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Sam wiped the sweat from her forehead and raced along the uneven forest path. Her muscles screamed for rest, but she pushed on. The backs of two recruits disappeared into the trees. Damn, they would show her up again.
This deep into the forest, the large trees shielded the ground from sunlight, but the resulting drop in temperature did nothing to cool her down. She’d never been this drained, physically or mentally.
Another field-training day. She’d hardly done anything else during the past weeks besides running through the forest on some make-believe mission. Always with the same outcome. Somebody screwed up, and in the end they all got in trouble for it.
Colonel Sheppard didn’t care whose fault it was. At least not officially. Rumor was O’Neill kept detailed records of mistakes and who exactly was responsible for them.
A lot of times she was the one who made the mistake. Some of the recruits grew impatient with her already. A ‘girl’ didn’t belong among them, or so they said. Sam couldn’t blame them with all the mistakes she made. The pressure added to her stress, which made her make more mistakes. Vicious circle.
She flicked more sweat out of her eyes. Her training would never end. She would never be good enough to become a full member of the resistance. Maybe she had overestimated her abilities. Back when she had set out to join them in their fight against the Aschen, she had thought it’d be easy.
Nothing had prepared her for this. Endless days of crawling and running through the forest, superiors constantly yelling at her, and worst of all, the constant obligation to obey every order. She was getting sick of it.
For a fraction of a second, Sam lost her focus. Her foot snagged on a root sticking out of the forest floor. She landed on all fours. Pain shot through her ankle, and she winced. Jason, who was running behind her, tripped over her, and with a curse, landed a few feet further ahead in the dirt.
“Aaargh… God, Carter.”
“Sorry.” Sam leaned up on her elbows. Damn, that hurt. But she wouldn’t show weakness again. “You okay?”
“My leg freaking hurts.”
She crawled over to him. He was a decent guy, serious and not afraid to speak his mind. With him, she always knew exactly where he stood. She respected him for that. Carefully, she examined his leg and then exhaled.
“It’s not broken. You may have sprained your ankle, though.”
Before he could give her a snippy answer, steps approached and they looked up. Hanson came jogging towards them. He was their appointed team leader for the day. Great. Sam closed her eyes. Here it comes.
“What’s up? The others are almost there already. We can’t lose again.” Hanson jumped from one leg to the other.
Sam rolled her eyes. Always so arrogant and condescending.
“I fell. Jason couldn’t stop in time and tripped over me.”
Hanson groaned and stopped moving. “Of course you did.” He muttered a curse. “Is his leg broken?”
“No.” Sam got up. Pain shot from her foot through her leg but she ignored it. “He still needs to see the doctor. His ankle is swelling up. I’m taking him back to camp.”
“The hell you are.” Hanson glared at her. “Morris, can you walk?”
“Then he can make his way back to camp alone.”
“No.” Sam fisted her hands. Technically, she was getting close to insubordination again. Hanson was their team leader for the duration of this mission, so not following his orders could get her in trouble. His decision was wrong, though. “We don’t leave people behind. We made that mistake on day one.”
Hanson looked as though he was about to attack her. Sam narrowed her eyes. Fine, if he wanted to beat her up, she wouldn’t make it easy on him. Then he turned around. “Whatever. Do what you want. Camp is probably a better place for you to be anyway. I’ll get the prize.”
Sam gritted her teeth and looked at Jason. No idea what she was supposed to do now.
Jason shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “Sheppard’s going to have our asses for this again. Why does Tim have to be such an idiot?”
“It’s my fault. I should have watched where I was going. I tuned out for a second. Sheppard should be used to me screwing up by now.” She gave him a weak grin. Jason chuckled and shook his head.
“Aren’t you afraid of him?”
“Who? Hanson? He’s just an immature idiot with an oversized ego.”
Sam kneeled down next to him. The pain in her ankle slowly faded. “No, why? Are you?”
“He’s an intimidating guy. Plus he constantly yells at us. You know he’ll report everything to O’Neill. And in the end, O’Neill gets to make decisions about our future in the resistance.”
