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A Storm of Shadows
Embarking on the mission, they gated to the main Tok’ra base, before being taken by ship to Neowe. It was aboard the ship where Jessie was informed about the role she was to assume, though she was the only one privy as to her role. She and Pisano had been separated while preparations were made for their attire.
Jessie eyed the costume brought to her by one of the Tok’ra helpers; it was definitely nowhere near what she had pictured in her mind. Delek entered the room just as she was about to go looking for him. Holding up the lightweight silk garment, she asked pointedly, "What is this?"
"It is what the gediklis wear."
The fabric wasn’t sheer; it could actually best be described as ‘fluid’. It consisted of a long veil that wrapped intricately around the head and face, a top that fell just short of the belly button, and what could only be described as harem pants. Jessie stared at Delek. "Why don’t we start with you telling me exactly what a gedikli is, because this isn’t something I’d wear to do dishes in."
Delek hesitated for a moment, then started speaking. "Gediklis are favored odalisques, virgin female slaves who have been trained in the erotic arts. They are kept in a special section of the stronghold, which is located in the same area that Chatka occupied."
Jessie stood very quietly, turning this information over in her mind. "And you didn’t think this was something you should’ve mentioned during our meeting earlier?"
"I wasn’t sure you would undertake the mission if I had termed it as such. The area is just the general quarters where the gediklis are housed, and the next auction isn’t for another eight weeks. It should only take you a few hours, at the most, to get the crystal and get out."
Jessie cleared her throat. "You said they’re virgin slaves. I don’t exactly meet those qualifications."
"That wouldn’t be a problem. Some of the gediklis have their hymen surgically removed so there are no difficulties with pain when they first mate—some buyers prefer that versus those who are still intact. That is beside the point, however. You’ll be in and out before there’s a chance of any kind of interaction."
Jessie was going to have to be satisfied with that explanation, because Delek offered nothing else. The journey to Neowe, however, took longer than she expected. By the time they arrived, it was midmorning the following day. She sat while one of the female Tok’ra applied a silver filigree just above the wings of her eyebrows, then highlighted her eyes with dark blue shadow and charcoal gray liner, darkening her lashes with coal black mascara. By the time she was fully dressed with the veil and head wrap in place, the only thing one could see were her eyes.
Delek met them before they disembarked. "If anyone asks you, your name is Miele, which is a common Neowan name, and you have just recently arrived at the stronghold." Pulling out the map of the stronghold and surrounding area, he said, "You’ll follow this path with the guide into the compound. You should get there right around the time of the late morning meal." He pointed to an area on the map. "These are the general quarters; go there first and take your meal. You’ll then be free to move about the area with your guard." Delek then pointed to another area. "Chatka’s quarters are here, and you have two possible routes out of the stronghold after you obtain the crystal." She and Pisano had a chance to study the map thoroughly before ringing down to an isolated camp controlled by the Tok’ra. They then followed the guide to the Neowan stronghold on foot.
She could tell Pisano was pissed. One look at his face was all it took. All he had been told was that he was to act as Jessie’s guard while she retrieved some important data crystal. That she would be dressed as she was had not been in the brochure.
"I don’t want to hear it," Jessie said stubbornly as they set out on the path to take them into the compound.
"Mitchell will have my ass if anything happens to you," he growled in reply.
"Nothing is going to happen to me," she whispered back fervently, although she couldn’t stop the shiver that ran up her back. "We’re going to slip in, get that damned crystal, and get the hell out."
"That prick Delek didn’t tell General Hammond the whole truth, did he?" Pisano raked his eyes over Jessie. Although she was technically covered head to toe, the way the royal blue silk flowed over her curves as she moved left little to the imagination, and little doubt as to her purpose.
Jessie looked at the ground as they walked, not wanting to admit Pisano was right. "General Hammond knew I’d be posing as a servant to get inside the compound."
"There’s a difference between a servant and a sex slave," Pisano hissed. "What in the hell are we going to do if someone decides they want to buy you?"
She glanced at the back of the guide who was tasked with getting them inside, hoping he didn’t understand what was being said. "Delek said the area we’re in is far away from the market itself. They only hold auctions for gediklis every couple of months, and they just had one. Besides, we’re only going to be here for a few hours. As soon as I find this thing, we’re out of there."
"You better pray it’s before Mitchell gets back tonight, and he doesn’t see you dressed like this. Christ, Jessie, I’m a dead man if he does!"
"Will you quit being such a worry wart? You’re supposed to be a guard—the strong, silent type. Start practicing!"
Pisano fell silent, hoping that Jessie was right. He really didn’t want to imagine all the different ways Mitchell would torture him before actually killing him. And there was no doubt in his mind he would do just that, if anything happened to the woman he was engaged to marry.
