Mild violence and disturbing images not suitable for young children!
Sam stirred with a groan. Her head pounded and her mouth was filled with grains of sand and dirt. Coughing, she lifted herself up and winced. Everything hurt. Her hip, her shoulder, her back.
“Ouch.” Disoriented, she fought her growing dizziness.
“Tell me about it.”
She faltered. Close to her, O’Neill’s voice sounded strained, like he was in pain.
“Sir, where are you?” Her voice echoed hollowly. She froze. Where the hell was she? Last thing she remembered was walking behind O’Neill through a field and then… Oh God. The ground had given way under them. She looked up and felt around her. Sand. Stone… a few plants. They’d been buried alive.
“I’m over here. You okay?”
O’Neill’s voice drew her out of her rising panic. “Yeah. Relatively speaking. I can’t see anything. Are you okay, sir?”
“I’ve been better.” Another groan. “It’s dark and I can’t reach my flashlight.”
She felt for her backpack and found hers, then turned it on.
“Oh boy.” She shone the light around her. It looked like they’d landed in an old mining tunnel with large, smooth rock faces rising up about ten meters. She lifted the light towards the ceiling. Somewhere up there had to be an opening where they’d fallen through.
“Don’t even bother.” O’Neil sat up, face grimacing. “We slid through a lot of dirt on our way down here. We’re not gonna get back up there.”
She looked at him when she heard the strain in his voice. “What’s wrong, sir?”
“I think my arm’s broken. Ankle’s hurting pretty badly, too.”
“Oh my God.” She crawled over to him. “How long was I out?”
“I don’t know. A while. Gave me quite a scare.”
“Sorry, sir.” She touched his arm. His hand twitched and he clenched his jaw. “You sure it’s broken, sir?” Maybe it was only bruised, or maybe he’d dislocated his shoulder. She tried to pull his jacket off.
He shouted, making her jump, and grasped her hand. “I’m sure, Carter. It’s broken. Stop.” Gritting his teeth, he laid his head back.
Sam furrowed her brow. Yeah, definitely broken. Not good.
O’Neill tried to give her a nonchalant look, and failed. “Not my first broken bone.”
“Then you know I have to check the extent of the injury. I’ll have to make you a sling.”
“Carter, it’s fine.”
She gave a helpless sigh. “Alright, let me take a look at your ankle then.”
Jaw clenched, he lay his head back. She opened the laces on his boots. He winced when she pulled off one boot. No screaming. A good sign. She bent his foot left and right. He gave a hiss.
“The good news is, it’s not broken, sir.” She sat back on her heels. “Bad news is, it’s sprained and you shouldn’t walk around on it too much.” She moved back to his head and again tried to remove his jacket.
She flinched in sympathy. “I’m sorry, sir. I have to see how bad it is.”
Little beads of sweat formed on his forehead. She softened her touch, and changed her position. She leaned on his chest and eased the jacket off.
He panted. “Carter.”
She looked at him, startled. “What’s wrong, sir?”
“My chest hurts. I think I may have bruised a few ribs, so I’d appreciated it if you didn’t…”
“I think I need a doctor. No offense to your medical skills.”
“None taken, but you might have to hang in there for a bit. We need to get out of here.”
“Yeah, well.” He grunted. “The radios don’t work down here. I tried.”
“We’re gonna have to get out by ourselves, or find a place where the signal can penetrate the rocks.” She looked at her commanding officer’s arm. “I’ll put your arm in a sling. That should ease your pain for now. For that I’m gonna have to move it though.”
“Yeah, I was afraid you were gonna…. Ah, god!”
She looked at him desperately. “Sorry. I’m so sorry.” She searched through her backpack until she’d found the box with emergency medication and opened it. Painkillers… there should be painkillers somewhere. There. She pulled a little package out. Not nearly strong enough, but they’d have to suffice for now.
“Take these.” Gently, she fed him the pills and then held his head up so that he could swallow them down with water.
“I don’t think they’re gonna help much.” He tried to give her a smug smirk. “Don’t worry, I’ve been through worse. I’ll be around for a while.” Her gaze held his. He had to see the fear on her face, because his expression gentled. “Carter, we’re gonna get out.”
“I know, sir. I know.” She swallowed and forced herself to smile. “Shouldn’t I be the one cheering you up?”
Determined, she walked up to their backpacks and emptied the contents of both of them on the ground, searching for something of use.