“Well.” Sam picked up a stone from the floor and threw it into the trees. “In the end, if he decides I’m not fit enough to meet the requirements, so be it. I’ve been wondering whether I belong here myself.”
Jason leaned forward and gave her shoulder a little nudge with his fist. “Hey, despite what Hanson says, you’re not a bad team member. Just ignore him.”
“Oh please.” Sam smiled. “I just almost broke your leg, so don’t you give me the pep talk now.”
“Touché.” Jason grinned and held out his hand. “Help me up. Let’s see if we can make it to the finish line and salvage at least part of the day.”
Sam pulled him to his feet. He swung his arm across her shoulder and they walked toward the finish line. It shouldn’t be far. They’d been close when she’d stumbled.
Ten minutes later, they reached the small clearing that marked their finish. Hanson and the second group of recruits were already waiting.
Hanson scowled at her, and Sam knew immediately he hadn’t made it first. Served him right for leaving his team members behind. But now he’d take his frustration out on her again.
Hanson folded his arms. “Look who’s finally here.” His voice dripped irony.
“Knock it off, Hanson.” Sam scoffed. Yes, she’d screwed up, but he should have behaved like a responsible team leader and taken Jason back to camp. He’d screwed up at least as badly as she had.
“Knock it off.” He imitated her tone. “We lost. Again. Three guesses who we have to thank for that.”
“I’m sorry.” Sam raised her hands in surrender. “I messed up. Happy?”
“She’s sorry.” He turned to the other recruits. “Well, if she’s sorry.”
“Knock it off, Tim. It’s just training,” Jason snapped and straightened.
“Just training?” Hanson glared at him. “Apparently, we have different motives for being here. I’m the best at close combat, at strategy, and these field training exercises. To me it’s not just training. I wanna keep my high marks, which won’t happen if I keep getting paired with her.”
“Oh come on, man.” Jason shook his head. “You’re being unreasonable. She tripped. It’s happened to all of us. Besides, I didn’t pay attention, or I wouldn’t have tripped over her. It was a collective failure.”
“Speak for yourself, snakeboy. I’ve never tripped. Why the hell do I always get stuck with the losers?”
Snakeboy. Sam winced. She’d heard Hanson call Jason that a few times, no doubt an insult directed at his tall, slim appearance.
Jason looked unaffected by the insult. “Tim, just stop, okay?”
“I said I’m sorry.” Sam couldn’t keep the impatience out of her voice. Somehow it didn’t seem fair to let Jason fight her battles. Hanson was pissed because of her failure. “Don’t take it out on him.”
“Oh, are a few harsh words too rough for you, Carter? Maybe you should’ve stayed home where you can play with your dolls. You’re not cut out for this, girl.”
“Hanson.” One of the other recruits placed his hand against Hanson’s chest in a subtle warning.
Sam made a step towards him and narrowed her eyes. That was it. She’d had enough of him. “What did you just say?”
“I said go home. Women have no place in combat, least of all in the field. You keep proving that to us.”
“Well, then let me just prove that theory wrong.” Adrenaline raced through her. She marched over to Hanson and slammed her fist into his face. Pain shot through her arm but she ignored it. She’d end this here, once and for all. If this guy needed to resolve issues like a man, she’d be damned if she wasn’t up for it.
Hanson tumbled back, his eyes wide. His nostrils flared. “Oh, you’ll get such a dressing-down now, girl.”
He raced forward and aimed his fist at her face. Sam’s arm shot up, blocking his attack. He slammed into her, sending her to the ground on her back. Morris and two other recruits tried to break them apart by pulling Hanson off of her, but he freed himself.
She rolled aside, when he kicked at her. Bastard. Jumping back up, she glared at him. “That all you can do? Kick somebody when they’re down?”
“Freaking bitch.” He stormed towards her.
Jack raised his eyebrows and looked at Sheppard when they approached the clearing. “Disciplined, you say? That sounds like a brawl to me.”
“I’ll be damned.” Sheppard’s face darkened, and they broke into a run.
