THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED

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AUTHORS NOTES ON "THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED"

DISCLAIMER

All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of MGM Ltd/ Double Secret Productions/ Gekko Film Corp. Team SG-999 characters are based on real people (you all know who you areÖ!)

This story is meant to be a homage to all things Stargate and does not supersede any copyright.

I had the idea for this story for a long time now. The thinking was "If there was a Stargate SG-999 TV show (scary, I know), what would the novelisation of one of the "episodes" be like. Hence, I have reduced the comic quota of my recent outings and gone for a more action-orientated story. I hope you like this interpretation of SG-999 and I look forward to your feedback.

Theme: Sci-Fi/ Action Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (Fantasy violence, gunplay and knife work)

Timeframe: Season Seven, before "Heroes Parts 1&2

 

 

THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED

By John Gallacher

 

CHAPTER ONE

"DOCTORíS ORDERS"

"Offworld activation!"

The klaxons around the SGC blared as the gate tech repeated his warning. In the corridors, armed Marines stormed the gateroom to take up positions next to the other guards. Weapons were drawn and aimed at the huge Stargate opposite.

Major General George Hammond flew down the steps leading from the upstairs conference room with a zeal of which he should have known better at his age.

"Report." he barked when he was still at the last step and half way across the room.

"Weíve an unscheduled offworld activation, sir." replied the tech who was checking his instruments for any further readings. Hammond looked at the Stargate. The iris was closed at the time of the alarm and so it was just the back wall that shimmered with the power of the gate.

The techís screen changed with new data.

"Sir, Iím receiving SG-999ís IOC. Getting audio as well."

"Open the iris." called Hammond as he grabbed the microphone. The huge metal wall that filled the gateís void simply folded flush with the inside rim of the gate.

SG-1, 5 and 999 were sent on a rescue mission to rescue another SG team that had been captured by Baalís Jaffa. The race was on to get to them before Baal did.

The radio crackled into life.

"This is Procter here. Taking severe hostile fire. Weíve got wounded here. And a whole load of Jaffa following us as well." He was panting as he was running at the time. And running hard too.

"This is Hammond. Message understood. Weíll be ready."

He flicked a switch on the panel.

"Medical teams to the gateroom. We have incoming."

He turned his attention to the gateroom guards.

"All units. Safeties off. We may have hostiles coming through with our people. Select your targets with care. Heads up people."

No sooner had he said this but a figure came through. Luckily it wasnít Jaffa. But rather Major Carter with a wounded soldier around her shoulder. Quickly she ran off the ramp to make way for the others that would be behind her. Almost immediately the rest came en masse. By themselves, in stretchers or carried in a variety of ways. Two members of SG-999 ran only so far down the ramp and then dropped to the grille and faced the gate, weapons ready. For what seemed an eternity, nothing happened. Palms became sweaty and breathing became shallower. Then Colonel OíNeill shot through the opening.

"Thatís everyone!" he yelled. "Close the iris!"

But in the couple of seconds for the switch to activate, several Jaffa emerged, staff weapons at the ready. But none stood a chance. Immediately a wall of lead flew at the enemy just as the iris closed its eye. One Jaffa managed to get one shot off but all it did was hit the wall above the control room. And then the guns were silent.

All that could be heard were numerous thumps from behind the iris as if someone was trying to shoot their way through the impenetrable barrier. But Hammond knew that for every thump they heard, it was in fact a person who had stepped through the opposite gate and had been stopped by the iris. It was by all accounts a one-way trip and a suicide one at that.

When the wormhole decided that no one else was coming through, it closed itself down with its customary ka-whoosh. Hammond looked at what lay before him in the gateroom. The dead, the dying and the injured. He picked up the microphone.

"All units stand down. Medical teams to enter the gateroom."

The two doors on either side of the gateroom and in flooded medics. Hammond winced. It didnít look as if they had it all their own way.

Hammond had allowed a good while to let the medics do their work before he stepped into the infirmary. He braced himself before he entered. As he did so, he could see that it wasnít any prettier than he imagined. Several were bandaged heavily with monitors and drips hanging by the bedside. Some were lying peacefully. Others were sitting down as they were tended to. The walking wounded. As Hammond crossed the room, he could see a couple of gurneys with a full body bag on each of them.

"How are they, doctor?"

Fraiser unplugged her stethoscope from her ears and turned to the General.

"Well," she sighed, "Iíve finished the prelimary diagnosis. Most escaped with mild injuries. But several were severely wounded. CWO Gallacher from SG-999 is in theatre right now from a staff weapon blast. I think heíll make it, but itíll be touch and go."

"May I speak to them?"

She nodded and let Hammond past. Members of SG-1 and 999 were huddled around a set of trolleys in various states of grime and scratches. OíNeill spotted Hammond and was about to get the others to stand to when Hammond stopped him with a gesture.

"At ease. You deserve it." he reassured.

Everyone sighed with relief.

"So what happened?"

After a silent conflab, OíNeill was elected spokesman for the two teams.

"We succeeded. We got SG-10 out of there but we lost Major Parsons and Lt. Kelly on the way back." He pointed to the two body bags in the corner.

Hammond winced at the loss of two members of SG-5.

"Whereís Captain Tanner from SG-10?" asked Hammond.

"He was critically wounded as we began the extraction. He stayed back to detonate the naquadah power plantÖ manuallyÖ sir." OíNeill dropped his eyes as he felt it a personal failure to rescue Tanner and he knew that everyone else felt the same as he did.

Hammond chewed on his next words, but somehow they felt inappropriate or comforting.

"You did what you could and you did your best." He turned to the rest of the team. "All of you. Well done."

Everyone gave a faint smile of approval or a thumbs-up even though they felt that they hadnít done a good job. Hammond turned and walked back to Fraiser. She had a look of concern and that wasnít easy to ignore. He leaned over to hear what she had to say. In cases like these, it wasnít a good idea to let fly every little detail.

"What is it, Doctor?"
"Itís SG-999. Iím worried about them."

He eyed her. "In what way?"

"I took a look at their blood chemistry and a couple of other samples. They all read out the same. They have chronic fatigue. If they donít rest soon, the next mistake theyíll make will be fatal."

Hammond stiffened. He knew that the team could be a little cranky but this was a bolt out of the blue.

"How come this has happened?"

"SG-999 are always either on stand-by, prepping for a mission or on a mission. When they get back, theyíre hardly back when some other crisis needs their skills."

Hammond digested this but some of it still didnít make sense.

"But Iíve seen other Tactical Rescue teams and they donít suffer the same sort of problems as youíre telling me of.

Fraiser nodded. She knew the point that the general was trying to make and she was ready for it.

"Thatís because other teams are that much larger. They can afford a rotation schedule. SG-999 doesnít have much of one and if they continue, theyíll burn out. And that is my medical diagnosis."

"So how do we rectify this?"

"Leave of absence for a couple of weeks while they recharge their batteries. No buts or excuses. They need a holiday."

It was several days later when it was all approved. At least three weeks R&R for all SG-999 members whilst SG-15 and 16 took over Tactical duties for the duration. Nick was on his way to the infirmary to see how John was getting on. Just then OíNeill popped out of an adjacent corridor and turned into an identical direction.

"Hey, Nick, forgot to say "thanks" for getting us all out of there a couple of days ago." said OíNeill, slapping Nickís shoulder.

"Donít worry about it. I know that you were busy lately."

OíNeill tugged at Nickís arm, bringing him to a dead stop (which was no mean feat in itself.)

"I mean it! If your team wasnít there, weíd all be chunky chowder on an alien world. I hear youíve got a lot of time off for the gang. My cousinís got a cabin up north in the woods. Let me get a call in and see if heíll let you have it for the time being. ĎSides, he owes me a favour."

Nick studied the colonel for an age. It was no secret that OíNeill had a bit of a grudge to SG-999 due to "operational differences". But the look in OíNeilís eyes was sincere. He meant every word. Nick smiled.

"Thanks Jack, that means a lot." He grasped OíNeillís hand and shook it firmly.

The two parted with OíNeill standing in the corridor.