O’Neill watched her. “Carter… Whatcha doing?”
“I need to treat your arm, sir. Then I’ll have to see about your ankle. I’ll need you to be able to hop.”
Their backpacks offered few medical supplies. Neither of them had packed for a field mission. This was supposed to be a comfortable field trip to a town with friendly people. She looked at the useless supplies for a moment. Then she shrugged her jacket off and pulled her shirt over her head.
O’Neil shifted, staring at her. “Keep going…”
She cocked her head at his smug grin and managed a weak smile. “This is a sling for your arm.”
She sat back down next to him. He grimaced.
“This is gonna hurt, isn’t… Gnnnh…”
She lifted his arm carefully without giving him warning, and placed the shirt under it. His breathing quickened until he was panting. Oh God, was he hyperventilating? She stilled and placed her hands against his cheeks.
“Don’t… do that… again…” He panted.
“I’m trying my best, sir.” Her throat tightened. If only she had something stronger for his pain. Carefully, she took the arms of the shirt and wrapped them around his neck, tying them in a knot. Not a state of the art sling, but it should stabilize his arm enough.
She reached for her bottle of water and lifted it to his lips. He took a few gulps. “I’m done, sir. Just lie back and rest for a moment.”
She wiped the back of her hand across her face. The dust and dirt on her skin were starting to itch.
“You should go and follow the tunnels, Carter. See if you can find an exit somewhere.” O’Neill looked at her.
“We will, sir. As soon as you can move.” She searched through their belongings. “We’re good on water and emergency rations for about two days.”
“Yeah.” Groaning, O’Neill sat up. “I don’t plan on staying down here that long.”
She turned her head. “I didn’t say we would be, sir. As soon as you’re strong enough, we’ll find a way out of here.”
Provided there was a way. Her stomach clenched. If this was actually a mine, what if it had collapsed, and there was no way out? What if nobody would ever find them down here? What if they starved to death?
She grabbed the bandages, ignoring her increasing dizziness. Focus. Don’t overthink! She started wrapping them around his ankle to stabilize the bone. He most likely still wouldn’t be able to walk far, but he could wrap his good arm around her.
When she was done, she leaned back against the wall. Her head pounded stronger now. She closed her eyes and reached up to her forehead. Wet and sticky. She opened her eyes and looked at the traces of dark red on her fingers.
O’Neill pulled himself over to her and handed her the bottle of water. “Your head injury doesn’t look good.”
She gave him a thankful smile and took a large sip. “It looks worse than it is, sir. I’m fine.” She winced against the stinging pain. “Just a mild headache.”
“Right.” O’Neill held her gaze for a long time. Then his face gentled. “Carter, you’re gonna be faster without me. Go see if you can find an exit. Then you can return with help.”
“No.” She shook her head firmly.
O’Neill’s face hardened. “That wasn’t a request, ensign.”
She lifted her chin and pushed herself away from the wall. “We have no idea if these tunnels are stable, or what we’re dealing with down here. I won’t leave you behind.”
“You’re disobeying a direct order.” He grunted in pain.
“Well, sir, you can put me in confinement once we’re back at camp for all I care. I won’t leave you here. Deal with it.” She started throwing things into one of the backpacks, and took a moment before she dared a look at him. Was he angry with her insubordination?
He had to know, if she actually did as he asked, chances were slim she’d ever find her way back to him. And with his injuries his condition might worsen. If she left him behind, she had no doubt he’d die. Her blood ran cold. I won’t let that happen.
She closed the backpack. All other items wouldn’t be of any use down here, and with his injuries it was best to lose unnecessary gear.
“Can you get up?” She moved back over to him while she fastened the backpack on her shoulders.
“Wrap your arm around my shoulders, sir.”
His face contorted as he got up and tried not to move his broken arm in the process. She steadied him as best as she could. He took a first step, then stumbled against her with a curse. She tried not to lose balance.
“Sir.” She grabbed him around the chest, remembering too late what he’d said earlier about his ribs. “What are you doing? You shouldn’t use your left foot.”
He panted. “I don’t think you can carry my weight enough to steady me for that. No offense, Carter, but I’m quite a bit heavier than you.”
She cocked her head with a scowl. “I’m stronger than I look, sir. Besides, let that be my problem. I definitely won’t be able to carry your weight if you pull another stunt like that. Come on, this way.” She indicated the way forward with her flashlight.