“Somebody wanna tell me what’s going on here?” Jack looked at the group of cheering recruits, then at Morris and some of the others who stood helplessly watching.
“Morris, report!” Jack‘s gaze shifted to the group of recruits still engaged in the fight. They were too absorbed in their cheering to notice his presence.
“Sir, there was a minor misunderstanding about who was responsible for the outcome of today’s field training.”
He glared at Jason for a moment. He hated vague reports. “Carter! Hanson!”
The group of bystanders froze on the spot. The recruits turned, paling when they saw their base commander. Carter and Hanson released each other.
Jack flinched inwardly when he looked at their faces. Covered in dirt, both of them had several bruises on their arms and cheeks. Hanson’s lip was bleeding.
“You have exactly five seconds to explain what the hell’s going on, and who started this.”
“She did, sir.” Hanson jabbed a finger at Sam.
Before Jack could respond, angry protest rose from some of the recruits. Carter pounced on the man again. “For crying out loud.”
“He’s lying, sir. He provoked it,” Morris tried to explain, his voice raising over the turmoil in an obvious attempt at defending Carter.
“Enough.” Jack grabbed Hanson’s arms and shoved him away from Carter. He seized the front of the man’s shirt to prevent him from freeing himself. For a moment Carter looked as though she was about to attack them both. Oh don’t you dare try that. “Carter, I swear I’ll have you on sanitary duty for the rest of your life.”
Chest heaving, she dropped her arms and, jaw tight, slowly backed off.
Hanson moved towards her again, but Jack pulled him back roughly. “Hanson, it’s enough.” He let go of the recruit and stepped between the two, careful to keep his eyes on both of them. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re a team.”
“Are you a team?” His eyes narrowed.
“Yes, sir.” Ah, so they hadn’t lost the ability to speak. The silence that followed was almost eerie. None of the recruits dared move.
“It’s a start you two remember being on the same team. Since there seems to be confusion about what that means, let’s clear it up: On a team, we don’t beat each other up. And we don’t attack each other.” He looked at Jason. “Morris, who started this? And cut the crap this time.”
Jason shifted from one foot to the other. “Hanson insulted Carter, claiming our team lost because of her, sir. He made a sexist remark, and she punched him. But in all fairness, sir, he made it clear on numerous occasions he thinks women have no place in the field. It was clear he wanted to provoke her.”
“Thank you.” Jack looked from Carter to Hanson, and then his gaze scanned the rest of the group, twelve overall. “Anybody else care to add something to that?”
“Since you’ve all lost the ability to speak, I’ll assume you agree with Morris’s recollection of the events.” Jack turned to face the two delinquents. Carter stood straight with her chin lifted, her jaw clenched. He stepped up in front of her, forcing her to look into his eyes. She swallowed visibly and remorse flashed across her face. At least she had the decency to stand at attention.
Jack turned. Hanson. He narrowed his eyes and walked over to the young man. Hanson brushed his hand through his hair, the hint of a self-serving smirk around his mouth. No effort to stand at attention at all.
“Carter.” He spun and faced her. “You’ve got exactly thirty seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t put you in confinement for the rest of the week.”
“I-I-I can’t, sir.” She swallowed again. Apparently, she realized how badly she’d just messed up. “It happened just as recruit Morris said.” Voice firm, her stance unchanging. She’d become good at the whole regulation thing. If one ignored this little incident. Which he was increasingly inclined to do, given that she owned up to her mistake.
“You saying that you did deliver the first blow?”
She nodded, her gaze fixating on a point in front of her. “Yes, sir, I did.”
“Anything you wanna say in your defense? Consider your words wisely, recruit, they might determine your future in this cell.” He stalked around her.
“I regret losing my temper, sir. It was immature and stupid.” Her voice became a hint smaller. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“You bet you weren’t,” Jack snapped, his gaze locking on hers. Yeah, definitely remorse. He turned and walked over to Hanson. “Then again, thinking isn’t exactly a woman’s strength, isn’t that right, Hanson?”