"Youíll never know just how much more I appreciate your team helping us out." he said to no one in particular.

CHAPTER TWO

"REST AND RELAXATION"

John was bored rigid, lying in bed doing absolutely nothing. His right shoulder hurt like hell if he tried to move it and his arm didnít have that much more mobility power. As it was he was connected to a couple of saline drips and a powerful painkiller. The way he was feeling, it wasnít powerful enough. It still hurt.

Nick strode into the ward and pulled up a chair beside Johnís bed.

"So, how are you felling?"

"Hellish! You?"

"UhÖ not bad. You know about the break weíve been given?"

John nodded. "Just had Bruítac tell me about it. In great detail."

Nick winced. "Talk about rubbing salt in the wound."

"Itís not so bad."

"Itís not?"

"Nah, least I can get a decent lie-in without worrying about the alarm clock not going off for a good while." He grinned. Suddenly this was a cloud with a silver lining.

Nick rolled his eyes. Some things never change.

"So, can I see the scar?"

A pause while he thought about it.

"No." he said determinately.

Nick could see that John was bandaged up all along his arm and shoulder with said arm in a sling. Maybe he had a point.

"So when are the team going?

"Two days from now on Monday morning."

"Well Fraiser says that all going well, I should start physiotherapy on the arm and shoulder in a week or two."

"Great, youíll be back on the team in no time at all."

Johnís face dropped like a stone."

"Oh, joy." he said sarcastically.

Nick spent a good half hour cheering up his comrade before he stood up to bid his farewell.

John waved weakly but still managed a grin.

"Donít forget to send a postcard."

Nick scowled. "What makes you think I was going to send one?"

John lobbed a grape at his CO as he left the ward, sniggering to himself.

Meanwhile in a prison many miles away from Cheyenne Mountain, an appeal hearing was taking place. Three men stood in the governorís room, shackled by their wrists and ankles and wearing the bright orange coveralls of a prisoner. Marc Conner, Thomas Winters and Lance Mason were labelled as dangerous to the public by the judge at their trial. They were found guilty of armed robbery, assault and murder when a robbery at a convenience store went wrong and saw the death of a checkout clerk and a police officer. The case generated a lot of controversy since all three didnít receive the death penalty as mandatory in a case like this. Instead, they were given life without parole. And now after ten years, they had the right to appeal to move to a more open unit.

Governor James Allen slid his spectacles down off his nose and stared at Conner with a piercing gaze. He sat in the middle of a panel with four others. In front of them all was a stack of files relating to the days hearings.

"Mr. Conner, you amaze me. You cause nothing but trouble at this facility and you expect me to move you to a less secure unit?" he said with distain.

Conner stood impassively, quietly hoping that the governor would change his mind.

"Upon reading all the reports, I cannot grant this appeal. However, you cannot stay here and therefore I am approving a transfer to a higher security. Request denied." Allen struck a gavel to bring an end to the proceedings.

Connerís face dropped. He was certain that heíd been successful. But Mason, a much thinner built man couldnít contain his anger any longer.

"A set-up! This has all been a bloody set-up! You had no intention to listen to us, you gutless pig!" He went to make a move at Allen, only to be quickly subdued by the security guards. The others had been tempted to help their friend but had been stopped when the guards tugged on their manacles.

The three werenít exactly model prisoners. In fact, if there was a disturbance, it was a safe bet that they either the cause or in the centre of it. Many had commented that this appeal was a wasted effort given their record.

Winters and Mason were hauled away. Conner went to follow but Allen called him back.

"Mr. Conner, a moment."

He turned back to face him again.

"What is it? Havenít you found us guilty? You donít have to worry, weíll be out of your hair soon enough." he said with venom.

"Try to understand why I said "no". This unit cant keep the likes of you here and you just proved why. Thatís why youíre leaving in the morning for Cairnwood Prison. They have a history of containing the likes of you three. I donít make this decision lightly."

Allen hoped that this reasoning would get through to Conner. But Conner wasnít biting.

"Youíre all the same. You canít handle us, so you let the bullyboys do it. You know Cairnwood is practically a death sentence. Itís the toughest prison with a high "turnout"Ö and you know it. You might as well have signed that death warrant. Itíd be quicker as well."

He turned to leave the room, but then stopped before he passed outside.

"You know, I should hate you for that. But I donít. I pity you and I donít know why I should. Funny old world this."

He sniggered and left. Allen wasnít smiling.

"Yeah, I knew what I was doing." he said after Conner was long out of earshot.

The two 4x4 vans pulled up outside the vast country cabin. Nick, Catherine, Bruítac Xander, Brian, Steve, Jim, Shirley and Jimmy stepped out into the fresh air, not the pumped in from the surface stuff on the SGC that had been rolling through the ventilation system for an eternity. The team had made a brief diversion at a local convenience store to pick up a load of groceries for a couple of weeks. It was noted that the word "convenience" must have been put there as a joke since the nearest habitat was at least twenty miles away. Nick pointed out that they had become the grocerís best friend, due to the fact that they had almost emptied the storeÖ and paid for it. The grocer must have thought that he had died and gone to heaven. OíNeill wasnít kidding when he said that the cabin would be perfect for the whole team. For one thing, the cabin was designed and built to accommodate a large contingent of guests. There were several twin bedrooms, a spacious lounge and a kitchen to die for. Already, Steve staked the kitchen as his own private domain and woe betide anyone who tried to enter without permission.

After a couple of hours after they all claimed the various bedrooms and unpacked, they all sat outside on the patio with a multi-pack of Irn-Bru. The air was warm and a soft breeze wafted through the trees.

Nick raised his glass.

"To the ones who made it and the ones who should have made it."

Everyone gave pause and then followed the gesture.

"To all." they replied as a chorus.

"So what made you make that toast?, asked Jimmy.

"I dunno. Just looked out over there" He nodded over to the clearing that overlooked a small lake near the cabin. "It just kind of sunk in there and then."

Shirley smiled.

"I thought it was just me. I was thinking the exact same thing. You just beat me to the punch."

Xander joined in.

"One thing bothers me. Baal didnít have that many guards at first, so where did the reinforcements come from?"

"I believe I have the answer, Captain McEwan. During the battle, I examined one of the fallen Jaffa. His crest was not of Baal." said Bruítac.

"So who was it?" asked Brian.

Bruítac took a stick and drew in a patch of nearby soil. Immediately, Catherine recognised the symbol.

"Bastet. I should have known sheíd have a handÖ or paw in it."® She snapped back in her chair in frustration. Hindsight is a marvellous thing after the fact.

Everyone sank back. Catherine wasnít the only one who felt dejected about the attack.

A long pause and then Jimmy piped in.

"Hey, arenít we on holiday? None of this melancholy. Weíre here to enjoy ourselves." He stood up with proud determination and raised his glass.

"To life, health and happiness. Slainte."

"Slainte." echoed everyone and once again there were smiles and laughter in the air.

The following morning, the prison bus sat at the huge entrance gates, waiting on them to open. On board, were Conner, Winters and Mason. All sat grim faced as the gates opened their maw and allowed the bus to progress to the prisonerís new home at Cairnwood. Mason had had mace sprayed in his face after the appeal went wrong and as a result, he was quieter but still harboured a lot bad feeling. The driver sat up front with two guards, all armed, just in case of trouble.

"You guys OK back there?" called the driver.

"What do you care?" snapped Mason sarcastically.

"Hey, Iím just trying to break the ice. I know what a hellhole Cairnwood is. I wouldnít want my worst enemy to go there and thatís saying something. I sure donít envy you boys."

Conner looked around the bus. They were the only ones on board.

"Do we get preferential treatment, I mean, a whole bus to ourselves?" he asked casually.

One of the guards, Frank Thomson, piped up.

"Itís the guvínor. He wants to make sure you get there, no questions asked."

The other guard, Rick Hall, groaned.

"Whatís up with you? asked Thomson.

"I used to work at Cairnwood." He turned to the passengers. "Iím not going to fool around. It really is as bad as the stories say. I should know. I spent four years there as a guard and spent every day, trying to get out. Canít believe Iím going back, even if itís just a transfer of prisoners." He slumped back in his chair, utterly dejected.