He growled. “Funny, last I checked, I was the one in charge.” He hopped one step after the other in the direction she’d indicated, his arm firmly wrapped around her shoulder.
She stopped. “You are, sir. You wanna go back and take the other way?”
She was sure he knew she was getting smart with him again. He held her gaze, then glanced over his shoulder at the way they’d come. They’d already moved two meters, a vast distance given his sprained ankle.
“No. Your way’s fine.”
Panting, she smirked. As much as she hated to admit it, he had been right. With his height and muscles, he was considerably heavier than she’d estimated.
They made their way through the tunnel. Their steps echoed in the darkness in a way that made Sam’s skin crawl. Hopefully they weren’t moving further underground into an area filled with toxic gas.
When they reached a crossroads, she pulled out a lighter and a piece of chalk from the backpack to mark their way. She flicked on the lighter and watched the flame. There was no visible breeze anywhere, so they’d have to go on guts. “I suggest we take the right path. It seems to lead upwards.”
O’Neill’s gaze rested on her.
“What?” She raised her eyebrows.
Sam flung her arm around him again to steady him. When he grunted in pain, she glanced at him. “Do you want to rest some more?”
Yeah. Right. His strained voice indicated he was anything but. Damn his foolish pride. Then again, his injuries wouldn’t get any better even if he rested, so it was best to move as fast as they could. Hopefully they’d make it for their next Stargate window.
Another five minutes passed in silence before they stopped a moment to rest.
“Where’d you learn the fire thing?” O’Neill pressed his hand against his side and looked at her.
“The lighter you mean? Sheppard taught me while I was working on SG-2. We explored a cave system on P2Y-412.”
“Ah.” He winced and straightened. “Sheppard.”
Okay, there was that grouchy undertone again. That couldn’t be just her imagination. What the hell was going on between him and Sheppard? And why was he taking his anger out on her?
“You wanna tell me what’s wrong, sir?” She fixed her gaze on him.
Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Sheppard.” She folded her arms. “You’ve been in a foul mood since he got his head stuck in that alien device.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” He averted his gaze. Something was definitely going on.
“Please. I wouldn’t even care, but every time I mention his name you get snippy with me.”
“Carter, watch the tone. This is neither the place nor the time to talk about this.” He leaned against the wall behind him.
“I beg to differ. I think it’s the perfect place and time. It’s only us. If I’ve done something wrong, or if you have a problem with my performance, just tell me.”
“Okay, then what?”
When he remained silent, she shook her head with an angry snort. “Fine, sir, if you don’t want to talk about it, then don’t. But I’m telling you, if you snap at me one more time—”
“Sheppard likes you.” O’Neill’s glare pinned her to the spot.
“What?” She dropped her arms. “I like him too. He’s a good guy and we’re friends.”
She froze at the intimate address and swallowed when his gaze met hers.
“I wasn’t talking about friendship. Sheppard’s flirting with you.”
Her breath caught. “No he isn’t.” Was he? Granted, Sheppard had been very attentive recently, made a lot of jokes, found excuses to talk to her… Oh boy. Her throat went dry. “It’s how he is. He flirts with everybody. It doesn’t mean anything.”
O’Neill ran his head across his forehead. “You really don’t have much experience with this whole dating thing, do you? Believe me, friendship’s the last thing on his mind.”
“Oh.” No, that couldn’t be. Yes, Sheppard had a reputation with the ladies, and it was also well-known that he only had short affairs. But she was his subordinate. On the other hand, he had hit on her last team-night at O’Malleys. And… all those invites recently? Asking her if she wanted to have lunch with him? Or dinner? What if she’d misjudged his intentions? She closed her eyes with a groan. How the hell could she be so damn naïve?
“Are you interested in him?” O’Neill’s voice gentled.
“What?” She snapped her eyes open and stared at him.
“It’s a simple question.”
“And none of your business.”
Hurt flashed across his face before his features hardened. She sighed. That had been unnecessarily harsh. He’d only been concerned about… She held her breath and scanned his face. No, he hadn’t been concerned. He was jealous. He thought she and Sheppard… Her stomach tightened.
“I didn’t join the resistance to find a boyfriend, sir. That includes Colonel Sheppard. He’s a superior officer. A good friend. Nothing more.” She’d have to make that clear to the colonel very soon, before he got his hopes up.