“If you say so, sir.” Hanson smirked.
“Wipe that grin off your face, recruit,” Jack shouted in his face. Hanson’s eyes widened, his face paling. “If I ever hear that kind of talk again, I’ll personally throw you out of my camp. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” Hanson’s stance turned rigid.
Jack spun to the rest of the recruits. “This is a resistance camp, not a bar or a kindergarten class. We don’t start brawls, and if brawls happen to start, we don’t encourage them. Is that understood?”
“You’re all confined to your tents for the remainder of the day. Carter, Hanson, you two will be on sanitary duty for the rest of the week. I strongly advise you use that time to work out your differences. Without violence. If either of you starts one more fight, I’ll throw you both out for good and I don’t care who starts it.”
“Yes, sir.” Carter and Hanson remained unmoving.
The recruits left the clearing like a pack of beaten dogs. He folded his arms and glared after them. Sheppard stepped up next to him, a glint in his eyes.
“The one day I wanna demonstrate how well-behaved they’ve become, and then this happens.”
Jack ignored his words. “We might have a problem on our hands, Sheppard.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Come on, Jack, you heard what happened. Can you blame her for punching him? Like you or I wouldn’t have done the same thing. Don’t act like you didn’t start fights when you were a recruit.”
Jack scowled at him. He had. But that was beside the point. “I’m not talking about Carter. I’m talking about Hanson.” He shook his head. “Carter was angry, but she was also remorseful. What she did was stupid, and she realized that. She handled it wrong.” His face darkened. “But Hanson didn’t even bother to stand at attention. He doesn’t have the slightest respect for command structures. And whenever there’s trouble, he’s involved.”
Sheppard nodded. “I admit, he’s ambitious, and those ambitions sometimes get the upper hand.”
Jack scrunched his brows. “He’s not here to satisfy ambitions. All he cares about is winning, even at the cost of his teammates. That’s what worries me.” The resistance didn’t have a need for someone who’d backstab his own teammates or superiors.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Sheppard scratched the back of his neck. “He’s not a team player. That makes him an excellent candidate for solo missions.”
“Not with his disregard for command.” No, that actually made him a dangerous candidate. Candidates for solo missions had to be trusted to obey orders.
“What do you suggest?”
“We’ll wait and see how he behaves during the next coupla weeks. If necessary, I’ll deal with him.”
3 Days Later
Sam brushed the back of her hand over her forehead and growled when she smeared more of the soapy foam onto her skin. She sat back on her heels and dumped the brush into the bucket, water splashing everywhere.
There was no way she was gonna be able to finish this all by herself. And she shouldn’t have to. It was Tim’s turn to scrub the bathhouse today. Where was he, anyway?
He’d left a good three hours ago, saying he’d take a quick break outside. Bastard. She reached into the bucket and started scrubbing again. At least it was a great way to let her anger out in a productive way and follow orders at the same time.
When the door behind her opened with a squeak, she turned. Hanson strolled in, his face plastered with a smug grin as he chewed on a bite of a sandwich he held in his hand.
“Where’ve you been?” She wouldn’t even pretend to play nice with him anymore. During the past few days he’d used every excuse to get out of work.
“I told you I was going for a break.” He shrugged and leaned against the wall, looking over the floor. “You missed a spot.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m doing your job here.” Sam threw the brush into the bucket and got up. “You said you were gonna take a short break. That was three hours ago. The sun has set. I even covered for your stupid ass.”
He rolled his eyes. “Relax, will you? Besides, this is women’s work. You’re used to it, and I’m sure you’re doing it a lot better than I would.”
“What?” Sam fisted her hands and inhaled deeply. Don’t do it, don’t smack him. That’d had gotten her into this mess in the first place.
“Oh, come on. Don’t get all sensitive now, Carter. I know you’re trying to pull the tough-as-a-man thing here. Some things will always be women’s work, like it or not.” He took another bite of his sandwich.
She should just forget about the rest of her training and smack the grin off his face. That would show this arrogant, self-serving son of a bitch just how tough-as-a-man she could be.
