Title: Bits and Pieces: #14 The Serpent's Eye
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Spoilers: Politics, Within the Serpent's Grasp
Archive: The Pink Rabbit Consortium (www.altfic.com)
DISCLAIMER: It all belongs to assorted other folks (MGM, Gekko, Double Secret, Showtime, and possibly Santa Claus for all I know), or at least the characters, settings, situations, et al do. The actual arrangement of words is mine own, though God knows, if any of those entities were to opt to sue, I'd disavow them all in a New York second. There's definitely musing on matters of a sexual and romantic nature between females of the same genderish persuasion, so if this is a problem of age, maturity, intelligence, ability to deal, or anything else, please, do take a pass.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is part of an oddball little idea for a series of stories -- some short, some a little longer, but none monstrously huge. One of the things that's hard to do in any one story is build a believable relationship over time, to show the beginnings and play with how attraction begins and grows, so I'm giving it a try with a series of stories set over the course of the series, starting from the beginning (if you're just looking for sex, you're gonna have to wait awhile). Some stories will be tied into eps and some won't, but I'm trying to make each of them a standalone piece, rather than chapters. There will, however, be elements that carry through and hopefully, the relationships in each story will build on what's come before. And I figure it also gives me a chance to to incorporate little scenes and shorter ideas that have fluttered through my brain over the years. Past that, my only comment is that hopefully, it won't be awful.
SPECIAL THANKS: to the most caffeinated and cheerful minion around.
ADDITIONAL AUTHOR'S NOTES: Silly me didn't notice that the order for first season eps listed on assorted webpages doesn't quite mesh with what's on the box my DVD set came in, sooooo, though I don't think it ever matters too much, in case anyone cares, I'm using the order on the DVD set.

 

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field...
Genesis 3:1

Prologue

Hathor was annoyed. Having been wakened and taken control of the Tau'ri military base for her new lair, she suddenly faced losing that starting point for her new empire. She should have killed the women the moment they showed the faintest hint of resistance, should have snapped Janet Fraiser's neck while Samantha Carter looked on -- a faint smile curved full lips as she contemplated the look of pain that would have entered blue eyes -- then strangled Carter and watched the light fade from her eyes. Dead, she would have been no threat.

Instead, she'd held back, been kind, even willing to give the women a place in her new empire, and look what it had gotten her. According to the reports coming in, the blonde bitch and her cohort were busy taking back her base. A mewling Tau'ri voice brought her out of her thoughts to contemplate the male supplicant kneeling before her.

Tony Phillips stared up at his goddess with adoring eyes, so lost in her beauty he could barely think straight. "I'm sorry, My Goddess," he breathed, his hands dangling at his sides as he knelt before the Goa'uld. His wrists were red and abraded from his efforts to escape the shoelaces used as impromptu bonds by the escaped women. "In succumbing to their tricks, I failed you." It was his mistake that had allowed Captain Carter and the other women to escape and move against his goddess.

"Yes," Hathor confirmed, her eyes ice cold with barely contained fury. She had kept the women alive because of their beauty -- used as rewards, they would have helped keep the men in line -- and it was particularly infuriating to realize they'd turned and used that beauty as a weapon against her, seducing the men into making a dangerous mistake. She caressed the kneeling male's cheek, stroking lightly, then tucked her finger under his chin, drawing his head up. It would be so easy to simply break his neck, and she seriously considered it. The Tau'ri were such a fragile species. She leaned down, eyes glowing faintly as she studied him. "Tell me something," she said very softly, her voice a low alien rumble. The other system lords would pounce if she attempted to simply leave this world without any kind of leverage. She knew her own kind. They were no gentler with one another than they were with the any of the species they ruled. However, they could be bargained with. Perhaps with information to trade, she might manage to regain some of her might, use it to obtain what she needed to begin rebuilding her power base. That the System Lords were desperate to destroy the Tau'ri was obvious to anyone from the reports she'd read, that they were afraid of them was obvious only to her. "I wish information."

He swallowed hard. "Wh-what about security codes." He worked security; playing in the computer was his hobby. He knew how to dig up all sorts of obscure bits of information, and would be more than happy to do so to please his goddess.

She shook her head, well aware such information would all be changed the moment she left this world. She pulled him up, thrusting him toward the nearest computer. "Something else... something they wouldn't think of." A hint of a smile touched her lips. "Something to make Captain Carter bleed." Something that would buy her both power and revenge again the Tau'ri witch who dared stand against her would be ideal.

His fingers danced over the keyboard, bringing up information that for the most part was of no use to her; either security information that would change or scientific information so primitive it was of no value. And then another file went by. "That," she commanded.

In tribute to Hathor, Hammond had virtually disabled the security system, giving their queen total access, so it opened where he would have normally been denied access.

A smile touched full lips as she scanned through the contents. Definitely something that might have trade value. "You've done well, my child," she murmured as she stored the information away.

Tony fairly glowed under the faint praise, his eyes alight with worship when she stroked his cheek and smiled down at him. "Did you enjoy the taste of your chosen, my child?" she drawled, eyes gleaming with malicious glee. He had confessed the shared kiss that had been his downfall, his head down, his voice raw with shame, but she had seen way his skin flushed, and his hands trembled. She knew the power she wielded over men and women, knew how he was now bound to the Tau'ri doctor. And knew that even without information she could have some measure of revenge. Carter had such soft eyes, eyes so easily read, eyes that would fill with pain when she lost the other woman ... particularly in light of what Tony Phillips was likely to do to the brunette.

An eager nod tipped his head up and down. "I ask to be allowed to bring her into your fold, My Goddess," he pleaded, his body burning with heat at the thought of the coupling Samantha Carter's attack had denied him.

"Of course," Hathor drawled, then leaned close, her breath dusting his ear, the musty scent of sex and desire teasing his nostrils. "She's yours ... remember that." And then she whispered a thousand other things, all so fast and so soft he barely understood it at all, though in the days that followed, they would change his life -- and not for the better.

Weaving unsteadily his feet, some part of him fighting the ugly suggestions, he nonetheless nodded.

"My Goddess," a young lieutenant broke in, his voice panicked. "Those who would attack your greatness have been spotted moving toward your sarcophagus.

Eyes suddenly blazing, she straightened. That could not be allowed. She leaned close to Tony Phillips one more time, her voice an angry hiss. "Make her bleed." Then she slammed him into the wall hard enough to send him to the floor in an unconscious heap.

"Move," she snapped to the waiting lieutenant as she brushed past him. "Enter the coordinates I gave you into the gate ... while I deal with other matters."

 

* * * * * *

Several Months Later

The SGC was shutting down. No second chances, no argument, no turning back, and---oh, by the way, no funding for any further projects. All experimental projects were to be closed down, the results turned in to the oversight committees, the files shut down and blanked from the computers, any excess papers shredded and the shred burned. All extra-terrestrial objects were to boxed up, carted off, and permanently locked down in government storehouses designed just for such occasions.

And what about a living, breathing extra-terrestrial artifact, Janet Fraiser found herself wondering as she sat across a desk from her commanding officer, her stomach so knotted with tension she was on the verge of throwing up. It wasn't like she didn't have enough stress in her life. Sam's sudden exit from her backyard two nights before had seen to that. She'd tried to phone the woman only to have her calls ignored, and tried to see her only to find she was suddenly missing from all of her usual haunts, though she was definitely on base. And now this. She had to fight to contain a hysterical burst of laughter. And here she'd thought she'd finally gotten her life a little settled.

Fat chance of that. She should have remembered that calm, quiet, and ordered had never been her specialty and let it go at that.

"You can understand why we need to get the matter of Cassandra's custody squared away quickly," General Hammond said grimly, breaking in on her dark thoughts.

Janet nodded, eyes fastened on her own hand where it rested on the edge of his desk. "How much time do we have?" she asked, her voice a hoarse rasp of tension and fear.

"A week at most," the general answered. "Colonel Samuels is doing everything in his power to undermine my position, but he hasn't gotten around to what he views as the minor details yet." He was breaking the rules in giving her the head's up, but of all of the people under his command, she was, in many respects, facing the most difficult problem.

"There's no question?" she whispered.

He quashed her hopes with a brutality borne of kindness. "None. The mission is a dead issue ... and Samuels is pressing to have Cassandra turned over to NID for further study. Once responsibility for her custody is turned over to his command, I won't have any further options."

A muscle compressed along the ridge of Janet's cheek, the only outward sign of the emotional impact of the news. No time left for debate or consideration. Either the child was hers to fight for, or she surrendered her to people who would have everything but her best interests at heart. Oh, they wouldn't dissect Cassandra -- even NID had a few limits -- but they wouldn't care for her either, wouldn't treat her like a child, but rather as an experiment to be put under glass and studied. Finding a nice couple with the appropriate security clearance to become Cassie's parents was no longer an issue. In another few days, NID would take custody, and from there she would wind up as little more than a lab rat. There was only one small loophole. Legally, Hammond still had absolute discretion over her case, but that would be going away in a few days. Sign off now, and she'd have grounds for fighting it in a military court if anyone tried to take Cass away from her. Her throat constricted with sheer terror as she considered what she was letting herself in for, especially now---and possibly without Sam's help or support. She considered asking for a little time to consider it all, but time was no longer a luxury she could afford. The committee could start dotting i's and crossing t's anytime, which would cost them this window of opportunity. Finally, she nodded, forcing the terror down to respond. "Okay."

Hammond pushed the necessary paperwork forward. He'd already had everything prepared, had seen to it the moment the child went to live with his CMO, half afraid even then that this moment might come. He watched her sign each of the papers in question---her signature far less steady than usual---well aware of her doubts and fears, but also confident it was going to be all right. He'd have been more worried if she hadn't been scared to death. Parenthood, no matter how it came about, wasn't something to be entered into lightly. And she was looking at possibly having to fight the entire government.

Finally, she shoved the stack of forms back at him and sat there, visibly shaken by the monumental task she'd just chosen for herself. "I ... uh ... I really should...." Should what? Sit there babbling like an idiot? She really had no idea what she should be doing. For the moment, the infirmary was quiet. And with all teams restricted to base, it wasn't likely to get any busier. With no ready conclusion to the sentence, she just sat there, staring at the surface of her C.O.'s desk.

"Take the rest of the day off, Doctor," he said surprisingly gently, offering an encouraging smile when she looked up, appearing far younger and less the competent officer he was used to than a scared teenager handed far more responsibility than she felt ready for. He saw her draw breath to argue and held up a hand to forestall her refusal. With everything so tense, she'd been staying close and working unhealthily long hours. "Nothing's going to happen today ... and your division is under control. Keep your cell phone with you," he added in deference to their situation. "But get out of here for a little while." She was likely to find herself in the middle of a fight soon enough.

She finally nodded, throwing off some of the paralytic shock with effort. "Thank you, sir." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "For everything." She looked down at her own hands. "I know you're taking a chance in doing this ... Samuels already hates your guts...." She didn't bother to finish the comment.

Hammond shrugged practically. "I was a month from retirement when I took this command. My career's ending." His gaze sharpened, reminding her of what she'd taken on. "You're in a far more precarious position than I am."

"I took responsibility for her," Janet said softly. "I didn't really plan on ... any of this," she admitted a little haltingly, already working her way through her shock. She took another deep breath and let it out on a slow count. "But some days life's like that."

