[ Chapter 1: Escape | Chapter 2: Stranded | Chapter 3: Where are we? | Chapter 4: Discoveries | Chapter 5: Finding Shelter | Chapter 6: Daily Life | Chapter 7: Strange Discoveries | Chapter 8: An Unpleasant Surprise | Chapter 9: Developments | Chapter 10: An Attack With Long-lasting Consequences | Chapter 11: Myth and Reality | Chapter 12: Breaking and Entering | Chapter 13: Rest and Results | Chapter 14: A Meeting | Chapter 15: Captives | Chapter 16: Revelations | Chapter 17: Some Explanations - and an Alliance | Chapter 18: Some Information | Chapter 19: A Dangerous Mission | Chapter 20: Prisoners | Chapter 21: A Fight - and an Escape | Chapter 22: Guests | Chapter 23: A Motel | Chapter 24: Next Day - and Travel | Chapter 25: A Pleasant Night, Followed by an Unpleasant Morning | Chapter 26: Meeting Ba'al | Chapter 27: Escape - and a Confrontation | Chapter 28: A Surprising Turn of Events | Chapter 29: Some Measure of Success ]

The trucks were large enough to seat three people at the front, so O'Neill, Teal'c, and O'Reilly entered one of them, and Sam and Martouf/Lantash took the other.

"You must fasten the seat belt before we drive," Sam told Martouf/Lantash.

"Seat belt?"

"Like this." Sam touched her own belt. "It's to stop you from flying through the windshield - the front window of the truck - if we're in an accident or otherwise have to brake really hard."

"Very sensible, if that is a likely hazard." Martouf frowned. "This truck sounds very dangerous. How likely is it to crash?" He searched around for the seat belt for a moment, then found it. "Okay." He pulled on it, and it lengthened. "Ah, I see."

"Relax. It happen very rarely - and in a place like this, at this time of night, there's probably very few other cars. We'll be just fine."

"All right." He nodded. "How did you fasten the belt?"

"There's a buckle you push the metal tongue into, until it clicks. It should be..."

"I see it. Thank you." Martouf located it, and buckled the belt after a few tries.

They heard a honking from the other truck.

"Okay. Let's get going then. Sounds like the Colonel is getting impatient." Sam started the truck, and they sped out on the road after the others.

"Careful!" Martouf exclaimed, grabbing hold of the car seat and clinging to it. "You are moving at an unsafe speed!"

Sam grinned. "As I said, relax. You'll be fine." She pressed down on the speeder and the small truck increased its velocity. "We don't want to get behind, do we?"

"I thought you told me this vehicle could not fly! Why then are you attempting to make it leave the ground?" Martouf complained, closing his eyes.

Lantash was yelling at him to open them again - so they could look death in the face when they crashed. Which seemed imminent.

This was going to be a long journey.

They had delivered the persimmons to O'Reilly's friend, and had just started on the way back. It was close to 5 AM, but still completely dark. The roads were deserted, except for themselves.

"What did you mean when you said you did not want anyone to be alone in a truck?" O'Neill asked.

"There have been... attacks. The area is not as safe as it has been," O'Reilly explained.

"Attacks? What do you mean?" O'Neill wondered.

O'Reilly sighed. "It started a couple years ago. I mean, the drug wars have been moving north for a while, but it usually didn't affect regular folks, at least not this far north. However, there's been robberies recently. Ambushes. Ordinary people, who haven't been involved in anything criminal are being mugged. Their cars stopped, and everything of value taken. People have sometimes been beaten up. There's even been kidnappings - and one or two murders."

"What?!" O'Neill looked at him with disbelief. "How could it have changed that much? I mean, we haven't been... out of the country for that long!"

O'Reilly shrugged. "It's probably gang related... even though there are conspiracy theories, of course."

"And what does those theories say?" O'Neill wondered.

"That it's all a deliberate scheme to make people feel unsafe. That the criminals are being paid or even directly controlled by someone higher up."

"What possible reason could anyone have for that!"

"Well, it's what people say." He shrugged. "I don't know if I believe it. Probably not. Still, there's this guy... a powerful businessman. He's going to run for president, and he's promising to take care of the crime. People believe him. He's got a lot of support... and money. There are those who say he is using some of his wealth to fund the criminals, so the scared people will be more likely to vote for him."

"It is a cunning plan," Teal'c said. "But also dishonourable."

O'Neill snorted. "Politicians and honour are mutually exclusive, Teal'c!" He slowed their speed. "What's that sign? I didn't see it before. Ah, traffic diverted due to an accident..."

"I sure hope they're okay. I know most people who'd drive on this stretch of road - at least at this time of night," O'Reilly said, sounding concerned.

They turned off the main road and followed the detour, as did Sam and the others in the truck behind them. The road passed through a fairly dense forest, and they had not driven far before a tree suddenly fell in front of them.

O'Neill stepped on the brake, and managed to stop before hitting the tree. Fortunately, they had not been going very fast, and Sam was equally quick to react, so the other truck did not hit the first.

The trucks had barely stopped, before several armed men appeared ahead and behind them.

"Ah, crap!" O'Neill exclaimed. "An ambush!"

Sam, Martouf/Lantash, Teal'c, O'Neill, and O'Reilly were surrounded by the men that had stopped them, and were now ordered out of the trucks.

The attackers were a dangerous looking group, consisting of nine people. The leader was a huge, red-haired man. He caressed the handle of the big knife he was holding, before addressing first his men, then the captives.

"See what you can find - in their pockets too!" He smirked. "I'm sure you're aware of the foolishness of attempting to resist. Just relax, and let us take what we want, and then this'll be over in no time, and we can all get on with our lives!"

