Four of the guards, automatic weapons covering their captives, remained with their leader in the entrance to the temple. The remaining eight, faceless behind the dark visors of their helmets and working in pairs, moved S.G.-1's discarded firearms out of reach.
Quickly and efficiently, they secured their prisoners' wrists together behind their backs with slender clips. These were made of some unknown substance that was light but strong. O'Neill could see that Tilk was testing the strength of his bonds. He knew that the only thing which that would achieve was cut wrists, and Tilk rapidly abandoned the idea.
The guards then clipped narrow strips of the same material round their necks like a loose collar, and used a further strand to connect the back of the collar tightly to the wrist constraints. It was a position which would rapidly become excruciating.
And why was it that every time his hands were manacled behind him, his nose always started to itch?
For crying out loud, all he wanted was a home somewhere - somewhere half-way civilized. It wasn't asking so much, was it? Ok, so it was his own fault. He was young, he was cocky, way back when. So what? He hadn't deserved all this! He was a physicist for Chrissakes, not a freakin' adventurer.
This time, he really, really thought he'd got it cracked - could live out the remainder of his life in peace. How many more years was he going to have to spend wandering through time and space?
~ Snap out of it, Jonathan, you're not dead yet. Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to achieve anything. Never has, never will ~
The alien guards were linking the neck rings together in a line now. That done, they collected the weapons and marched their prisoners out into the street. The bright light made them all blink and screw up their eyes against the planet's sun.
S.G.-1 were in a clean modern city with wide streets. Most of the buildings were faced with pale-coloured stone. The traffic was light and consisted mainly of vehicles which skimmed along a few inches above the ground.
There were human-looking people walking out here too. They were tall, bronzed and muscular, even the older ones. Some were wearing softly draped chitons in pastel shades, most wore bodysuits of some kind in an amazing variety of designs and colours.
Almost all, except the children, were female. The few males, mostly shorter than the females, wore loose clothing in the darker shades of grey and walked at a respectful distance behind some one or other of the females. Except for the ones sweeping the streets and picking up litter...
O'Neill and his team were escorted swiftly along a number of streets. It was not a comfortable experience.
Finally, they came to a building with 'ASPHALEIA' over the door in Greek letters, and were marched inside into a large, airy hall. The guards' leader left the squad and went to a desk at the left-hand side, removing her helmet and letting fall a mane of red-gold hair as she did so.
After a rapid conversation in low voices, she returned and led her troop and prisoners down a broad staircase, then down two more which were narrower. Down in the sub-basement, the lightness and almost sterile cleanliness had gone, replaced by rough grey brick walls and an unpleasant stench.
S.G.-1 were hustled along narrow corridors that held the oppressive heaviness of lost hope. It was something O'Neill had never wanted to experience again. Nor did he appreciate the irony of the situation.
~ All these years of trying to get back to my own time and place, and the one time I hit the same one for a second time, it just had to be this one!
The big questions are - is this the same universe as the last time, and if it is, have I arrived after or before the last time...? ~
Chapter 8 - Under Pressure
The leader of the guards stopped outside one of many grey metal doors along the corridor in which S.G.-1 was standing. This part of the Security building reminded O'Neill a little of the S.G.C. - except for the smell. And the shiny blue-black clothing of the guards with their closed helmets.
The golden-haired leader peered into a camera lens under a red light. The light then turned blue and the door sung open. One by one, S.G.-1 were relieved of their restraints and pushed into the cell. The door clanged shut, leaving them in a dimly lit grey cell with wooden bench seats along three sides and a couple of buckets underneath.
"Sweet," O'Neill remarked with a look of distaste, "all the comforts of home!"
He sat down on one of the benches and prepared for a long wait. The other men followed suit. Major Carter subjected the bench to close scrutiny before selecting a place to park her bottom. O'Neill rolled his eyes.
"I'm curious, Colonel," the major said, "How did you know what the guards said when we were captured?"
O'Neill gave her a surprised look.
"Well, it was only Greek... near enough. And the intent was pretty clear. To me anyway."
"I didn't know you knew any Greek, sir," she went on.
"And you know all there is to know about me, Major?"
"Well... no, sir... "
She looked a little abashed. He felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe he was being a little too hard on her. After all, she was only a woman.
"As he goes through life, Major, a man learns a few things along the way," he explained gently.
"As does a woman, O'Neill," Tilk put in sharply, noting the indignation in Carter's eye.
~ What?! Who rattled your cage, big guy? Gee whizz, did you normally take this sort of crap from your subordinates, Jack O'Neill? I thought you were in charge...~
"Do you have a plan for our deliverance, O'Neill?" Tilk continued.
Now that was a little better. The team clearly looked up to their commanding officer for guidance, but...
"For crying out loud, Tilk! We arrived, we got captured, we were frogmarched here on the double and thrown in the brig. What do you think?"
"I think you have not, O'Neill, but I have great confidence in your ability to do so."
"Well, thank you, Tilk. I do have a few ideas as a matter of fact, but I don't have enough information to form a plan yet."
"What do you think they'll do with us, sir?" Nyan asked. The kid looked scared, which indicated some intelligence. O'Neill knew it was Nyan's first mission. He hoped he could maintain focus in a crisis and not go to pieces.
"Well, they'll let us sweat in here for a while, then they'll take each one of us out for interrogation, after which they'll assign us to what they think is the most suitable use for our... talents."
"What, they think we'll work for them?" the major asked incredulously.