"Indeed it is," Hammond murmured, proud of how quickly she regained her footing. "Now, get out of here while we can spare you. We'll be burying the gate in two days, but for the moment, you're not needed here." He saw her frown, worried about leaving the base now that she was tracking again. "Consider it an order, Doctor." She'd been working hellacious hours for weeks, and the strain was starting to show ... or maybe it was something else, he thought as he assessed the shadows under her eyes, uncertain simple overwork would have caused what he was seeing. Of course, she was smart enough that she'd probably been worrying about the child's future since everything started to go wrong, though he wasn't as confident as he would have liked that even that was the sole cause of what he was seeing.

She drew breath, still ready to argue, only to change her mind abruptly. "Thank you, sir," she said again, resolved to get the hell out of there once she took care of one thing.

Hammond looked pointedly at his watch, then nodded toward the door. "Go," he said not unkindly. "I've got several calls to make ... and then a meeting with Colonel O'Neill." His tone made it clear that he wasn't looking forward to any of it; not one more futile, last ditch stand to try and save the project, and not O'Neill's anger and disapproval because he couldn't do the impossible and didn't consider mutiny a viable option.

Fraiser still had enough of a sense of humor to offer a sympathetic smile. "For what it's worth, good luck, sir."

"You too, Doctor," he sighed, leaning back in his chair and watching silently as she slipped out. It was a hell of a thing, he thought as he considered the situation. She, and others who'd done a job very few people could, for lousy pay and with scant thanks, were now being forced to fear for their careers ... and in her case, for a child who'd become her family. He shook his head sadly, feeling the guilt of being unable to save it all settle on his shoulders. And that was just the obvious price. God only knew what it might cost the entire planet down the line somewhere. Finally, he shook off his grim musings and leaned forward, reaching for the phone as he readied himself for another round of fruitless arguments with politicians too short-sighted to see what their penny-pinching, and party politics threatened to do to the nation ... hell, the whole damn world.

* * * * * *

"Hi," Janet said baldly as she entered Sam's lab, not giving her a chance to run away by sending word she was looking for her, sick that the only way to do this was by some kind of surprise attack.

The blonde looked up, intelligent blue eyes widening in sheer panic for the briefest second before her expression closed down and the emotional wall went up. "Doctor Fraiser," she said formally, her stomach coiling with hurt at the way Janet flinched as though struck. It's for the best, she reminded herself as she clamped down on the urge to apologize and beg for forgiveness for as long as it took to wash away the pained look on the other woman's face.

The muscles along the line of Janet's jaw compressed and her cheek twitched. Her knuckles were white, Sam noted, where her hands were twined together in front of her. "Can we just talk, please?" she rasped, the hurt in her voice tearing at Sam's resolve in all the ways she'd known it would, leaving her to wonder how she'd managed to avoid the truth as long as she had. She supposed it was the same thing that had driven her to avoid this meeting -- sheer terror.

It took all of Sam's strength to keep her voice cool and step carefully around Janet to reach for something---she wasn't entirely certain what, but it made for a decent excuse to look anywhere but at the woman whose mere presence had such a shattering effect on her. "I'm afraid I don't really have much time right now." She felt rather than saw the flinch those coldly uttered words caused. "With everything that's going on, I've got a lot of work to do."

"I ... see..." Janet breathed and was silent for a moment. Sam didn't have to turn and look to sense the hurt and anger rolling over the other woman.

Sam swallowed hard, grateful she was aimed the other way, afraid that if she'd had to face her friend, her real feelings would have been all too obvious. "Look, I really don't have time for this right now," she said as firmly as she was able, concentrating on the artifact in her hand; only minutes before she could have described every last detail of the analysis she'd done on the damn thing and at that moment, she couldn't even remember the Goa'uld name Teal'c had given it, much less how it worked or what it did.

"I just wanted to talk to you about Cass ... with everything closing down ... there are issues...."

Sam's hand clenched until the sharp edges of the alien artifact were cutting into her fingers and palm. Cass, God. She hadn't let herself think about the child and what her screwup would mean for the girl---or how the hell she was going to deal with everything now that the project was probably shutting down. "I ... uh...." She almost lost the cool tone as her voice bobbled faintly, but she got it under control again. "I think it's best if I arrange to see her while you're on duty ... so that she's got one of us with us during as much of the day as possible. With everything so confused, that might help her feel a little more stable."

The obvious lie was met by a long moment of total silence, and then Janet's voice, angry and bitter, hit her like actual blows. "Don't bother lying, Sam. You don't do it worth a damn." Another moment's silence followed, broken only by the rhythmic sound of carefully controlled breathing. "I'm sorry for what happened," the doctor said at last, her tone flaying Carter alive, not with her anger, but with her hurt, her pain like knives on flesh. "I know I blew it, but--" The doctor cut herself off with an angry growl. "Screw it. I don't have time for this." Sam heard the soft sounds of movement as Janet turned away, then heard her turn back. "Let me give you a piece of advice," Fraiser added, the bitterness back. "In the future, before you go making promises, make sure they're ones you can keep ... and maybe, just maybe, you could try a little forgiveness while you're at it."

It was too much for Sam to bear as she realized that Janet thought she blamed her for what had happened. "Janet," Sam whispered as she spun, but it was too late. The other woman was already gone. Fighting the urge to hurl the object in her hand, she set it aside with extra care, then slowly sank down onto a nearby stool, her legs shaky. "Get it under control, Carter," she muttered to herself, even as she struggled against the urge to go after her friend, explain to her, or at least make excuses---whatever would work to put things right between them. Except even the slightest though along those lines caused a surge of hope and want that only served to point out how dangerous the impulse was.

With the walls of denial and control that she'd used to protect herself so thoroughly shattered, Sam was spinning, her equilibrium thoroughly gone, uncertain how to get it back. Until she figured out a way to do that, the only thing she could think of to do was stay as far away from Janet Fraiser as was humanly possible. No matter how much it might hurt, it was the best thing for both of them.

She ran a hand over her hair as she forced down any fantasies of following Janet through sheer force of will. It wouldn't gain anything, not when emotions were so raw. Maybe later, when things had calmed, they could talk, work out what to do for Cass's sake, but for now, it just wasn't doable. Suddenly exhausted, Sam stepped back over to her computer, returning to the task she'd set for herself, concentrating on that and not the betrayal in the other woman's voice. She had a job to do and that took precedence over any other concerns. Despite her determination, it was a constant battle to keep her mind on the subject, and when Colonel O'Neill called a meeting of SG-1 a short time later, it was a curious relief to find herself something so overwhelming to worry about.

After some discussion, knowing the gate was due to be closed and buried shortly, and with every reason to believe a Goa'uld Mothership was headed for earth, the team was going to gate to the coordinates Daniel had for the attack fleet from the other universe, and try to stop their own earth from dying. If they were right, and succeeded, earth would be saved. If they were wrong, the best they could hope for was a court martial, the worst, failure and death a long way from home. It wasn't exactly a new possibility for any of them.

As she made the necessary plans, Sam found a moment to write two final emails, setting them to send on a time delay before hurrying to join her teammates for the last minute preparations.

* * * * * *

When you're strange, no one remembers your name,

When you're strange,

When you're stra-ange....

Jim Morrison's surly drawl blasting in her ears, Janet opted to bypass the route home in favor of a wandering mountain drive. Needing to escape her own thoughts, she lost herself, driving too fast on the narrow roads that swept through the mountains near Colorado Springs. Cass was scheduled to spend the entire afternoon with a special tutor helping to catch her up so she could enter public school, and the doctor was in no mood to spend time in her all too empty house. That would just lead to thinking and worrying about all the things she couldn't do anything about, and she just wasn't up to more of that. She'd always found a certain peace while losing herself in mountain driving, and this time she used it as an escape, pushing her speed hard and using the twisting course to focus her mind on something other than Sam's total and utter rejection. Embarrassment, she'd expected, maybe even a little discomfort, but not the arctic chill and angry dismissal.

Her rear wheels hit gravel on a sharp turn amid a series of tight switchbacks, and she downshifted, goosing the accelerator to make the tires dig in more firmly and break the threat of a skid before it became dangerous. As she hit the straight-away, she revved the engine, coaxing her speed up another few miles as she put it back into third.

And she certainly hadn't expected that one bone-headed mistake could cost her everything and land her back in the cold. At the very least, she'd thought the other woman cared more for her as a friend.

Christ, it wasn't like Sam had shoved her back the moment they'd touched, wiped her mouth, and shouted, "Ewww."

Janet gunned the engine hard, downshifting and accelerating into another tight turn as the whole scene played out in her head, then upshifted, accelerating on the straightaway.

In fact if anything Sam had become the more aggressive one after the first moment or two.

The road twisted again, and she slowed, downshifting, then accelerating at the midway point of the turn, feeling the tires bite in as the car surged forward, losing herself in the concentration required to navigate the tight, steep course. She gunned the engine even harder, edging her speed back up, knuckles white on the steering wheel.

An unwanted shiver slid down her spine as she flashed on the moment when Sam had pressed her against the wall, their bodies so close she could feel every muscle and curve, mouths bound together, breath mingling....

She gunned the engine harder as if to outrace the thoughts running through her brain, but couldn't stop thinking about the feel of Sam's body against her own, an agile hand stroking her breast, a hard thigh grinding against her, sparking sensations so intense she'd been weak in the knees and desperate for more. Sam had had a couple of beers, but not enough to leave her so drunk that she didn't know exactly who she'd pressed against the wall and all but devoured during the moments before she ran. Janet's first soft kiss had been as much about tenderness as lust, but Sam's answering caresses had been eager, hungry ... knowing....

Knowing?

Knowing.

It struck her suddenly that Sam had known what she was doing---where to touch and how. After that first impulsive moment when she'd drawn Sam's head down, Janet had just been following along, mimicking her friend's caresses, but Sam hadn't been fumbling and uncertain. She'd been confident, making all the right moves for arousing a female lover. No, that wasn't possible. Sam couldn't already have....

Except that little maneuver she'd done with her knee wasn't exactly the sort of thing likely to be popular with a male lover. In fact, most men would probably have felt anything but romantically inclined had they been treated to that particular tactic with that much force.

She couldn't escape the obvious conclusion. Sam had known what she was doing.

Her mind reeling under the impact of the realization, she hit a hairpin curve too fast, and her rear tires slewed on a patch of loose gravel. Suddenly, Sam was the farthest thing from her thoughts as she fought to regain control. Her car skidded, fishtailing dangerously on the tight turn. She braked hard, but, with gravel under her tires, that only worsened the skid.

She was on the outer edge of a steep cliff, her car skidding and threatening to fishtail into a sideways slide, white knuckled and afraid she'd just managed a very unique means of committing suicide. If her car went over the side, she was dead. It was just that simple. The cliff was steep and ran several hundred feet into a deep crevasse. The car would tumble, then crush when it finally hit bottom. Her chances of surviving both the rolling and the fall were nonexistent.

She wondered if Cass would be a little sad or possibly grateful since it would finally force Sam into taking custody.

Or at least she hoped it would, less certain than she would have liked that her friend would step up and take responsibility for the child.

And wasn't it strange, by the way, that as she was well on the way to dying, her brain had gone into some strange, hyper mode where it was capable of thinking a dozen things at once, none of them terribly comforting?