He chuckled again, the sound echoing hollow in the bathroom.
Okay, that was it. She needed to get away from him. Pressing her lips together, she walked towards the door.
“Hey.” He grabbed her wrist as she passed him. Sam narrowed her eyes at his hand, then lifted her gaze to his.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m done here.” She gave him a sardonic smile. “Enjoy.” She tried to jerk free but his grip tightened. “Tim. Let go.”
“You’re not going anywhere until the floor is done.” His eyes flashed and Sam lifted her chin.
“You are not in the position to give me orders.”
“Carter.” His face darkened, as he looked her over. “You really have to learn how to be a girl.”
“Screw you.” Her breath hitched when he grabbed her and shoved her against the cold tiled wall so hard her head rattled. “Ugh. What the hell are you—”
His rotten breath filled her nostrils when his mouth bruised hers, his tongue shoving past her teeth. She froze, her hands fisting. Her mind blanked for a moment before she recovered. Hanson squeezed her buttocks, nails digging in.
Sam bucked against him. She wriggled her hand out of his grasp and beat his shoulders. He pinned her to the wall and she shoved his chest. He didn’t budge. She shoved harder. He tumbled backwards.
Legs trembling, she moved toward the door. “What the hell is the matter with you?” She hated that her voice shook. And she hated that she couldn’t punch him for what he’d done. “You’re out of line.”
Hanson chuckled. “Oh calm down, Carter. You wanted to play with the big boys. Are you telling me you can’t handle it?” He sneered, raking his gaze over her body, his eyebrows cocked up.
She wouldn’t dignify his words with a response. It wouldn’t get her anywhere. She reached for the door handle.
“Are you gonna run to Sheppard or O’Neill and complain now?”
Sam glared at him.
He shook his head. “You’re so pathetic, Carter. Not that I expected anything else.” He picked up the wet sandwich from the floor and threw it into the garbage. “Go. Run for protection. You’ll never be man enough to handle the resistance, girl.”
Sam tore the door open and stormed out. It was either that or imprinting her fist in the insufferable man’s face.
Damn it. His foul taste still filled her mouth. She spit into the bushes a few times on her way to her tent. The world blurred as her eyes stung. She pushed the tent flap aside.
“I swear, I’ll kill him. With my bare hands.”
Janet looked up from a book she was reading and Vala halted in painting her toenails.
“Sammie. Where’ve you been?”
“Sanitary duty.” She dropped to her sleeping bag and searched through her pillows. Somewhere she had… There it was. She opened the bottle of water and filled her mouth, then crawled to the exit, gargled, and spit out on the grass.
Janet and Vala stared at her, eyes wide. “What on Earth was that?” Janet’s brows scrunched in concern.
“He uses every opportunity to humiliate me.” She crawled back onto her sleeping bag. “And the worst part is, I can’t punch him for it since we’re on probation and O’Neill would have my ass.”
“Who is she talking about?” Vala looked at Janet, who mouthed “Hanson”. The doctor sat up.
“Maybe you should talk to Sheppard about this, Sam. He’s responsible for your training.” She closed her book and put it aside.
“Oh, no way.” Sam clenched her jaw. “That’ll just give prove to Hanson that he’s right. I don’t need Sheppard or O’Neill to solve my problems. Besides, the colonel said if one more thing happened, he’d throw us both out no matter who started it.” Sam let herself fall back onto the pillows she’d stacked under the head end of her sleeping bag.
“Correct me if I am wrong.” Janet pulled her blanket over her legs. “Aren’t you both on sanitary duty? Shouldn’t there be enough work to keep him busy?”
“There is. But he takes any chance he can to avoid the work. Today he refused to scrub the bathroom because he thinks it’s a women’s job.” She air-quoted the term and closed her eyes. This was a nightmare. “I joined the resistance to contribute to the fight against the Aschen. Instead, I’m scrubbing toilets and washing dirty laundry. If I wanted to do that, I could have just stayed home and become a housewife.”