As Delek had predicted, they didn’t get a chance to search right away. The guide confirmed that the meal was minutes from being served, so he left them at the general quarters of the gediklis. Venturing inside, Jessie and Pisano saw a few women there with their guards. Sitting down as the food was brought in, Jessie listened to the women talk, along with the other servants. From what she was able to decipher, Ba’al had apparently arranged for his entertainment that evening; four unfortunate females going by the descriptions. They had already been taken to a separate area to be prepared. ‘Just like sitting ducks’, Jessie thought to herself. While she felt sorry for them, especially given what the women said was in store for them, she had to concentrate on the task at hand—get the crystal and get out. Make the short distance to the Tok’ra encampment, ring back up to the ship and escape. Simple. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.
After the meal, she and Pisano left the general quarters, with no one paying any heed. She had a couple of alibis if they happened to be stopped along the way, but fortunately the hallways were deserted. Chatka’s quarters seemed to be much further away than the map had alluded to, a fact Jessie firmly pushed to the back of her mind. They had committed to memory the two routes from that point to the outside. Jessie was hoping there was going to be no need to take an alternate route. ‘In, out and gone’, she kept repeating to herself. Much to her relief, they finally arrived at their destination. As per their plan, Pisano stood watch while Jessie searched.
Pisano waited at the corner of the hallway, watching and listening for any signs of company. Luck was holding out for them…so far. Inside the quarters, Jessie frantically searched for the crystal. All the obvious places had been a no go, so she went for the more obscure areas. After almost twenty minutes, she was about ready to admit defeat. Leaning back against the wall, she took in the room in its entirety, searching for anything that might show her where the prize was located. She had just pushed away from the wall when her gaze came to rest on the small bookcase. It wasn’t the titles of the books that drew her attention, just for the simple fact they were written in a language she wasn’t familiar with. In the end, it was the placement of the books that caught her eye. All were neatly lined up…precisely so….except for one that was minutely askew. Her obsessive trait of wanting to have everything lined up perfectly was what caused her to notice it at all. Head cocked to the side, she crossed the room and knelt in front of the case. Retrieving the book, she looked at the foreign print, deliberately pushing aside her desire to study it. Opening the tome, she began flipping through the pages, and that’s when she saw it.
Nestled in the center of the book, in a small, hollowed out compartment, was the data crystal she sought. The feeling of relief was so intense, it caught her by surprise. Not wasting any time, she took the crystal from its hiding spot, sliding the book back into place. Making sure the room was the way she had found it, she quickly slipped out the door.
Rejoining Pisano, she handed him the crystal. Given her garments, she had few options as far as hiding places. Just as they were turning to retrace their steps, they heard the clank of armor coming from that direction. Glancing at each other in silent communication, they immediately launched into plan B, taking the alternate route of escape.
Plan B was the longer route of the two, and the corridors soon turned into a maze of choices. Ignoring the myriad of hallways, they stuck with the path they had committed to memory. A murmur of voices had them slipping into an alcove, hidden in the shadows as two servants exited a room up ahead.
"Lord Ba’al will be calling them in shortly," one woman said softly. A tsking sound came before her companion’s response, the voice too low to make out what was said. The first woman replied, "I agree. May the gods forgive me, but I’m thankful it isn’t me waiting for his summons."
The voices grew softer as they disappeared down the hallway, and Jessie and Pisano did a quick check before cautiously stepping out. She could see the door up ahead was ajar, and they had no choice but to walk past it, as that hallway was the only way to the outside. Pisano took his place to Jessie’s right, following a step behind as they walked nonchalantly down the hall. Two more turns, and they would be there. That was until Jessie froze as she came in line with the doorway, causing Pisano to bump into her. He only had time to notice the look of shock on her face, but not enough time to stop her from pushing the door open fully and going inside.
Glancing furtively in either direction, Pisano followed her, the scene before him causing him to stop suddenly. Jessie stood in front of him, scanning left to right, before he noticed her shaking her head.
"No," she whispered as the realization of what she was seeing hit her. "Oh, hell no!"
Huddled on the far side of the room were four females, the ones apparently destined for Ba’al that evening. They were garbed similar to Jessie, all holding hands. The two older ones had the younger females behind them in a protective stance…the older ones being no more than 13 years old…if that. Pisano felt his stomach drop, a cold, clammy feeling of disaster tightening around his throat. "Jessie," he began.
"Shut up, Pisano," came the stern reply. Jessie pulled the veil from her face. Switching to the Neowan language, she motioned to the girls. "Come with me," she said reassuringly. "It’s time to go."
The younger girls began to cry softly, and one of the older girls stepped forward. "Please, let the little ones be. We will do whatever Lord Ba’al wants without question. They are too young to be of any use."
Jessie swallowed the bile that was rapidly rising in her throat. "To hell with Lord Ba’al," she said with a tight smile on her face. "We’re leaving this place. Come quickly and ask no more questions…unless you truly want to spend the evening with Ba’al."
The older girls glanced at each other before gathering their younger companions hurriedly.
"Jessie," Pisano repeated.