She downshifted, pumping the brake, and turning into the skid even though it took her perilously close to the edge, then suddenly her tires hit dirt, kicking up a dust storm. Another car passed her going the opposite direction and she heard the sound of a horn and shouted curses.

And then, abruptly, everything was deathly still and quiet. Or at least still. It suddenly occurred to her that the radio had moved on to some other golden oldies tune ... and when the hell had her tastes in music moved from defiantly retro, to passé, to outdated, to classic? Pretty soon, her youthful rebellion tunes were going to start showing up in McDonald's commercials. God, what a depressing thought.

It occurred to her that she was very probably losing it if she was worrying about music when she'd very nearly gone spinning to her death. The dust settled around her, and she realized her Toyota had come to a halt on a dirt pullout. She killed the engine, silencing the Moody Blues with a tired sigh and let her head fall forward, clinging to the steering wheel as the aftermath of the adrenaline rush washed over her. Not good. That was definitely not good. The only thing keeping her hands from trembling uncontrollably was her tight grip on the steering wheel.

A deep breath. Let it out on a ten count. Another deep breath. Let it out on a ten count.

Janet let out a third breath in a gust and slowly straightened, peering at the surrounding landscape as though seeing it for the first time. Her car was sitting at an angle on the cliff side of the road in a small, dirt pullout. One tire was nudged up against the very edge of the steep drop that fell away from the passenger's side of the car, the angle leaving her with the disturbing sense that she was teetering on the verge of falling. She unlatched the door, pushing it open to step out, her every move feeling torturously slow. Finally, she was standing, one elbow resting on the roof of the Celica, a warm breeze on her face. Her first glimpse of the drop she'd nearly gone over had a definite sobering effect, driving home just how dumb she'd been.

She took another deep breath and let it out on a shuddery sigh, reaching up to ruffle her bangs.

No matter how bad the situation with Sam was, it wasn't worth dying for. And whatever their conflicts, she knew in her heart that Sam would agree. The other woman might be angry, but she wasn't vindictive. She mentally tested the emotion, then decided she was right, and felt a flow of relief as she realized Sam would never wish her ill.

And if she was right, and Sam had known what she was doing, then the other woman probably already had plenty of worries. Calmer now, she recognized the fear that her own tumultuous emotions hadn't allowed her to acknowledge when she was in the situation. "Oh, Sam," she breathed, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do now because she had to do something. Samantha Carter was an important part of her daughter's---she paused for a brief emotional hiccup over that definition---life. And her own if she was honest. It wasn't a relationship that could simply be severed. Or at least it wasn't one that should be severed.

She ducked her head, letting her mind go blank for a moment, consciously relaxing muscles that vacillated between stressed tension and quivering with exhaustion. She finally looked up again, eyeing the surrounding landscape.

Recognition sank in slowly, filtering into her brain a detail at a time. She'd been there before. She recognized an oddly shaped boulder that bounded the pullout on one side, and the view was hauntingly familiar.

It took a moment to sort through her memories and put two and two together. And then she knew where she was.

A sense of something akin to dread settling in the pit of her stomach, she stepped over the jagged stand of rock that stretched up into a freestanding boulder. The hand that reached out felt almost disembodied from herself, the fingers that brushed the words scratched into rock amid a scattering of assorted carvings and proclamations.

Sam Carter was here.

And underneath it.

So was Janet Fraiser (some day I'll be first, dammit).

This was the exact spot where they'd wound up on the motorcycle ride Sam had talked her into after they'd found out Daniel was alive after thinking he'd been lost. Her stomach muscles clenched as she remembered those moments. After several days of sheer hell while Sam was ripped by guilt, angry, confused, and borderline schizophrenic due to the hypnosis that had made her think her teammate was dead, it had been pure pleasure to know all was right with world, let their problems go, and leave the world behind. They'd stopped at Sam's place to retrieve her spare helmet, then at a quickie mart to grab the most disgusting forms of food imaginable (Ding Dongs ... dear lord, what the hell had she been thinking), then just ridden till they'd found this place. Sam had pulled in, killing the engine and sliding off only minutes before the sun came up. With the road silent and the world a preternatural blue, they'd climbed a short distance, finding a seat on an outcropping of rock and shared a bottled water and baked goods that could probably outlast the planet, both so relieved to have their friendship back on solid ground after the brief rocky patch that few words had been needed.

Janet shook her head slowly it all shook down into some kind of over-arcing picture.

It hadn't begun that day, she realized abruptly. By then it had already been well under way; the strange game of push-me-pull-you that they'd played between them, both looking anywhere but at the truth. That rugged kiss a neanderthalish Sam had delivered with such fierce possessiveness even as she sought to protect what her feral mind considered her own? No, even by then, things had already been in motion. How else could she explain the erotic dreams it had spawned and the almost desperate need to chalk it up to nothing but territorial anger. In retrospect, it had probably begun during that first physical, when Janet had found herself making the sort of joke she never made with strangers---with anyone if she was honest---and enjoying the warmth and texture of bare skin a little too much. She'd managed to maintain the plausible deniability for awhile---chalking the demanding, prehistoric kiss up to Sam's altered mental state, the breathless excitement to the unusual reality of having a female friend at work, and the touchy feeliness to the intensity of some of the situations they'd found themselves in.

Janet traced the outline of Sam's name where it was carved into the rock, a hint of a frown touching her brow as she realized that even rough carved, she could make out traces of her friend's perfectly neat script.

Even the stupid bit of graffiti had been a warning sign. It wasn't exactly Sam N Jan 4Ever, but there were definitely some subtle similarities in their mutual desire to link their names together in such a public and permanent way. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking on her part. She ran her thumbnail along the draftsmanlike C of Sam's last name. No, there had been something that morning, when everything had felt so new and fresh, the air a little crisper and cleaner, the colors a little brighter. And they'd both been so lost in the joy of each other's company. Looking back, it occurred to her with crystal clarity that she'd already been half gone by then. She would never have gotten on a motorcycle---not after the time she'd spent in emergency rooms---if she hadn't been.

And now?

Now she was a lot more than half gone. The way she'd lost control with Sam confirmed that much. She wasn't someone normally subject to reckless impulses. She'd fallen into bed with someone on a whim exactly once in her life. God knew, that had been an unmitigated disaster, more about wanting to want someone than actually wanting them. She'd known even as she was doing it that it was a stupid mistake. One night stands simply weren't her style.

There was nothing like that in the passion she'd briefly shared with Sam. Even with all of the attendant problems and regrets, there was no sense that she was pretending or lying to herself, and not the usual schism between the emotional and the physical. In fact, it might have been better---or at least easier---if she was. Then perhaps she could simply brush it off and move on without this aching emptiness that accompanied any contemplation of not having Sam in her life.

 

And to wind up here. In this very spot. Her subconscious was definitely having a field day. Folding her arms across her chest, she leaned back against the boulder and stared out at the valley below, struck by the beauty of the sight. The sun warm on her face, a gentle breeze playing with her hair, surrounded by the memories of that morning, she felt some of the ferocious anger leach away.

Sam cared. The memory was a reminder of that simple fact. Whatever else was going on, Sam had cared that night, and she couldn't believe that a moment's lost control changed that.

Even if the control lost was as much Sam's as her own.

That thought led her right back to the revelation that had damn near gotten her killed and left her wondering if she was finally cracking up. Sam couldn't possibly....

And yet....

She thought back, remembering her own momentary uncertainty, desire making her want to touch, but inexperience leaving her hesitant as to how. Sam hadn't had that problem, but there was more than one possible explanation for that.

Right?

Except she honestly couldn't think of one. Chalking it up to instinct was all well and good, but nobody's instincts were that good on the first try.

Which meant--

Her cell phone interrupted the thought before it could finish making its way through her brain ... and she was oddly grateful ... painfully certain that any further revelations would only complicate her life more than she was ready to deal with. Retrieving the tiny phone from her jacket pocket, she noted the number on the caller id. "Fraiser here," she said as she activated the phone.

"Doctor Fraiser," she recognized General Hammond's voice instantly, "you're needed back on base asap." His voice was clipped with an undercurrent of anger that immediately set her teeth on edge.

"Is something wrong, sir?" she questioned, suddenly aware that her pulse had kicked into overdrive.

"SG-1 has gone AWOL ... and it looks like we have unwanted company coming," he said, his answer somewhat cagey, since, however unlikely, it might be possible to monitor even the scrambled signals the SGC cells used.

Janet had her keys out and was sliding into the driver's seat before he finished speaking. "I'm on my way, but it'll probably be about forty-five minutes to an hour. I went for a drive," she felt the need to add.

"Get back as quickly as possible," her superior clipped.

"Yes, sir." She was just drawing a breath to ask a question when Hammond hung up. She gunned the engine and whipped the wheel hard, turning into a steep u-turn and heading back the way she'd come. Driving too fast and a little recklessly, she made it back in record time, and was moved through security as quickly as possible. It was obvious Hammond had sent word to the officers to give her a pass.

The general was busy when she arrived, so she simply took five minutes to change into fatigues, then dug in, organizing things in the infirmary and getting ready for the influx of wounded she fully expected when the attack came, not letting herself thing past the immediate problem. If she thought about things too much, she was going to wind up in the corner, whimpering and sucking her thumb. Not exactly the image of leadership she was hoping to project.

Warner quickly brought her up to speed. SG-1 was AWOL, having gone through the gate to the coordinates they had for the Goa'uld from the alternate reality. Attempts to make contact had failed and they were presumed lost, while a Goa'uld strike force was even now bearing down on earth. There was little doubt their first target would be the SGC.

If it was possible for the situation to get worse, Janet wasn't sure how.

She shook a momentary daze off, refocusing on the problems at hand, waving to personnel moving equipment around to get their attention. "Make sure those field kits are ready to be move. We cannot assume we'll have the luxury of access to the Infirmary if things get bad." Or when they get bad, she amended mentally as her voice rose above the controlled chaos, a pointed reminder to the men and women moving efficiently as they readied for the coming Goa'uld invasion. They were scared. She could feel their fear like a living thing in the room with them all. Not surprising. A lot of them had never seen any kind of combat up close. They'd dealt with the aftermath, but never the reality. Now, they were looking at being a part of the first and last line of Earth's defense. Most of them had friends, and families on the outside; people they loved and were desperate to protect but couldn't warn. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind. Thinking about her own loved ones was just asking to be paralyzed under the weight of it all. Despite the intention not to, she found herself wondering about SG-1. Had they found a way to defeat the Goa'uld invasion force? Were they even now fighting to save Earth? Or had they already failed? Were they even still alive? Her fingernails dug deeply into her palms as she chased that thought off. She couldn't do anything for them except pray and do her job.

She tapped a passing medic on the shoulder. "Stevens, I need you to report in to the Armory. They have a load of small arms to come down for us."

He lost all color, but nodded his understanding. If it came down to the medical staff fighting, then things really were expected to get bad.

"General Hammond on line one, Doctor," someone called out and she hurried to grab for the receiver. She'd known he'd get to her sooner or later.

"Fraiser here."

Hammond didn't spare any time for pleasantries, simply said, "Doctor, report to conference room A, ASAP."

"Be right there, sir." As she hung up, she gestured to Warner. "Keep track of things here. I've got a meeting with General Hammond."

"Don't worry," he assured her, "I'll see to it."

