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27 July 2009 @ 09:43 pm
The Road to Tartarus - Chapter Three  
Chapter One
Chapter Two



Chapter Three


It was night on Pangar when the team emerged from the gate. Sam looked around, frowning at the lack of anyone to meet them.

"No one is here, Major Carter," Teal'c said, confirming her impression.

"Maybe they went back to town," she suggested. "Let's head that way." She kept her hand tight on her P90 as they moved down the gravel path that headed toward the lights on the horizon.

"They had put guards on the gate when we left," Asheron said. He carried no gun, but his hand was on his zat as he watched to either side.

"Maybe the tretonin problem caused some sort of civil unrest," Daniel suggested.

Teal'c, who had point, lifted his free hand, and knelt to look at the ground more closely. "There was a scuffle here. Two men were dragged away by the heels, by a third. That way." He pointed his staff weapon to the left side of the road into the bushes that were at the foot of a the low rise.

She considered a moment, wondering if she should call for more backup. But she knew the teams were out, except for the S&R standby team, which had to stay on base in case someone else got in trouble.

"Let's keep going," she decided. "If there's a problem with the tretonin, we need to find out about it, no matter what else is going on." She gestured Teal'c to hang back and watch their six, now that there were possible unfriendlies behind them, and she took point.

There was no cover here, so no point in stealth, so she kept the pace brisk while being wary about what or who might be around.

But she wasn't watching the roadway particularly, until Asheron called, "No, Sam, don't -- "

She felt something under her boot - like a rock, but with give to it, more like a button - and she froze. Shit. Landmine?

A shining beam of energy wrapped around them in a circle and then a curtain rose up and closed in a dome above their heads. Then it disappeared, but she could still feel the electricity in the air, stirring her hair.

"Forcefield. Damn it," she swore.

Teal'c poked the forcefield with the tip of his staff, and it flared with bluish light, resisting him. The harder he pushed at it, the stronger it resisted and threw the staff backward.

"Pangarans don't have forcefields," Asheron said, turning slowly to peer into the darkness. "This is Goa'uld technology."

"They could've stolen it," Sam suggested. "Remember, they'd been planning to go look for another queen. Maybe they--" She broke off at the sound of heavy footsteps approaching, and turned to find the large, armored shadow approaching. For one heart-stopping second, she thought it was one of the Kull warriors. Then it moved into the moonlight, and she could see the armor was familiar, but definitely not an unstoppable supersoldier.

"Aris Boch!" Daniel exclaimed.

The bounty hunter lifted his visor and they saw it was someone they didn't know. "Not exactly. Name's Kichlor. But I'm glad you're familiar with what I do."

It was the same voice that had been on the radio. She exchanged a glance with Asheron as they realized they'd fallen into a trap.

Kichlor grinned at the four of them trapped inside the forcefield. "The Tau'ri SG-1. The shol'va Teal'c, and Major Samantha Carter." He identified the two of them quickly and then frowned briefly at Daniel. "And you are Daniel Jackson, yes? Which should make you O'Neill," he looked at Asheron and frowned more deeply. "No, you are not O'Neill."

"No," Asheron agreed. "General O'Neill stays on Earth after his promotion."

"Ah," Kichlor nodded once. "Pity. And you are?" he looked at Asheron.

"Lieutenant John Connor," he answered.

Sam bit her tongue to keep from smiling at the alias. It made sense to give one though -- he wasn't going to bandy about his real name to a bounty hunter. There were certainly bounties still out on the Tok'ra, as well as the Tau'ri.

Kichlor entered the name into a hand-held computer and frowned. "Nothing for you," he looked up at Asheron. "Have you even been off your world?"

"A few times," Asheron answered with a shrug. "I didn't make any enemies."

"Too bad. That means you're worth nothing then." He raised his gun.

"No!" Daniel and Sam shouted together, and moved in front of him. "You can let him go," Daniel blurted. "Please, just let him go. You don't have to kill him."

Kichlor looked between them, toward Asheron, and tilted his head to one side slightly, examining him.. "You look familiar to me," he mused. "Something about the face… You wouldn't be giving me a false name, would you?"