The bus had left the private road that led to the prison and entered the public roads. They really were on their way. And only fate from the gods would stop this from happening. And that didnít seem likely to happen.

Back at the prison, Governor Allen had watched the bus leave. He remained standing at the window, long after it had left his sight. His assistant entered the room with a pad in her hand.

"Governor, I need you to sign these requisitions for next week."

But Allen stayed facing the window.

"Those men I sent to Cairnwood. I know whatís going to happen to them. Theyíll probably last a year or two, no more than five at the most." he said, still facing the outside world.

The assistant coughed slightly then answered "Maybe itís for the best. They were the most disruptive elements here."

Allen shook his head. "I could have sent them to Alesford or Dannington. Instead I send them to the worst of them all. Still, theyíve got themselves to blame. If they hadnít acted the way they did, I wouldnít have had to make that decision.

He turned and took the pad from her.

"Anyway, what are next weekís requisitions for, anyhow?"

"Come and get it!"

Steveís voice bellowed through the cabin, followed by a generous waft of cooked breakfast. As if on cue, albeit rather sleepily, the rest of the team shuffled down into the dining area, looking and acting like extras in a Michael Jackson video. But their mood lifted when Steve began placing the full plates in front of them.

"ErÖ how long have you been up?" asked Jim as he fumbled to put his glasses on the right way up.

"OhÖ since six."

"Couldnít sleep?" chipped in Xander.

"Nah. A kitchen like this? I couldnít wait to try it. Tuck in!"

Steve was a dab hand in a kitchen. If there was any new kitchen gadgets or ingredients, you could easily bet that he wouldnít be all that far away.

And what a breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon, beans, toast, cereal variety packs, lorne sausage. Brian looked up from his bulging plate.

"We going on manoeuvres later?" he asked quizzically.

"Nope" came the sharp reply. He wielded a large pot. "Porridge, anyone?"

A rather stunned silence came from the table.

"OK, Iíll take that as a "no" he said as turned to get stuck into his plate which was nearby.

After breakfast, the team set about their various leisure activities. Shirley, Bruítac, Jimmy and Brian had set up a temporary volleyball net and were having an impromptu game that resembled volleyball. At this moment they were having a friendly argument about just how far the actual court extended. Catherine walked past the picnic bench, which had Jim and Xander, both with laptops and were frantically tapping away.

"What on earth are you doing? she asked.

"Well, Iím trying to improve our communications set-up whilst underground." said Jim, since he was one of the infamous "Tunnel Rats", the team that dug tunnels, trenches and any other kind of excavation.

Xander took his cue from that. "Iím just doing some update stuff that I needed to do."

"Arenít you supposed to be relaxing? Thatís why they call this a "holiday."" asked Catherine, rather puzzled.

"We are relaxing." said the two of them in unison.

Catherine shook her head and walked towards the jetty where Nick was sitting. He had a cool-box on which he was resting his feet, his folding chair was tilted back slightly and his hat was tilted down his face and was resting on the tip of his nose. His hands were at the back of his head as a pillow. A fishing rod lay propped up on a stand next to him, itís line played out into the lake.

"Caught anything yet?" she asked innocently.

Without moving he answered, "Not yet, still waiting."

She considered her next answer carefully.

"You know, they say that there isnít any fish in this lake, not for years anyway."

"I know."

"Then why fish here at all?"

"As OíNeill told me, it isnít about the actual fish themselves, itís about the act of fishing that matters."

Catherine nodded. "He got you on one of his fishing trips as well."

Nick turned his head. "Howíd you know?"

"Tealíc told me. Said you caught something and the colonel didnít."

Nick grinned. "Got a trout and he got a cold and a real nasty one at that."

"So whatís Steve got for dinner? He wonít let anyone get near the kitchen."

Nick shrugged hi shoulders. "Dunno. All heíll tell me is that itíll be a surprise."

Catherine frowned. " Well, so much for narrowing down the options." She said as she toddled off to watch the chaotic volleyball.

CHAPTER THREE

"BREAKOUT"

"Hey! Did ya ever think of installing a suspension system on this wreck?" yelled Winters as the bus trucked over another uneven section of the road. They had left the freeway and were now along the narrower country roads. The journey was now in itís fourth hour and it didnít help that they had another two to go. They already had two toilet breaks along the way. But now they were on time and on route and on course. Conner thought of how it would be at Cairnwood; if the stories really were as bad as they say; that regular beatings occurred, that a sentence to Cairnwood was really a death sentence, that the prison authorities turned a blind eye to what was happening behind the walls because they housed the worst of the worst and if a high death count kept the prison population down, then so be it.

Mason was trembling. Was it down to after-effects of the mace or more likely that he too was afraid for the future. Damn you, Allen thought Conner.

There was another jolt. This road was getting ridiculous.

Conner was about to make a similar protest as Winters when suddenly there was a loud bang from the rear of the bus. At that moment, the bus swerved violently to one side. And started to lurch over. Conner spun his head into the direction of the lurchÖ and saw a deep ravine approaching. The bus was going to take a tumble down a deep embankment.

"Hang on, everyone!!" yelled Thomson as he made a grab for one of the nearby grab-bars. The driver was fighting the controls and it was obvious that it was a lost cause. The side of the bus impacted the side of the road and the whole vehicle began to tumble end over end and continue rolling. The last thing everyone saw was the edge of the forest speed towards them at a crazy velocityÖ!

Catherine put the phone receiver down, just as the volleyball team staggered through the door.

"So, who were you calling? You disappeared before the end of the game." panted Jimmy, sweat pouring down his face.

"General Hammond. He says that John will be back on his feet in a couple of weeks less than anticipated. He also says hello to everyone. By the way what was the score?"

Shirley looked around to see if anyone knew, but found no one did.

"Well, we started to keep score, but then we sort ofÖ forgot to. In the end, we were playing for the sheer hell of it." She grinned and it took all the remains of her energy to do so. It had been one hell of a game, after all.

The team started to advance into the cabin, but Catherine stopped them.

"Just one point, after all that exercise, I think it might be a moot point if youÖ. showered. You donít exactly smell ofÖ. roses." she said, screwing up her face.

Everyone looked at each other. They were about to respond when Jim walked into the room.

"Christ, who forgot to pack their deodorant?" he said whilst holding his nose and proceeded into his bedroom to get a couple of discs that he had left there.

Clearly, everyone seemed offended and scurried off to the shower. Catherine was left looking skywards.

Nice one, Jim. The diplomatic service is clearly your calling she thought sarcastically.

The pain was the first thing that woke up Mason. And his head hurt like hell, as if someone was trying to kick it from the inside with steel-toe caps. He managed to focus enough to see that the bus was on its side and that the interior caging was torn asunder. He didnít know how many times they had rolled over or if anyone else was still alive. Gingerly, he moved and noted that despite the pain, there were no broken bones but a lot of bruised bones and muscles.

Mason moved to Conner who had his eyes open and was still alive. Conner turned his head to his friend and smiled with relieve.

"Jeez, I didnít think you made it back there. You OK?" he breathed.

"Yeah, how about Winters?" asked Mason with concern.

Conner nodded. "Like us, just banged up. Heís under that seat."
Mason turned and saw that one of the seats had come undone from the floor and had pinned someone underneath. An arm waved, hoping to attract attention. He moved to the seat and called to the trapped.

"Hang on, Iím coming."

"That you, Mason? Hurry up, the view ainít all that interesting." Definitely Wintersí sense of humour.

With a heave, the chair tumbled off Winters, releasing him. Mason had noted that Conner too was trapped by debris. Mason came over and lifted the tangled metal from Connerís legs.

"You walk? he asked.

Conner wiggled his feet and then bent his legs. He smiled.

"Well, Iíve still got that dance career on hold if thatís what you mean."
All three nodded. They then started to make their way to the guards. None moved. Conner managed to slip into the drivers cab since the metal had twisted under the force of impact. He looked at the driver. He was slumped at the wheel with debris from under the console impaled into his chest. Instinctively, he reached for the manís neck. There was no pulse. He drew his hand back slowly, as if to give respect to the dead.

