Chapter Eleven Summary: As they search each room, they become closer to despair, as they find nothing. Teal'c finds the escape tunnels. They expect this reality’s Teal'c to turn up at any time…which he does. They must escape, but Sam refuses to leave quite yet. She’s found something. “Italics” – Symbiote-Host Communication
Teal’c had been as good as his word. As they prowled through the Palace rooms, inspecting the art and artifacts, none of the servants bothered them. In fact, they appeared to avoid the areas of the Palace that the team members were in, except when they stumbled on them by accident. When they did happen upon them, they made as hasty a retreat as possible, which was working out well. Martouf snorted in Lantash’s head. “What did you expect them to do, after the show you put on for them the other day? We are lucky Samantha is still speaking to us.”
Lantash chuckled, in response. “I am aware, Martouf, but she agreed that it was an excellent ploy, and, as you know, we were not the only ones to use it. It was pure chance that the servant entered the room, just as Samantha leaned over the back of the divan, and it looked as if we were mounting her from behind. I do not think that I have ever seen her cheeks so bright a pink.” He sent a wicked image to Martouf. “It is too bad that we do not have time for dalliance; there are many places here that are perfect for such interludes.”
“Very true, Lantash, but we do not, as we are all aware. And, as for the incident, I believe that it helped to keep the staff even further away from us than before, as we go about our search. The young man held his composure well, but then, I am quite sure that he saw much worse during his time with Ra. In fact, I believe he backed out so quickly because you stared at him, as if you were interested in him, Lantash. He was probably afraid that he would be pulled into sexual service for you, when you were done with your lo’tar.” Lantash laughed again, neither admitting nor denying Martouf’s accusation, and still remembering the appalled look on Samantha’s face, as she realized what the young man assumed they were doing. Of course, Lantash’s own actions had helped to convince the young man that he was correct in his suppositions. There was no doubt that he had no inclination to be used as Ra had used him.
“I have wondered, since then, if it was the same servant that caught Malek and Kathryn in what appeared to be, but in reality was not, a compromising situation. Yesterday, while you were sleeping, I heard Kathryn talking to Samantha about it. She, too, tried to rectify the image that they were projecting, when they were disturbed, and Malek had to restrain her and force her to remain in place, as he talked to whichever servant it was. She was—unhappy—about the incident, but understood, after Malek explained his reasoning. I believe he had to promise a few things, before she forgave him, though; concessions much as those Samantha gained from us. Tau’ri women, I am told, and now have proof of, know how to “lead a horse to water and make him drink”. I think that is what Jacob told me, after a few beers one night.”
Lantash smiled at him. “You are only now finding this out, Martouf? As far as the servants go, from what I can tell, they have begun to avoid us even more, as you have said, which is exactly what we want.”
Suddenly, Lantash sighed, as his thoughts went back to the project at hand. Two days. They had been searching for two days, taking only what time they absolutely had to for eating, and sleep was barely more than glorified naps. Lantash sighed and rubbed his face. He was tired. They were all tired.
“We will find her, Lantash. Hopefully, we will have two more days. We can only hope that this Teal’c does not come early.”
“I know, Martouf, and I am not giving up hope. She is here somewhere. She must be,” he said briskly. “Becoming discouraged will get us nowhere and accomplish nothing. I believe that we are ready to start in the rooms on the other side of the Palace, are we not?”
“Yes. Samantha, Anise, and Jorlin are already there. Some are finishing up on the rooms at the end of this hall. Malek, Kathryn, and several of the Tau’ri are finishing up the rooms on the second level.”
Lantash conveyed his understanding to Martouf,“I think that we should catch up with Samantha, then. Several of the rooms that Ra used as antechambers, for those who wished to speak to him, are on that side of the Palace, and we have finished with the antechambers on this side. I am glad the third floor was nothing but servants’ quarters. I suppose that, as a last resort, we could look through them, but we all feel fairly confident that he would not have put her there.”
“I agree with all of your observations, and I believe that we have looked this room over as thoroughly as we have the others.” Martouf now was the one to sigh. “We should go join the others. There is nothing here.”
“I agree, Martouf. Let us go.”