Against her shoulder, she could feel the sudden tension in Asheron's arm.

"He's John," she confirmed and tried to smile. "I don't know who else he'd be."

She realized she should have kept her mouth shut when the bounty hunter gave her a searching look and then turned back to Asheron, frowning.

"You'll stay here, while I go check the computer in the ship," Kichlor said, and walked toward the ridge, where presumably his ship sat cloaked.

She turned to Asheron, who was watching Kichlor go. "Is he going to find anything?" she asked softly.

He drew in a deep breath, before answering in a murmur, "All the Goa'uld will pay for a Tok'ra. The question is whether he matches my face or not."

"At least you're not known on sight, like we are," Daniel said, attempting to cheer him up. He threw a small rock at the force field making it flare briefly, and looked disgruntled. "Fell into this one, didn't we?"

"We'll miss check in," Sam reminded. "The general will know something's wrong."

"That's not for two hours," Daniel said. "We could be light years away by then."

"Then hopefully this guy will think John's just some harmless lieutenant and let him go," she said.

"I don't think so," Asheron answered. He seemed certain, and she shook her head, wondering why people thought she was a pessimist.

She smiled, trying to tease him, "I didn't think Malek was that notorious."

He shook his head, not amused. "You might be surprised," he answered. He folded his arms and stared in the direction of the ship, as if wishing he had X-ray vision and could watch what the bounty hunter was doing.

She found herself crossing her fingers that the bounty hunter wouldn't find Asheron's face on anything, then wasn't sure if that would mean the bounty hunter would just kill him. He was of Aris Boch's race, and Boch hadn't been willing to murder an innocent person, but this one didn't have to share the same code.

Kichlor came strolling back, with a little bounce in his step and a grin at Asheron. "Nice try, Malek of the Tok'ra," he emphasized the name sarcastically. "I can't even be angry, since you're going to make me very, very rich."

Asheron said nothing, but he didn't seem surprised.

"'Very, very rich'?" Daniel repeated curiously. "How rich?"

Kichlor grinned. "Rich enough we're all going to take a long trip."

Asheron stepped forward. "Morrigan is closer. She'll pay you the same for SG-1. And I assure you, she'll reward you well for my capture. Then we'll be off your hands."

Kichlor smirked at him. "Do you have any idea what Baal is offering to the person who brings you to him alive?"

Sam felt her stomach sink somewhere down to her toes. The bounty hunter wanted to take them to Baal?

"And you think he's going to pay you all that?" Asheron countered. "You'll be lucky if he lets you live."

Kichlor shook his head in somewhat rueful amusement. "Give you credit, you do keep trying. But Baal keeps his contracts. Even without O'Neill, this is going to be quite a reward. So we're going on a trip. Try and escape, and I'll stick you all in stasis. But for now, nighty-night."

He did something to the weapon on his arm and shot each of them with it.

Sam was last, watching the men fall before her. She had enough time to wonder just how large the bounty on Malek was, before the zat-like gun hit her.

* * *


Sam awoke on a hard floor. Her muscles complaining, she pushed herself up to standing and looked around. She'd been stripped of her jacket, belt, and the knife in her boot.

She was in a cargo hold of a ship. The three guys were there too, Daniel and Asheron were still lying on the floor, each a few feet from her. But Teal'c was sitting up.

"There are forcefields, Colonel Carter," Teal'c said, as soon as he saw her rise. "Do not touch the lines on the floor."

That was when she noticed the cross-hatch pattern in the floor. The four of them were each in their own two-meter square, separated by narrow glowing white lines. There were matching lines in the ceiling. She stood and very lightly reached into the barrier.

"Ow! Damn it!" She shook her hand, now full of painful tingles, as though she'd just touched a live wire. She saw Teal'c's lips twitch in a small smile.

"I believed you," she insisted. "I just needed to test the field strength."

"It is strong," Teal'c said, still looking amused. "I do not believe it is possible to cross it."

"No, probably not." She could figure it out if she had access to her gear in the backpacks she could see piled up at the far wall. But they might as well be in China for all she could get to them. She sat down again, tucking her knees up. "So. Baal. This isn't good."

