Author Topic: Chapter 7  (Read 6358 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 7
« on: July 29, 2022, 04:31:54 AM »
Suna had said that it would be midday on Zau when they got there, and she'd been right. Hargrove was mystified as to how she could be sure, and she just shrugged when asked. Cayo only gave one of his silent non-expressions. As soon as they'd arrived, they'd seen a young man, probably no more than thirteen or fourteen, dart off into the trees towards the city. Another one stayed and kept an eye on them from the treeline.

"As I thought. Verai set people to guard the Stargate, probably in shifts." Suna smiled. "Our new Elder may be young, but she's no fool. Remember that, Major."

Hargrove nodded, trying to ignore the nervousness in his gut. He'd asked for Ahardt on this mission, but the Colonel had told him to make do with the Zau siblings. This was their world, after all; they'd probably have better luck convincing people.

The Colonel, Ahardt, and Desousa had gone to P3X-1279, also known as Cartago, to make the same offer to the local Byrsa. The Matthews had stayed behind at the newly discovered base camp, to get their lab equipment up and running. They claimed they'd be able to recharge radio batteries, even keep the MALP running longer. Hargrove had to admit, for a pair of civvies, they'd been quite helpful.

After a brief discussion, the group had decided to call their base/planet Survivor's Redoubt, or SR for short. Ahardt's suggestion of Camp Sunshine wasn't seriously considered by anyone but him.

The three of them moved into the trees, past the open-mouthed young man, and towards the road into town. Suna took the lead, and soon Mendoha was in sight. From what Hargrove had seen and read, most of the locals on worlds in the Stargate network identified more with their planet than with their city or nation. Zau seemed to be more than just a place: it was their identity, as Suna had later explained. The people stared at his gear, and more so at his companions. It suddenly occurred to him that maybe the siblings had left on bad terms with their neighbors.

Suna directed him to the t'alai, or city hall, as she described it. It was a tall, red-brick building, one of the tallest he could see, actually, and there were three people standing expectantly in front of it. A young woman about Suna's age with red-gold hair, a heavyset older man with a scar from his left cheekbone down to his neck, and the young lookout he'd seen earlier. At a word from the scarred man, the lookout ran off towards the 'gate again. The young woman approached, tentatively, and Hargrove followed Zau tradition and introduced himself in full rank, name, and place of origin.

She glanced at him, but focused instead on his companions. "You've both caused a great deal of turmoil, the way you left like that. We searched for you for days before we had to admit you'd gone through the chappa'ai."

Suna lowered her gaze. "I am sorry, Elder. An opportunity presented itself, and we had to act quickly. We had no time to tell anyone."

"Hm." Verai sniffed. "And now you've returned. Why?"

"If I may speak?" Hargrove cut in. Verai frowned at him, but nodded anyway. "We've come to address the Zau in the old forms. We will follow the Ancestral Pact, and leave in peace." He felt foolish, talking about things he didn't understand, but Suna told him it would help to follow the forms; that it would make him seem more like one of their own.

Verai studied his face intently. "Suna no doubt told you about the Pact, and that I'm obligated to allow the address. If you stray from tradition, though, you will be made to leave." She paused, as the older man whispered something in her ear. "Word of your arrival is spreading. In an hour, maybe less, you'll get your chance. Don't waste it, as you won't get another." She abruptly stepped away, beckoning the scarred man to follow.

"Well, that was a walk in the park." Hargrove muttered after she'd gone. "Is she always that hostile to outsiders?"

"Most outsiders wouldn't be allowed into the city at all." Suna responded. "The scarred man, Esot, leads our warriors in battle, and he is suspicious by nature. I'd guess she's been listening to him more since I left."

"You were one of her advisors?" Hargrove was surprised.

"Not exactly. Just a friend."

"A close friend, Major." Cayo put in. "Verai's mother took us in when our own parents… The three of us were raised together."

"And now she's in charge, and you up and vanished on her. No wonder she's upset." The pieces were starting to fit together.

A short time later, Hargrove found himself staring at a sizable crowd gathered in front of the t'alai. According to the old forms, no one under the age of fifteen- more like sixteen in Earth years- was allowed there, but he estimated there were at least a thousand gathered in the square. His old fear of public speaking reared its ugly head, and he was tempted to just give up and go back to base. No, he told himself. You've got a job to do. The Colonel is counting on you. Relax, tell them what's what, and then shut up before you start to sound like an idiot. He tried to calm his nerves and stepped forward.

"Under the light of the sun, and by the Ancestral Pact, I call to be heard!" He recited from memory, and tried to project into the crowd.

They quieted, slowly.

"A year ago, Zau was a very different place than it is now. You were slaves to the false gods, held in fear and superstition, never allowed the freedom you deserved. You shed blood, lost lives, and risked everything to gain that freedom. Now I ask you to consider the others out there who don't have what you have. There are many worlds among the stars where millions are still forced to serve the Goa’uld, and worship them, or die painful deaths. The other tau'ri and I are going to do something about that. You've seen our weapons and tactics when we fought together. You know how effective we can be. We offer to teach you what we know, and fight beside you against the Goa'uld.

"If you join with us, I can promise only two things. First, you will have a life of hardship and toil, and will most likely never return home. And second, you will have the chance to make a real difference, as was made for you, for many people on many worlds."

Hargrove looked up at the sky. "We'll be leaving tonight. Be at the chappa'ai at sundown if you want to leave with us."

He stepped back, not showing his back to the crowd, as dictated by the old forms, and Suna gave him an approving nod before stepping up in his place.