Moments later, Janet was in an elevator, pacing back and forth, running mental checklists as she waited for it to reach the proper floor. It helped keep her mind occupied and off all the things she couldn't do anything about until she reached the conference room overlooking the gate. General Hammond was standing at the window, watching the preparations going on below.

"Sir?" she said to get his attention.

He glanced back, but didn't turn. "There's been no word from SG-1," he informed her.

She absorbed the news without showing any outward signs of how much it hurt. If they'd failed, she saw no way around a battle that earth would almost certainly lose. They simply didn't have any way to stand up to the kind of raw power the Goa'uld could muster.

"We're activating plans for the Alpha team." Which meant they really were expecting the worst.

Janet found herself perversely grateful for the numbing wave of shock that set in. She wasn't sure she could have stood there so calmly without it. "The field hospital is in place on site, plus we've prepared long term medical kits for the team's personal equipment, sir," she said to focus herself on the problem at hand.

He nodded, "I know," then glanced back, his eyes sliding past her as they both heard the sound of the door opening and closing. "Colonel Makepeace," he greeted the newcomer with a nod.

Janet glanced over her shoulder, silently acknowledging the marine colonel.

Hammond eyed the two officers for a moment, then turned to peer down at the stargate again. "I just received a head's up that Colonel Samuels is on his way to take command of the defense efforts," he said, his voice surprisingly flat in spite of his fury. "He'll be here within hours." He ignored Makepeace's muttered, "Shit," and Fraiser's groaned, "We're dead," instead continuing quietly and calmly, "As far as he knows, we're unaware of the coming change in command." And Hammond had no intention of giving that little advantage away. As far as he was concerned, Samuels was an overconfident fool likely to sink the entire planet in search of his own political gains. If the worst happened, he fully intended to have his own contingency plans in place.

"Sir?" Fraiser exhaled on a questioning note, and Hammond saw the two officers share a look in the pale reflection on the window.

"If that's all," Makepeace added, "I really should be with my men." Preparing for the coming battle went unspoken, but the subtext hung in the air.

"I was just explaining to Doctor Fraiser that the Alpha Project is being activated," Hammond said without acknowledging Makepeace's comment.

"Colonization," Makepeace said simply, his tone making it clear he understood the import of the idea.

Hammond nodded. "What neither of you are aware of is that there is also a Beta Project." Both officers were silent this time, giving their superior time to do things in his own way. "The aim is somewhat the same---continued survival of earth's culture---but it's also intended to preserve the knowledge gathered in the pursuit of this mission ... and share it with other cultures in the continuing struggle against the Goa'uld. Inclusion in the Alpha Project was decided by the Pentagon ... with all of the attendant political considerations." His lip curled with distaste. Yes, many of the people being sent were ideal for the mission, but too many were likely to be far less qualified for the harsh conditions. He had pressed for inclusion of a reasonable number of his own people---considering their experience invaluable---and been shot down. According to the Joint Chiefs, they were good enough to risk their lives on a daily basis, but not good enough to be included in any colonization plans, though amazingly several children of the Joint Chiefs who were little more than cadets had made the cut. Molars grinding, he forced down the anger, accepting that it wouldn't do any good whatsoever. "The Beta Project, however, is completely under my control. Technically, it's listed as research on the books ... and as such, falls under my discretionary powers as commanding officer of this project ... at least for the moment." The softly spoken words were a tacit acknowledgment that wasn't likely to last much longer.

"If you're looking for recommendations for personnel to send--" Makepeace began, but Hammond held up a hand to silence the colonel.

"No," the general said as he pivoted to face them. "Any decisions regarding personnel have already been made. My initial plan for was Colonel O'Neill to command ... with Captain Carter as his second. Obviously, that's no longer possible." Pain showed in his eyes for a brief second before it was pushed down and discarded. "So, Colonel Makepeace, you will be in command of the Beta Team. Doctor Fraiser, you'll be his second."

It was hard to tell who was more shocked, the beefy marine, or the rather delicately built woman next to him. They peered at each other for a brief second before looking at their superior as though he'd officially lost his mind.

"General," it was Fraiser who found the wits to speak first, "I'm not a field officer ... and I'll be needed here if--"

"You were chosen because, after Captain Carter, you probably understand the overall science of this project better than anyone." He knew how closely the women often worked together. And, while Fraiser didn't have Carter's understanding of astrophysics, there were personnel on the team who did, and she had a solid grasp of subject. What she did understand was the larger picture and how it all fit together. She also had the knowledge to make the serious, practical decisions that would be necessary if the team was forced to create a new world. She knew the members of the science team, was well liked and respected, and she was strong enough to stand up to Makepeace if necessary; not a small consideration. "And, you have both the leadership skills, and the knowledge to make the necessary decisions for this team's safety and future."

"Sir, I would really prefer--"

"You're going," he cut her off flatly, then looked at Makepeace, braced for his reaction.

The colonel geared up right on schedule. "Sir, if the fight's coming to this base, then this is where I belong."

"No," Hammond said firmly, though his voice remained level. "You belong where you can do the most good." Makepeace drew breath to argue, but Hammond cut him off. "I need someone in command of this mission who has the combat and survival experience to bring them through. One person more or less won't make a difference if it comes to combat inside the base. It could make a difference for the survival of this team." He took a breath, giving himself a single moment to gather himself before continuing. "Your desire to remain here and fight alongside your colleagues does you both proud, but right now, you're needed elsewhere." He saw how badly they both wanted to fight his decision, the urge to do everything possible to save their home at war with their training to follow orders. "Doctor, I've also arranged for Cassandra to join the team."

"Sir?" she whispered, hope and confusion in her expression.

"The kid?" Makepeace said doubtfully and flashed a glance at Fraiser. "No insult intended, sir. I realize we saved her life, but do you really think it's the appropriate place for a child?"

Hammond pinned the marine colonel in place with a firm look, wanting him to understand his decision wasn't based on the emotionalism of the moment. "If that child can detect the Goa'uld, yes."

"Sir?" Makepeace exhaled, caught by surprise.

"The naquada left in her system by the bomb," Janet explained quietly, "when she had the fainting spell, we discovered that it allows her to sense the Goa'uld ... at least if they get close enough."

"Range?" he asked practically, using the question to buy himself a moment to adjust to the paradigm shift in his knowledge base when he'd been ready to argue against the child's inclusion.

She shrugged, well aware of his scrutiny and reservations. "A couple of feet," she admitted, wondering if that would be enough to convince the man next to her. From what she knew, he was hardcore military enough to make even Jack O'Neill raise an eyebrow.

After taking a moment to absorb her answer, Makepeace nodded, his expression serious. "Under those circumstances, I withdraw any objections, sir."

Hammond nodded, then continued, "As uncomfortable as I am with sending a child into this kind of situation, her ability to sense Goa'uld could be a very important factor in the team's survival." He saw the tiny shudder of relief that slid through the doctor, understanding it far better than she knew, all too aware that he was giving the child a chance he couldn't even give his own grandchildren. "As I said, the aim of this mission will be to preserve the knowledge gathered by this project ... and continue to work against the Goa'uld ... by whatever means you deem best. I can spare forty people---mostly from the sciences---and two MALPs. You'll have as much equipment as we can spare and complete documentation of this project. Food and additional supplies for six months have already been cached on your destination world. You're to remain there for two weeks ... with no contact with earth. We'll blank all references to your destination from the computers in the event the base is overrun. You're to make contact at the end of two weeks, and if there's no response...." he paused for the briefest second before continuing, "proceed at your discretion. Where the Alpha Project will be a static mission, your task will be to make contact with other cultures ... share what we've learned ... make alliances ... and carry on the work of this mission." He shot a hard look at Makepeace, well aware of the drive he would have to take revenge on the Goa'uld if the worst happened. "It's not vengeance, it's survival, and continued resistance to the Goa'uld, but I do not want any suicidal gestures. Until such time as you can amass power, you keep your heads low."

Makepeace nodded stiffly, well aware that his superior had a point, no matter how little he liked it. "Understood, sir."

"I know you do," Hammond assured him. "And I know you'll do the job well." The general offered Fraiser a far gentler look. "Doctor, you should know that much of this was arranged by Captain Carter. She chose the location months ago ... and as things have gotten more..." he paused as he hunted for the right word, though he doubted such a thing was possible under the circumstances, "dire ... made absolutely certain Cassandra could safely join the team." Aware of the situation with the Alpha Team, the Beta Team had actually been Carter's idea, cooked up some months before as little more than a contingency plan she'd never expected to be needed. It had been his decision to put O'Neill in charge with her as his second, since she'd made the point they'd need experienced personnel with both military and scientific skills, but Carter had heavily influenced the secondary choices---at least when it came to the doctor, whose lack of combat experience had made Hammond leery. "She also argued for you to be included in the mission ... and take her position as second-in-command if she was unavailable."

Dark eyes slid closed, and the woman looked like she'd been struck.

"In fact, she managed to get an email off to me reiterating that fact before SG-1 left." He sighed softly, annoyance and respect present in equal measures. "She has a great deal of faith in you, Doctor. As do I." He looked at Makepeace. "I have the utmost faith in both of you." He needed them to understand and believe that. With what they were facing, morale would be key. "The rest of your team is being informed and gathered. Doctor, I've already arranged for Cassandra to be brought to the base. She should be here shortly. Now, get moving. You'll be leaving from the gateroom within the hour." He pointed to two folders on the table. "Those contain full personnel and equipments lists, as well as a complete mission dossier." He glanced between them. "I'm grateful to have officers I can trust with this responsibility."

He half expected further argument, but both officers simply shared a look, retrieved the folders, and trudged out, both too shell shocked to do anything else. He sighed softly as he turned to stare back out at the gate and preparations for the Beta Team. He still had a little power left and he damn well intended to make the best possible use of it. Finally, he turned away, hurrying to see to other duties, well aware, there was still a lot left to do and not much time in which to do it.

* * * * * *

Janet read through most of her folder during the journey back to the infirmary where she found Cass already there, looking very small and frightened in fatigues the dwarfed her small frame, though they were clearly the smallest anyone could find. Miguel Martinez was packing a case and visibly keeping an eye on the girl. "Doc," he said when he realized she was there.

Cass just ran to her, and Janet hugged her hard, absorbing the small shudders that slid through the girl's small frame.

"I just got the word," Martinez said, playing competent professional, though there was fear in his eyes. "I've been assigned to this mission that's leaving." He sounded very uncertain about the idea. Not surprising. With time so short, even the mission commanders barely knew what was happening. The rest of the team was virtually in the dark.

"Yeah." She offered him an encouraging smile. "Get that down to the gateroom when you're done packing the kit, then get yourself ready. We don't have much time."

She spent the remainder of her scant time checking last minute details in the infirmary, then getting herself and Cass prepped, though the child seemed hopelessly small in the tactical vest, no matter how tightly it was laced. Janet found enough space in the small daypack the girl had been assigned to shove in the jeans and t-shirt she'd arrived in along with a few things that would hopefully keep her entertained.

"I can get her to the gateroom if you want to check on things in the infirmary one more time," Makepeace offered when he stuck his head in and saw they were both ready.

Janet glanced at her watch and noted the time. She just had enough time to check in and grab a few things from her office. "Thanks."

He nodded and swept the girl up in his arms, disappearing down the hall at a dog trot.