"Indeed."

She glanced at Malek. "Baal has a bounty on him. Big one, sounds like."

Teal'c raised his eyebrows. "Asheron killed a System Lord, Colonel Carter. One whom Baal once served."

She frowned. "How would Baal know that? No one knew that, even other Tok'ra. No, it's Malek he has the bounty on."

"Then there is some enmity between them," Teal'c suggested. "Perhaps Malek infiltrated his ranks and gained some valuable intelligence."

"Something like that, I'm sure." She gave a little shrug and glanced at Malek's still form. "I guess we'll just have to wait 'til he wakes up and ask."


* * *


Malek and Asheron were not asleep though Asheron wished he were.

Baal.

Asheron's chest seemed tight, so it was hard to draw in a deep breath.

He did not want to go there. Did not want to see him. Did not want those memories back again.

Malek was not anxious -- he was angry. *You should not fear him, Asheron. We should do to him as you did to Ishtar. I only wish I had succeeded that last time.*

Malek's thoughts reminded Asheron, the little snippets darting through his memory: The knife. The blazing dark eyes. The blood. Himself, yelling No!, but only in his mind. Malek running, escaping…

*I will try again, and this time, I will not miss,* Malek declared, his blood and emotions running hot and violent.

*Do you think he's going to give you a chance? You tried to kill him. You think he's not going to be angry about that?* Asheron responded, trying to keep calm against his symbiote's temper. *He's not going to do anything but punish us for it.*

*Let him try. He butchered my people,
* Malek snarled. *I will avenge them.*

Asheron pushed himself up to his feet in one swift movement, seeking some sort of distraction from both Malek's fury and his own anxiety.

"Don't touch --" Sam's startled voice was warning enough and he halted, right before touching the buzzing forcefield.

He found the invisible walls very close, keeping them all apart from each other in bare little cells. His gaze met Sam's and he forced a little smile. "I believe the proper phrase is, "this sucks.""

"Welcome to SG-1," she answered, with her own wry look.

Daniel added, from where he was lying on his back on the floor, staring at the ceiling, "Yeah, aren't you glad you wanted to come with us?"

"Better this than sitting in the commissary doing nothing," he answered. It was even true. He would rather be here, with SG-1 in the cargo hold of a bounty hunter's ship, than reading old mission reports in the commissary or arguing with O'Neill for another endless day. More importantly, he didn't want Daniel or Sam or Teal'c to blame themselves for getting him into this -- he'd done it to himself, with his own impatience.

Daniel chuckled. "And I thought I had a low boredom threshold."

"You do," Sam retorted.

Asheron paced around the perimeter of his small box, looking for a flaw he and Malek might exploit. Unfortunately the set-up was designed for capturing Goa'uld and Tok'ra and trained Jaffa. Not until Kichlor lowered the fields to bring them food and water or to escort them to the toilet would they have a chance to try anything.

*He may not risk lowering the field, with us,* Malek pointed out, more his rational self again. *He may believe us a greater risk, as well as able to endure privation better. The bounty says only that we must be alive.*

*Not good health, I know.* He hoped Kichlor wasn't going to starve them the three or four days it would take to reach Saphon. But just in case, there was no point expending his energy uselessly. He sat down again, cross-legged.

Daniel didn't wait very long. He twisted himself up to the same position and looked inquiringly at him. "'Very, very rich'?" he repeated. "Why? What did you do?"

Asheron answered with a small shrug. "Malek stabbed him and escaped. Baal wasn't very happy about it."

Malek was sarcastic. *Pithy. Truthful and yet highly misleading.*

Asheron ignored him. He had no intention of telling the whole story. Ever.

Sam nodded. "Malek was his prisoner?"

"For a short time," Asheron answered. He was not thinking about it. He was not remembering. Long experience at avoiding memories let him keep the images bolted down in the back of his head.

Mostly.

... A cool breeze stirs his hair, as he looks out into an endless dark blue sky arching over the great valley below the fortress. A warm hand slides down his bare back, as he feels the heat of a body next to his...

Asheron shuddered and shoved the memory away, as Malek quivered in revulsion. There were things he didn't want to remember, especially with Sam in the cell next to him on the way to the same place.