-.-

Argyros stood in the crowd, listening to their chatter with interest. This wasn't the first he had heard of these tau'ri, but he'd never seen one before. The young man stood to the left of the small platform, looking apprehensive as his female Zau companion answered a few questions from the crowd. He certainly didn't look to be that impressive.

As he stood there musing, a quiet alert from his wrist timepiece reminded him of his mission. He looked around, but nobody seemed to have noticed, so he wove his way out of the crowd and towards the nearest empty street. Once he was out of earshot, and any easy view, he checked for an update on his chrono. The others were on schedule, and should be headed back to the portal within the day. He considered for a moment and decided to risk going back. The others would want to know as much as possible about these tau'ri, after all.

-.-

"Who's that one?" Hargrove asked Cayo quietly, pointing out the man rejoining the gathering. Suna'd had her hands full with the rest of the crowd, but Hargrove had noticed him leave earlier, and was concerned about resistance to his recruitment pitch.

Cayo squinted for a moment. "That's Argyros, a merchant from out of town. He comes here regularly to trade for a portion of our- of their crops." He corrected himself. "He's harmless."

Hargrove was less convinced. The man didn't walk like a Zau, but there was more. He seemed to be sizing up the crowd, and the outsiders, almost as if he expected trouble. "Any idea where he's from?"

"Probably Khanai." Cayo shrugged. "It's the second largest city on the continent, and it's far enough away that their customs differ slightly from ours."

"Well, keep an eye on him, just in case." Hargrove continued looking through the crowd, and it finally hit him. He'd seen people walk that way before. "Cayo, what's the smallest ranged weapon you have here on Zau?"

Cayo looked puzzled. "A crossbow. Why?"

"Can it be used one-handed?"

"Even our smallest needs two. What is this about, Major?"

"Your merchant walks with a slight tilt I've seen before. Someone who wears a sidearm- that's a small gun- for hours each day develops a different way of walking. Even when they take it off, the habit sticks around. He's definitely more than just a salesman."

Cayo peered into the crowd briefly. "Are you sure? Perhaps he usually keeps a small object on his belt while walking."

"I'm sure of it now. When you carry a gun, you want it to be safe, and to be able to draw and use it easily. It's different than having a flashlight or something else. I don't think he's from this planet."

As they watched, the crowd began to disperse, and Argyros left towards the north end of the city. Cayo moved to follow him, but Hargrove put a hand on his arm. "Wait up. We don’t want to tip him off. We'll keep an eye on him, but we’d better leave him alone for now."

"Suna and I have both seen him from time to time, ever since we were children." Cayo reasoned out, slowly at first. "If he were a Goa'uld or Jaffa spy working for Apophis, he would have disappeared at the same time the others were killed." He paused, thinking it over. "If he served one of the other Goa'uld, they would have taken our world as soon as Apophis' troops were dead. He's most likely just a human, whether he uses the Stargate or not. All the same, he should be kept away from the dialing device on our return trip. We shouldn't let just anyone know where our base is. I'll take care of it."

Hargrove covered his surprise, and nodded approvingly. "You catch on quick. I know Security people on Earth who wouldn't have noticed all that."

Cayo offered up an enigmatic smile. "We do as we must, Major. The more urgent the need, the more we find we can do."

-.-

About eight hours later the three of them led a full seventeen Zau, mostly young men and women each carrying a small pack of their own belongings, down the path towards the 'gate. Two people stood waiting in front of the DHD: Verai and her scarred bodyguard.

"What are the odds they're here to give us a sendoff?" Hargrove said out of the side of his mouth.

"Not good." Suna muttered back, and stepped forward, giving a brief bow. "Elder. I'm surprised to see you here."

Verai kept her face expressionless, but Hargrove could see a trace of a frown there. She kept quiet until all the recruits had gathered nearby. "I know how tempting this tau'ri's offer is to you. I felt it too. We feel we should be doing something out there, and after winning our own freedom, who can blame you for feeling as though you could? But before you go, think about the people you'll be leaving behind. Family, friends, loved ones. People who love you, and will miss you. We have a good life here, one which we earned. Don't walk away from it."

The scarred man stepped up next to her. "The Pact prevents us from stopping you, if you truly wish to go, but remember this: The tau'ri said you would probably not come home if you left with him. His words are more true than even he knew. The chappa'ai will be buried after you are gone, never to be used again. You will be forever cut off from Zau if you do this."

The recruits looked at each other, some with nervousness, others with determination. Hargrove looked up at him. "Esot, right? You're right to be cautious. The Goa'uld definitely deserve a bit of caution, but maybe you should think about this, too. Right now, the Goa'uld don't care what's going on here. Your people aren't powerful enough to be a threat to them. If they return, and find the 'gate buried, you won't have any options. You won't even be able to pretend ignorance. They'll assume you were responsible, and make you all pay for defying them."

He looked at the recruits, and back at Verai. "These folks are taking a big risk going with us, but you'll be taking an even bigger one here. Suna's told me a bit about your people, and culture. I'd like to come back here someday, in peacetime. I'd hate to have to fly back in a ship and find no one left alive." He sighed. "Unless you've got more to say, we need to go. We've got a lot of work to do, and people are expecting us."

"The Pact does not protect you, tau'ri!" Esot growled. "Don't think you can presume to-" He fell silent as Verai waved a hand in his direction. She stepped to the side, her face grim, and Esot grudgingly followed her.

The silence was near deafening, and Hargrove was grateful for the noise the 'gate made as he dialed.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 05:25:59 AM by Daen »