“Ah.” He nodded, his expression softening.
Sam narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m only telling you this as a courtesy.”
“Yeah. Got that.”
Why the hell did she feel the need to make clear to O’Neill that she wasn’t interested in Sheppard? He didn’t have a right to be jealous. Was this still about the damn marriage contract? But he’d said he wasn’t gonna hold her to it anymore. Was there more? What if he…?
A distant screech drew her out of her thoughts. She froze against the cold wall and listened into the silence.
O’Neill shook his head. “Carter, I didn’t mean to imply I have a right to know…”
She crossed the distance between them and placed her hand over his mouth. Something was here. In the tunnel. She shone the flashlight the way they’d come. Then the other side. The hair on her neck stood up, blood rushing in her ears.
O’Neill looked at her, his eyebrows raised. They stood frozen for another moment. Silence. Sam lowered her hand from his mouth. Listening into the dark, she placed her index finger to her lips.
“Carter?” O’Neill’s voice echoed eerily.
“I’m sure I heard something, sir. Here in the tunnel. Screeching, and a scraping sound.”
They went quiet, and both listened to the hollow silence in the cave system. The sound of water dripping down echoed from somewhere in the distance.
O’Neill smirked. “Are you sure you didn’t just—”
Another scraping sound. And from the way his brows scrunched, she knew this time he’d heard it too.
Scratching, like something scuttling along the cave-floor. It stopped, then started again. Stopped. Started again, getting louder. Oh God, something was coming towards them.
She pulled the gun out of the holster at her hip and placed it in O’Neill’s hand. Then she lifted her P-90.
“Careful where you shoot, sir. The bullets might ricochet off the walls and hit us.”
The sounds stopped. Silence. Sam held her breath, listening. Nothing. Maybe it’d just been sand or rocks falling down from the walls.
After a moment O’Neill leaned in to her ear. “Let’s get moving.”
“Yes, sir.” Senses still piqued, she lowered her gun and wrapped his arm around her neck to steady him.
They’d taken two steps when she felt it. Behind her. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was. A breeze? An intuition?
She pushed O’Neill against the wall out of the way, spun and raised her gun at the same moment. She shot. Once, twice, three times into the darkness. A loud screeching from right in front of her made her skin crawl. Then silence.
She grabbed the flashlight from the ground and pointed it at the tunnel.
An enormous spider-like creature, almost half as big as her, had crawled towards them. Now it lay on its back, its long hairy legs twitching in a futile attempt to right itself. Apparently all of her bullets had hit.
The creature rolled its legs up against its body and released a last screech, then stilled.
Sam swallowed and took a step back. Her stomach turned. Holy crap. She’d never suffered from arachnophobia, but with a creature this big… Judging from its behavior it had been about to attack them. And apparently it was able to see in the dark—much better than they could.
She studied it and shuddered as its eight black eyes stared back at her. They had to get out of here.
O’Neill’s low groan made her turn her attention away from the nightmarish creature. He was lying on the ground against the wall.
Oh god, had one of her bullets ricocheted and hit him? She bent down. He moved and fought to sit up. Thank God. Apparently, it had only been her abrupt push that had knocked him down. He held his chest, struggling for breath.
“Sir?” When she touched his touched, he opened his eyes.
“Little… warning… would be nice… next time… Carter.”
He’d fallen on the side with the broken arm. She winced.
“Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to push you so hard.”
“It’s fine, considering what was about to attack us.” His face still contorted in pain as he looked at the dead creature a couple of meters away. “What the hell is that?”
“Looks like a spider, sir.”
“Well, that’s one big-ass spider.” O’Neill struggled to stand.
“Yes, sir. Unfortunately, like all spiders, it seems to be carnivorous. It just goes for larger prey.”
“You mean us?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t have any buddies.”
A loud screeching sounded from somewhere in the distance. They stared at each other.
“Guess that answers that.” O’Neill straightened and flung his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get outta here. I don’t wanna become dinner for one of those things.”
Sam panted and ran the back of her hand across her forehead. O’Neill’s weight rested heavier on her.
During the past two hours, his condition had increasingly worsened. He’d started running a fever, and he’d become weaker. He seemed to be on the brink of unconsciousness now.
She refused to give in to panic. She wouldn’t give up, and she wouldn’t leave him behind. There was no way he’d be able to defend himself against the spiders, even if she left him all the weapons in the world.