But after a moment, Malek muttered to him, *At least his anger will prevent a repetition of that.*

*Because torture is so much better
,* Asheron returned dryly.

Daniel drew his attention back to the present, "So how big is the bounty?"

Grateful for the distraction, he answered, "I'm not certain. It was three million linars when we last heard, several years ago," he answered. It had been something of a point of pride among Tok'ra for how much their individual bounties were. Malek's had not been the largest, but it had been impressive for one who had not had more than the minimal Tok'ra bounty for a thousand years before that. "I would guess it's higher now, if he knows I -- we -- escaped Mekardin."

Sam gave a low whistle. "Not bad."

The door opened and Kichlor returned. "Everyone fine?"

"Are you going to feed us?" Daniel asked. "Or let us go use the head?"

"Of course," Kichlor answered, sounding affronted. "I'm civilized, you know." He touched his control device on his wrist armor. One side of Daniel's 'cell' went dark, even as others lit up along the floor, demarking a path to an opening hatch. "You can go first."

Daniel fought against saying something sarcastic and settled on the polite response. "Thank you." He went to the head and the hatch closed behind him.

"Why are you doing this?" Sam asked. "We tried to help your people and you hate the Goa'uld as much as we do."

He shrugged. "It didn't work, did it? And a man's got to feed his family. You four are going to feed them a long time."

Sam gave a little sigh and gave up trying to appeal to his mercy. "So what are we worth?" Sam asked curiously. "It used to be a lot."

"It's a lot," Kichlor confirmed with a laugh. "But not as much as his," he glanced at Asheron, who felt the heavy weight in his gut grow with sick apprehension. "Five million for you, Tok'ra. Nothing for you dead, though, so mind you keep yourself healthy."

Even Malek was stunned. *Five million linars for us?*

*I told you he's angry.* He stood up and addressed Kichlor through the invisible wall, "They don't need to go. Drop them off at Morrigan," Asheron suggested. "She'll pay for them, and then, I promise, I'll go peacefully to Baal. I'll even copilot the damn ship. Just don't take them there."

"No!" Sam objected, jumping to her feet and standing at the 'wall' between them. "We go together."

Asheron ignored her, and applied himself to convincing Kichlor. "There's no need to take them to Baal. He won't pay anything more for them, and he'll probably pay less if he's going to pay for me. Drop them off at Morrigan and maximize your earnings."

Kichlor was tempted, Asheron could see that.

"What are you doing? We need to stay together," Sam protested. "If we get scattered all over the galaxy, we won't all get rescued."

He wished she would be quiet. She wasn't helping anything.

Kichlor glanced at Sam and back to Asheron. "Seems the Tau'ri don't agree. If she wants to go to Baal, who am I to stop her?"

"But, you -- " Asheron tried again, but Kichlor wouldn't listen to him.

"Do you want food or do you want to keep trying to change my mind?" he asked, holding up some kind of nutrition stick. Asheron gave up, at least for the moment, to eat and visit the head. While there, he and Malek searched for something they might use as a weapon or way out, but the panels were all smooth and tight-fitting, nearly all one piece. Their strength was useless, since they could find no gap to pull open the wall. It was highly frustrating.

The ration stick tasted terrible, but he ate it to keep up his strength, glad Kichlor wasn't going to starve them. There had to be a way out. They just had to find it.

After Kichlor returned to the front, leaving them alone, Sam and Daniel both turned on him. "What was that?" she demanded. "Leave us with Morrigan and let you go off alone to face Baal?"

"Better one than all of us," he answered.

Daniel shook his head. "Look, we know what Baal can do, because he did it to Jack, but at least together we can spread it around."

"That's not how it's going to happen," Asheron answered, drawing up his knees to rest his arms on them. He pleated the olive drab fabric of his pants and watched the pattern absently. "He's not going to torture all of us. He'll pick one or two of us, make the others watch, and wait to see who folds first."

It was going to be him, he knew it already. He had too many cracks that Baal knew too well.

