They had spent the rest of the night huddled together in an old shack they had found. Most of the roof was missing, and parts of the walls were gone as well. The temperature had fallen to just above freezing, and a light drizzle had started just before dawn, making it difficult to keep the fire going.
With sunrise the temperature went up as well, and their spirits rose. They needed to find some way of getting money, so they could travel to Colorado Springs, and see what had happened to Stargate Command.
"Maybe they've moved it? The Stargate could be back in Egypt, for all we know!" Daniel said.
"It is still there. As I told you when we'd first arrived, I can sense it. True, it is near the limit of what I can sense, but the energy signature is there, Lantash insisted.
"Okay," O'Neill said, accepting the other man's statement. "So at least we know the Stargate is still there. That's something."
"What do we do when we get there?" Daniel asked. "If none of the people we know work there anymore, I mean."
"I don't believe every single person we knew has moved away from Colorado Springs! If nothing else, there's gotta be someone from one of the SG teams that still lives in Colorado Springs!" O'Neill insisted.
Sam looked thoughtful for a moment. "Actually, you may be right, sir. When I was logged into the central database at Stargate Command, I looked up some of the SG teams. I found a few people I think I remember, but none I really know. However, I wrote down the names of the SG-1 team that was created after we had been declared MIA. Since they all stopped working for the SGC about a year ago, I'm assuming we can trust them. If we're lucky, they - or any of the other team members - may still live in Colorado Springs."
"Okay, then! We'll check it out when we get there!" O'Neill said.
They had continued walking most of the day, passing only fields, and the occasional small patch of forest, or a tiny clutch of houses. By now, Sam's leg was better, and the pain was down to a dull ache. She had little problem keeping up with the others.
When evening approached, they spotted another small grouping of houses ahead.
"Seems like yet another village. Aren't there any cities out here?" O'Neill complained.
"Well, there's Peach Grove..." Daniel reminded him.
"Yeah, that's a day's walk back - and I wouldn't call it a 'city'... at least not much of a city. It had only a handful of stores, for Christ's sake!"
"However, it seems as if this village may have a place we can stay tonight," Martouf observed, pointing at a dark, obviously unoccupied house.
"Nice - let's take a look," Jacob decided.
The house had been empty for a long time. Many years, probably. The roof had large holes in it, and the glass in several of the windows were broken or missing. Still, the wind that had picked up outside was mostly absent in here, and the rain was reduced to a dripping here and there.
There was an old fireplace, and they managed to scavenge enough dry wood and other burnable material from around the house to build a decent fire. Several of the windows still had functioning shutters, and with those closed, it was an acceptable place to stay the night.
They heated most of the last of the food over the fire, and enjoyed a hot, fairly decent meal before wrapping themselves up in blankets and going to sleep.
Sam threw a glance at Martouf/Lantash, who were sitting a short distance away. She thought Martouf had control, but she was not always able to tell. The only light in the room was from the fire, but to Sam it looked as if Martouf was deep in thought, or perhaps in discussion with Lantash.
He looked sad, and Sam suspected he was thinking about the many Tok'ra that had been killed during the recent years. He was probably worried about his friends, and his entire people. She suddenly wished she could hug him to her, comfort him somehow.
That led her to thinking about being snuggled up to him. She wondered how it would feel to lie close to him, with her head on his chest, or perhaps with him pressed against her back, holding her. Memories came to her, from Jolinar, and she remembered how it had felt to be held. These thoughts immediately led to more erotic thoughts, and she quickly pushed those away. Now was not the time for that!
With a deep sigh, she forced herself to relax, and think of nothing in particular, and slowly she dozed off.
It had gotten colder during the night, and with the fire reduced to embers, it was no longer even remotely warm inside the house. They awoke just before dawn, when a strong wind caused one of the broken shutters to slam open.
After eating the last of the food they had stolen from the gas station a couple days before, the cold - and still hungry - group set out on their journey again. According to a sign they spotted, there would be another city 10 miles from where they were. Hopefully, it would be larger.
"It's Christmas Eve, and here we are - cold and hungry," O'Neill grumbled. A drop of rain hit him, shortly after followed by another, and then another. "And wet. How did we deserve this? We're supposed to be the good guys!"
"Hey, look! It's fruit trees, isn't it?" Daniel exclaimed, pointing towards a large number of trees standing in orderly lines.
"Yes, there are orange fruits on the trees," Lantash said, having a much better eyesight than Daniel.
"Oranges?" Daniel suggested.
"Possibly," Lantash offered. "The trees are, however, inside a fence. The owner will not appreciate us stealing the fruit."
"I bet he won't miss a few. Aren't the rest of you hungry?" Daniel asked.
"It's broad daylight, Daniel! I don't feel like having an angry farmer firing at us with his shotgun!" O'Neill exclaimed.
They walked in silence for some minutes, until the road passed the orchard.
"Oranges - and persimmons!" Daniel groaned, seeing the fruit close by. "I love persimmons!"