Janet hurried back to the infirmary, checking a few last things with Warner, then stepping into her office for a final time. It was a strange impulse. With only moments before they were due to leave, she found herself checking her email, then scarcely able to breathe when she saw Sam's name on the list. Hands suddenly shaking, she brought it up, realizing instantly that Sam must have sent it on a time delay as she was leaving. The words were simple, probably hurriedly typed, and meant more than she would have thought possible.

Janet,

I'm sorry we won't get a chance to speak again, but SG-1 is leaving soon, and I know there won't be time. With luck, everything will be fine here, but if it's not, you'll learn that I made sure that you and Cassie were a part of a second colonization team, and hopefully, that I didn't break my word. I'm just sorry for all the confusion and problems. God willing, we'll all come through this, but if we don't I want you to know that I was never angry at you, just myself . I wish I had more time, but I want you to know that you and Cass are everything to me and nothing could ever change that. Be safe and know that you are both with me in my heart, no matter what happens.

Love,
Sam

Love Sam. She had to fight the urge to fall apart right then and there as it all suddenly became real to her in a way it hadn't been until that moment. She didn't even realize she'd hit print until she heard the ink jet on the corner of her desk spit out the paper with the half a dozen lines printed on it.

"Fraiser to the the gateroom," a voice rang in the receiver in her ear even as she grabbed the paper, folding it and stuffing it in the tactical vest. It was all she had of Sam and whatever happened, she needed something. Taking a deep breath and pushing the panic down, she nodded to Warner. "Good luck."

He nodded. "You too."

And then she was running, dashing for the gateroom to be with her group. Cass was there, holding Makepeace's hand tightly and looking incredibly scared. No surprise. The poor kid had already lost one homeworld to the Goa’uld. Now she stood to possibly lose a second.

"Thanks," Janet panted to the marine as she caught the child's other hand and felt the girl press firmly against her side.

The marine colonel nodded, his expression grim. A quick glance down at Cass and the hardness softened to something haunted for just a moment, leaving her to wonder who he left behind on this mission; a wife, a child? She didn't know, and suddenly felt the weight of gratitude that Cass was along as it struck her just how many people were leaving behind loved ones they could do nothing to save. She glanced up at the observation window, seeing General Hammond there. Even her C.O. could do nothing for his children and grandchildren except try and save the world against insanely bad odds. The gate exploded to life and she tightened her hold on Cass's hand. "It'll be okay," she whispered as much to soothe her own frazzled emotions as the child's.

The girl's head tipped back on her shoulders, her expression solemn. "I wish we could bring Simon," she said softly.

Janet swallowed hard against the sudden tightness in her throat, silently cursing Jack O'Neill for dropping the dumb mutt in her life and making her care. With everything else going to hell, he should have been the least of her concerns. "Lieutenant Simms said she'll drop him off at the kennel when she gets off." Assuming there was still a base, still a city, and still a planet. "He'll be okay."

"What about Sam?"

Drawing on every last ounce of her professional objectivity, Janet blinked back the threat of tears and offered a reassuring smile. "She's trying to keep us all safe right now, honey ... but she'll do everything she can to come back." It was the best she could offer without lying.

Cassie's hand clenched her own more tightly. "She'll be okay," the little girl whispered. "She has to be."

Janet could only pray the child was right as they moved forward into the icy reaches of the stargate.

* * * * * *

Sam Carter was having what could politely be described as a really crappy day. Really, there wasn't any other way to describe it---at least none that didn't rely heavily on words beginning with the letter "F". Having gated to the coordinates Daniel had obtained in an alternate universe, SG-1 was trapped on a Goa'uld mothership that just happened to be winging its way toward Earth at better than light speed, where total thermonuclear Armageddon was likely to take place, and the only thing to stop it from happening was SG-1 ... versus god only knew how many Jaffa, assorted extremely superior bits of superior technology, not to mention a mothership or two.

Oh, and the one person in all the world that she ... well ... cared for a lot ... probably thought she hated her and wasn't likely to be checking her email with the project shutting down, security doubtless having a field day with SG-1 AWOL, and possibly death bearing down on her, so as to note that, no, Sam certainly didn't hate her. If anything she....

...cared for her very much.

Yep, crappy day.

She leaned forward, glancing around the edge of a corner, her MP5 up and ready. Teal'c and the colonel were scouting another corridor, leaving she and Daniel to check down this one. She stepped forward carefully, waving for him to follow. He stepped alongside her as they entered an empty chamber with walls covered in Goa'uld glyphs.

Leaning close, the archaeologist studied the figures carefully, reading the nearest lines with some effort.

"Anything?" she whispered, struggling to keep her mind on the situation at hand.

He shook his head. "Just odes to greatness of Apophis," he muttered, subtle shadings of hatred underlying the softly spoken words, reminding her that the Goa'uld had stolen her friend's wife, corrupted and perverted her by inserting the parasitic form of its beloved into her body. Sha're was now Amonet, Apophis' one true love, whatever was left of Daniel's wife trapped somewhere in her own mind. She couldn't even being to imagine what that had to be like for Daniel to know that and be unable to do anything to help her.

"We'll get her back someday," she said very softly, her own worries momentarily forgotten.

He glanced back at her, well aware of who she was referring to, then looked at the glyphs again, reading them more easily than he might have wished. "I wonder," he sighed sadly, far from certain any of them were going to make it out alive. For a moment, the desire to see Sha're, if only for a second, was almost overwhelming, leaving him slightly shaky in the knees, and painfully aware of what he'd lost. One hand fisted tightly at his side as he fought a tidal wave of hurt he didn't have time for. Finally, he glanced back. "We've got more immediate worries right now," he said at last.

For just a moment, Sam's own fears were visible in her eyes as she was reminded of everything she'd left behind. "Yeah, more--" she skidded to a verbal halt as she suddenly heard the sound of boots on metal flooring. Shoving Daniel around the corner, she dove after him, pressing into a shadowed alcove, her MP5 up and ready, praying that they wouldn't be noticed.

Because if they were, this mission might just end very quickly.

Definitely a really crappy day.

* * * * * *

"Get the tents set up on the ledge up there," Makepeace ordered briskly, getting the scientific personnel moving even as his people fanned out to recon the area. As he looked around at their temporary home, he had to admit, Carter had chosen well. C5X-151 was a green world, wooded, the climate temperate. Mountains rose steeply away from the gate on one side, forming a defensible overlook that had plenty of room for several tents. Hopefully, they'd only be there for a couple of weeks before heading home, but if necessary, it would make a good base of operations to work from while contacting other worlds, and/or deciding where to move to next.

He looked over his new command, assessing their skills. They were smart, hard working; the best the SGC had to offer. He'd feel better if he had a few more people with combat experience, but hopefully that wouldn't be necessary. He saw Fraiser helping with some of the heavy scientific equipment and stepped forward, tapping her shoulder lightly, and hooking his head to side to indicate he wanted to speak to her privately. After a brief word to the officers she was working with, she followed him a short distance, far enough that they could speak in private, but close enough that he could keep an eye on things.

"Yes, sir?" Her tone was formal and polite, as though their world wasn't on the verge of being destroyed, and they weren't standing on an alien world that might just be their new home.

He raised an eyebrow, recognizing the wall she'd put in place for what it was. Pure defense mechanism. Every member of the team had their own version of the same device in place to get through the things they faced, himself included. "I wanted to talk to you about Cassie," he informed her, spotting the kid where she was helping as best she could.

"All right."

"Her ability to detect the Goa'uld ... it's not generally known, is it?"

She shook her head. "No, sir," the doctor responded, her gaze following his, automatically tracking the child. "Other than you and I---and Cass of course ---I think Martinez and Hayes are the only ones on the team who are aware of it."

"Speak to them---have 'em keep it under their hats. You too."

She frowned, not understanding the reason for the secrecy. Used to working in the base, where the entrances in and out were guarded and sealed tight, she hadn't yet dealt with the reality that they might be completely on their own.

"Her value lies in her ability to detect the enemy. If we were to be infiltrated and the enemy realized what she can do, it would reduce her value considerably ... and make her a target."

He saw the message sink in as brown eyes widened faintly, fear ghosting into evidence before it was quickly hidden behind an emotionless wall. "I'll inform Hayes and Martinez to keep quiet," she responded after a beat.

"You okay?" he added, not knowing her well enough to be certain how she was handling their present situation.

She offered a small, tense shrug. "Are any of us?"

Makepeace managed a shrug of his own. "This isn't exactly your normal range of duties."

Well aware that he was probably less than thrilled with having her as his second, she nodded. "No, sir, it's not ... but I seem to have gotten stuck with it ... and I'll do my damnedest to do it well."

Makepeace offered a grim smile. "I know that," he allowed, then tried to look encouraging despite any doubts. "You'll do okay."

She glanced back toward the gate, and he could almost hear the gears turning in her head as one hand rose, fingertips just barely brushing one of the pockets on her vest, the look on her face a painful combination of worry and longing. He wondered what link to home she had there since Cassandra was with her; a letter, a picture, some small token from family or a lover. He didn't know much about her beyond her steady presence in the infirmary and suddenly found himself wondering what qualities Carter and Hammond had both seen to give them faith she was the right person for the job. It had to be more than just her knowledge of the project. In the end, all he could do was hope they were right. He let his gaze follow hers, eyeing the gate a little sadly. "Never thought I'd be prayin' for Jack O'Neill," he sighed, well aware of the way she flinched. He consciously shook off the threat of depression, putting practical considerations back into play. "C'mon, there's a hell of a lot to get done before nightfall."

Janet only nodded, relieved to have something to concentrate on, though she cast a last look at the stargate before following him, a tiny prayer on her lips.

It never occurred to either officer that watching eyes tracked their every move.

* * * * * *

The amazing thing about really bad days is that they invariably find ways to get worse.

The Goa'uld in charge of the mothership SG-1 found itself on was none other than Klorel, the Goa'uld that just happened to inhabit the body of Jack O'Neill's dear friend Skaara, and also the child of Apophis. Driven to try and save his friend, O'Neill had taken Teal'c and left Sam and Daniel to place explosives in hopes of blowing the mothership and stopping its advance on earth. Unfortunately, the odds were that the colonel and Teal'c were now Goa'uld prisoners. Damn the man for thinking he could just talk Klorel into turning back into Skaara. As plans went, that one was as bad as Jack O'Neill had ever come up with as far as she was concerned.

Yep, things just kept getting better and better.

Sam Carter sighed a soft curse, trying not to think about everything back home, her father and brother, niece and nephew, the base, Janet and Cass---

With luck she'd at least given the last two a chance at survival if the worst happened. Would that she could have done the same for the other people in her life. Feeling the threat of raw panic, she pushed that thought down, forcing herself to concentrate on the work at hand. Worrying about her family wouldn't change anything. Doing her job just might.

Finished prepping an explosive pack, she glanced around, trying to decide if there was a specific optimum point for placement or if one place was pretty much as good as another. Concluding that the fuel cells were spaced so that one point was pretty much as good as another, she shoved it into a handy break in the cell where it wasn't likely to be noticed, then started prepping detonator from her pack.

"You okay?" Daniel asked as he drew close, not moving as quickly as she was. He had agile hands from years of working with delicate archaeological artifacts, but the work was unfamiliar enough that he had to go slow.

"Finegreatwonderful," she clipped, making it all one word.