When they reached the end of the tunnel, a huge cavern stretched in front of them. This was indeed a mine, judging from the tracks leading into dozens of smaller tunnels on every side. Whoever built this place had apparently abandoned it and left in a hurry before it was finished.
Sam turned her head to scan the roof of the cavern. It was too high and dimly lit for her to see anything, even though, way up high, sunlight leaked in through a few smaller openings.
There was no way they’d reach them. On the other side of the large cavern, a makeshift wooden hut stood against the flat stone wall. Debris piled in front of it. At least it was a start. Maybe she’d find something there to help them.
“Sir, we need to get over to the other side of the cavern. It doesn’t look like the miners took a lot with them when they left. Maybe I can find a floor plan of these mines and get one of those old mining wagons to work.”
He nodded weakly. Had he even understood her? Sam ran her hand over his forehead. He was burning up. If only Janet were here. The doctor would have been able to do more for O’Neill, even with the limited supplies they had.
They moved along a dirty, stony path that wound its way between natural rock formations, into a valley in the middle of the huge cavern. The ground was easy to walk on, and not too steep.
She scanned their surroundings. Without the confinement of the tunnel, the possibility for an unexpected attack by one of the spiders increased considerably. If they were anything like their smaller counterparts on Earth, they liked hiding in dark places and corners. The large cavern provided plenty of those. She had to drag O’Neill the last distance until they reached the small hut.
Panting, he dropped down to the ground and leaned against the rotten, moldy wall of the hut. She went to her knees in front of him and handed him the water. He was barely conscious. She swallowed hard.
The pounding in her head grew worse by the minute, but she ignored it.
“Sir.” She tapped his cheeks gently. He leaned his head back against the wall, looking at her through glossy eyes.
“Carter. It’s cold.” His eyes fell closed.
Sam gave him a weak smile. “I know, sir. Listen…” She touched his cheek again, prompting him to look at her. “I need you to focus. I’ll give you my gun to defend yourself. I’ll have to search the inside of the hut, and I want you to shoot if one of the spider creatures shows up, okay? You don’t have to hit anything. Just shoot. I’m only gonna be a couple of meters away.”
Her throat constricted. “Yes, I’m here.” He hadn’t even listened to her, had he?
His arm almost slipped out of the sling and she carefully shifted it back to its position. His hand was turning odd shades of blue and purple. Given that he apparently didn’t feel any pain, his arm must have been going numb. Not good. She hadn’t completed extensive medical training, but if she remembered correctly, that was the worst form of broken bone, and needed immediate treatment.
His body shook slightly under her touch. He needed a doctor. Fast.
She looked around. There was no way that she was going to get him out fast enough. She had to do so many things before they’d even get close to finding an exit. And in his condition, he wouldn’t be able to move anymore.
Okay, focus. She closed her eyes and inhaled the damp, mossy cavern air. She had to search the hut, repair one of the wagons, and then figure out which one of the tunnels lead to an exit. First things first. She wiped the sweat from her forehead.
“Sir.” Her voice echoed in the vast cave and his eyes shot open. “I need your help. I can’t do this by myself. We’re a team, remember? You have to stay focused. You don’t have to move, but you have to look out for attacking spiders. Can you do that for me?”
“Can’t… breathe…” His lungs made whistling sounds as he drew a breath. Sam helped him rearrange himself until his breathing came easier.
Why was he holding the side of his body like that?
She pulled his shirt out of his pants, revealing his bare chest and stomach. A large bruise marked the side of his body and parts of his upper abdomen all the way to his ribs. Her breath hitched.
“Sir, you didn’t just bruise your ribs. At least one of them’s broken and you have internal injuries.” Why the hell hadn’t he told her how bad it was? He had to feel almost unbearable pain.
No wonder it had almost knocked him out when she’d pushed him to the ground. It was the side he’d fallen onto and… She held her breath. Oh God, had she caused this? Had she worsened his condition by pushing him so hard? Her vision blurred and her breath quickened.
It was her fault. He was close to dying and she’d made his injuries worse.
His hand clenched around her wrist, and Sam’s head jerked up. He gave her a foggy look.
“Gimme your gun.”
Eyes stinging, she nodded and unclipped her handgun. No time to contemplate what-ifs.
“Stay here and don’t move.” She placed the handgun firmly in his palm and looked deeply into his eyes. “And focus, sir. Please don’t shoot me by accident.”