“Hey.” Janet slid closer. “What kind of talk is that? You’re almost done with your training. Just two more days on sanitary duty, and only four more weeks of training, and you’ll be a full member of the resistance. Then things’ll lighten up.”
Sam sighed. “I’m not sure I’m gonna make it through four more weeks like this. When I think about having Hanson watch my backside all day and making lewd remarks… Just now, he freaking kissed me.”
“Oh my God, Sam.” Janet straightened.
Sam waved her concern off. “It’s no big deal. I usually know how to handle guys like that. At least I used to. Back when I was still allowed to punch people who tried anything stupid.” She made a frustrated sound between clenched teeth and covered her eyes with her palm.
“Sammie, you should report this.” Vala put her nail polish aside.
Janet nodded. “Colonel O’Neill puts respect between camp members above all else.”
“He told us to work out our differences.” Sam sighed. “How do you think it’ll look if I am unable to solve my problems with another recruit without the interference of a superior officer?”
“Well, this isn’t a banality you have to solve on your own,” Janet said. “Things like that don’t usually happen here.”
“It doesn’t matter. To be honest, right now I just want to get away from here. Maybe Hanson is right. I’m not cut out for this.”
She startled to a sitting position when Vala jumped up with a little squeal.
“Sammie, I know what you need. Come on, get up and get dressed.”
“Vala, what are you doing?” Janet released an exasperated sigh.
Vala grinned. “I’m going to take Sammie out. She’s been working her ass off the past seven weeks. She needs a strong drink and a girl’s night out to lift her spirits.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. She’s still a recruit.”
Sam smiled. Her heart sped up at the idea of getting out of camp. “Actually, that does sound good. I’d love to get away from Hanson for a while.”
“Sam.” Janet kneeled closer. “You’re not allowed to leave camp until your training is over. Vala, I can’t believe you’re even proposing this.”
“Screw the rules.” Sam rolled out of bed. All these rules and regulations served to do was humiliate her. “They’re telling me what to do and that I can’t defend myself. But this is my free time and I won’t let Mitchell, O’Neill or Sheppard dictate where I spend it.”
“Yeah.” Vala nodded. “Come on, Janet. She’s practically one of us. In about a month, she’ll be allowed to leave camp as she pleases anyway. Besides, who’s going to know? We’ll sneak out and sneak back in before dawn.”
Janet groaned. “I want nothing to do with this.”
“You’re not going to tell on us, are you?” Vala narrowed her eyes.
Janet shook her head with a sigh. “Of course not. But for the record, I think Sam should go talk to Sheppard instead.”
“Janet, I really need to get out. Just once.” Sam kneeled down in front of her and grabbed her arms. “Please, I feel like I am losing my mind here.”
“Alright. Just leave my name out of it if you get caught.” Janet shrugged and opened her book again.
Sam jumped up. “We’ll be back soon.”
“Uh huh.” The doctor nodded, but she didn’t look pleased. Giggling, Vala grabbed Sam’s arm and they sneaked out of the tent.
With a contented sigh, Vala sat down straddling the trunk of a fallen tree and opened one of the whisky bottles. Thick bushes and trees shielded them from the sandy path that led back up through the forest towards camp.
They’d walked for hours to town and back to buy alcohol. She hadn’t even known there was a town close by, let alone cliffs and the ocean. Where on Earth was she?
Vala apparently knew her way around town. She’d known exactly where to buy alcohol, and she seemed to know the shop owner well, since he’d sold her alcohol at the back door of his shop. The woman clearly had experience breaking the rules.
“Cheers.” Vala lifted the bottle to her lips and took a large gulp. “Oh, this is great. I miss doing this. You know, hanging out at night and getting wasted.”
“I’ve never done this before.” Sam smiled and straddled the trunk next to Vala. She put down the rest of the bottles, and took the open one Vala handed to her. She sniffed it and took a large swig. Her chest constricted as she swallowed and gasped for breath with a shudder. Disgusting!
Grimacing, she handed the whisky back to her friend.