He raised an eyebrow, but didn't challenge the obvious lie. "That's good because I'm scared to death."

She glanced back, seeing his gentle smile and realized he was teasing her, though it took her a moment. "I'm not really scared for myself," she admitted, answering seriously, though she knew he'd intended to lighten the moment. She'd never been particularly good at gallows humor and at that moment was particularly incapable of it. "Just...." She trailed off, shaking her head as she returned her attention to the timing device.

"You made sure they had an escape route if the worst happens," Daniel said very softly, somehow cutting straight to the heart of her fears. "Whatever happens, they'll be okay."

She swallowed hard, not wanting to think about the possibilities, afraid the sheer terror might just paralyze her. "It was easier before..." she whispered, the words coming unbidden when she would have preferred to remain silent, or even better, not even look at the fact that the sense of family she got from Janet and Cassie was different from what she felt for her father and brother. Not that she loved them more or less, but more like she was a part of something---and it was a part of her. It was just different, and that difference made her more responsible to and for them in a way she wasn't for her father or brother. She looked back at her teammate. Seeing the sympathy in his eyes, she didn't allow herself to question its cause. "Is it always like this ... caring for someone else? I've never felt so helpless in my life." It was a hard admission to make, and the moment the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could call them back.

She wondered whether it was blindness or courtesy that led him to assume she simply meant Cass. "Someone once said that having a child is like tearing your heart out of your chest and giving it feet to walk around with." And then he shattered her assumptions by quietly adding, "...but I think that's true of anyone we love."

Sam's breath caught as she saw the look in her teammate's eyes; compassion, caring, and entirely too much understanding. No, he couldn't.... She was imagining things. He couldn't possibly....

She suddenly attacked the timing device with fierce determination. "We need to hurry. No telling when we might be spotted by a passing Jaffa."

She would be eternally grateful that he accepted her subject change with a nod and simply ducked his head to concentrate on the explosives.

Could it get any better than this?

* * * * * *

With night falling over the world serving as the Beta Team's temporary home, the human refugees were instinctively edgy. Worried about their homeworld, the officers and enlisted personnel kept themselves busy with a myriad of organizational and practical tasks, seeing to both their temporary comfort and safety as well as the long-term realities of their mission. The work was necessary and also kept them from having to think too closely about what might be happening on earth. They were there to do a job, and they maintained their collective sanity by focusing on that to the exclusion of all else.

They'd set their tents on the low hill overlooking the gate, with pickets spaced on all sides of the small camp and a static lookout on the tower of rock that bounded the rear edge of the encampment. Not that anyone thought there were any serious threats out there, but knowing they needed to change their entire way of thinking, Makepeace was determined to start things right. If they were on their own for real, then caution would be far more important than it had ever been before. Most of the personnel on the mission didn't have a lot of experience with the kind of steady-state paranoia that just might keep them alive, so it was time they learned.

Staring down at the silhouetted figure of the stargate just barely visible in the last fading hints of sunlight, he made radio contact with the pickets near the forest's edge on the other side of the gate. With so few people, he'd concentrated more on protecting from any incursions through the gate than from any local threats. To the best of their knowledge the world was unpopulated, and there didn't appear to be any large predators. A man on the high ground and four sentries was as much as he could spare without spreading the team too thin. To his relief, everyone checked in promptly and seemed to be calm and handling their task well. With so few combat personnel, he'd staggered them---one of his people, then one from the science division---figuring this way, the science jockeys would get some experience while things were less likely to go wrong, but still have backup from more combat seasoned officers if something did happen. Doing a slow turn, he tracked various people moving through the camp, automatically identifying the shadows he saw, matching body types and ways of moving to the people he knew on the mission, gearing himself up to identify them quickly in all circumstances.

Despite the seeming calm, a sense of unease crawled down his spine, making the hair at the back of his neck prickle uncomfortably. Perfectly normal nerves, he assured himself. With all the crap going on, a man would have to inhuman not to be feeling a little restless. He muttered a soft curse, struggling to force down the unusual edginess, and put his normal cool mask into place. Misplaced emotion was the last thing any of them could afford at that point---he glanced back toward the gate---which only made the sense that someone had walked over his grave that much more intense. "You're doing it to yourself, Bobby-boy," he chastised himself bitterly. Staring at that thing, and the deepening forest shadows was like a little kid staring too hard into a half open closet after the lights were out. Do that, and the mind was bound to start inventing things to scare the body.

Consciously forcing down any childish fears, he turned back toward the camp, returning his attention where it belonged, the people now under his command. As he tracked various personnel, it was easy enough to pick out the slight frame of his new second in command. At least a half a head shorter than anyone else in her immediate vicinity, she was easy to differentiate from the others. She was speaking to another officer, explaining something if her hand motions were any gauge, while still managing to direct traffic and keep track of the child hanging close to her side. He trailed a contemplative look over the small camp, noting that things were moving into position faster than he would have predicted; mostly her doing, since he'd been knee deep in seeing to their physical safety. His gaze returned to the woman in question as he considered her abilities, noting the ease with which she commanded the respect of the people she worked with. She wasn't who he would have chosen, but maybe it was best to have someone in place who knew how to deal with the science types. And god knew, that wasn't him.

He was still pondering that thought when Len Jacobs---one of his five fellow marines on the team---broke in on his thoughts, his voice cigarette smoke raspy, leaving Makepeace to wonder what he was going to do when his supply of Marlboros ran out. Instinct told him it wasn't gonna be pretty. "At least you get a few perks with the job," the other man commented as he pulled abreast of his superior.

The marine colonel noted the direction of the other man's gaze---winding up on the delicate figure of his new second in command---and frowned, feeling vaguely like he had in high school when his cousin had set him up on a date; strongly suspecting he was expected to do something, but wholly undecided as to what he might be interested in doing and what was simply societal expectation. Great, yet another stress he could do without. "Drop it," he muttered, not thrilled to realize that the others were probably doing a bit of speculating. By now, they'd all noticed that the mission was roughly split between men and women, all healthy and of child-bearing age. He wasn't too thrilled by the notion, but the reality was that if they did wind up on their own, there was reason for that half and half split. That was probably part of Hammond's original reasoning in putting O'Neill and Carter in as his first choice for the top two command slots; the alpha male and alpha female to lead the new pack. Hell, half the base already figured those two were having an affair. It made sense for them to be the leaders if things went that way.

"Aw, come on, Colonel," Jacobs taunted, using the joke to release some of his own tensions on top of being a jackass as far as his superior was concerned, "you know what's expected...." he let the words trail off suggestively, and raised an eyebrow as he offered a smirking grin. "And she's got a nice pair of--"

Leave it to Jacobs to notice that at a time like this, Makepeace thought with dark irony. "Drop. It," he repeated carefully, clamping down on his anger. "In case you haven't heard this isn't a goddamned sock hop." He could sling the bull with the best of them, but this wasn't the time. "Earth may not be much more than a smoking cinder in a few more hours ... so some of us aren't terribly focused on playing the Dating Game."

Jacobs flinched and reared back, then fell silent, suddenly looking like he'd been gut punched by Mike Tyson in his prime.

Too late, Makepeace remembered the guy had a wife and two kids back home. Okay, so he was an asshole who cheated on that wife, and didn't see near enough of those kids, but he was asshole trying desperately to put on a front that he wasn't scared to death. The colonel sighed softly, unclipping his helmet and peeling it off to blot the sweat catching under the band and making his forehead sting. "Just leave it alone," he begged. The last thing he needed to deal with was some group expectation that he and Fraiser had been set up on the cosmic blind date to end all blind dates. Sheez, not even twenty-four hours into this little tea party, and he was already stuck dealing with the sort of crap that made a root canal look like fun.

Jacobs hung his head and nodded. "Y'sir," he mumbled, looking like a whipped puppy. "Sorry, sir."

Great, now add some guilt to the load, Makepeace thought. God, he really hated Jack O'Neill. This was supposed to be his job. The marine colonel would have cheerfully traded places with his nemesis at that moment. Combat, he could handle just fine. This crap, however, was not his thing at all. "Just try to take it easy, would you," he pleaded. "Just for awhile, try not to say anything to anybody that you wouldn't say to your mother." Hopefully, that would encourage him to keep his mouth shut.

"Y'sir," Jacobs muttered.

"Was there anything else?" the colonel questioned as it occurred to him he didn't know why the younger man had come over.

"We finished digging up the ammo and weapons cache, sir."

"Good job," the colonel murmured, hoping to take some of the sting out of the earlier reprimand. Now was not the time for anybody to be stuck with any more emotional baggage than necessary. "Get back and see if anybody else needs help with the rest of the gear."

"Yes, sir," Jacobs said, his tone a little more normal, then hurried away, clearly eager to be out of his superior's presence.

Makepeace took a moment for himself, then hurried back toward the main encampment. There was still plenty of work to be done before they broke for the night.

* * * * * *

Work progressed well into the night, but finally orders were given to extinguish any lights and bed down. They couldn't afford to waste battery power, but more importantly, wearing themselves out on the first night wouldn't do the team any good. At best, they were looking at a couple of high stress weeks. At worst....

At worst didn't bear thinking about, and it was no accident that most of the men and women lay awake in their bedrolls long after the lights went out and things quieted down, more than a few of them fighting choking tears.

Too keyed up to sleep, Janet checked on Cass---long since passed out in their tent---then paced through camp, pausing to recheck some of the more sensitive medical supplies before moving on, aimlessly wandering just to keep moving. She didn't stop until she hit the edge of their temporary home away from home, out of the range of the light from the fires now dying down, but where she could keep an eye on the tent where Cassie slept. She just needed to be alone for a few minutes; let her head clear and get away from people who wanted her to magically have answers for everything. She unzipped the tactical vest and jacket underneath, wondering if the regular SG teams got as sick of the gear as she already was. If they did, it was a wonder any of them stayed on the project. She reached under the jacket, scratching her left shoulder, which had been itching all day where a ridge from the vest rubbed uncomfortably, then found an outcropping of rock and sank down. One of the pockets of the tactical vest rattled, reminding her that she'd slipped Sam's letter inside so many hours ago.

Janet froze. She hadn't allowed herself to think about the letter---or the woman who wrote it---during the previous hours of grinding work. Every time it had come up, she'd shut it down as quickly as possible. Worrying about Sam was more than she could handle, which only made her feel small and slightly churlish. After all, the whole damn planet was at stake. What was one more person, more or less? Her eyes slid closed, chest clenching and making it hard to breathe. Except the one person was Sam, and that was as much as Janet could comprehend. She couldn't think in terms of the whole planet. That didn't feel real where the thought of Sam dying did. Exhaling a soft sigh, she massaged the bridge of her nose, wishing the final moments between them had been something---anything---other than a stupid, meaningless fight that neither of them would have allowed had they had any idea what could happen. She just hoped Sam was still alive to regret it as much as she did, because the anger and recriminations between them were nothing compared to the possibility that they'd lost everything.

Releasing another tired sigh, she ran a hand through her bangs and scraping them back from her face. Tempting as it was to give in and just have a good cry, she was afraid that if she ever started, she'd never be able to stop.

Without planning to, she slipped the letter from her vest pocket, carefully unfolding the paper, the thin moonlight offering just barely enough illumination to read the few lines of print. She traced them with her eyes, then when she'd done that so many times the words were running together, ran her thumb along each letter.