“You’re one to talk.” He gave her a weak smile.
She returned it and placed her hand against his cheek. “I’ll find a way out of here. I won’t be far, so if there’s anything you need, just call me, okay?”
She jumped up and crossed the distance to the door. Breaking open the rotting door wasn’t a problem. Only one firm kick and it splintered apart. Inside were a few tools and boxes, which contained something that had most likely been food once. Spoiled now. But the tools might be enough to repair one of the wagons.
A few rolled up papers on one of the old shelves in the corner caught her eye. She pulled them out and unfolded them. Most of them were construction plans for mining machinery, but a very dusty one did look like a plan of the mines.
She blew on it and then wiped her hand over it. The paper was starting to decompose.
Sam grabbed the box with the tools and the map, then left the hut. O’Neill still sat where she’d left him.
She raced to a handcar standing on the tracks about sixty feet away. The wheels were rusty, but it looked fully functional. She worked the steering stick on the back of it with a grunt until the rust finally loosened. The acceleration levers in the center were rusted, but worked. She exhaled with relief. Now, all she had to do was find out which one of the tunnels would lead them outside.
She placed the map on the thick wooden planks of the car and studied it. Somebody had scribbled symbols in various places.
How the hell was she supposed to decipher what they meant? She wasn’t a linguist, and none of them looked even remotely like a sun, or something that would equal an exit sign. She hit the wooden planks of the wagon with her fists. Why couldn’t Daniel be here? He was good with different languages, and he knew this planet’s writing system.
Sam looked way up at the cavern ceiling. Here and there small openings allowed daylight to seep through. Way too high for them to reach, but…
Technically, if any of these tunnels led outside, there should be a breeze at the entrance of the one leading to the exit.
Her gaze fell on the dry wood lying everywhere. If she started little campfires at the entrance of each tunnel, she should theoretically be able to see where the exit was. Provided that it hadn’t been buried when parts of the tunnels collapse. And what if there were poisonous gasses down here? The mine would blow up as soon as she struck a match.
Sam closed her eyes. There was no other way. She had to take a chance.
She raced to gather some wood, scanning her surroundings for approaching spiders. So far she hadn’t seen any more. Maybe there weren’t even that many down here…
She managed to light six fires. The tension went out of her when she lit the last one and nothing exploded. Most of the flames burned calm and steady, but in front of one tunnel, flames danced wildly. Hopefully that tunnel would lead them to an exit.
When she ran back to the rotten hut, her steps resounded hollow in the large cave.
“Sir.” She panted and dropped down on her knees in front of O’Neill. He lifted his head and looked at her drowsily.
“I need you to get up.”
“Can’t breathe.” He coughed.
Moving him again probably wasn’t a good idea. There was no other choice, though. She only had to get him on the handcar.
“I know, sir. It isn’t far. Then you can rest.” She placed her hand at his cheek and locked her gaze with his. “Please, Jack.”
His gaze lit up at the use of his first name. He shifted, trying to sit up, but erupted in a violent cough. Little red drops hit the ground. Sam closed her eyes. Broken rib. He’d probably punctured his lung.
“Come on.” Gently she pulled him up, ignoring the burning in her muscles. “You just have to make it to that handcar over there. Then you can lie down and rest. You think you can do that?”
“Yeah. Piece of cake.” He leaned heavily on her.
She nearly had to carry him the last few meters. Once they reached the wagon, he fell down on it.
Sam adjusted his position so he was lying across the broad wooden surface, then pulled off her jacket to place it under his head and help him breathe. She climbed onto the wagon and began working the levers up and down.
With a rusty squeak, the car set into motion.
She scanned the tracks for pieces of debris, and jumped down to move it out of the way whenever she saw it. At last, the wagon moved into the darkness of the tunnel.
“Alright, sir.” Sam leaned down and reached for her flashlight. O’Neill gave a low groan. “I’ve got it now. We’ll be out of here in no time, and you’ll get to complain to Janet about having to stay in bed.”
That was if they didn’t run into a dead-end…
She turned on her flashlight, illuminating the tunnel ahead of her. Then she set the wagon into motion again. Gaining sufficient speed to make it up the tracks was surprisingly easy. Even though the incline wasn’t very steep, she’d still worried her muscle power wouldn’t be sufficient to move them uphill.