Selmak and Teal’c finished another section of the former System Lord’s private suite. It contained several rooms, all large, all gaudily decorated, and full of works of art, as well as furniture. It had been decided that the two of them would search those rooms during the hours in which Teal’c stayed near the System Lord, as he used the sarcophagus. The oddity had been accepted as simply another idiosyncrasy of the Lord in question.
“So, what do you think, Teal’c? We have gone over these rooms in minute detail. We only have two more of his personal chambers to check. I hope that he did not put her in a wall, a statue, or the floor. If so, there may be no way to find her. Although we have been checking for hollow-sounding places as we go, there are still areas that we cannot reach without difficulty. For all we know, there could be compartments even in the ceiling. If she is in stasis as we believe, then her energy signal will be faint at best and non-existent at worst,” Selmak spoke softly, so as not to be overheard.
“I do not believe that would be the case, My Lord, but you need have no fear, for as always, I will see to it that no one enters the rooms, while you are in the sarcophagus.” Teal’c responded loudly, as if answering an inquiry of the Lord that he was guarding. In a quieter tone, he continued, “I do not believe she would be in places such as those. The poem definitely states that she is in clear sight. We have either missed her, which I doubt, or she is still in one of the rooms that we have not yet searched. Our system of a primary and detailed sweep of the rooms, followed by another person rechecking them, increases the chance that we will not overlook her. Adams is being as thorough as we are, as she follows us through the rooms. Between the three of us, I do not think that we would have missed her. And with so many people looking using this method, I believe that the chance of us not finding her would be quite small. If she is here, we will find her, Selmak.”
Selmak nodded and sighed. “Stephanie is doing a very thorough second search, and I agree that there is very little chance we have missed her. She is not in the rooms that we have checked.”
“Discouragement is setting in, though, and I cannot blame them. We have found nothing that would match the clues that we think were in the poem.” He shook his head before going on to say, “I think we will have one day more, at best. I expect this reality’s Teal’c to show up soon. I do not believe, any more than the rest of you, that he will take the full seven days before he arrives, if for no other reason than to catch them off guard. Four days of the seven are almost gone. It would not surprise me if he came as early as tomorrow.”
Teal’c nodded his agreement, but added, “I agree, but we will hope that he does not. It would be quite…inconvenient.”
Selmak snorted, shook his head at Teal’c’s understatement, and turned back to the wall.
After several minutes of silent searching, he sent a look at Teal’c. “Teal’c, have you had any side affects in this universe yet? We have been in this reality for four days, and Sam said with the other incident that it took only forty-eight hours.”
“No, I have not. I am beginning to believe Major Carter’s theory that the closer we are to one another, the faster it will occur. Until Teal’c arrives here, I should not have a great deal of trouble, unless we are here for many more days.”
Selmak looked at him closely and nodded. He did not think Teal’c was lying to him. “Simply be sure that you let us know, if you begin to feel anything at all different. We can whisk you to the gate and out of this reality in very little time.”
“I will do so, Selmak, I assure you. I will not jeopardize this mission by keeping anything about my health from you.”
Selmak nodded his acceptance of his statements, and they quietly carried on in their search. They really could not take a chance that he would be overheard, when he was supposedly in the sarcophagus.
Selmak found his mind wandering, as he methodically combed the room looking for Egeria. As they had all too often in the last few days, they wandered to his ‘lo’tar’. Because Capt. Adams would be following them and double-checking their search of the rooms, it had been decided to pass her off as Selmak’s concubine. To that end, it had been necessary that at least one of the house servants see him being intimate with her. They had carefully staged a scene when the servant walked in. Selmak was still shocked by his – and Jacob’s – reactions.
While Selmak had known that she was an attractive woman, he had not expected his and Jacob’s reaction to be so instant and powerful. He had finished the scene feeling as if he had been broadsided. Since then, they had started to know one another on a more intimate level. Jacob was bemoaning the fact that she was quickly becoming more important to them. Although he had known they were attracted to her, they never expected these kinds of feelings to develop.