Mason clambered over to where the two guards had sat. He saw Hall in a corner and turned his body over. He rolled and his head rested at an unnatural angle. He didnít need to check for life signs. He went over to Thomson, peered quickly then groaned, trying not to vomit. His upper torso has been torn in two by the impact and his lower section sat within the cab.

"Theyíre all dead." called Mason.

Conner sighed.

"Right, thereís a pair of bolt cutters in that cab. Use them to get out of these chains. Then grab their guns. All of Ďem. Donít suppose that theyíll have a use for them now."

"What if they think we did this?" snapped Winters.

"Take a good look around you. All theyíll deduce is that there was a crash, the guards were killed and we all escaped. Which is what is about to happen!" growled Conner.

"What about these overalls?" asked Winters, halfway out of the orange coveralls.

"First we bury Ďem. Weíve still got our regular clothes underneath. What weíll need is transport out of here and supplies. There should be civilisation nearby. Címon!" waved Conner as he left the wreckage. Reluctantly, the other two followed after a search for weapons on the bus. After taking all of value and subsequent ammunition, the trio left. Anything was better than Cairnwood.

Xander was going over a chart on the laptop, when Brian strolled over.

"So, what are you doing that is so important to stop you relaxing on this holiday? he said, emphasising the word "holiday".

"Take a look." said Xander, spinning the laptop so that Brian could see the data. On it was a graph labelled "Theoretical Power Upgrade".

But Brian still looked puzzled. "What is it?"

Xander smiled.

"Itís a probable increase of power to the power leads on the Hydra-shok® weaponry. As you know, they can fire out fine line cables, like a tazer. Well, I think I can increase the power output from the onboard naquadah generator without burning out the cables. Major Carter and I had been working on it for weeks before we left for our break."

An evil grin spread across Brianís face.

"Major Carter? In the lab? All alone? At night? You dog, you kept that one quiet."

Immediately, Xanderís face went fire truck red.

"I thought the rest of the team were bad for taking the mick. Youíre twice as bad." he said, snatching the laptop back.

About this time, Bruítac approached them in his usual manner; hands behind back with an expression on his face that wouldnít look out of place on a mischievous school child.

"May I be of assistance?" he asked.

"Yes!" said Xander quickly, "Get rid of himÖnow!"

Brian shrugged. "Jealousy, itís a curse." He then walked away, deciding how else to best embarrass his colleague.

Xander watched as the Jaffa sat down opposite him at the picnic table.

"So, how are you feeling?" asked Xander.

"Well." came the straight reply

Xander raised an eyebrow. That was it? No more than that? Bruítac was usually quiet, but a little more talkative.

"Anything else?"

"I have just completed Kel-nor-reem. I am rested after that, and yet I feel uneasy. This locationÖ There is something and I do not know what it is." He seemed perplexed and if Bruítac was perplexed, then that was usually a bad sign. Xander glanced his eyes from side to side. No, nothing there, nothing wanted to jump out and attack him, so the coast must be safe, particularly when they were in the middle of nowhere.

"Maybe itís because this is a new place. Youíre uncertain of it. Me? I feel fine, relaxed. Chill out."

Bruítac nodded and sat with Xander for a while longer, although he couldnít as yet fathom out why a drop in his body temperature would help him to relax. Perhaps one day, heíd find outÖ!

The owner of the store, Mr. Matthews, was still giddy at the large sale that he had made a couple of days earlier when the three men walked into the store. They looked a bit tough, but he wasnít surprised at what walked through that door. It was pretty much the holiday season and just about anyone and anything came up.

"Howdy, fellas. Can I help you?" he said waving from over at the counter.

None of the group really smiled; more of a snarl really. Ah well, he thought, it takes all sorts, I suppose. He continued to work on an order for re-supply. But he kept his eye on the newcomers. Although they looked like they were browsing, he could tell that shopping was the last thing on their mindsÖ and that worried him.

Conner strolled up to the counter. He placed a bar of chocolate on top.

"Thatíll be 35 cents." said Matthews, about to ring up the sale.

"And your car." answered Conner pointing a rifle at Matthewsí head. Matthews instinctively stepped away from the counter in an attempt to gain distance, only to be stopped by the opposite wall. Mason came forward holding a revolver.

"Címon, make with the keys." he said impatiently. Obviously, this one was the loose cannon; over-excited and nervous, more likely to do something rash. He decided not to provoke them.

"The carís broken down." he said honestly.

"Liar!" snarled Mason.

"Itís true. But I know whatís wrong. I can help you fix it." All he wanted was these three to get far, far away.

"How do I know that youíll fix it?" Masonís revolver was aimed at Matthewsí head.

"Cos the car is a wreck. If you take it away, I can buy myself a better car. That thing isnít worth a dime."

Conner was impressed. The old man didnít care about the car. He had pretty much consigned it to the scrapheap ages ago. As long as he was safe, he wasnít about to call the police and even if he did, theyíd be long gone.

"Iíll get the keys." said Matthews reaching slowly underneath the counter.

But before anyone could react, Mason squeezed the trigger. There was a loud crack and Matthewsí head snapped back. He fell with a great impact against the opposite wall. A large red hole had opened up on his forehead. Conner ran forward and grabbed Mason by the wrist, quickly disarming him.

"What the hell are you up to?" he screamed.

Mason looked unrepentant. "I thought he was going for a gun."

Winters ran behind the counter and looked to where Matthews was reaching. He pulled out a key ring with a single key on it.

"Does this look like a gun to you? Cause to me that looks like a key. Just a guess, you know."

Mason simply sneered. "Hindsight is a wonderful thingÖ not! What if the old man did have a piece? You wouldnít be laughing then."

"Look," said Conner, "letís just get rid of the body and get that car going. If it doesnít go, we simply look for one."

For a long time, no one moved as if they were contemplating their next move or a better one at that. Since no one could come up with a better plan, they moved.

Outside, a battered Ford Escort sat outside, with its better years long behind it. Winters took the keys and got inside. He inserted the key and turned it. But the vital spark needed failed to materialise. He tried again; same result. Instantly, the others had the bonnet opened and were staring at the engine. The bonnet was only open for less than a minute when it came slamming shut to reveal two less than amused ex-cons.

"That thing isnít going to move in a month of Sundays. Weíd better head on foot till we find something else." Conner was deliberate in his assessment of the car. Whilst inside, heíd worked on many vehicles engines and he knew enough to know what could be salvaged and what couldnít.

The trio left with a dead car in the back yard and a dead body in a locked storeroom. Now all they needed was a car and time.

Jimmy strolled out of the kitchen with a bemused look on his face. After that volleyball game, heíd showered and afterwards gone into the kitchen to enquire about dinner since lunch was a "grab-your-own" affair. At that point Shirley greeted him.

"Hey, Maltman, howís things?"

"ErÖ fine." he said, turning his head back to the kitchen.

Shirley picked this up. "OK, whatís wrong now?"

"Itís Steve. Heís making dinner."

"This is oddÖ becauseÖ?"

"He says that itís a surprise and if anyone tries to spoil the surprise, heíll kill Ďem."

Shirley sighed and shrugged her shoulders. A Black Arts trained operative, serving in a caterers capacity. You know, someone ought to have made a film about thatÖ hang didnít they just do one with Stephen Seagal?

Jim yelled from somewhere upstairs.

"Anyone got spare batteries? My radioís gone dead!"
Jimmy nodded to Shirley. Time to leave.

"Hang on, mate. Iíve got some."

"Cheers." came the disembodied voice.

Most of the group was in the dining area, engaged in their various activities. Be it either reading or working on a laptop or some half-cocked conversations. Steve was in the kitchen, creating his masterpiece and Jim and Jimmy were upstairs getting batteries for Jimís radio.

It was then the front door knocked. Impeccable timing, just before dinner thought Brian. He went up to answer if only to avoid the deadly glare from Xander who still hadnít forgiven him for his earlier comment. Xander was cooking up a fantastic revenge; one that would become legendary and would be talked about centuries from now.