"O'Neill was correct in voicing his concern before, Daniel Jackson. There is in fact a sign proclaiming the dire consequences of trespassing," Teal'c said.
"It's Christmas Eve! I doubt the farmer is spending his time watching his trees! Jeez!" Daniel rolled his eyes.
"We do not know that he has not placed surveillance cameras. It would seem those are heavily used on your world," Lantash warned. "It would seem wise to wait for fruit which is not forbidden. Perhaps in one of the small forests we have passed from time to time, though I will admit I have not seen much there which is edible."
They walked a little further, until they got to the corner of the orchard. There one of the trees were standing just inside the fence.
"I'm just going to grab a few. There's no harm in that!" Daniel said in a low voice, stepping up on the bottom rail of the fence, and reaching for the fruit on the lowest branch. The others were all ahead of him, so no one noticed at first.
He could almost reach them, and crawled a little higher up. Just as he grabbed hold of the persimmon, he lost his balance and fell over the fence, crying out in surprise. He held on to the branch, but it was not sturdy enough, and broke with a loud crack.
"Daniel! Dammit!" O'Neill exclaimed, hurrying back.
Before Daniel had time to get up, or any of the others could help him, they heard someone shouting and saw a man running towards them from the other end of the orchard.
"Stop! What are you doing on my land?"
"Sorry, sir! We didn't mean to trespass," Daniel said, standing up.
The man stopped maybe ten feet from Daniel and the others, and looked suspiciously at them. "Are you claiming you accidentally crawled up on the fence and into the tree?"
"Um..." Daniel began, not sure what to say. He looked at the man that was probably the owner of the orchard. It was a man, maybe in his mid-sixties, average height, but strong build.
"We apologize, sir. Due to... unfortunate circumstances, we are finding ourselves without a place to stay, nor any means to pay for food," Lantash explained, using Martouf's voice.
"He means we're hungry, sir," O'Neill said.
"Yeah, I got that." The man frowned, taking another look at the group, all wearing BDUs. "Did you lot just return from Afghanistan?"
"Eh..." O'Neill briefly considered saying yes, but since he did not know anything about a war in Afghanistan, and since the man that had caught them might even know people who had been there, O'Neill decided against it. "No... our war... is not in the books, you know?"
The man nodded. "Yes, I do know. I have friends who were sent on secret missions like that. Wars that never officially happened." He sighed. "I was in Vietnam in 1968 - I know how it is to come back to nothing." He considered it for a moment. "Listen, it's Christmas Eve. Why don't you come with me - I'll get you something to eat, and if you want, you can at least sleep in the barn tonight. I know it's cold, but I have some blankets you can borrow, and it's better than being outside, at least. What do you say?"
O'Neill glanced to Jacob, who shrugged. Making a decision, O'Neill turned back to the man. "We'd like that. Thanks."
"Great. I'm Paul O'Reilly."
"Colonel Jack O'Neill. These are General Jacob Carter, Major Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, and Martouf... Lantash."
O'Reilly nodded. "A General. Impressive." He shook his head. "I'm not going to ask what it was you were sent to do on that mission of yours. "Come - it's starting to rain again."
The farmer's wife had insisted on them borrowing clean clothing, and they had also been given permission to use a spare bathroom to shower and clean up.
Teal'c had even borrowed a knit cap, which covered his forehead tattoo much better than the baseball cap had, meaning he did not have to worry about keeping it in place all the time. Neither O'Reilly, nor his wife, had asked any questions as to why he wore it all the time.
After cleaning up a little, and eating warm and delicious food, they were all feeling much better.
"Thank you, sir - and you, ma'am," O'Neill said, smiling at O'Reilly and his wife, Jane. "The food was really good."
"You're very welcome." Jane smiled at him.
"Yes, it was really nice of you to invite us in," Sam added.
"It's no problem - as I said earlier, I know how it is to have returned from a war, and find yourself with no place to stay, and no way to pay for even the most basic of necessities," O'Reilly said.
"I'm sorry we don't have any better place for you than the barn, but we'll have guests for Christmas, arriving this evening." Jane looked very apologetic. "Our son's girlfriend and their kid, my sister and her wife, and Paul's brother and wife. There'll be no free rooms."
"The barn is fine, ma'am. We're very grateful to you for letting us stay there," Jacob assured her.
"I was thinking... you guys aren't in any hurry to get anywhere, are you?" O'Reilly asked.
Jacob shook his head. "No, not particularly."
"Then I have a proposal. I have a very large orchard, and lots of oranges and persimmons that needs picking, but I couldn't find anyone that would work around Christmas, and my son is in Afghanistan, so it's just me and the wife. Would you be interested in the work? I can't pay a whole lot, but you'd get at least minimum wage - and food and shelter. I'm guessing it'll take about a week for you guys, maybe a little longer. What do you say?"
They looked at each other, then all nodded.
"That's a fine offer, sir. We'll be happy to accept," O'Neill told him.
"Good, then that's settled!"