"Love, Sam...."

She traced those last words again, taking incredible comfort from the knowledge that those words had been written after the blowup in Sam's lab, and feeling a little less alone, as though some part of her friend's spirit was there with her. Closing her eyes tightly, she fought a fresh threat of tears, missing the other woman more than she would have thought possible. She'd have given anything for one more astronomy lesson, or even just one hug. Anything to get her through this.

"Y'okay, Doc?"

Janet blinked, quickly refolding the letter as she tipped her head back to peer up at the man standing over her. "Martinez," she said softly and started to rise, assuming there was a problem.

He held out a hand to forestall her. "I saw you wander away from camp," the medic quickly explained. "Just wanted to check and make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine," she answered about as believably as could be expected. Which is to say that it came out sounding like the lie it was.

He shook his head, waving her answer off as he took a seat on the opposite side of the boulder. "That would make you the only one on the planet," he sighed and leaned back on his hands, staring at the unfamiliar stars overhead. "God, I haven't prayed so much since I was a kid and we were in the Little League playoffs." He looked over at her, his tone wry. "We lost. Goddamn it, I wish I could have problems that bad again."

"Yeah," Janet sighed distantly, her attention on the letter in hand. She ran her thumb along a folded edge, almost caressing it before tucking it back into a vest pocket.

"Letter from Carter?" he asked, his voice low and all too understanding.

Caught by surprise, Janet tensed. "I-I don't..." she began only to pull up short as she ran out of words. It had never occurred to her that anyone might have noticed what she'd only recently begun to figure out, and which Sam had just had thrown in her face. She looked at the medic, saw the knowledge in his eyes, and started to deny the subtle implication in his tone only to come up short. It was true, and she couldn't dishonor her feelings for Sam by lying about it.

"It's okay," Martinez soothed automatically. She could just barely make out the twist to his lips as he offered an ironic smile. "I'm the last guy who's gonna tell anyone." He had his own Don't Ask, Don't Tell secrets to keep. He was hardly likely to blow hers. "I just figure you're as scared as I am right now ... can't admit to most people though." Another soft, sad sigh escaped his lips. "I keep thinking about Duncan back on base ... hoping he's okay. I know he can be a dipshit, but...." Unable to finish, he fell silent for a long moment. "But he’s my dipshit...y’know what I mean?" he muttered at last.

Suddenly too choked up to speak, she reached out, found his hand with her own, and squeezed hard. Even if she and Sam weren't lovers, emotionally speaking, they might as well have been---at least as far as she was concerned.

He squeezed her hand tightly, his voice gentle as he offered what comfort he could. "I know things don't look so good, but if anyone can pull a miracle out of the hat, it's Carter...."

A tiny, gasping sob escaped Janet's lips before she could clamp down on her emotions. She suddenly realized she'd been holding on desperately to that very hope; Sam and her knack for miracles was all she had to cling to. "I know," she husked when she regained control.

"And she's got a lot to come home to," he added sympathetically, his gaze following hers to the tent where Cass slept, then sweeping back to meet dark eyes.

The doctor couldn't speak and didn't even try this time, nowhere near an emotional place where she could discuss what had happened with Sam; the kiss, rejection, fight, or lingering bond. Besides, it wasn't exactly the ideal topic for discussion with one of her junior officers. In the end, she just shrugged.

Martinez, wisely, didn't pursue the subject, instead falling silent for a long time. Finally, he cleared his throat, and she had the oddest sense he'd been considering what to say, though his question was a predictable and quite neutral, "You doing okay with this whole second in command thing?"

"Scared to death, but I'll survive." She glanced at her aid, frowning ever so slightly as she tried to read his expression. "Why? What have you heard?"

The lengthy pause that followed did nothing for her self-confidence. "About your competency?" he said at last, then answered the question, "Nothing." Another long pause followed, the delay enough to make her gnash her teeth.

"What is it?" she demanded, sounding annoyed this time. She hated it when people threw things out, then just left her hanging.

The medic exhaled a heavy sigh, suddenly thinking he should have just kept his mouth shut, but then again, she was his superior---not to mention someone he genuinely liked and respected. There were things she had a right to know. "I've overheard a certain amount of speculation today..." he began carefully, "...about you ... from the marines...."

Fraiser raised an eyebrow, oddly grateful for a distraction. "Really?" she drawled in that icy way wiser members of the infirmary staff had come to dread.

"Yeah," he said hesitantly, then continued a halting explanation, "Generally, I'm not one to tell tales out of school, but you should be aware that they're already ... well ... assuming you'll ... um ... pair off with the colonel."

She snorted something impolite about jarheads under her breath, then muttered, "Are they?"

"Yes, ma'am ... kinda already considering you the colonel's lady, in fact," he added hesitantly, half afraid of making things worse, but also well aware that with some kind of warning she'd be better equipped to deal with the matter on her own terms. Plenty of hurt, scared soldiers who'd gone through the infirmary had come out of it with pretty obvious crushes. She knew how to deflect overeager, would-be suitors without causing a problem. Better she knew about what was being said and any pressures that might be brought to bear.

She cursed softly, too tired and emotionally wrenched to deal with one more problem. Lifting her feet off the ground, she braced them on the edge of the boulder, folding herself into a ball and wrapping her arms tightly around her legs. "Think it's too late to get out of this gig?"

Miguel responded with a soft, sympathetic sigh. He knew several of the more hardcore line officers were angry over her appointment, feeling one of them should have had it instead, not really understanding---or accepting anyway---that if this mission was real, springboards to promotion were now irrelevant. He wouldn't have traded places for all the money in the world. He was smart enough to know he didn't want that much responsibility. "Well, hopefully it'll only last a couple of weeks."

"From your mouth to god's ear," she whispered in a very small voice, then rested her chin on her upthrust knees, just staring across the small camp.

A long moment of total silence while they were both lost in their thoughts, then finally, Miguel cleared his throat. "Look," he said quietly, "if it comes down to it ... us staying here or winding up ... wherever ... and you need a cover...." He met her gaze. "I'd be happy to watch your back ... and it would give us both some protection."

She was silent, taking a moment to digest what he was suggesting and feeling like she'd entered some heretofore unknown, secret society. "God, this sucks," she exhaled at last, her voice tinged with dark humor.

He nodded. "I know." He offered a small shrug. "If there's anything I can do to help...."

"You too, huh," she murmured, and reached out to give his hand another hard squeeze. "This isn't easy for any of us." She liked Martinez. Hell, he'd probably saved her life by forcing his lover, Duncan Royce, to go to Jack O'Neill, of all people, with the information that Tony Phillips was obsessed with her. Without that heads up, Sam probably wouldn't have made it back in time to save her life after Hathor sicced the poor bastard on her.

Several minutes of companionable silence ticked by, then Miguel pushed back to his feet and turned to face her. "Well, you were probably hoping for a few minutes alone," he murmured as it occurred that he'd intruded.

Janet didn't deny the charge. It was the one thing that sometimes worked against her in the military; the frequent need she'd always had to just close the world out and sink into herself for a little while. She played well with others, but sometimes needed some time alone to decompress.

The medic seemed to understand though, because he simply smothered a yawn pointedly. "And I should head for bed anyway." He flashed her a worried look. "Don't stay up too late."

She nodded. "Don't worry." Massaging the back of her neck tiredly---while trying desperately not to think how used to having someone else do that for her she'd gotten during her time with the SGC---Fraiser accepted that she wasn't going to be much longer for this world either. "I'll just be a few more minutes."

Nodding his acceptance, he slipped away, hurrying in the direction of his tent.

Janet watched him go, then rested her cheek on her upthrust knees, struggling to simply blank her mind and escape the endless cycle of thoughts her brain insisted on replaying incessantly. There was nothing she could do about any of her worries and they only added to her stress level.

She was still sitting there long minutes later, trying desperately not to think when the soft crack of a twig brought her head up sharply. She pushed to her feet and spun in one move, her hand going automatically to her sidearm. She came up short as she recognized the blocky shadow standing a short distance away. "Colonel." Her voice came out a strangled gasp as it occurred to her to wonder how long he'd been there and how much of her conversation with Miguel he might have overheard.

Makepeace stepped forward a pace, moving out of the deepest forest, though his expression was still cast in stark shadows that gave his face an almost demonically harsh line. "Doctor," he said softly. He nodded to indicate the watch position overlooking the camp. "I was just checking in with Johnson," he explained.

"Oh," Terrified he'd overheard something damning, she didn't know what else to say.

"You really should get some sleep," he chided, his tone unreadable.

She eyed her superior uncertainly, uncomfortable with his mood, but unable to chalk it up to anything specific he was doing. He was just being odd. "Yeah ... I guess I should," she allowed and stepped back a pace. She glanced back toward the camp, noting how quiet things were, then looked back at the marine colonel, suddenly struck by the size difference between them. "I should get back now."

He nodded stiffly. "That's right." He glanced toward her tent. "You should be with Cassandra."

Consciously dismissing any uneasiness, she nodded. "Yeah. See you in the morning." He nodded to dismiss her and she quickly hurried off, well aware that his eyes tracked her the entire way.

* * * * * *

Not good. This was so very, incredibly, not good. Teal'c and the colonel were Goa'uld prisoners, and while Sam and Daniel were still loose on the mothership, she couldn't help but wonder how long they could remain so with Jaffa moving about constantly.

And now, in the hangar, they'd found hundreds of death gliders being prepared for the assault on earth.

As the jarring rhythm of Jaffa boots on steel flooring echoed in the air, Sam yanked Daniel into another cubby hole, noting he was ghostly pale.

Once the patrol was past, he looked at her. "We've got to stop this ship. If those gliders get within range of earth...." He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't have to. They both knew what would happen.

She nodded, her mind already racing. She and Daniel didn't have much hope of staying hidden for long, and the farther from earth this ship was stopped, the better. "If we can take control of the command chamber, stop Klorel, and free the colonel and Teal'c...."

"Take command of a Goa'uld mothership?" he exhaled a little doubtfully as he realized what she was proposing.

"They won't expect it," she murmured, thinking that the element of surprise might work in their favor. He just continued to stare at her, until she raised an annoyed eyebrow. "You have a better idea?" If they could take command, turn the ship away, maybe even succeed in destroying it and find a way to escape alive.

"Not a thing." Daniel shook his head, though he sincerely wished he could have answered more positively.

"That isn't the answer I was hoping for," Sam admitted as she began checking her weapon, and calculating the best route to the command chamber.

"Me either."

* * * * * *

Her vest and belt rolled together along the side of the tent, sidearm carefully within reach, boots still on and no more than a bedroll and thin mat between her back and uneven ground, Janet finally managed to sleep, though it was a shallow, uncomfortable sort of thing. As a result, she was awake immediately when a body stumbled into the side of the tent, making the canvas ruffle softly. Her hand went straight to her sidearm, drawing it as she pushed to a crouch. A moment passed, then she relaxed fractionally as the shadows cast onto the wall of the tent moved on. Good move, she mentally chided herself, scaring yourself in the dark. It was no wonder, really. Chased off earth by a Goa'uld invasion force, camped on an alien world and uncertain about what was going to happen, the mind raced and imagined impossible scenarios.