Brian opened up. There were three men standing, looking like they had hiked a good distance.

"Hi." said Brian. Good way to break the ice.

The one at the front smiled. "Hi, I wonder if you could help us. We were out hiking and we kinda lost our way. I donít suppose you could give us a lift to the next town. Weíve got relatives there."

Brian turned inside the cabin.

"Hey, Nick. Thereís a couple of lost hikers out here."
"Let them in." came Nickís voice from within.

Before anyone else could do or say anything else the gang in front of the door kicked the door forward, slamming Brian into the hall. Mason grabbed him from the floor and dragged him into the dining area where the rest of the team were.

Everyone turned to see pistols and rifles aimed at their heads.

"What theÖ?" was all Catherine could muster at that point.

Winters stepped forward to the major, rifle still aimed at her nose. "Shut up, bitch. Where are the keys for the cars outside?"

Catherine briefly thought about pointing out that if she was to stay silent as ordered, then she couldnít tell him where the keys were. But since she was on the wrong end of the gun, she decided against it. She nodded to the coat rack where a couple of key fobs were dangling.

Winters nudged the rest of the team closer to the kitchen. All complied, since the perpetrators looked like men of purpose and intent; a deadly one at that.

When everyone was huddled into one corner, Conner stepped forward.

"Iím terribly sorry. But Iím afraid that weíve no other option."

"Canít we just go? Weíre wasting time." called Mason who was dangerously developing an itchy trigger finger.

"Weíll go when we get the keys." replied Conner.

"Can I say something?" chirped in Steve, who was huddled somewhere at the back.

"What?!" snarled Mason, wheeling the sights towards Steve.

"When I asked folk to stay out of the kitchen, I meant it!"

At that point, a kitchen knife flew through the air like a knife throwers act. It slid through the air with no sound and hit Winters on the shoulder square. He yelped and dropped his pistol. Another came towards Mason. But this time, he was ready. He tilted his head to one side as a serrated blade somersaulted past his left ear and embedded itself in the wall behind him up to the hilt.

Catherine grabbed the rifle that was pointed at her earlier and rammed into Masonís face. Although he fell to the ground, he also kept hold of the weapon. He aimed it at Catherine, but before he could fire, something nicked his shoulder. At that point, a powerful electric bolt coursed through his body with a pain that heíd never known. His grip instantly tightened, but not around the trigger. He swung the rifle in the direction of the pain and felt something rip out of his shoulder as if it was barbed. At that moment, the pain stopped.

"Get out!" cried Conner.

Mason didnít need another reminder and both he and Conner stumbled out with their weapons. Winters lay on the floor, in pain and all alone. Heíd been abandoned and he knew it. He never expected it to go down like this.

He turned his head and looked up into a group, half of who were now armed and aiming at him. Weakly, he moved his arms into a raised position.

"I surrender." he croaked.

Jimmy stood near the kitchens entrance. In his hands was a Hydra-shok rifle. It was he that shot Mason. It was a pity that he couldnít turn the voltage to maximum in time. Jim stood beside him, armed similarly. Everyone, lest of all, Nick, looked at the pair, their silence demanding an explanation.

"We heard the news on the radio that there had been a prison breakout. When we saw what was happening here, we put two and two together." chirped Jimmy.

"Yeah, it also said that the shopkeeper where we got the groceries was found dead and foul play was suspected." growled Jim as he began to close in on the wounded prisoner with a similar intent that Mason had on the group.

Nick nodded.

"Steve, Xander, watch him. Catherine, Shirley, go set up a perimeter. Jim, Jimmy, you patrol nearer the house. Bruítac, youíre with me."

Everyone went to several locked cupboards around the house and picked up various weapons; P90ís, Hydra-shok, 9mmís and various shotguns and rifles. In Bruítacís case, a staff weapon and a zat. Each was handed walkie-talkies with earpieces and tactical vests. The team always took their gear with them at all times. Luckily, none of the intruders knew about the gear due to the fact that it had been locked securely out of the intruderís sight.

The plan was simple; set up a defensive perimeter and hold out until help arrives or they capture the escapees. Or kill them or whatever came first.

The outgoing team members gathered in the hall, each looked at each other with that silent communication, each nodded and all left at the same time.

Winters groaned. He reached for the knife. The pain was immense. But Xander stopped him.

"Hey, if you pull that out now, you could damage that shoulder permanently." He grabbed a cloth and wrapped it around the blade without pulling the knife.

"Hold that still and press hard." he commanded as he pulled a first aid box over. He took out a triangular bandage and began to fix a sling that held Winterís bad arm with his good arm on top holding the bloody cloth.

"Who are you guys anyway?" he asked with resignation.

"United States Air Force. You want to make something of it?" It was Steve, with a rifle at Wintersí head.

Winters groaned again. "I might have known."

Xander tutted at his colleague.

"Do you mind not shooting at my patient until heís back in custody and in hospital?" he sighed

"Only if he tries to escape." snapped Steve.

Xander shook his head and looked back at his patient. The way that he had him trussed up, escape was the last thing possible.

CHAPTER FOUR

"THE HUNT BEGINS"

Nick and Bru'tac scoured the trees around the lodge and saw nothing. Bruítac however was staring at the ground. He fingered at the soft soil for a moment.

"Procter, footprints. They headed up towards the ridge." He pointed up the hill.

"That means that theyíre headed for Shirley and Catherine."

He grabbed his radio.

"Gatecrasher One to Gatecrasher Two, are you receiving? Over."

There was a pause and then the radio crackled in his ear.

"This is Gatecrasher Two, receiving you loud and clear. Over."

"Those two are headed in your area as best as we can tell. Just watch your six."

"GC-2, received, over and out."

Catherine stared at Shirley. Shirley usually had a calm demeanour, but in a situation like this when there could be lives at stake, in this case, the general public, then it was a different Shirley who came out to bat.

Both stared, listening intently. Nothing.

"Where díyou think that theyíll be?" asked Catherine.

Shirley shrugged her shoulders. "Dunno. Could be anywhere in a 360 degree radius."

Catherine sighed. The escapees hadnít made it past them and they were headed on a tangent towards them. Catherine and Shirley squatted in the bushes and waited, listening intently.

Nothing.

"Gatecrasher Two to Gatecrasher One. No sign of bandits. You sure theyíre coming this way? Over."

Bru'tac frowned when he heard the comment.

"This is Bru'tac. That would mean that they have doubled back on their tracks."

Nick suddenly had a nasty thought.

"Gatecrasher One to all units. The bandits will either try to take one of the vehicles or get their pal back. Stay sharp. Over."

In an area with dense vegetation, Conner and Mason crouched. Winters was as good as gone as far as they were concerned. Mason held a handkerchief to a small, but nasty looking tear to his shoulder.

"Damn shoulder. Iíd love to get my hands on that guy with the gun that shot me." he snarled.

"What the hell did he shoot you with?" asked Conner with much concern. If the wound got infected and needed hospital treatmentÖ!

"I dunno!" replied Mason. " But it felt like it was barbed wire, whatever it was."

"We need to get a car, and I saw that that lot had two 4x4ís in the yard. I say we go back and nab one. They came out here, looking for us. They wonít expect us to double back" Conner tried to sound confident. Truth be told, he was shaking all over. They guy with the knives came closest to nailing themÖ and he was the furthest of everyone and behind a crowd.

Mason gave the plan a cursory moment of contemplation. It seemed sound.

"OK, but if that lot get in my way, Iím not responsible." he snapped.

Jim and Jimmy were setting up small percussion caps with tripwires around the trees nearer the cabin. The idea was to set up an early warning system. Just to add to the fun of it, each trip had a small transmitter attached. When activated, the cap would explode, and a signal would be sent to the cabin, alerting all to an attackÖ if that was the plan. The transmitter was Jimís idea, just in case they couldnít tell which trip had been tripped.

They had set up about two-dozen of these things when suddenly Jim started to frisk his body as if heíd forgotten something.

"Whatís wrong?" asked Jimmy.

"No more caps. You?"

