"That's just great!"
The simple, disgusted outburst broke the silence after all the noises of the crash-landed ship had faded. Hands on her hips, Vala Mal Doran surveyed the crumpled nose of the tel'tak, shaking her head.
"They just don't make 'em like they used to," she sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and looking around her. "Note to self: the next time you liberate an unattended cargo ship, make sure it works first!"
At least it had gotten her to a habitable planet which supposedly had a Stargate, according to the navigational computer. Unfortunately, she had no idea how far away the transportation device was, as the computer had oh-so-kindly decided to fail shortly after she entered the planet's atmosphere. The naquada running through her blood seemed to indicate it wasn't far, though she couldn't tell in what direction. There was just enough of the mineral in the soil to confuse the homing sense leftover from the Goa'uld which had inhabited her up until a few years ago.
Her stolen ship had put down—more "crashed" than "landed"—in a thicket of skinny conifers, the short trees having made for a bumpy but less-abrupt stop than bare earth would have afforded. Unfortunately, the offending flora was too tall to see over and too springy to effectively climb, meaning she was either going to have to stay at her ship until someone found her or strike out on her own and hope she encountered one of the villages she's seen dotting the landscape as she made planet-fall. Sighing, she stepped back into the ship's hatch and grabbed the simple satchel in which she carried the tools of her trade. Opening one of the engine consoles, she began methodically stripping control crystals from key systems, knowing the parts would sell well once she returned to a space-faring world.
As Vala stepped back out of the darkened confines of the non-functional ship, she realized that she was no longer alone. She briefly considered removing the pistol from her thigh holster, but just as quickly decided that maybe she'd give these people a chance to prove their intent first. "Come on out! I'm not going to hurt you!" There was a brief rustling in the thick brush, but no forms emerged. "My name's Vala, and I'm looking for the Stargate."
A male voice called out through the trees, but not in a language Vala recognized. "I'm sorry, I don't understand," she replied, then switched to Goa'uld. "Kel sha! Tal'mac Vala. Ta'noc kree chappa'ai?"
They didn't seem to understand that, either, but two lanky, spear-wielding men stepped out of the undergrowth, moving cautiously toward her. They were clad in the simple, homespun fabrics common to practically every planet in the galaxy, though their hooded capes and boots seemed to be made of dyed animal skins. They were of average height for most humans of the galaxy—the taller was only a few fingers above her own height—with thin, craggy features. She held out her hands in surrender. "Look, can you just take me to your village? A'roush? Uh... Kario?"
"Kha'reo?" the shorter of the two men asked, changing the first syllable into the little throat-noise that always reminded Vala of a spitting cat.
"Kha'reo," she smiled. It wasn't often that she voluntarily remembered tidbits from Qetesh's past, but this time the Goa'uld's long-time association with Athena seemed to be paying off. Clearly, this planet had once belonged to Cronus or another of the descendants of the Goa'uld queen Tethys. "Me... porte... kha'reo sash?"
Their faces split into grins. "Elat." She couldn't be sure if that was a good thing or not, but at least their spears wavered. At her confusion, the speaker made a "come on" gesture, turning back toward the trees and soon disappearing. At the head nod "after you" from the second hunter, Vala pressed the button to close the cargo ship's hatch and set off after the first man.
Neither local seemed surprised to see her or the tel'tak, which immediately brightened Vala's hopes of finding a way off this planet before the previous owner of the downed spacecraft came looking for it. Surely such familiarity with Goa'uld technology indicated a reasonable amount of experience with offworlders, perhaps even close proximity to the Stargate. Of course, that could be a bad thing if this particular world was now a part of Baal's ever-expanding domain... but why dwell on the unknown?
After nearly an hour's walk, the undergrowth cleared, giving way to a field of early summer grains not yet tall enough to obscure her view of the stone buildings of the village ahead. Stacked as much as three stories high and clustered tightly, the structures wouldn't have been out of place on any number of worlds. No matter how many planets she visited, it was always nice to see swathes of familiarity, and she thanked the long-forgotten First World for spawning such a spread of creatively-challenged children.
A welcoming party awaited the return of the hunters, more spear-wielding villagers standing by in case Vala should decide to be foolishly reckless and attack the lot. At the fringes of the greeters were women and children, easing her brief fear that this might be one of those ludicrously un-enlightened worlds that didn't allow women to be seen. She'd accidentally stumbled across one of those in her early forays free of Qetesh, and had to muster a great deal of cunning and an unusual amount of patience to win her way free.