They were much stronger than they should be and were definitely more intense than any that they had felt for any of their Tok’Ra partners. Luckily, these types of liaisons were mutual relationships that were not emotional, but were simply for physical release. Their present lover would not be offended or hurt by them, if they began another relationship and it certainly looked like they might be getting into one. Selmak smirked at Jacob, after reading some of his thoughts. “She is a very nice armful, Jacob, but she is also an interesting person. It is her other attributes, as much as her body, that affects us. I am glad we are both attracted to her. We will simply wait to see where it leads.”
“I know, Sel. It just happened so fast. I didn’t expect it.” He grinned at Selmak, adding,“but I think I’m glad that it did.”
Selmak smiled back. “So am I, Jacob.” Teal’c checked to be sure that there was still no one about. After his warning to the servants of the house, he felt sure that none would tarry long in this area of the Palace, but he preferred to be sure. He walked back to Selmak and lowered his voice to little above a whisper.
“Selmak, I believe that, if there are escape tunnels here, then one of the access points should be in these chambers. I believe that I should begin our search for them, as you finish searching the remainder of these rooms for Egeria. If we do not find her in one of the Palace rooms, the only place left to look will be in the tunnels. We should know where they are at any rate, for we may be able to search them, after we supposedly leave here. Some of us could go to the Tel’tak and take it to the gate, while the rest of us started to search from this end. I feel confident that once I find the access points on this end, it will take very little effort to find the exit on the other end.”
Selmak frowned, for a moment, as he gave Teal’c’s proposition consideration. He had a valid point and, if they were surprised by this reality’s Teal’c, then it might be possible for them to use it to escape, if they had to. He nodded to the other man. “I think that is definitely something into which we should look. Do you want anyone else to help in the search?”
“I do not believe that will be necessary, Selmak. I have seen Palaces of Ra’s from our reality, and I believe that I will know what I am seeing, once I begin to search for it. Had I been thinking, as I should have been, I would have been searching for the access points, as well as for her. Since I did not, I must now retrace my steps.”
“Well, the other two rooms are not all that large, Teal’c. I think that I can handle them. We will go back over them again later this evening or tomorrow, for the second sweep, if we have to.”
“If you feel that is best, then I will begin now. I will probably be late for our evening meal, but hopefully, I will have some information, when I do arrive,” Teal’c inclined his head slightly toward Selmak and quietly left the room.
Sighing, Selmak and Jacob returned to studying the room in minute detail.
Malek sighed as he and Kathryn finished another room. There were still several more to go through. They had to find their queen soon, or the opportunity could be lost forever. He felt Kathryn’s small warm hand begin to rub his back, as he stood thinking.
“We will find her, Malek. We will find her, even if we have to kill everyone here, including the other Teal’c and his group when they arrive, so that we can continue searching. Don’t get discouraged, love. Please.”
Malek smiled and patted her hand when it finally stopped stroking him and came to rest on his arm. “You are correct. We will find her. We cannot let this chance pass us by, and we will not.” Leaning over, he kissed her softly. “Shall we head to the next room in our search area?”
“Yes, I think we should,” she agreed. “We really have no idea how long we have left to search. Knowing that the other Teal’c is due to arrive at any time, it means we must continue with as much speed as we can to check each room. It’s taking a long time, but at least we can be fairly sure we haven’t missed something.”
“I agree. I know we will find her, love, it is simply so frustrating.” Malek stopped talking and looked closely at Kathryn’s face. “You are not sleeping well. Am I not giving you enough to relax you before you take your brief sleep?”
Kathryn blushed his favorite color of pink, as she looked at the floor. It only took her a few moments to collect herself, and answer him. “I guess you’ll just have to try harder,” she replied, as she sent him a challenging look. “Or maybe you just don’t have what it takes,” she continued sadly, shaking her head mournfully.
“If you are not careful, my mate, I will turn you over my knee, paddle you until you beg for mercy, and then make love to you, until you cannot remain awake another moment. Or, if you continue to taunt me, perhaps I will have you give me pleasure here, where we might be walked in upon, as we were the other day, only this time it would be for real. Is that what you wish, love?”