Jimmy frisked himself.

"None, but Iíve an idea."

He started to set up another trip, but instead of a small cap, he pulled out a small bottle and attached the detonator to it along with the transmitter. Quickly, he disguised the trap. Jim stood up with his colleague.

"Explosive cap?" he enquired.

"Molotov cocktail. Itís a bottle of that cheap booze I bought a couple of months ago." he smiled.

"Will that explode when itís triggered?" countered Jim.

"Jim, it tastes like crap and anyone who drinks it is mad. So I saved it for a special occasion such as this. And itíll take out a couple of trees, if weíre lucky."

"Well, Iíll go for a couple of escaped prisoners, if itís all the same."

Xander was crouching near Wintersí bandages to make sure nothing else had gone wrong. Winters was a deathly pale colour and he was grimacing badly.

"The pain real bad?" he asked out of concern. Winters nodded quickly as if the movement was an effort unto itself. Xander reached into the medical kit and began to rummage about.

"So, why canít you just pull the knife out?" asked Winters, finally summoning enough strength for speech.

"Because, the blade may have severed some veins or arteries. Right now, for all we know, that blade is stopping the blood flow. If I was to remove it right now, you could literally bleed to death. We need to get you to a medical facility where they can remove it under controlled conditions. And no, Iím not a surgeon, sorry."

Xander pulled out a syringe and began to fill it from a bottle. Winters shuddered. But Xander reassured him by placing a hand gentle on Wintersí undamaged shoulder.

"Donít worry, itís a strong painkiller. Thisíll help you."

"UhÖ it wasnít that that worried me. IÖI just canít stand needles."

"Oh!" said Xander, realising. "Tell you what, Iíll give you a count and on "3", Iíll give you the shot. OK?"

But Xander knew that giving a countdown only made things worse. It only caused the patient to tense up. Best do it quickly and unexpected. And from behind. He knew that he could always apologise and explain why he did it. He waited for Winters to calm down briefly and then he swung in towards the armÖ!

Brian sat in an upstairs room. He was watching the area with a sniperís rifle. A laptop lay open near him with a display of all the traps set by Jim and Jimmy. He turned the brightness down so that the light from the screen wouldnít illuminate him.

Come on, you scum; Iím waiting to pick you off.

There was a scream from downstairs and Brian recognised the yell from the prisoner. Xander was too compassionate. One quick yank and the knife would be out and to hell with the consequences. Or better still, push the thing in furtherÖ!

He stopped. That kind of thinking wasnít going to help. Right now, those prisoners were the hunters and SG-999 were the hunted and unless they turned things about, this was going to end as a bloodbath on both sides.

Mason and Conner slowly made their way back to the house. It had been some time and it was quiet. Too quiet, in fact, and it worried Conner. As for Mason, well, he was just a plain psycho.

He looked towards the house, still hidden by the vegetation. They were so close.

"OK, what do you think?" he asked Mason, already knowing what the madman was going to say.

Mason simply growled.

"I told you, whatever happens to them wonít be my fault."

"Is that a "yes" or a "no"?"

"Itís a "yes"!"

Conner sighed. There had been no movement or sound at all from the house. Usually, that was a good sign, but he had learned to be cautious over the years. He had just begun to stretch his legs to stand up when a bullet impacted into the tree trunk that he was hiding behind. And another, and another. Instinctively, the two men ducked down and cowered as the unseen assailant fired ridiculously close to them. They were well hidden, and yet the gunman was cutting it close with his aim.

"Who the hell is firing?" called Mason in something that was a cross between a yell and a whisper.

Conner had just managed to move his head to see who it was that was attacking when he heard a gentle whoosh followed by a whistle that sounded likeÖ

ÖLike a bomb, falling towards its target.

"Move!" he yelled and this time he didnít try to hide his call. Adrenalin was rushing through him.

He pushed Mason hard who moved surprisingly without protest or curse, and in time too when the missile exploded about a couple of yards from where they had been hiding. The charge was obviously not enough to kill them, but it would have been enough to temporarily disable them to be captured.

He spun and saw a smoke trail dissipating in the light breeze. It had come from one of the upstairs bedrooms. Another missile was fired, and Conner was keen enough to get out of the way. Once again, it fell short of its target and the two men knew that they werenít going to get near the cars or even the house for that matter.

Brian watched through the thermal sensor goggles as the two escapees ran for much deeper cover, tripping over one of Jimmy and Jimís tripwires. As they did so, an alarm on the laptop sounded.

"This is GC-7 to all units. Targets are heading for western sector. Good hunting."

He smiled. The tables were now turned. The hunters were now the hunted.

Mason and Conner managed to dive for deep enough cover, well out of the missileís range. Mason was clearly not impressed.

"What the hell was that all about, and what the hell was he firing?" There was still enough fire in his voice that signalled that his killing instinct was not put out by the attack.

Conner turned his head and peered back in the direction of the house. It didnít look like they were followed. But heíd seen tactics like those before.

"Do you know who weíre dealing with?" he snapped. Mason shook his head angrily.

"Special Forces." Conner answered.

Mason suddenly awoke from his rage. Suddenly, the situation took on a whole new perspective. When he had digested this in, his rage returned and he grabbed Conner by neck.

"You didnít say anything about Special Forces looking for us. All you said was that the local police force would be out and no one else." he snarled as his blood lust grew beyond a point that any sane person could control.

But Conner had seen this state before and he whipped Masonís hands away before they could do further damage to himself.

"Will you calm down? Now, listen to me!"

Mason partially relaxed, but he was still ready to spring if he didnít hear the right things.

"If those Special Forces were out looking for us, do you think that theyíd be taking it easy at that lodge, huh?"

Masonís eyes cleared, as if his brain had been a computer and someone had downloaded a program called "Logic" at that precise moment. It all made sense. He dropped his attack posture and inwardly Conner sighed deeply. He continued to explain his position.

"They werenít looking for us then, but theyíre looking for us now. I say we split up; make it harder for them. Two targets instead of one. There arenít that many of them and theyíll have to divide their resources. Weíll head towards the old lodge that we used to use. I recognised the area when we were passing through. Itís about a dozen miles or so that way. Weíll rendezvous there. OK?" He pointed in one direction.

Mason nodded. It sounded like a plan that could work. Conner patted the shoulder of his friend. They smiled at each other.

"Good luck." said Mason.

"You too." returned Conner.

The two men parted and went opposite directions. Mason had the remains of a smile on his face. But he didnít see Connerís face. It was grim. Heíd deliberately sent Mason in the opposite direction, simply because he knew that Mason was a liability on this escape and he wanted to be rid of that risk. Ever since he blew away that shopkeeper then and before on that robbery that sent them to prison in the first place. Mason would likely be caught and sent to Cairnwood, but himself? Heíd head as far as the border and cross it to safety, minus Winters who was either dead or back in custody and Mason who was just simply heading for a fall with that temperament of his. Either way, heíd be better off without them. He began to make large strides; after all, he had a plan.

CHAPTER FIVE

"THE HEAT OF BATTLE"

Catherine and Shirley listened to Brianís message over the radio earpieces. Shirley smirked in an evil fashion.

"Shall I be Mother?" she grinned.

Catherine shook her head. Whenever Shirley got like this, anything and everything did happen the next half hour, and sometimes even sooner than that.

The two women crouched and peered through their sets of thermal goggles. It was Catherine who spotted the target first. He was clearly nervous and shaken, but still wary enough to take things carefully enough.

"Whereís the other one?" asked Catherine.

Shirley spun with the goggles, checking every conceivable angle.

"They must have split up. I canít see them anywhere." she exclaimed.

Catherine realised what this meant and grabbed her radio.

"This is GC-2 to all units. Targets have split up. I repeat, targets have split up. One target in range, the other not in detectable range. He could be headed back or going in the opposite direction. Visual target heading north of northwest. GC-2 out."

Mason turned his head. Somehow, he knew of their presence. He aimed the shotgun and fired. The shot buried itself into the fallen tree trunk about a couple of inches away from Catherineís face.

"Jeez, that was close." she called, wiping splinters of wood and bark from her face.