*Not if I help you,* Malek murmured gently, flooding him with affection. *You're not alone this time, Asheron. And you are stronger than you believe.*

He took some courage and strength from Malek's support and tried to ease the fear knotting in his chest and abdomen.

Sam spoke again, more thoughtfully, as she watched him, "The SGC is going to look for us, you know. If we're all together, we'll be easier to find and rescue."

He let out a sigh, wondering why this was so difficult for her to understand. "If you were with Morrigan it's likely you could escape on your own. She's losing against Baal, and there are probably more rebel Jaffa in her ranks than loyal ones. You could find someone to let you out. Morrigan might even ally herself with Earth against Baal. On Tartarus or his home world of Saphon, that's not possible. We'll be captive, and Baal will use us against each other. That's what he does."

Sam drew near the forcefield and looked in his eyes. "Listen to me, Asheron," she said quietly. "I know what you're afraid of. But you can't give in, not for me. No matter what he does, that's not what I want. Okay? I'm a soldier, I accept that I might be hurt or killed to defend my country and my world. He can only use us against each other if we let him. Got it?"

Asheron nodded, trying to show resolution. But he was bleakly certain that it wasn't going to be that easy. No matter what she might want, it was going to be difficult to watch Baal hurt her. He might withstand witnessing that, but the threat wasn't just to Sam -- harm to Turan might very well be permanent and kill any hope for a rebirth of the Tok'ra forever. A far worse idea occurred to him. "Sam, we can't let him know about Turan," he said. "Not who she is. He'll kill her."

"Can't we just call her another name?" Daniel asked. "He'd never know the difference."

"How about Anise?" Sam suggested. "She obviously has to be a Tok'ra or Malek and Dad would've taken her out of me. And she can't speak, um, because she was hurt in the attack on Mekardin. Will that work?"

"It should. As long as we all stick to the story," he agreed with another nod. An injured Tok'ra could go dormant within a host to heal. It wasn't an option the Goa'uld took, since they used the sarcophagus, but it happened occasionally. A crippled Tok'ra would be less interesting to him, certainly, than a larval queen.

And neither Sam or Daniel were going to be as interesting as a shol'va. Or himself.

*We will kill him,* Malek promised and reminded him of Anise and Garshaw and all the others who'd died on Mekardin.

For a moment, his symbiote's anger sustained him. But Asheron glanced at Sam, thinking of her and Turan tucked safely within her, and he couldn't hold onto his anger as anxiety twisted in his gut again. Baal had learned from his queen well, and he knew all of Asheron's weak points.

Wrapping his arms around his knees, he let the hours pass, trying not to imagine all the different ways this could be very bad.


* * *

Kichlor's converted al'kesh arrived in-system with a hum and shuddering as its hyperdrive gave way to the sublight engines. The artificial gravity kept the ship steady as it headed into a planetary gravity well, but Sam heard the ship's struts creak as the forces of the atmosphere pushed at the ship. That likely meant they weren't at Tartarus, which had very little atmosphere, but they could be just about anywhere else. Since they were all stuck in the cargo hold, there was no way to see where they were.

The ship landed with a bump, and she glanced at her team. Teal'c had his usual stoic face and Daniel looked a bit cynically amused by it all. And Asheron - no, Malek was in control, she decided as he stood up. His jaw was tight and he was glaring, which was not the same as Asheron's brooding.

Kichlor appeared then, grinning at them happily. "We've made it."

Sam was about to ask where they were, when something banged on the outside hatch loudly. Kichlor went to the hatch controls, whistling.

The sound of Jaffa boots came inside, and a full squadron of Baal's Jaffa warriors including one marked with the silver of a second prime crowded into the room, with weapons charged. The prime sneered at Teal'c in disdain, but showed more open surprise at the sight of Asheron, recognizing him. Asheron ignored him.

"Out," the Jaffa ordered. "My lord is waiting."

SG-1 and Kichlor were herded together, and escorted out.

A burst of cold air hit Sam across the face as they went outside. She looked around curiously. They were in a high mountainous place, on a landing platform that also housed several other al'kesh, tel'taks and farther away a single ha'tak. In the opposite direction, hugging the mountainside was a vast palace complex of massive stone walls encircling gardens, buildings, and towers. Down below she glimpsed a sprawling city on either bank of a silver ribbon of a river.