Kathryn gasped, and then turned a darker shade of rose. She was well aware that he would do neither of those things, if she protested, but just the thought brought the color rushing to her cheeks. “No. No, I do not want that to happen again.” She looked up at him, as the incident he spoke of passed through her mind. She had never been so embarrassed in her entire life. “Once was quite enough, Malek, I assure you.”
“Oh, I believe you, Kathryn, but as a threat it comes in handy.” He grinned down into her face, as it flamed with still more color. “You are my lo’tar and must do as you are told, you know.” He was laughing at her, she knew, in response to her attitude, but if that was what it took to chase away the shadows in his eyes, the depression of the last two days, and make him feel less bleak about their chances for success, then it was worth every bit of color in her cheeks. It was a small price to pay to help him relax for a few minutes.
“Of course, Oh, Great One. I am yours to do with as pleases you. But I think, my ‘Lord and Master’, that we should be moving on to the next room. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it will be very much longer before the other Teal’c arrives, and we have to find Egeria, before that happens.”
Malek sighed. “Yes, we do. We cannot give in to growing despair. Come, we will go into the next room, and see if, perhaps, it will be the final room in our search.”
Kathryn nodded, and linking her arm in his, she walked with him out the door. They would find her. There was no other option.
Sam walked around the room that had been used as a reception area. There were several of them, and they were very large, with a great deal of area to cover. There were nooks and crannies, sculptures and paintings, gilding, and velvets, opulence in abundance. But no tapestries with purple skies and white capped water. No mothers and children. No Egeria, at least, not that they could find. Jorlin and Anise were following her, each of them looking over the area she had already searched, so as to be sure that nothing was overlooked. Lantash and Martouf would also add their abilities to the search on this side of the palace. She was ready to move on to the next room. There was one more room after it that was immense. The largest one was nearest the grand entrance hall. It was the largest of the antechambers, so she decided to wait until tomorrow to start on the two of them. It would take quite some time to search them both.
They needed to stop for a meal, compare notes, and try to get some sleep, at least, for a few hours. While they could not afford to become exhausted and miss anything, neither could they waste too much time sleeping. They would not overlook her. That would not happen. This was too important to all of them. They might have two days left. Most of them doubted it. Every day they lingered brought the arrival of this reality’s Teal’c closer, and the possibility of their own Teal’c’s temporal distortion became more likely.
Shaking her head, she checked the time, and sighed. It really was late, later than usual, actually, and they needed to get the evening meal prepared. She turned away from the door to the next room, without really getting started on it, and went to look for Anise and Jorlin.
“Anise, I’m going to go and start the evening meal. It’s later than usual, so I don’t want to start the next room and not be able to finish it in one go. I think that I’ll go find Kathryn and Daniel, and get started. By the time that you two finish in here, it should be time to stop for the night, or at least for a few hours.”
Anise nodded her understanding. “That is acceptable and sensible, Samantha. We will simply finish this room, and then find Lantash to let him know where we stopped. We will join you later. Thank you.”
“See you later, then.” Sam turned and headed toward the area of the Palace that she knew Malek and Kathryn were working in. Before long, they would have searched the entire building, if their luck held and the other Teal’c didn’t put in an untimely appearance.
Sam reached behind her and rubbed the back of her neck. She was tired, but no matter how tired any of them got, they didn’t seem to be able to sleep. At least, not long or well. What sleep they got was disturbed and light. They were all waking early in the mornings and often during the nights. Distressing dreams were not unusual, either.
Entering the room where she thought that she heard the murmur of voices, she saw both Kathryn and Malek slowly and minutely examining the room and everything in it. Each and every piece of sculpture, painting, piece of furniture, wall, mantel, and floor, in fact, everything in the room was being completely examined. Both of them were lost in what they were doing, so she knocked lightly on the doorframe, hoping not to startle them, and to let Kathryn and Malek know that there was a house servant near.
Kathryn jumped slightly before realizing that it was Sam. She smiled slightly and asked, very softly, “Is it time to fix the evening meal? I believe that My Lord is about through with the artifacts in this room, but he is not completely finished, yet.”