The tracks were clear, albeit rusty. Thank God, she didn’t have to stop every few meters to clear debris out of their way. Her muscles screamed for rest, and she gritted her teeth, trying to ignore the numbness in her arms.
The way through the tunnel was long. Although it mostly went uphill, occasionally the tracks would shift downhill again, making her worry they might be moving in the wrong direction after all.
Finally, the tunnel transformed from a broad, uneven path with rocks sticking out from the walls into a regular, visibly man-made tunnel. Wood constructions steadied the walls and the ceiling.
This part must have been built earlier than the rest. They were on the right path. If only the tunnel wasn’t blocked by debris.
A strange thud sounded behind them. Damn, she should have fastened the backpack. They’d probably lost it somewhere on the tracks. She turned her head.
Ice poured into her veins, her heart pounding in her ears. The backpack was still on the car. One of the large spiders skittered across the tracks after them.
Great. Just great. She fought back panic and turned to look at the tracks ahead of them. Where had that thing come from?
A hunch made her lift the flashlight towards the ceiling. Her breath caught. The entire ceiling was covered in cobwebs. Here and there, the large black bodies of huge black spiders sat, waiting for prey.
“Oh, that’s not good.”
She turned to look at the spider tracking them. It was getting closer. Time to pick up speed. Screw the danger of going off the tracks.
Another thudding sound.
She didn’t even have to turn around to know they had a second spider on their trail. Its loud screech iced her marrow. The sound echoed a thousand fold and she froze.
Several thuds behind the wagon made her turn. Over a dozen spiders crawled over the floor, along the wall, upside down along the ceiling. Their long, hairy legs moved so fast, all Sam could see was their large round bodies. And heads with so many eyes, and those disturbingly sharp black teeth. Her heart jumped.
The wagon caught on a small rock blocking the way in the middle of the tracks. It lurched, and she kneeled down to hold onto the wooden surface. A wall raced toward them. She squeezed her eyes shut.
Please don’t go off the tracks. Please don’t crash.
The heavy vehicle steadied again, and when she opened her eyes the tracks ahead of her were steady and straight. She released a shaky breath. Then she squinted. Way ahead in the distance… Was that…?
Light! Daylight coming through little openings in between… Oh crap.
The entrance to the mine had apparently been sealed shut, and there was no way she’d have enough time to open it with the spiders on her trail. Time to take care of the little monsters.
She reached for the backpack and pulled out one of the grenades she’d packed. It didn’t have a lot of force, but maybe it’d be enough to kill a few of the spiders and scare the rest away.
Throwing it at the sealed off entrance wouldn’t be a good idea. If the tunnel ahead of them wasn’t stable, she might block their only way out. If the tunnel behind them collapsed, all the better. That would at least take care of the spiders.
She pulled the safety pin out, pointed the flashlight at the tracks behind her, and threw the grenade. Then she tossed herself down over her unconscious commanding officer, her hands pressing against his ears to shield him from the blast.
In the confined space of the tunnel, the explosion sounded hollow and immense. For a moment she felt like her head was exploding, too. Dizziness and disorientation consumed her. Her ears buzzed.
She looked up and pointed the light at the tunnel ahead of them. Their wagon was still moving towards the exit. The tunnel hadn’t collapsed. Thank God.
She used her flashlight to scan the tunnel behind them. A considerable part of the ceiling had come down and some of the spiders lay lifeless on the tracks. But a small opening remained. One spider crawled through. Then a second one.
“Oh, for crying out loud.” She pulled a second grenade out of her backpack. If only she hadn’t discarded the explosives when she’d packed that morning. Who’d ever have guessed she’d get stuck in a cave with freaking monster spiders?
She pulled out the safety pin and threw the grenade, while at the same time using the lever to speed up the wagon. She didn’t allow for more than two seconds to pass before she threw herself over O’Neill again, once again shielding his body with hers.
The world blurred, the wagon shook under her. She whipped around. Another part of the tunnel had partly collapsed. At least for now, she couldn’t see any more spiders behind them.
Ahead, daylight was only about fifteen meters away. She jumped off the wagon, and lit the blocked entrance with her flashlight. It’d been closed with wooden planks. Those should be easy to rip out. At least if they were as rotten as the hut had been.
And then she froze. Two large spiders sat in the corners above the exit. No way she’d be able to remove the planks without them attacking. It looked like the blasts of the explosions had made them go into high alert. Their black eyes stared, their bodies unmoving.