"Saphon," Malek said softly, more to himself as he looked up at one of the towers.

The Jaffa marched them through a heavy gate, which looked as if stone and metal were the only defenses, but Sam spied small emitters in the walls, probably for forcefields. Yet she saw no telltale shimmer in the sunlight of a shield over the palace and wondered if Baal was just that confident in his orbital defenses, or he had some other means of protection.

They passed through a formal garden with trimmed hedges and a marble-lined reflecting pool fifty feet long. Rather to her surprise, there weren't statues of Baal everywhere, but his sigil was emblazoned in gold above the double doors at the end of the garden.

More Jaffa stood in formal armor at the doors, and opened them for the new arrivals.

The throne room or temple, if there was a difference, was a cavernous space with a towering dome ceiling, white walls, granite floors etched in a repeating pattern of his sign, and Baal's throne at the end, on a dais three steps off the floor. Except for two tall stands burning with steady flame, the rest of the lighting was artificial, disdaining the usual Goa'uld practice of pretending to medieval technology.

Standing on the floor was a Jaffa who had to be his first prime, given the golden emblem on his forehead. There were other Jaffa standing at the side, on guard, but they were there for decoration. Chillingly, the true guard was the single shadow-like Kull warrior at the wall behind the throne. There was absolutely nothing in the room that would stop it, if it decided to attack.

Baal's throne itself was a high backed thing topped by his sigil, with a center circle that glowed right over his head like the sun. He was waiting for them, arms casually on the arm rests, dressed in boots, brown pants and long shirt with a dark maroon coat over it with a high collar and sleeves that draped down on either side of the throne.

"Kneel before your god," the Jaffa behind them ordered. Sam knelt. Sam understood the impulse to be defiant, but she had never really seen the point in letting the Jaffa club her. Daniel did the same, next to her.

"He is a false god," Teal'c declared. Baal smirked slightly, as if Teal'c's defiance was expected and mildly amusing.

The Jaffa hit Teal'c behind the knees and he fell.

Malek didn't kneel either, she noticed -- she glanced up to see that he was staring at Baal.

Actually, she realized, their gazes were locked, dark glares that sizzled between them. It lasted only a moment, until he too was knocked down to his knees.

Baal jerked his gaze away to look at Kichlor. "O'Neill was not with them?"

Kichlor bowed obsequiously. "No, my lord."

"As expected. Well done, Kichlor." Baal lifted a hand from his throne and his first prime approached two steps. "R'zac, see that he is paid. Ten million linars. In gold or naquadah."

Kichlor gasped, apparently not expecting such a high amount. Even Sam was impressed that he was getting the entire reward. He bowed his head. "My lord, you are most generous."

Kichlor bowed again, preparing to leave, but was forestalled by Baal's thoughtful voice, "Or... You may choose, Kichlor. You may take the money and continue your independent ways. Or you forgo the bounty, agree to work for me freely, and I eliminate the roshna dependency from your people."

Sam stared, amazed by the offer. Kichlor was no less shocked and stammered, "My lord?"

Baal mused, "Ten million buys a lot of roshna for yourself and your family on the black market, I know. You can live quite comfortably on that. Or you can accept my word that I will do what I say and work for me, without the reward."

Sam watched the two of them, wondering if he was serious. At her side, Teal'c shifted restlessly and declared, "It's a trick. Do not believe him."

Holding up a hand to stop one of the Jaffa from hitting Teal'c for his insolence, Baal shook his head and addressed Kichlor. "Actually, my friend Teal'c is incorrect. It's not a trick; it's a dilemma. Do you want to be rich or free? You have until the end of the day to tell me your decision."

Kichlor still looked poleaxed. "No, no, my lord. I have no choice, if you're willing to free us, then I'll work for you. I -- I don't understand why you'd do that, though. After all this time."

Baal seemed pleased by his choice, and explained, "The galaxy's entering a new era, Kichlor, and the wise god must change with it. We will speak more later."

He waved once in dismissal and Kichlor was escorted out, bowing and scraping the whole way.