O'Neill looked at the enemies, considering if they would be able to take them.

O'Reilly apparently noticed, because he shook his head, and spoke in a low voice. "Don't. I know you've been in dangerous situations before, but they've got guns and knives - and we don't have any weapons."

"You should listen to him," the red-haired man said, as some of his people started searching the trucks, while others checked the pockets of their prisoners. Three of them stood nearby, keeping weapons trained on them.

One of the men leered, taking the chance to fondle Sam as he checked if she carried anything valuable. "Hey, boss? What do you say we take this one?"

"Yeah, she'll probably bring in a nice sum - even after we're done with her," one of the other men said, looking up from where he was going through Martouf's pockets.

"You keep your hands off me!" Sam exclaimed, suddenly elbowing the man that had been fondling her in the solar plexus, making him crunch over in pain.

Lantash took control, his eyes flashing. He half-turned, grabbing the man standing near him. He spoke, thankfully remembering to hide the distortion,"How dare you threaten Samantha!"

He had the man disarmed and lying on the ground in seconds. When the criminal reached for the knife in his belt, Lantash shot him with the gun he had taken from him, happy he had learned how to use a weapon like that on a previous mission with SG-1.

Sam had snatched the knife from the man that had been groping her, and they were currently fighting over it.

The others took advantage of the commotion caused by Sam and Lantash, and attacked the rest of the thugs while they were confused. Surprisingly enough, none of the criminals tried to flee, but fought hard, almost viciously, to the end.

It did not take Sam, O'Neill, and the others long to win, though. Less than 2 minutes later, the last one of their attackers fell to the ground, dead, after Lantash had broken his neck.

O'Reilly stood nearby, looking thoughtfully at the scenery. "That was... very efficient. You certainly have gotten both skill and experience on that... mission you were on."

"They fought quite fiercely, but their skills were no match for us," Teal'c insisted, quickly pulling his cap down again, so it covered his forehead tattoo. It had crawled up as he fought.

"I am surprised none of them attempted to escape, or surrender," Lantash said. "Their behaviour does not seem consistent with common criminals." He suddenly thought he heard a rustling of leaves behind him. Turning, he saw, just for a moment, a pair of glowing red eyes in the undergrowth. They were gone so quickly he wondered if he had even seen them.

"I agree." O'Neill frowned. "There's no way it should have been necessary to even knock all of them out, much less kill them."

"They also seemed more aggressive than normal." Sam knitted her brows. "Do you think they were on drugs, or something?"

"Who knows," O'Reilly said. "I've heard rumours... that the gang members that attack people are very aggressive... but I don't know of anyone who's actually fought them and lived to tell, so I don't know." He looked at Lantash, noticing the blood splatter from the man he had shot earlier. He grabbed a bottle of water and a piece of cloth from the truck, and handed them to Lantash. "You had better clean up a little, in case we run into... regular folks."

"I agree. Thank you," Lantash said, using Martouf's voice. He accepted the water and the cloth, and began cleaning up.

"Maybe they're just really afraid of their leader," O'Neill suggested, slowly. "You mentioned that guy... the businessman, the one that wants to be president, and that he's the one responsible for the attacks."

"What?" Sam asked, disbelief in her voice.

"It's just a rumour. I don't know if it's the truth," O'Reilly reminded O'Neill.

"That sounds insane!" Sam said.

"Listen, let's talk about it later, okay? We need to figure out what to do with these dead bodies, and then get out of here. I suppose we should contact the police." O'Neill looked less than pleased at the thought.

None of them had any identification papers, and no one knew they were even alive. It was bound to cause a lot of problems, especially since the police were unlikely to just believe some random strangers, when they reported they had been attacked by nine criminals - and then had killed them, without getting as much as a scratch themselves.

"Well, no need to contact the police. They're... well, I think they've been infiltrated by some of the same criminals. We'll just bury them in the hill," O'Reilly said.

After disposing of the bodies, they had all returned to O'Reilly's farm. The journey back had passed in silence, and O'Reilly were clearly almost as affected by the attack, as he was by the fact that the people he had hired to work for him were extremely efficient killers.

However, all things considered, he decided they were trustworthy, and no danger to him or his wife, and he let them stay.

Sam, O'Neill, Martouf/Lantash, and Teal'c returned to the barn where Daniel and Jacob/Selmak were still sleeping. They had originally intended to catch a few hours of sleep before starting the days work, but now they instead woke up the others, and discussed all that had happened.

"It sounds insane!" Jacob said. "Like a bad novel! A businessman that hires criminals to make people feel unsafe, with the intention of getting elected by promising them security!"

"I agree, but I don't have a better explanation," O'Neill answered, slowly shaking his head.

"Could it be related to the NID? I mean, there's also the selling of Goa'uld technology on Earth... naquadah powered technology. I can't believe that's something that would normally be officially sanctioned, so it's obvious someone is up to something nefarious," Daniel said.

"Especially considering what has happened at Stargate Command... people being fired or reassigned..." Sam reminded them.

Jacob nodded. "It's possible. There's no way to know, without more information."

"There is something else..." Martouf said. "When we had fought the attackers, and they lay dead, I had the feeling that someone was watching us, and I even thought I heard something move in the bushes nearby. However, when I turned around, all I saw was what I think must have been the eyes of an animal. They shone red."

"I agree." Teal'c added. "I had the same experience. Perhaps a large animal was watching... a predator, maybe?"

"It's possible, but as long as it wasn't human, I think we're good," Jacob told them.

"One thing's for sure - we have to be careful, and we can't risk contacting anyone, unless we're absolutely sure they can be trusted," O'Neill said. "Our first item on the agenda is to get some information about what is going on!"

Chapter 9: Developments