She turned and walked to Malek. Crossing her arms in front of her and bowing her head, she knelt and addressed him. “If it pleases you, my Lord, I will depart to prepare your evening repast.” She remained, not moving, until the System Lord in front of her finished his perusal of the painting that he had been studying.
Finally finishing, he frowned down at her and clicked his fingers. “Go. Hopefully, you will prepare this night’s repast with more care. I would hate to have to discipline you again this night.” As the words left his mouth, he turned from her, as if she was of no consequence.
Sam had stepped back into the hall and moved out of his sight, as if she did not wish to come to his attention. Kathryn joined her, and they walked swiftly down the hall in the wake of the house servant who had realized that he had stumbled onto one of the lords and did not wish to come to his attention.
The two women veered off to go to their own apartments, as he hurried on towards the house servants’ part of the Palace. Sam and Kathryn choked back their laughs, until they were in their room. He had looked appalled, when he realized he had almost entered a room and come face to face with one of the visiting Lords. They were really trying to stay away from them. Teal’c had very strongly impressed them with the need to leave them alone, as much as possible, and there was no doubt that the poor man could not get away fast enough.
The group gathered and compared notes over the evening meal. Teal’c hadn’t returned by the time they finished, so the remainder of the meal was put in a warming tray to be kept hot for him.
The general report was more of the same. No hint of Egeria had been found. The hints enclosed in the messages had not been found.
“I am beginning to wonder if we made a mistake about the messages being a code to tell us where she is. I hope that we are not looking for the wrong things.” Lantash looked deeply troubled, as he gazed into the fire in the fireplace.
Daniel and several others shook their heads in immediate denial, and Daniel spoke up, saying, “No, we aren’t on the wrong track, Lantash, we just haven’t found what we’re looking for. The messages make no sense, unless they were trying to tell us something. That’s all that they can be. What we came up with at least makes sense, and you said that he’s used that method to send hints and locations to you at other times. He would have known that, if he wasn’t here to tell us where she was, we would be looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack without some guidance. No. No, I really think we’re interpreting the messages correctly.”
“I think so, too, Lantash. That is the only reason I can see for sending such messages. We must continue our search in the morning. We have almost finished the Palace. There are only a few rooms left. We will find her tomorrow. If we do not, then we will think about the possibility that we are wrong in our interpretation. Not before.” Malek’s voice was firm in his belief. “We shouldn’t discard this theory, until we have finished it.”
“I agree with Malek, Lantash. We have to use the same method on all the rooms, before we start again. We will find her. It is simply taking a little longer than we had hoped it would, that is all,” Selmak assured him.
“I am sure that you are all correct. I should not let myself become despairing. After everything that has happened, I should be quite optimistic. After all, the circumstances so far have been beyond the scope of probabilities, so I must believe that we are meant to rescue her.”
“I think that you’re right, Lantash. As I’ve commented before, the odds of you falling through the mirror at all, into a reality that was non-hostile, and to be found by your own people, in and of itself, was astronomical. I think we can figure that the odds of us succeeding are pretty slim. Which is why we will succeed. Our odds of succeeding at this have got to be better than your odds of surviving and being found were. We’ll find her.” Sam grinned at him. “After all, you’ve had rotten odds all along, and look where it’s gotten you. You’re bound to succeed at these lousy odds!”
Lantash laughed, as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her lightly. “You are, as usual, correct, my Samantha. I must believe that we will find her. Tomorrow.”
“We should be able to finish the house tomorrow, shouldn’t we?” Kathryn asked, as she began to clear away the remains of the meal. Taking their cue from her, everyone began to gather and put things away, so that they could finish the chore, and make plans for the next day.
“I believe so. I am hoping that Teal’c will have something for us. If he finds Ra’s escape routes, then we will be able to search them, if we do not find her in the Palace. It will also be a way for us to get out, if this reality’s Teal’c shows up, before we find her and take our leave,” As Selmak finished his statement, he turned toward the slight sound in the doorway.
“Your hope has been fulfilled, My Lord. I believe that I have found five access points, as well as the exits. There are two of them, both near the Chaappa’ai.” Teal’c excused himself to clean up, before eating, but returned quickly, just as they were putting his meal on the table.