"Shall we?" asked Shirley, her P90 already aimed and primed.

One nod and there was a barrage of lead headed Masonís way. Somehow, he managed to avoid being hit, though lord only knows how. He retaliated. Several more shots rang out. But this time, Catherine wasnít so lucky. A lucky shot flew under a small gap in the trunk and hit Catherine in the right leg. She screamed in pain, causing Shirley to spin around. Instinctively, Shirley fired a few more rounds to make it seem that their numbers hadnít been affected. It seemed to work a while and then Mason called out, "Gotcha, ya bitch."

Shirley came over and examined the leg. There was a lot of blood and the skin was broken, but Shirley couldnít immediately tell if the bullet had merely caused a flesh wound or had embedded itself into the flesh itself. Catherine was wincing a lot. Flesh wound or not, it hurt like hell.

"Can you move it?" asked Shirley.

Catherine managed to get her leg to drag a couple of inches. She nodded although the pain almost stopped her.

"This is GC-9. GC-2 has been wounded, though I canít say how bad as yet. Weíve engaged the target. Iím going after him. GC-9 out."

Before anyone else could respond, Shirley switched off her radio. By now, all she could see was red. And Shirley was at her most dangerous when she saw red. Quickly, she bandaged up Catherine and gave her a painkiller shot.

"Thatíll help a bit." she assured Catherine.

"Donít do anything stupid." gasped Catherine eventually.

Shirley stood up to full height.

"Iíll be back."

It wasnít a friendly clichť. This was cold hard determination, and woe betide anyone who stood in her way. She was out for blood and she was going to get it, hook or by crook.

She strode off. Iím coming for you she thought.

Nick heard Shirleyís message and tried to reach her several times. But Shirley being Shirley had turned the radio off. He cursed.

Bruítac stepped up beside him.

"Do you fear for Capt. Coyleís safety?" he asked in that flat monotone of his.

"Not only hers, but Catherine as well."

He thumbed his radio.

"This is GC-1 to GC-2, are you receiving?"

There was a hideously long pause when a weakened voice crackled over the radio.

"Yeah, what do you want?" it mocked weakly.

Nick sighed with relief.

"Whereís Shirley gone?"

"Donít know. But sheís going to finish him. She had that look on her face."

Nick groaned. He knew that when Shirley got that look on her face, she was in a murderous mode and nothing was going to stop her.

"Iím sending help up there for you. Set your radio on tracker so that we can home in on you. And donít worry, help is on its way."

Mason staggered a bit since the terrain wasnít ideal for a straight walk. It was bumpy, jagged and was a pain in the neck for travelling. He knew that he hit someone since he had heard her scream. If there was anyone else there, they were probably tied up trying to tend to their colleagues wounds or worse, her corpse. In either case, it didnít matter. They had stopped firing and that was the desired result. He had only travelled a few yards when a female voice called out.

"Hey, bozo, you looking for me?"

He spun round and saw Shirley standing in a clearing, her weapon pointed downwards. He was about to consider what to do next when Shirley told him.

"You think you can take me? So, come on, take me. One to one, unarmed combat, you and me. What do you say?"

He smiled wildly. This had to be a joke; one of those hidden camera stunts.

"You serious?!" he grinned.

But Shirley wasnít smiling. She was removing all her sidearm, her knife, P90 and tactical vest. She then spun slowly around with her arms horizontal to show that there were no hidden weapons.

Mason threw the shotgun to one side along with the pistol. He removed his jacket and did the same as her to show that he accepted her terms for combat. Once that she was satisfied, Shirley dropped into a martial art "ready" position. Mason drew up his fists for a knockdown fight.

This was going to be so easy. She had to be kidding.

"Okay, you dumb blonde army Barbie. Have a go. Maybe afterwards you and I can have a "party"." He was going to have fun with this one. After all, when they would find her body, she wouldnít be wearing a thing. When you "party", you donít wear clothes, do you? He grinned perversely at her. Shirley knew what he was thinking. She had seen it a million times before and it didnít impress her then and it sure as hell didnít impress her now. All that was on her mind was one thought; you are so going downÖ and hard!

Mason swung, but Shirley easily sidestepped the swing and as he followed through she swung her elbow at him catching him at the base of his neck. He turned in surprise. The pain in his neck, but she couldnít have inflicted it, could she? She didnít look as if she had the necessary build to hit like a mule.

He threw a fake punch. At that, she began to react, but he threw with his opposite hand. Shirley was still looking at the first hand, but she caught the second. Mason was stunned, but the momentary distraction was enough. She changed her grip to his wrist and twisted it a full 180į . Mason shrieked as it felt like his hand was about to part company from the rest of his body. It was then that his whole body mass shifted and he flipped head over heels. He landed flat on his back and had all the air knocked out of him. As he tried to regain the use of his lungs, Shirley stood menacingly over him, but just out of his reach. When she spoke, it was as if all the evil and malice in the world dripped from her lips.

"You hurt my friend. And I am going to hurt you. You scared my friends. And I am going to scare you. And if necessary, I am going to kill you. I assure I can do it and I wonít hesitate to do it. You can either surrender and be taken into custody or I can end up killing you here for no reason at all. Your choice."

Mason was stunned to say the least. But he wasnít going to stay down for long. He rolled back to his feet away from Shirley to give himself some distance. She faced him and then he noticed something he hadnít noticed when the fight started; Shirley wasnít blinking. And then he heard Connerís voice through his head; do you know who weíre dealing with? Special Forces.

He was fighting someone who was SF trained. Or was she? This wasnít the time to start doubting now. He allowed his rage to take hold of him and he charged at her with the blood lust of a wild creature. Shirley let rip with a couple of karate chops that only seemed to wind him but not before he slammed her with his fist. The force threw her a good few feet. But as soon as she landed she threw a back spring so that she landed on her feet. He charged at her, screaming like a banshee. A punch wasnít going to stop him this time so she returned to her original position on her back with her knees to her chin. It was then that Mason dived at her as if he was going to go for the kill. She had no doubt that that was his intention. When he was over her, she pushed out with her legs, which struck Mason in the torso and flung him backwards with such force that when he landed, he actually rolled several times backwards.

By now, he was working with only animal instincts and they were telling to ignore the deal and simply kill her by any and all means possible.

Blood oozed out of Shirleyís burst lip and into her mouth. She tasted the salt and it activated a preservation order along the lines of finish him or he will kill you. She was ready.

Mason, however had grabbed a large branch and began swinging it wildly and charging at her. She sidestepped him again, but he was ready. He turned the branch so that it began to turn towards her head. Shirley ducked and the weapon and it flew harmlessly overhead. By now Mason had travelled a distance. Shirley took advantage of the moment. This madness had to end now. She dived towards where she had dropped her knife. Quickly, she drew it from its sheaf and faced Mason.

He still had the branch and now was panting like an animal. She eyed the moment.

"I warn you, I will kill you. Put the branch down and you wonít be hurt."

But he never responded. He charged at her at full pelt with the branch held high above his head, screaming at the top of his lungs. To Shirley, everything took on a slow motion effect. His yell was nothing more than a dull moan and his speed was less than walking pace. When he finally closed on her, he swung the branch as if to break her skull. But just before it made contact, she stepped out of the way and behind him. She grabbed him by the head. He roared and began to move the branch so that it would club her from behind and over her skull. But he was too slow. Shirley slid the knife effortlessly across his exposed neck. The roar ceased due to the fact that the air from his lungs wasnít escaping through his mouth, but rather through a long gash in his throat. He tried to yell, but found that his vocal cords wouldnít respond. He dropped the branch and staggered. Shirley let him go. He turned and faced her as if he couldnít believe what had happened. The shock on his face said all; you killed me.

Then his eyes glazed over. The life began to ebb out. It got dark and his lungs were crying out for air that would never reach them. Then he sank to his knees and then keeled over.

For a long moment, there was silence. Shirley didnít move. She couldnít move. Partially through shock, some fear and mostly from the adrenalin that was still running through her. Her senses were coming to and the realisation of what she had done was beginning to exact a terrible price on her mental reserves. At that moment, Jim and Jimmy came bursting out of the foliage, their weapons drawn. They saw Masonís corpse and suddenly slowed their pace.