She couldn't understand what was being said, but no one seemed to be making any threatening gestures. Actually, the shorter of the two hunters was pointing at her, but he seemed to be indicating her fair skin and blue-gray eyes—traits which the swarthier natives did not share. The gray-haired man standing at the center of the welcoming committee said something which vaguely sounded like the Tethysian word for "sky" and looked upward, which sparked a round of laughter from the assemblage.
Unsure whether to smile or not, Vala cleared her throat and was about to mangle another request to be taken to the Stargate, when a new voice replied to the leader's comment. This prompted an answer from the gray-haired man, who then gestured to the unseen figure. Vala turned to her right to see the gathered villagers part slightly to allow passage of the tallest of any local she'd seen yet. He was a full hand taller than she, which made him stick out among his fellows, especially as he wore a deep straw hat to shade his face.
The leader spoke again, this time asking something which Vala didn't quite catch. "I'm sorry," she began, spreading her hands, "but I don't understand you."
"He asked if you were friend to Demetta or foe," the tall one translated in a clear, strong voice. Vala blinked in surprised, turning to look at him and noting the villagers were doing the same. He rattled something off in their language, shrugging apologetically.
"That depends," she began, glancing around. "Which is likely to get me safely to the chappa'ai?"
His arms crossed his chest. "Uh, 'friend' would. They haven't seen Demetta in over a thousand moons, so don't really know what the Goa'uld are like."
"What are the Goa'uld like?" she asked, curious.
He shrugged again. "How would I know?"
Vala frowned. "But you just said they 'don't really know what the Goa'uld are like'. That implies you know what they're like."
"Don't I what?"
He sighed. "Okay, let's start over again. I'm called Theadan. This village is Makosis, and its leader is Atrus. The two men who brought you here are Darian and Eschius."
She offered her most winning smile. "Pleased to meet you, Theadan! I am Vala Mal Doran."
"So... what brings you crashing to this planet, Vala Mal Doran?" he asked.
"It was an emergency landing," she corrected, mind already working swiftly to fabricate a suitable story. "My ship was badly damaged by an ion storm, and I just barely managed to make it safely to this lovely planet. I pulled some of the parts in need of repair and am hoping to take them through the Chappa'ai so I can return and fix my ship. I have a deadline to meet... I'm carrying some very important cargo which is supposed to be on another planet in a matter of days, so as quickly as possible, if you don't mind."
"Hmm," he answered in a non-committal manner, hesitating before translating her statement back to Atrus. Upon receiving replies from the leader and the shorter hunter, he grimaced and turned back to her. "Darian's agreed to lead us to the Circle of Stars—uh, Stargate tomorrow morning."
"Yeah... they think I should go with you since I speak your language," Theadan sighed, arms tightening against his body.
"Why do you speak my language?" she asked.
"Uh... I don't know?"
Vala crossed her arms in a deliberate mirror of his pose. "How can you not know?"
His arms dropped. "Because I don't? Look, uh, I have no memory of my life before I woke up on this planet, so just drop the interrogation, okay?" At a question from one of the villagers, he responded with another self-conscious hunching of his shoulders. Atrus stepped up to his side and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, speaking at length and indicating Vala with a wave of his hand.
"What was that about?"
Theadan sighed. "They think you could help me figure out who I am. I've tried before to explain what an infinitely vast universe it is out there, but these people don't quite grasp the concept."
"But you do," she countered.
"Yeah. I guess I do." He pointed upward. "Anyway, the sun will be setting in just a few candles, so you're welcome to spend the night."
Vala quirked a grin. "With you?"
She was sure he was blushing beneath the straw hat. "N-no! Uh, there's a residence for, um... unmarried women."
"No!" he cried out. "Uh... more like a boarding school? A dormitory? And don't ask me what either of those things mean, I'm just saying what comes to mind."
"That will work," Vala agreed. "That is, if you're saying what I think you're saying." Just as she was about tease him again by asking where he stayed, a distant horn sounded: two short blasts followed by a long one.
"Crap," Theadan muttered. Atrus began shouting directions as the villagers split off and dashed about madly. A few of the orders were directed at Theadan, and he nodded in response.
"What's going on?"
He stepped over to her and gently took her arm. "The horns tell us when the Stargate is activated. Just in case there are Jaffa, you and I need to hide in the root cellar of the travelers' hall."
Theadan blew out a breath. "Because our height, light-colored skin, and pale eyes kinda give us away as foreigners."
Now that he was close enough for her to see into the shadows of his hat, Vala realized his irises were an intense sky blue, set in a handsome, strong-jawed face.
He definitely was not from around here.