Sitting down, he began to eat and give his information. “There is one access point outside the third antechamber behind the grand entrance hall. Do you have the map we have drawn of the Palace, Daniel Jackson? If so, I will place the access points on the map. I believe that all of us should memorize where they are. Should this reality’s Teal’c show up, we may need to escape quickly, and we will need to know the closest access point to us at any given moment.”
“I agree, Teal’c. I’ll go get the map. Be right back.”
“I would also suggest that we put most of our belongings into the tunnels, in the main chamber, before we retire tonight, including anything that is on the Tel’tak. Should we have to leave suddenly, we will not have time to return to our rooms or the ship. If our things are already in the tunnels, we will not have to worry about it. I believe that you should also ring down the chests that you have, Lantash, just in case you can not return to the Tel’tak.”
Lantash nodded. “I believe you are correct. I only hope that we do not get trapped in the escape tunnel. If they know that we have gone that way, they could very well take their ship, or our Tel’tak, and reach the Chaappa’ai, before we can reach it through the tunnels.”
Teal’c nodded. “I have, as O’Neill would say, thought of a Plan B, in the event we become trapped in the tunnels. There are rings in the main chamber, which is quite far away from the Palace. It is even farther than our Tel’tak now sits. I believe that, if you move the Tel’tak over them, and then cloak it, we might also escape that way, if we are trapped in the tunnels.”
“That’s a good sound idea, Teal’c. Lantash, can you manage to slip out, move the Tel’tak, cloak it, and then hope that no one sees you leave it and re-enter the Palace? If they see you leave, but not return, they may think you left during the night.” Selmak stated, after thinking the plans over.
“I will do it later tonight, well after everyone is asleep. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there are very few servants awake here at night. There seem to be no guards outside at all. I will transport the belongings that we left on the ship using the rings, and then I will re-enter the palace by the egress point nearest our suite of rooms. I see no difficulty with this endeavor.”
Teal’c responded to Lantash, saying, “I have noticed the same lack of guards. There is probably little need for them. There are very few people here. From what I could find out, the village is very small, and the planet is so far out of the way that few stop here. There are a few armed guards inside at night, but if you happen upon one of them, you will have no trouble with them, as long as you simply ignore them, and do not appear as a threat,” Teal’c assured him, as he finished his meal and turned to the map, after his plate and utensils were removed.
Leaning over the map, Teal’c quickly drew in the access points of the escape tunnels. He drew a simple map of the tunnels and explained their layout, as well as the main chamber where the rings were located. He felt they should put their possessions there, for all of the tunnels converged at that point and then split again, depending on which outlet one wished to take.
When all of the members of the team had memorized the locations of the escape panels and how to access them and the ring room, the maps were once again folded and secreted away. The team members left for their respective rooms to gather their belongings. Several of them had been assigned to take everyone’s belongings to the ring room in the tunnels. Once delivered, they would rejoin the team and try to rest.
Lantash placed his arm around Samantha and pulled her closer to him, his hand resting on her hip. She felt so warm, and such a miracle to them. Her living, breathing beauty took his breath, as it sometimes did, when the wonder of the gift given to them coursed through him once again.
Tomorrow was several hours away, but they all needed to be ready and alert. Most of them felt that tomorrow could be their last day here before Teal’c arrived. Many felt he could arrive any time. They were working on borrowed time.
With the finding of the escape tunnels, the final plans were now set into place. When they arose from their sleep, no matter what hour, all trace of them would be removed from the chambers they occupied. They would have their weapons, ammunition, communications, and the clothing they stood in. Which meant the women would wear the most concealing clothing that they had…P-90’s did not hide well under Jeannie clothes…but they did in the full skirted gowns and cloaks, with the built in concealment pockets, as did zats, hand guns, and extra ammunition. When they entered an access point, it would appear as if they had never been there. Hopefully, they would disappear along with Egeria, leaving behind only some very confused servants and Jaffa.
He sighed. It was late enough to complete their next assignment. He turned to Samantha, as she handed him his cloak. “Yes, my mate, I promise that I will be careful. No one will see me return, although they may see me leave. If questions arise as to how I came to be here, we will no doubt come up with a feasible story.”