No time for planning or strategy. She grabbed her P-90 and fired at the first creature. It twitched and lurched an inch closer. Then it shuddered and fell to the floor.
The second spider scuttled along the ceiling and wall towards her. She yelped when it fell onto the tracks right in front of her. She leaped backwards and squeezed off rapid fire shots.
The spider jumped toward her. Air left her lungs when its heavy body slammed into her, throwing her to the ground.
Sam froze and screamed. Its hairy legs brushed her naked arms, wriggling around her. She thrust her fist up into its massive body and lifted her weapon. Then she fired upwards, hoping to hit it where it would cause the most damage.
The creature twitched against her and released one last screech right next to her ear. Her skin crawled. Then it stilled and collapsed on top of her. She trembled, blood thudding in her ears.
“God.” Nausea clenched her stomach as she shoved the creature off her.
Never did she want to see a spider again. She staggered to her feet and stalked around the dead body, not taking her eyes off it as she hurried up to the exit.
The wooden planks barricading the entrance were moldy and degraded. One hard kick and they broke apart. One by one, Sam ripped them away from the wooden frame they’d been nailed to.
Daylight streamed into the tunnel.
She grabbed one of the planks and then ran back to the wagon. Shuddering in disgust, she pushed the huge spider bodies off the tracks, then threw the plank away and pulled herself back up onto the handcar.
An outcry of relief escaped her when at last they moved out into broad daylight. Her legs gave out, and she sunk to her knees. The car ran along the tracks outside, its momentum carrying it the last distance until it stopped.
“Sir.” Sam crawled over to O’Neill and touched his shoulder. Nothing.
“Sir.” Louder. She leaned over him. His breathing was steady and his pulse strong, but he was running a high fever. She tapped his cheeks. He didn’t respond. “Come on. Please…”
Her throat tightened and she sat up, looking around. How was she supposed to get him back to the village, let alone the Stargate? She couldn’t carry him, and the tracks outside weren’t usable anymore.
“Please wake up… Jack.” Her breath hitched. Her lips brushed the hot, damp skin of his cheek. She pulled him close against her, body trembling.
The radio. Of course. They hadn’t been able to use their radios down in the mine, the rocks blocking any signals. But now they were out…
She sat up and searched through the backpack. Her hands shook when she pulled the small black receiver out, and pushed the button. “Daniel, come in. Can you hear me?”
Static crackled. Then a voice. “Sam?”
She let out a breath.
“I can hear you. Sam, where are you? We’ve been searching for you since noon.”
“We fell into an old mine. Daniel, I need help. The colonel is badly hurt, and I can’t get him back to the gate.”
“Okay, where are you? Is Jack conscious?”
She swallowed hard. “No, he isn’t. I have no clue where I am. According to the position of the sun it should be…” She looked up, and then faltered. This was nonsense. This wasn’t Earth. She had no idea what direction this planet’s sun stood at what time. She didn’t even remember which direction the town might be in. “I don’t know the direction. But there’s an entrance to the mine right here. Apparently it was sealed off. There’s old tracks right outside.”
Silence. She waited a few seconds, then pushed the button again. “Daniel? Do you copy?”
Another few seconds of silence. Then, “Yes. I just talked to one of the people from the tribe. They know where the mine is. Stay put, Sam. We’ll come get you.”
“Copy that.” She dropped into the sand and took a deep breath. Thank God the nightmare was over. Or was it?
She stared at the entrance to the cave. What if those monsters found a way outside now that she’d unsealed the entrance? She jumped to her feet and leaned against the wagon to search through her backpack.
The last grenade. She’d put it to good use. She pulled the safety pin out and hurled the grenade into the blackness of the mine. Then she turned and raced back to the wagon.
The explosion shook the ground under her, followed by a loud crashing of rocks and stone. She lost her balance and hit the grass. When she turned her head, the entrance to the mine had collapsed.
Anybody who’d fall into the mine in the future would be screwed. She winced. Hopefully the people from the village could put up warning signs in areas with unsteady ground.
She stumbled back to the wagon and climbed onto the wooden surface. Then she placed her head next to Jack’s, nuzzling his cheek as she pulled him closer against her.
“Hold on. Please.” She closed her eyes. If only Daniel and the villagers would hurry. Please don’t let them be too late.