"You OK?" asked Jimmy, clasping his hands around her shoulders so that she wouldnít just fall to the ground. She shook her head as if the defensive program was disengaging from her. Jim called into his radio.

"This is GC-11 to GC-1. Weíve found Shirley alive and well. One bandit neutralised. Out."

Nickís voice came over. "Roger that. Head back to the house with our patients."

"CathÖ! Whereís Catherine?" stammered Shirley.

Jim smiled. "Sheís over there, and sheís fine. Just a nasty looking flesh wound. She was lucky. It could have been worse. Letís get you back to the house."

He slung her arm around his neck and allowed her to place her weight on his shoulders. It was good to be back among friends.

Nick sighed the deepest sigh possible. To lose both Shirley and Catherine would have been too much. Bruítac was just forward of Nickís position, studying some footprints.

"Procter, come quickly." he called. Nick snapped his head sharply. There was urgency in Bruítacís voice. He bounded over with the speed of an out of control juggernaut.

"What is it?" he asked.

"They split up, around here." He pointed to a group of prints, both of which were going in opposite directions. "The one to the left belongs to the one the Capt. Coyle has dispatched. But the other has headed off towards this direction." He pointed in the prints general direction.

Nick casually scoured the area and saw nothing immediate to indicate that Conner was around.

"This is GC-1 to all units. We still have a possible bandit in the area. Keep your guard up. He may be back. GC-1, out." He hoped that he was dead wrong about Conner being nearby. If the man had any sense, he would be a least a good couple of miles as far as the crow flies.

In fact, Nick was spot on about Conner; he was in the area and he was making his way back towards the house, but in a completely blind spot from Brianís viewpoint. That way, he wasnít going to get a rocket-propelled surprise in a hurry. He crept to one of the nearest of the 4x4 vans that were parked near what was generally a garage of sorts. He slipped up to the door and gently pulled on the handle. The door refused to move. Locked! If he broke the glass, the others would hear it and there was no way he could hotwire the van before he was discovered.

He then tried all the doors of the first van and then tried all the doors of the second. It was the same result. He thought about popping the hood and seeing if he could start it up then. He had only just opened the bonnet and was examining the engine when he heard a startled voice.

"Hey! What the hell do you think youíre doing?"

It was Steve and he had a pistol in his hand. Conner remembered his earlier encounter with Steve and the knives and all his instinct was to get out of there pretty sharpish. With his logic centre providing no argument for a case against, he dropped everything and ran as fast as his legs could carry. He made a good distance, but not good direction. He ran right into the gaze of Nick and Bruítac. He skidded to a haltÖliterally!

"Iím not going back, you hear me?" he screamed.

He sprinted in a vector well away from the house, Nick or Steve. But immediately, Nick realised where he was headed.

"Wait, stop." he yelled. But it was too late. He caught one of the tripwires that Jim and Jimmy had set up; specifically, the alcohol bottle. Connerís leg snagged the wire and the booby trap exploded, sending him airborne for a good dozen feet or so. As he flew, he could see the fireball, the house and the upcoming ground. The last thought he had was this is going to hurt.

The first thing he remembered was a splitting headache. When he eventually managed to force his eyes open and get them to focus, he found that he was back in the house, on his back, strapped down and surrounded by SG-999, all wielding weapons and all aimed at him. He groaned, at the headache and at the hopelessness of it all.

"Youíll be pleased that a prison transport is coming for you. Itíll be here in about half an hour." smiled Brian who was wearing his rounded spectacles with the holographic eyeballs on the lenses. Conner baulked somewhat at Brianís appearance.

He noticed that his head was bandage up and that his leg was in a splint.

"Youíve got a concussion and a possible fracture of your left femur." said Jimmy, checking that the bandages hadnít come undone

"Why did you decide to split up? asked Jim.

Conner snorted. "Mason was a head case. He was the reason that got us in prison in the first place. Always too quick on the trigger before he got the facts first. Oh, sure, he was a great guy to have in a situation. But I knew that if I stuck with him, Iíd be in a box. Better him than me. He was a liability and everyone knew it. But in a strange way, he was also the asset that everyone needed. As for Winters, well he was the guy who planned the robbery and if Mason hadnít screwed upÖ well, I guess you know the rest. Nice guy, but sometimes too nice. I was going to dump him. People like him make me sick. Canít make it in the real world. Thatís why he joined up with us, Ďcause he figured weíd look after him like bodyguards, like. Hiding behind us, like a mamaís boy."

"Is it like that then?" came a voice he recognised.

He scanned the room to find the source. The group parted to let the voice through who sounded disgusted at what he heard.

Winters! He was alive!

And he had heard every word that Conner had said.

Winters staggered up to the bed where Conner lay with the help of Xander who was making sure that he didnít fall down. His arm was still bandaged and it was obvious that he was weak from whatever painkiller that he had been given.

"So, you were going to dump us? Well, for your information, Masonís dead, so you donít have to worry about him "being a liability". But Iím still here. And I heard you. Weíre still going to Cairnwood, but hereís a piece of information. I know some of the inmates at Cairnwood and youíd better hope that those injuries keep you in the hospital indefinitely. They all stick together and they donít like people who dump others, just because it suits them. So you can rot in hell and one final message; get well soon. Weíll be waiting."

He snarled at the man who was his former friend and the he nodded to Xander to take him back to where he had been. Xander nodded and assisted him to leave.

Connerís eyes were wide open like saucers. He was clearly stunned. He called out in desperation.

"IÖI didnít know. I thought that you were dead."

"You hoped that I was dead so that you wouldnít need to come back. Makes no difference."

Winters left the room, leaving a stunned Conner in a room of Special Forces troops. His world had now become more difficult.

EPILOGUE

It was several weeks before SG-999 returned to the SGC at Cheyenne Mountain. Nick was headed down the corridor when he was joined by OíNeill headed in the same direction.

"So, how was the vacation?"

Nick paused a moment. "It wasÖ interesting."

"Iíll say. The whole base knows about what happened. Very nice." he grinned.

"How the hell did the whole base find out? I never told anyone." stammered Nick.

"You know how it is in a close military base. One whiff and suddenly, its front page stuff."

Nick sighed.

"Oh, by the way, how much do we owe for the damage?"

OíNeill looked surprised. "Damage?"

"Yeah, we did embed a bread knife quite deeply in the kitchen. And the crater in the back yard."

OíNeill started to laugh out loud. Nick frowned. OK, what was the joke because it obviously went over my head? Seeing that Nick didnít get it, OíNeill came clean.

"My cousin has that lodge because he has the reputation for being a wild party man. And it helps if you can find a place where there arenít neighbours thatíll complain. Or even better, no neighbours. Iíve seen that place looking as if a demolition squad has visited it.

Nick breathed a sigh of relief. At that moment, Hammond came strolling towards them.

"Col. Procter, howís everybody?" he asked.

"Well, John is due to be released in a few days and to be placed on light duties and Dr. Fraiser says that Catherine will be back on duty tomorrow. Rest of the team is fine, sir."

Hammond nodded. "Thatís good. Just one more thing."

"Yes, sir."

"I know that you helped out the local authorities in this instance, but next time, try to have a normal, quiet holiday like the rest of us."

"Yes, sir."

Hammond grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat. "Security briefing is tomorrow morning at 0930. See you then."

Hammond continued on his way, and it wasnít until he was out of sight that Nick then suddenly began to look very worried, and OíNeill caught the reaction instantly.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked quizzically.

"Itís just that Iíve already planned next years holiday and I donít think that the general will approve the travel plans."

"Why?" asked OíNeill suspiciously. "Where were you planning on going?"

Nick gave it a momentís pause and then answered.

"Ibiza."

And with that he headed down the corridor, leaving OíNeill alone.

When he was certain that he was out of earshot, OíNeill spoke to no one in particular.

"Go in peace, my son."

And with a shrug of his shoulders, continued on his way through the SGC.

THE END