“Okay. I’ll see you shortly, then.”
“I will not awaken you, if you have fallen asleep, Samantha. You need your rest,” Lantash warned her. “No. It would do no good to argue. I will not disturb your sleep, when you need it so badly. Now go to sleep knowing that I will be joining you momentarily. I promise.”
Sam sighed. “I know that you’re right, so I’ll give in and go to sleep. I can barely stay awake, so I know that I’ll be asleep, when you get back. I’ll tell you good-night now. I love you both. Now, go so that you will return sooner rather than later.”
“Good-night, my love.”
The day was already half over, and Sam already felt completely worn out. She’d been so tired the night before that she thought she would fall asleep, as soon as her head touched the pillow. She hadn’t. Instead, she’d lain in the bed wide-awake, until she heard Lantash and Martouf enter the room. As soon as she knew that they were all right, the tension she hadn’t realized was there had left her shoulders, and she’d relaxed into the mattress. It was amazing. Even after such a short time of being together, she couldn’t sleep without him beside her. She’d turned to him, as he climbed into bed and told him what had happened. As soon as his arms went around her, she’d felt exhausted. They were content to hold each other and sleep.
It had been a comforting night, but a short one. It seemed that everyone woke up before sunrise with a sense of urgency. It was as if everyone could feel the end drawing nearer. But now was not the time to dwell on last night, or her love for Lantash and Martouf. Now was the time to find Egeria. Time was shorter than ever.
The room before this one had been medium sized, but it had been full of mirrors, paintings, urns, tapestries, statues, and nooks and crannies. It had taken her several hours just to check everything over carefully. Now, here she was, at eleven in the morning, and just starting on this immense antechamber. The door on the other side led directly to the grand entrance hall. It was partially open, so she walked over to it and pulled it almost all the way closed. She didn’t want the house servants wandering in while she was in here examining everything.
She hoped that Lantash returned soon to help with the first sweep of the room. Teal’c had called him to check out what he thought might be another access door to the tunnels. It was similar to the others, but something seemed different about it, and he was getting both his and Selmak’s opinion, before he tried to gain access to it. It was the only one he had found on this side of the Palace near the front rooms, and would be a much-needed find, if that was what it was.
As things stood now, if the other Teal’c arrived, anyone on this side of the Palace on the ground floor near the front, which would be Jorlin, Anise, Daniel, and herself, would be trapped here. Without access to the tunnel network, they would have to try to work their way through numerous rooms to the back of the Palace and hope that they could keep from being seen. If this was an access door, it would be a much closer point of entry, being only five rooms away. The only problem with it was that they would have to traverse a semi-open hallway for quite some distance, before entering another solid room.
Sam shook her head. She needed to concentrate on the job at hand, which was finding Egeria. Taking a deep breath, she turned from the door that gave entrance to the hall and began scanning the room. She groaned. There were several mirrors, at least three tapestries, a half dozen urns, statues, a waterfall, paintings, and sculptures of varying shapes, sizes, and, ah, subject matter. What the subject matter was, in some cases, was anybody’s guess.
Starting with the wall nearest the door, she arched and stretched her back, before she looked at the tapestry that hung on the wall. There was no mirror near it. In the tapestry itself, there was a house, some people, and children, but no water, and the sky was blue. There was no urn anywhere around it. Although they had all agreed that Egeria would be in plain sight, they also agreed that Ra might have concealed her, if he feared he would lose to Apophis. Therefore, Sam began the tedious work of checking the panels for any sign of empty spaces behind them or anything about the wall that did not look right. She found nothing, so moved on to the next wall.
From the corner, she came first to a large hand painted quarter-fold screen. It was a beautiful, gilded accessory for the room, and it stood, from bottom to top, over seven feet in height, and when opened, eight feet in length. For all that it looked delicate, it was very sturdily made, and it could not be seen through. It was perfect for its purpose, and one could bathe or change in perfect privacy. Sam caressed it as she walked by it, admiring it for the lovely piece that it was.