Laughing, Vala took another sip. “You’ll get used to it. Give it a minute, this stuff makes you feel amazing. If you don’t like the taste, just drink faster.” She took another gulp and handed the whisky back to Sam before she let herself fall back to lie on the trunk.
Sam drank again, and this time the brown liquid went down her throat easier, leaving her with a pleasant warming sensation. Okay, maybe Vala was right.
They took turns for a while. It wasn’t long before the whisky bottle was empty and Sam’s spirits began to lift. Who cared for camp or Hanson? Why had she even worried about that in the first place?
“You know, you’re really fun.” She grinned at Vala.
“So are you. Really.”
Sam opened the next bottle. Vodka. Clear liquid like water. “You never told me where you’re from.”
“Little town.” Vala closed her eyes. “Not many inhabitants, but all of them criminal.”
“Are your parents still alive?” Sam lifted the bottle to her lips and took a careful sip. She flinched when the alcohol burned her throat.
“No. Well, maybe. I don’t care. My father sold me to a slave-trader when I was ten, so I don’t think he cares, either.”
She almost dropped the bottle, staring at the other woman.
Vala shrugged. “It was common practice in our town.”
“Where the hell are you from?” She handed the vodka over to Vala, who took another big swallow before she answered.
“I don’t think I can tell you that. It’s classified since you’re still a recruit.” She smiled before she mouthed ‘sorry’.
“How long have you been a member of the resistance?” Sam took another drink. The alcohol wasn’t even that bad anymore. Almost went down like water, and it made her so deliciously lightheaded.
“A few years.” Vala swayed slightly. “I think it’ll be three sometime around polar night.”
Polar night? Sam straightened and lifted her eyebrows. The next moment the question she’d been meaning to ask vanished from her mind. “Do you regret joining?”
“No, not at all.” Vala grinned. “I mean look at our lives. We have a roof above our head—well, a tent,—regular meals, people we can rely on. This is paradise compared to what I had before.”
“What did you do before?”
“I was a smuggler. And a thief. A robber. A cheat. Whatever the situation required.” Vala leaned down and picked up another bottle. She almost lost balance, but managed to prevent herself from tumbling headfirst to the forest floor. “I didn’t have any friends back then. As a criminal, you have to be careful who you call friend. Most of those you know are criminals themselves and they’ll rat you out in a heartbeat if it saves their own neck.” She paused to drink from the bottle again, and leaned back on the tree. “Now I have a home, and friends, and I don’t have to steal to get by. And I’m doing something that’s morally right. Well, most of the time.” She studied Sam. “Do you regret joining the resistance?”
“Well.” Sam flinched. “I had my doubts about joining in the past weeks.”
“Because of the harassment?” Vala threw a chocolate bar at her and Sam tried catching it, but missed. She had to lean down to pick it up from the forest floor. The trees spun when she sat back up.
She pressed a hand against her belly as her stomach turned. “No, not because of that. I am kinda used to guys behaving like jerks. Just that before I wasn’t banned from hitting them if they touched me inappropriately.”
“I left home to lead a free, self-sufficient life. And now all I do all day is take orders and… well, scrub toilets. Expectations are so high, I can barely live up to them. I’m not sure this is what I wanted.” She sighed, and almost automatically took the bottle that Vala handed over. She really shouldn’t drink anymore. The world around her was spinning already. Ah, well. Who cares?
“Wait until you are done with training. They’ll ease up on you once you’re a full member and have been assigned to a Cell. I heard rumors that O’Neill wants to keep you in our Cell. Nobody will care for ranks anymore then. Technically, Daniel outranks me. So does Janet.”
“Really?” Sam’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know that.”
Vala nodded. “Ranks are only important if you’re a colonel or a recruit.” Vala nudged her, which almost caused both of them to fall off the trunk. They giggled, and Vala wrapped an arm around Sam and placed her head on her shoulder. “I can’t wait to work with you.”
Sam looked at the top of her head and sighed. Somehow, during the past couple of months she’d grown fond of Vala. And Janet. Warmth spread through her. It was nice to be with a friend for a change.