"Trickery," Teal'c spat. "You're going to kill them all."

"No, certainly not," Baal retorted, looking offended. "That's the trouble with you, Teal'c. You have such a narrow vision of what could be."

Then he folded his hands together and looked at each of them in turn. "I have waited a long time for this day, to have the notorious SG-1 at my feet. Pity O'Neill no longer travels with you. That would've been very entertaining. Samantha Carter, now host to a Tok'ra vermin." She returned his look calmly, while wondering how the hell he knew that. Could he sense her from way over there? Or did he already know? But Baal's attention moved on. "Daniel Jackson. I remember you from the summit. And of course, the shol'va Teal'c. I am certain you have useful information on the rebel Jaffa to give me." Teal'c looked back stonily. Baal's gaze came to rest on Asheron and narrowed. "And Asheron of Naritania, host of Malek of the Tok'ra." His voice became a dangerous purr. "I certainly have not forgotten our last encounter."

Malek answered with a small smile, "Nor have I."

Baal stood and walked down the steps of the dais toward Malek. "I have no wish to speak to you, Tok'ra. Have Asheron come forth, or I will kill one of the others."

Malek ducked his head and Asheron looked up. "I have nothing to say to you."

Baal took a knife from the inside of his long coat and held it with deadly intent in his right hand. "You will pay for your betrayal," he growled, and Sam felt her heart clench in sudden fear that Baal was going to kill Asheron right here, before her eyes.

Asheron had no fear in his face at all as he retorted, "You broke the agreement. What did you expect?"

"I expected that you --" Baal snarled, with visible anger, and he took a step nearer, naked blade catching the light as he angled it in position to cut Asheron's throat. But then he stopped. He watched Asheron at his feet for a long silent moment, and slowly lowered the knife to his side.

Beside her, Sam felt Daniel look at her in shock and she quickly turned her head to share a glance with him. He looked even more surprised than she felt. Why had Baal hesitated and stopped? He had offered to pay a massive bounty for Malek, equal to the entirety of SG-1. Surely that rather staggering amount was a measurement for how angry he was that Malek had tried to kill him? So why hesitate?

Sam felt very cold as she turned back. The only thing that made sense was that Baal thought killing Asheron and Malek with a knife was too quick. He would want them to suffer.

Asheron had to know that, but he returned Baal's look proudly, without flinching or cowering. Sam expected Baal to strike him or ribbon him, to punish him for his insolence. But Baal didn't move. He just continued to look down at Asheron, with a frown between his brows. If Sam hadn't known better, she could believe the two were communicating telepathically, since they hadn't unlocked their gazes for the space of several breaths.

Abruptly Baal seemed to recall that he had an audience. He spun away and ordered, "Jaffa, take the Tau'ri and the shol'va to the holding cells. I will deal with them later."

The first prime R'zac gestured toward Asheron and asked, "Lord? The Tok'ra?"

Baal's expression was pure satisfaction. "He stays."

Jaffa pulled Sam to her feet and shoved her toward the door. She glanced back over her shoulder at the door to see Asheron still on his knees, while Baal resumed his throne. She hoped Asheron would look her way so she could give him some sort of smile of support, a silent promise that they would come rescue him as soon as they could, but he didn't take his eyes off the Goa'uld.

She wondered what was going to happen to him. O'Neill had never been specific what had happened while he'd been Baal's captive, but she had read Janet's report and seen the remnants of his clothes so she had a good idea. Tortured to death and revived over and over again. Was that what Asheron now faced?

But as the Jaffa pushed them into their own little cells somewhere underneath the palace, she realized two puzzling facts. First, Baal had known Asheron's name and that he was from Naritania, which suggested he'd known him even before Malek. But if he'd known, why not spread that information far and wide? Surely the other Goa'uld would also have offered a bounty on the infamous Slayer of Ishtar?

But even more puzzling, Asheron had mentioned some sort of agreement between them which Baal had broken. Why on Earth would a Tok'ra ever make a bargain with a Goa'uld, knowing they were not going to keep it?

Unfortunately she wasn't likely to find out any time soon.




On to Chapter Four
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