Next, she came to a painting. Nothing remotely matching their clues were to be found in the creatures cavorting on the canvass. Painstakingly checking the wall panels above, to the left, below, and to the right of the painting, Sam found nothing. She stood, after checking the baseboard area, stretched, and took several steps toward a fireplace before looking up and staring into a large mirror that hung above the fireplace. The fireplace had a large, wide mantel, upon which stood matching, medium sized urns on either end.
But that wasn’t what captured Sam’s attention and kept her gaze enthralled. Her entrancement was because of what was in the mirror. Reflected in the mirror was a tapestry. And the scene in the tapestry was of a mother and her children playing near a fishpond, in front of a house. In the far distance, you could see the sea and the white-capped waves. And above the tapestry, the ceiling of the room was reflected. It was purple. The urn was decorated with eyes, and a plaque on the base said “Egeria”. It was just as Malek and Lantash had feared. If they had not come for her, Apophis would have implanted her and tortured her forever. Thank the Goddess that they had found her before Apophis did.
She didn’t hear Lantash enter the room, nor did she hear the argument in the grand entrance hall, as Teal’c attempted to gain entrance to his Lord’s pleasure Palace. When Lantash touched her shoulder, she jumped.
Lantash’s whisper was low, but urgent, “Samantha, we must go. Did you not hear us trying to contact you? The others are on their way to the tunnels. Teal’c and his people have arrived. We must leave at once.”
“No, we can’t yet, Lantash, not until we get Egeria.”
“We have no more time, Samantha. We have failed. We must go now.” Lantash put his arm around her to push her in front of him, but Sam pulled away from him.
She shook her head, grabbed his arm, and using a whisper, as urgent and insistent as his had been, told him, “No, you don’t understand, Lantash. I mean, I’ve found Egeria, and we need to take her with us, now. Right now.”
Lantash looked at her blankly, for a moment. “Samantha. Are you saying that you know where Egeria is? Where, Samantha? Where is she?”
“Sh-sh-sh. Keep it down. Stick with the whispering. She’s in the urn on the mantel. The one with her name on it, as far as I know. He wouldn’t have put her somewhere else, would he? He wouldn’t have put her name on the urn, and then put her someplace else? I don’t know what the other one says.”
“All we can do is hope that he did not do something as perverse as putting her name on an urn and then putting her somewhere else. I would see no purpose in doing so. Come, I will get the urn. I assume it is a stasis chamber of some type.” Quickly processing the mantel and the scene upon it, he asked, “Can you make out what the other urn says?”
Nodding, Sam went over to it quickly, and said, “It has what appears to be a name, too. I think that it says Astaria. Does the name mean anything to you?”
“Yes, she was a great friend of Egeria’s. I am not sure what happened to her in our reality, but Selmak may know. We should take her, too. We will assume that she is dead in our reality. If she is not, we will have to bring her back to this one, and send her to Kheb.”
Sam nodded, and then asked, “Can you get the urn? Is it fastened down or something?”
“There. I got it. It was hooked down on the bottom with a – damn it. We may still have failed, Samantha, and it is my fault. I should have thought of this.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“The urn was set to break the seal, if it was taken down. A precaution against it being stolen. The seal on the stasis chamber is broken, and if we cannot get her to Anise or Jorlin fairly quickly, so that she can take one of their hosts, she will die.”
“Then you can’t get the other urn either?”
“I can, if I am more careful, now that I know what not to do.”
“Okay, you take care of that, and I’ll head for the escape tunnels. It sounds as if the arguing out there is over. They’re probably on their way to our rooms. They’ll probably search that floor first.”
Lantash nodded and headed for the other urn. “Now, while they are occupied, would be a good time to go. With their Teal’c looking for the intruders upstairs, and the servants sure that we are there also, they will take a little while. I will radio Selmak that you are on your way with Egeria, and that I will bring Astaria. I think everyone is waiting for us just inside the tunnels, or very near to an access point. You must leave at once, if Egeria is to survive, Samantha. I will be right behind you, I assure you.”
Receiving no answer to his comments, Lantash turned around. The open urn was on its side facing Samantha, and she was lying with her forehead touching its rim on the floor. Neither of them was moving.