She turned on him with a barely contained fury. "I’ll gut that goddamned snake with my bare hands before I’d let him lay a finger on these babies," she hissed. "We’re following you," she said as she assembled the girls together. "GO!" In a kinder voice she said, "Follow him, and don’t look back. It’ll be okay."
He leaned back in his chair, his gaze trained on the monitor. Keeping his eyes and ears open had kept him alive on numerous occasions. A well placed whisper, a knowing look…sometimes it was all the collateral one needed to bargain with. Not that he revealed all he knew. Some tidbits were filed away…a little emergency currency when one needed it. By sitting back and observing, he had been able to find out a multitude of things, some important, others not so much. He knew which guards were having affairs with which servants; knew the ones who were loyal, and more importantly the ones who weren’t. He knew the dealers who were on the take, where the ‘private reserves’ came from, both human and weaponry. His most valued information had him endeared to Ba’al…well, endeared was a little expansive. Ba’al tolerated him…barely…of that he was well aware. But, given the fact he had access to something Ba’al wanted, it was keeping his head attached to his shoulders.
Pressing the switch, he advanced through the different viewpoints, stopping on one where Ba’al’s guards were walking down a corridor. A tiny glimpse of movement caught his attention, causing him to press the switch again. A female slave with an accompanying guard hurried through the opposite corridor, almost as if they were trying to avoid the guards.
A few commands were typed in, and he brought up varying views of the couple. He leaned back, watching the mystery pair. ‘Interesting’, he thought, the vibrant blue of her garment reminding him of the iridescent plumage of a peacock. Zooming in on her face, he noted the silver filigree marking above her brow. ‘A gedikli?’ His brow furrowed as the slave and her guard ducked inside an alcove, avoiding two female servants passing in the hallway. Her face was covered by the veil with only her eyes showing, but he was certain he would have remembered her if he had seen her before. Her eyes took his breath away. He leaned forward, manipulating the views from the cameras. Watched as they started back down the hallway before she abruptly went into a room, her guard following her. Switching vantage points, he watched the scene play out inside the room, a grin spreading across his face. ‘A little spitfire, apparently’, he thought, watching her mutinous expression as she obviously put her guard in his place. He was about to activate the audio when he noticed her gathering the children together, as if preparing to leave. ‘Oh, that’s not such a good idea, beauty,’ he mused as he rose from his chair. ‘Ba’al will have someone’s head on a platter if his playthings aren’t at his disposal.’ Something obviously was not what it appeared to be, and he headed in that direction, determined to learn exactly what was going on.
Pisano knew when he was fighting a losing battle, and this was one of them. There wasn’t anything he could say to Jessie to dissuade her from trying to rescue these girls. Instead, he took the next best course of action, taking the lead and heading to freedom. The first corner was easy—no one occupying the corridor, the way ahead was clear. The second corner, unfortunately, the luck didn’t hold. He made it around along with the four girls, but as Jessie rounded out the group a commotion broke out.
A voice came from the corridor behind them. "Kel nok." (Stop, I noticed something). A cacophony of clanking armor, commands shouted in Goa’uld, the priming of staff weapons. They broke into a run, Pisano taking the last turn and hitting the door leading to the outside, four frightened girls following closely on his heels. Jessie, however, didn’t take the final turn. She realized if she did, they would all be taken prisoner. Instead, she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes locking momentarily with the last young girl a second before she disappeared out the door, mouthing the word ‘run’ as she did so, raising her hands up in response to the shouts behind her. "Kel shek!" (What are you doing?) "Tal shal mak!" (Identify yourself).
Three guards were yelling commands in Goa’uld, their view blocked by the young woman in front of them. They had only seen her running, hence were not aware of the other escapees. Adrenaline was pumping through her as she slowly turned to face her pursuers. A moment of silence was followed by suggestive insults hurled in Goa’uld at the young woman. Her eyes narrowed. "Go’tak," she growled, the insult slipping out before she had a chance to think.
"Kek kel shak," the guard spat a half second before the resulting staff blast, which knocked her to the ground.
Searing white-hot pain shot through her right wrist and side upon impact, temporarily negating the adrenaline pumping through her as she fell. The sickeningly sweet scent of seared flesh assailed her nostrils, and she tried her best to block out the knowledge that it came from her. The diffuse light from the recessed fixture above enveloped her, and she resisted the urge to look down at the wound, instead concentrating on the light above. People were yelling…arguing, growing louder. A different sound, vaguely familiar, caught her attention. The subsequent thump and screaming caused her to wince, despite her own pain. It lasted only seconds, though it seemed much, much longer. Then a silence, broken only by her own raspy breathing. A shadow fell across her, and she tried to focus on the person leaning over her. Deep, intense blue eyes staring into hers, flashing gold when he took note of her injuries. A soothing voice soon followed. "Don’t worry, beauty…I’ll take care of everything." Strong arms sliding beneath her, lifting her…it was the last thing she remembered before losing consciousness.
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