
When O'Neill did not move again, he went to see if something was
wrong. "Friend O'Neill, we must go."
"I will, Mu. I just need a minute." The look of pain
was in his eyes.
The Iraqi waited a moment then reached to touch O'Neill's side;
he could see he was guarding it. O'Neill groaned and pushed the
man's hand away, using his elbow and forearm to support his ribs;
he was finding it harder and harder to breathe. Muhamar saw the
distress and acted quickly. He pulled O'Neill's arm over his shoulder
and wrapped his left arm around his waist so he could carry much
of O'Neill's weight. "We go together."
The pain grew worse and O'Neill nodded, grateful for the assist.
He managed only a weak smile at the man he'd come to save who was
now saving him.
All the way to rendezvous with the helicopter the situation was
as before with everyone wanting to touch the Americans and offering
thanks. O'Neill and Muhamar were the last to arrive and when they
did the air of celebration faltered. O'Neill looked pale as a ghost
and though the pain had lessened, his breathing was increasingly
He was hauled aboard and preparations were made for a hasty departure.
Before they left one of the elder men requested an audience with
O'Neill. He was brought on board the aircraft and to O'Neill's side
where he presented the American with a gift. Something wrapped in
a leather pouch that the others did not see. The old man bent low
and spoke quietly only to O'Neill. When he left Carter came to check
that her CO was strapped in and ready for lift off.
She was almost to him when she suddenly stopped herself and stayed
back. He was lying on the bench with his eyes closed and clutching
a small leather bag. Even in the dim light she could see obvious
streams of tears flowing freely down from his eyes. She couldn't
bring herself to interrupt and passed on a go-ahead to depart to
Hastings. The entire trip back she tried to determine what had happened
to him. All she could come up with was that he'd been forced to
relive some terrible memories from his time as a POW and it was
taking its toll on him. She could have cried herself if it would
have given him some comfort.
Back at Al-Salem the helicopter touched down and the six rescued
Iraqis were put on a truck for the trip to the refugee camp to meet
their families. O'Neill's condition had not improved but he insisted
on going along. Carter, Hastings and Corbin of course followed suit.
Word of their arrival reached the camp ahead of them and the gate
was clogged with people. The truck moved on in and continued slowly
through the throng of people not stopping until it came to the barracks
O'Neill pointed out. The noise and commotion caused several women
to emerge from the building and just as Mama appeared at the doorway
Muhamar stepped down off the truck. Their eyes met immediately and
the old woman began to scream with joy. Muhamar pushed his way through
to her and swept her up in his arms weeping as loudly as she was.
Unseen by them O'Neill watched from the back of the truck. A small
smile was on his lips as the pain and lack of breath finally overtook
him and he collapsed unconscious to the floor.
O'Neill awoke to bright overhead lights and the sounds of rhythmically
beeping machinery. He cursed to himself internally; he was in a
hospital room again. How the hell did this happen? He moved his
mouth and licked his lips and was pleased to find no damn tube stuck
down his throat this time.
The light was too bright and he turned his head to the side and
saw yellow. Yellow hair. Carter. He cleared his throat and croaked
out the name. "Carter?"
The head lifted immediately and the bright blue eyes locked with
his. "Sir. You're awake! How do you feel?"
"Oh, great. Peachy. What happened?" He grimaced as he
took a breath and felt something jabbing in his side.
"Your lung collapsed again. They said it was too much exertion
too soon. The doctors had to put the tube back in your chest to
"Right." He closed his eyes and thought for a few minutes,
trying to remember what had happened. "Muhamar? He made it
to his mother, right?"
"Yes, Sir. All of the men we brought back are reunited with
their families. I've never seen such a celebration."
"Good. That's good." His eyes looked heavy and Carter
moved across the room to dim the lights then returned to his side.
"You should rest." She laid her hand lightly on his and
gave it a squeeze. "I'll be right here."
He nodded and closed his eyes then drifted off to sleep in the
now dark room; lulled by the monitor softly beeping in time with
his own heartbeat.
Several days later O'Neill was discharged from the hospital with
strict instructions to refrain from any physical stress and orders
transferring him back to Cheyenne Mountain. It seemed Iraq had finally
had enough of one Jack O'Neill.
Major Carter met him at the door with a Jeep and an ice chest in
the back seat. This was her last day in Kuwait as well. In the morning
they'd be on the same flight back to the USA; but today they were
still here and had a few loose ends to tie up before going. It was
a wonderfully balmy morning with just enough of a breeze to keep
the heat at bay.
She drove and he relaxed back in the seat not bothered at all by
the bumpy ride. He was feeling more himself than he had in a long
time. A very long time. His side was a little stiff but that was
expected; he hardly noticed it.
At the end of the road Carter turned the Jeep into a wide gate
and flashed her ID to the guard. He saluted and let them pass without
even coming to a complete stop. The Jeep trundled on until they
were in front of the familiar barracks and Azir came running out
squealing. Before he knew it, O'Neill was being dragged out by both
hands and pulled into the cool interior of the building. Carter
fell in step behind the pair, now lugging the cooler by a strap
over her shoulder. As they crossed in through the doorway she slid
off her shades and set them up on her head. She looked around wistfully
as she walked. Soon this building would be vacant. Families were
being reunited all over Iraq and returned to their homes. The rebuilding
of a nation had begun.
At the assigned quarters she stopped and set down her load as the
Colonel greeted his friends. Mama, Muhamar, Ramah, little Terrin
and his mother were all waiting for him. Several other women and
a host of children came running up as well, all calling him by name,
'Colonel Jack.' Carter wondered how that got started anyway.