The dark-haired woman jumped up unexpectedly and grabbed another bottle from next to the tree trunk. “Come on, have some more vodka. We need to drink all of this. With every sip, repeat after me. I can do it.”
Sam laughed. She opened her mouth when Vala pressed the bottle against her lips, and then took another large slug.
After a while, Vala came up with the idea to play a game of poker with the cards she always carried in her pocket. Just in case they were on a boring mission, she explained with a mild slur in her voice. Once Sam understood the basic rules, they turned their game into a drinking game. Whoever lost had to take a sip of vodka.
Time passed. By the time dawn broke through the crowns of fir trees, they were both wasted and giggling uncontrollably. Neither of them made a move to return to camp.
Sam didn’t care. So what if somebody missed her at camp? She had a combat lesson scheduled with Mitchell first thing in the morning. He’d have to find someone else to teach today.
She’d lost all sense of time when two camp-soldiers came walking towards them from the path.
“Vala.” The taller soldier buried his hands in his pockets. Vala tried to get up but stumbled and fell against him.
“Heeey.” She gave them a wide grin. “Where did you come from?”
“We’re getting the week’s ration of bread from town. We heard your laughter up here and figured we’d check out who was hanging around this close to camp. What are you doing out here this early?” When his eyes narrowed, Vala smiled giddily. “Have you been drinking?”
“No.” She swayed. Sam lowered her head and stifled a giggle. “Maybe just a little.”
“Hey guys.” Sam held up the cards. “Wanna play poker with us?”
“Oh, great idea!” Vala clapped her hands and ran back over to the trunk, where she almost stumbled over a bottle. “Come on, boys. Poker’s more fun if we have four people.”
“Sorry, we’re on duty.” The men’s gazes shifted from Vala to Sam, and back to Vala.
“Oh come on, guys, don’t be such bores. We’ll make it strip poker.” Vala wriggled her eyebrows.
Sam put the cards down. “Vala.”
She got up and had trouble keeping her balance on the uneven forest floor. When had the Earth become so unstable? Something had to be wrong with gravity.
“Come on, Sammie.”
“I’m not undressing in a poker game.” She swayed and managed to grab the trunk before she fell over backwards. She reached for the bottle of vodka.
“Siler.” The smaller soldier leaned in to his tall teammate. “Isn’t that the female recruit?”
Vala scoffed and folded her arms. “Who? Oh please. Like I’d be out here with a recruit at this time of night. That’s against the rules.”
The two soldiers paid no attention to her. Siler trudged towards Sam and grabbed her shoulders. She held his gaze and smiled. “I think you’re right, Stevens. She’s the recruit.”
“Oh come on, guys.” Vala tried to intervene when Siler pulled her up. Sam was too tired to resist. Serious nausea began to spread through her stomach.
Vala stumbled against Siler. “We’re just having a bit of fun. Can’t you just, you know, forget that you saw us?”
“You know she’s not allowed to leave camp. Were you two down in town?” Stevens placed his hands on Vala’s shoulder and held her at arm’s length.
Sam giggled. Yeah, the expression on Vala’s face gave it away again. Damn, and she thought she was a bad liar.
Stevens rolled his eyes. “Alright, that’s it. We’re taking you two back.” He grabbed Vala’s arm.
“Wait.” Vala wriggled out of his grip and stumbled to the tree trunk. She collected her poker cards and reached for the half-emptied bottle of vodka. Stevens steadied her.
Vala turned in his grip and lifted the bottle to her mouth. She looked at the soldier from under her lashes. “You’re cute.”
He took the bottle out of her hand and threw it into the forest. It shattered somewhere against a tree, the sound echoing. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“What are we supposed to do with them?” Siler gave Stevens a helpless look.
Sam lifted her head. She hadn’t even realized she’d closed her eyes. Bad idea to open them. The world started spinning again, and nausea swam in. Oh God, she was going to die.
“We’ll take them to the colonel. This is a major breach of security, and I don’t wanna get in trouble for trying to cover it up.”