"Of course they do. Slaves aren't normally given a choice, you know. Well, in a way they are. Work - or die."
Major Carter's face took on its indignant look again.
"Oh, don't worry, you'll be all right, major. You're a woman," O'Neill said bitterly.
"Why should that make a difference, sir?" she responded, half piqued and half puzzled.
O'Neill leapt to his feet and loomed over her.
"Because they're Amazons! Isn't it obvious?! Wasn't that honking great statue of Artemis a big enough clue for you?! Not to mention the horses round the base!
Tilk rose and interposed himself between his seething C.O. and the major.
"Colonel O'Neill, it is not Major Carter's fault that she is a woman, nor that she does not share your knowledge in this matter. As I, also, do not."
"It's all right, Tilk. I can fight my own battles. But thank you." She smiled up at the big guy, who inclined his head with a slight smile in response, and sat down beside her.
~ Oh great! Engage brain before opening mouth! Drive a rift through the team, why don't you? You need these people probably more than they need you. Get a grip, Jonathan! ~
O'Neill sat down and dropped his head into his hands.
"Sorry, Major," he said sombrely, "I was completely out of line there. It's been a bit of a stressful day so far, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
He looked up and gave her a wry smile.
"Will you forgive me?" he asked.
She gave him a quizzical look, then shrugged and gave him an answering smile.
"Of course, sir. Thank you."
To his relief, the atmosphere in the cell eased up a little.
Nyan said, "Dr. Jackson told me something about the Amazons. I presume these are their descendants?"
"Got it in one, Nyan, and they're a whole lot meaner than their ancestors."
"With respect, you don't know that, sir."
Didn't she ever know when to shut the Hell up?
O'Neill ground his teeth and bit back another sharp retort. As Tilk had pointed out, she hadn't had the same opportunities he'd had to get to know these women, and there was no way he could reveal the full extent of his knowledge. He'd already said more than he should, but Nyan's helpful reference to Dr. Jackson indicated that he could cite him as a source of what he'd already divulged if anyone questioned his knowledge.
Without any warning, the door swung open. Outside stood a tall raven-haired woman in the now-familiar chitinous blue-black uniform with two more armed and helmeted guards.
"You will come with us," she ordered, looking at Major Carter.
"I will come with in her stead," Tilk volunteered, stepping forward in front of his colleague.
"Leave it, Tilk," O'Neill said - too late.
The big guy crumpled into a heap, twitching, after the leader touched the side of his head with a short black rod.
"Come!" she ordered, eyes flashing.
"Better go, major," O'Neill said, "They mean business."
Major Carter stepped forward and was put in restraints again. She was marched off as the door clanged shut.
Chapter 9 - Surprises
Nyan knelt down beside Tilk.
"Don't touch him yet," O'Neill warned, "you might get hit by a residual charge. Don't worry, he'll be all right."
"Oh," Nyan replied, "I suppose his symbiote will take care of it?"
~ 'Symbiote'?! What the Hell is the kid talking about? What else is there about these people that I don't know. Jeez, this is one freaky universe!" ~
"Er, yes, Nyan, of course it will," he responded in what he hoped was a level voice.
Nyan seemed to accept that, so no harm done. Tilk stopped twitching and lay still. After a while, he groaned and opened his eyes. Nyan and O'Neill helped him up and on to the bench again.
"Are you ok, Tilk?"
"I believe so, Nyan. Thank you."
Tilk remained still for a little while, to recover. Silence fell, each man preoccupied with his own thoughts.
"That was a powerful weapon," Tilk continued eventually. "It's effect is much like that of a zat gun. However, it appears to require contact with the victim in order to function."
"They use it like a cattle prod," O'Neill remarked, "to keep untagged slaves in order."
"Indeed, it would appear so, O'Neill."
" 'Untagged slaves', sir?" Nyan asked.
~ Ack! Looks like the major isn't the only one who doesn't know when to shut the Hell up ~
"Er, well... they're bound to have some means of exerting control. They don't want a slave rebellion on their hands."
"I suppose not," Nyan conceded. "What sort of work will they expect us to do? Until we escape?"
~ Great! The kid thinks positive - can definitely warm to that ~
"Ah, well, Amazons don't have a lot of use for men. Big strong guys like Tilk can be used for heavy labouring. A few are used as domestic slaves, and for all the dirty little jobs that the women don't want to spoil their hands with, like cleaning out the drains, and... er, they also require a small number with the right genetic qualities for their breeding programme."
Nyan's eyes lit up.
"Don't get carried away, kid. If you're suitable, you won't get any more pleasure out of it than a prize bull back home."
"Back home? Do you mean on Earth or on Bedrosia?"
~ Whoa! Bedrosia?! The surprises are coming thick and fast here. Is Nyan an alien then? Looks human enough... ~
"Well on Earth."
"I believe humans use a system known as Artificial Insemination," Tilk explained. "The bull never has access to the herd."
~ What?! He believes humans use...? Tilk's an alien too?! Hell! Has Earth been taken over by alien infiltration then? Am I the only human here?" ~
O'Neill felt his head was spinning. He thought his research on Colonel Jonathan O'Neill had been pretty thorough - apart from the most highly classified parts. The U.S. records seemed to have more holes in them than an Emmental cheese!
He was prevented from further speculation by the cell door swinging open again. The raven-haired guard leader was back, with an escort of four armed guards. This time, Tilk had his wish. They had come for him...