Once the greetings were made O'Neill opened the gift they'd brought.
The chest was full of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream; packed in dry ice
and still frozen solid. They all dug in and chatted and laughed.
Carter still couldn't understand what was being said but it didn't
matter. She held Terrin on her lap and fed him spoonfuls of 'Peanut
Butter Me Up' and watched her CO grinning and laughing as he played
with every one of the children; getting himself covered in ice cream
in the process.
The only somber moment was just before they left when O'Neill moved
off away from the group with Muhamar and his mother. He pulled a
small bag out of his pocket and showed them the contents and spoke
quietly with them, then put it away and hugged them both fiercely.
The old woman bid him goodbye with sobs and a river of tears streaming
down her face.
Back in the Jeep and headed back to the base to pack, O'Neill was
quiet and pensive. Just as the gate was in sight he asked Carter
to stop the vehicle. He looked straight ahead and spoke to her,
"You want to know what it is." He said it as a statement,
not a question.
She frowned. Had she been that obvious? If it was too personal,
after all, she had no right to pry.
She could see his eyes were closed behind his shades. He reached
down and slid the pouch out of his pocket and held it for a moment
rubbing his thumb over the worn leather before unwrapping it, then
held it out, uncovered, revealing a simple rusty, broken padlock.
She shook her head, at first she didn't understand, then she suddenly
remembered seeing padlocks just like this in the prison. Every one
of those black boxes had one. She shivered at the thought of what
it must have symbolized to him.
He took one of her hands and held it against the cool metal. "You
see it's broken. The man who gave this to me said they all were.
Every single one. They'd never be used again."
She looked from where he was still holding her hand and then to
his face and saw a single tear glint on his cheek. She understood.
He wasn't being tortured by the horrible memories; he was being
healed of them. Years of pain were being swept away all because
he chose to walk back into the pit and face his demons. It must
have taken every ounce of his courage to step off that helicopter
at the prison with the stark reminders of his past everywhere he
looked. When they touched down it was uncertain even if the prison
was still held by Saddam's men.
She blinked back her own tears as he put the pouch away. She realized
he had just shared something deeply personal with her. She'd never
be able to look at him quite the same way again.
Before starting the engine she said quietly, "Thank you, Colonel...
Jack." He glanced back at her with the beginnings of a lopsided
grin, then leaned back against the seat and allowed the grin to
spread to his whole face. He was glad the 'new Carter' had chosen
to hang around. It would be interesting to see what else she might
do. Funny, he never expected being in Iraq to change him again so
profoundly, and here it had changed both of them.
The flight back would take many hours and Carter took the opportunity
to reacquaint herself with current projects at the SGC. As she waited
for the files to load up on her laptop she glanced at her traveling
companion and smiled. O'Neill was still recuperating and decided
the best use of his time would be to sleep, especially since a certain
Major was intent on immersing herself in Naquadah equations once
again and wasn't paying any attention to him. He was now snoring
softly with his head turned in her direction. He was leaning slightly
but not quite enough to touch her shoulder. If he did she wouldn't
After a while she tired of reading and switched to her journal
and began to type.
Maj. S. Carter
These past several weeks have been amazing. I never thought I'd
like this place. Iraq. Until now it was just a desert full of people
who wanted only to see America destroyed. I knew Saddam lied to
and subjugated the people but he always seemed to have their full
support. I had no idea how many were just waiting for a chance to
be rid of him.
Even though I never learned more than just a few words in Arabic,
I feel I've made friends there. Ramah is a true Middle-Eastern beauty,
she's just about my age and with that long black hair she'd turn
every man's head if she were back in the USA. I've only gotten a
glimpse of it; the women keep their heads covered whenever there's
even a chance a man will come around. She has a seven year-old son
named Azir who is a handful. I've only seen him be still once, when
he saw Jack was hurt.
She paused with her fingers still on the keys and looked at the
last few words. Unconsciously she moved the cursor back to the 'k'
and let one finger just barely rest on the backspace key.
She was still staring at the screen when something moved her hand
away from the keyboard. "Leave it. Who's gonna be reading your
She turned to him and said, "Apparently *you* are."
"Yeah, but I don't count. I already know."
He looked back at her and his eyebrows flicked as if a thought
occurred to him. He leaned down and opened his briefcase and pulled
out a worn and somewhat tattered book. As he opened it and flipped
through the pages she could see the originally blank sheets were
now crammed full of handwritten notes.
He found the passage he was looking for and handed it to her, pointing
at where to begin to read.
Col. J. O'Neill
We are currently hiding out in the basement of some Mosque. We're
not really pinned down, but it will take quite a bit of luck to
avoid patrols if we need to relocate again. I really wish we'd been
able to get a confirmation of our last message back from Command.
Just knowing they are aware of our circumstances makes it feel like
we have some backup even if they're hundreds of miles away. Right
now I'm feeling pretty far from everywhere. It's hard to believe
Cheyenne Mountain is just on the other side of the planet and not
off in some other galaxy.
God, I never thought I'd miss the place like I do. Wonder how Hammond's
making out; I assume the missions are still on hold. And there's
Teal'c, the big guy would fit in just fine out here sans the tattoo.
Ironically the one I miss most is the one person who's here in Iraq.
I doubt Carter realizes what an anchor she's been for me. It's a
shame, the way things have to be, but the connection hasn't changed,
for me at least. I swear when this is all over, I'm gonna talk to
She closed the cover and looked at him with a soft smile. Maybe
there was an *upside* to long flights after all.