Like Goa'uld operatives wandering through camp. Yeah, right, there's an idea. She barely resisted the urge to snort at her own jumpiness. The Goa'uld had no way of knowing where they were, and they certainly didn't have assassins waiting on every world with a gate. She had no doubts about the care Sam had taken to make sure they were in a secure location. She was just over-reacting to a bump in the night.

That thought was still foremost in her mind as she realized Cassie was half sitting up. Thinking she'd probably scared the hell out of the poor kid with her sudden over-reaction, she looked down and started to offer some words of comfort only to have the words die unspoken the instant she saw the child's expression. Her eyes so wide Janet could see white all the way around her irises, she was clutching the edge of the bedroll and staring at the wall of the tent with a look of sheer horror and trembling so hard she was making the canvas rattle ever so slightly where her shoulder brushed the tent. "Cass?" Janet whispered almost inaudibly. A sharp, shuddery gasp escaped the child and she flashed a panicked look toward Janet.

"Goa'uld," Cassie whispered, her eyes darting around the tent. "Whoever bumped the tent was a Goa'uld."

For no more than a heartbeat, Janet wanted to believe she'd heard wrong; that Cass hadn't said what she'd said. Her head jerked up, eyes fixed on the spot where the passer-by had collided with the tent and she clamped her hand down on her sidearm. "Are you sure?" she whispered very softly.

The girl nodded jerkily. "Yeah."

"Stay down," Janet hissed with a sharp gesture as she flicked a tent flap open. Thumbing the safety off, she carefully eased out, the chill night air raising goosebumps on her bare arms. Every muscle tense, she stayed in a crouch as she searched the surrounding campsite, hunting for any sign of who might have bumped the tent.

Nothing moved. Not even the tiniest twig snapped to draw her attention. She wanted to believe that Cassie'd had a nightmare or imagined something, but she'd already made that error in judgment once, and nearly paid for it with their lives. She glanced back inside the tent, seeing Cass's terrified eyes---not the expression of a child frightened by a nightmare, but a knowing kind of terror---before moving back to scanning the site. Still nothing, but the way the forest loomed, someone could be hiding and watching her all too easily, and she'd never see them in the shifting, uneven shadows.

And then she remembered Makepeace's earlier odd behavior. At the time, she'd been afraid he'd heard her conversation with Martinez, but what if....

Suddenly the thought of being outed to her superiors didn't seem like such a big deal.

Dear God, if Makepeace had somehow been taken over by a Goa'uld....

She glanced in at the child again. That didn't bear thinking about because chances were he'd move on Cass as quickly as he could and take her out in hopes of keeping his secret. Hell, maybe he'd been intent on doing just that when he bumped the tent and drawn back for fear of drawing too much attention. It could be anyone, of course, but the marine colonel had been walking the perimeter on the camp. He would have been vulnerable and alone, making him all too easy a target if someone had been lying in wait. She considered waking one of the others and informing them---trying to come up with some kind of plan---but uncertain of who had actually bumped the tent, she had no way of knowing who she could trust. And dragging Cass from tent to tent could expose her to danger and see them both cut down before she had a chance to do anything. If it wasn't Makepeace, but someone who didn't know what Cassie could do, then she didn't want to risk giving up that slight advantage. She needed a little space to maneuver, which meant she needed to get Cassie clear of danger, and then go from there.

Suddenly nauseous with fear, she ducked back into the tent, slinging on her jacket and reaching for the tactical vest and attached belt. "Get your jacket on," she ordered Cass, her voice low but firm as she buckled the belt, then the thigh strap on her sidearm.

"Janet?"

"I've got to get you out of here." If she could get Cassie safe, she could buy some time to figure out what was going on. After all, Cassie was the only certain way they had of making sure someone wasn't a Goa'uld. She had to be protected for tactical as well as emotional reasons. She stripped a handful of medical supplies out of one of her vest and shoved in a couple of MRE packets from her backpack in their place. With the canteen on her belt, that would last Cass a day or two if need be. She glanced toward the gate. And she knew the locations for a couple of worlds where they would probably be accepted if it became necessary to run that far.

Cass had pushed to a crouch and had her jacket zipped and her shoelaces tied, but her terror was all too easy to see.

Reaching out, Janet rested a hand lightly on the child's narrow shoulder. "Honey, I know you're scared," she whispered, "but I need you to look as calm and normal as possible ... and if anyone asks, you need to use the latrine." They'd dug a simple latrine on the far end of the camp. She had no intention of going that far before hitting the forest, but it was the best excuse she could think of to explain being up and moving with the child in the dead of night. "And if anything happens, I want you to run and scream for help." If they were attacked, she had to pray that one of the other officers who knew what Cassie could do would realize what the problem was. Meanwhile, hopefully, she could hold an attacker off long enough to give Cass a chance to escape. Remembering what the Goa'uld were capable of, she had her doubts, but fully intended to do everything in her power to try. "We're gonna hit the forest ... then go from there." And pray Johnson was looking elsewhere from his lookout point overhead. Because if he saw them and reported in to Makepeace, there could be hell to pay. "Ready?" She holstered her pistol, but made sure the safety was off and the locking strap loose, then unclipped the restraints on the heavy combat knife sheathed on her right side just behind the holster.

The girl nodded, struggling to fake some facsimile of a normal expression.

"Okay then," Janet whispered, shaking her head disgustedly. This should have been Sam. She could have offered Cassie some reasonable measure of protection, something Janet felt less than competent to do. Thank God for Sam's stiff-necked insistence that Janet needed to update her self defense skills. Without that, she wouldn't have had a prayer if it came to a fight. She held up a hand for Cassie to stay put with a whispered, "We need to be as quiet as possible. I'm going out, then I'll motion for you to follow."

Another quick nod signaled the child's understanding.

Janet took a deep breath, right hand white-knuckled where she gripped her pistol---ready to draw it if need be---then quickly slid out of the tent to a half crouch. She took a moment to search the surrounding area, profoundly relieved to not to see any signs of movement. Hopefully, whoever it was had moved on. "Come on," she whispered after a moment, and gestured for the child to join her. One hand clamped on Cassie's shoulder, the other on the gun strapped to her thigh, she hurried along, skirting dimly outlined tents and making for the forest that bounded the side of the camp farthest from the gate. Looking up, Janet spotted the guard on the overlook, relieved to see that he appeared to be focused on the pickets stationed around the gate. Once they reached the forest they'd be okay. The night vision equipment couldn't do much to penetrate the thick trees, and they didn't have the thermal scope set up yet. All she had to do was get Cassie clear of the camp, then she'd have a little room to maneuver.

They hit the edge of the trees moving fast, but she caught Cass' shoulder, slowing her panicked rush before she could make too much noise. "Quiet," she whispered in reminder.

Cassie caught herself, moving more carefully as they entered the thick forest. Raised on a thickly forested, agrarian world and used to playing in rougher terrain than they were facing, she was actually more adept at moving silently through the densely packed undergrowth than Janet. They hadn't gone very far when a soft crack reached the doctor's ears and she froze in place, pulling the child up short, ears pricking as she listened for any more sounds that might indicate pursuit. Nothing. She hunted the surrounding area for any sign of something out of place, but the shadows were so shifting and haphazard that it was impossible to be certain of anything.

"Janet?" Cassie whispered at last, her voice very small and frightened.

"It's okay," the doctor breathed, firming her grip and moving forward once again.

Another soft creak only moments later pulled her up short again and had her looking nervously over her shoulder.

Still nothing.

She started forward again. Another creak, but this time she kept moving, hoping they weren't being followed, and afraid that if they kept stopping and starting every time the wind scared her, they'd never get anywhere.

"Going somewhere, Doctor?" the voice was deep but soft, as if he was keeping it low so as not to wake the others.

It yanked the fleeing pair to a halt more effectively than chains. Fighting to keep the panic out of her expression, Janet did a slow turn, still gripping the child's shoulder and her weapon tightly. "Colonel," she said as steadily as she was able while she carefully eased Cass behind her.

Deep shadows cut a swath across Robert Makepeace's face, making his expression unreadable, but she was all too aware of the black silhouette of the MP5 in his hand. On full auto, it could cut she and Cass down before she had time to draw and fire. It was a cannon to her popgun. "A little off the beaten path, aren't you, Doctor?" he said, still using that dangerously soft voice that made her feel like a rabbit cornered by a python.

"Cass needed to use the latrine," she said too quickly.

He offered the faintest of nods. "It's that way," he reminded her.

She glanced in the direction he'd indicated, though she tracked him out of the corner of her eye. "I must have gotten turned around in the dark." Cass's hand snuck up to rest lightly on hers, frightened tremors rattling through her, though Janet had no way of knowing whether the child was sensing a Goa'uld or simply frightened. At this distance, she hadn't been able to pick up on Teal'c's symbiote, but who knew how she might react to a fully grown adult.

"Yeah, I guess that's possible," he said softly, his tone bland. "You want me to walk you there?" the question was too matter of fact. He was edgy and controlling it.

Janet shook her head, well aware that her own responses were coming too quickly and making her look nervous. "No need, sir. I'm sure we can find our way."

"It's just that you never know what's out there in the dark ... and you've already gotten turned around once," he pointed out, shifting his right foot ever so slightly, "not to mention wound up quite a ways from camp without noticing."

Readying to bring his MP5 to bear, Janet wondered distantly as she noted his faint position change. She clamped a little more tightly on Cass' shoulder as she shifted enough to put her body more firmly between the child and the weapon aimed their direction. "I'm sure we'll be fine now, sir," she said with quiet determination, already planning to push Cass away and dive at him if he made the smallest aggressive move.

He seemed to sense her readiness to act because he didn't move a muscle. "If you're certain...."

She nodded. "Quite certain, sir."

His chin dipped in the faintest of nods. "All right then." He eased back a step, making way for her to move past him to go back the way she'd come.

Not wanting to get that close, Janet sidestepped, making as if avoiding a thick root while keeping well out of his reach, careful to make certain she stayed between the marine and the child she was bent on protecting. "Good night," she said softly, her free hand digging in to Cass' coat, ready to shove her clear if he moved as she fought the desperate need to break into a run. Keep it calm. That was the only chance they had. The path she'd taken forced her to round a large tree and momentarily lose sight of the marine colonel. As they stepped past it on the other side, a sick well of dread pooled in her stomach as her eyes went to the spot where he'd been standing only a second or two before and she found nothing. A soft curse escaped her lips before she could restrain it and she yanked her sidearm free of its holster. "Move," she hissed to Cass and thrust her along even as she hunted the shifting shadows for some sign of the other officer, wondering how in the hell a man that big could disappear that quickly. She wasn't sure what the hell to do, but she knew their only chance lay in getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

* * * * * *

Sam and Daniel's efforts to "rescue" Teal'c and the colonel had gone both better and worse than hoped. SG-1 was now in control of the command chamber of the Goa'uld mothership, and both men were unharmed. Unfortunately, Klorel/Skaara had been wounded, there would undoubtedly be Jaffa warriors pounding at the door in short order since it hadn't been a quiet effort, and escape was unlikely at best.

Carter shook her head disgustedly. This day just kept getting better and better.

"Colonel O'Neill."

Her attention drawn by Teal'c's soft, subtly horrified tone, Sam looked up, staring at the planet now visible in the main window of the Goa'uld Mothership, her mouth suddenly dry, stomach muscles clenched in horror as she realized what she was looking at. A single word escaped her lips. "Earth." She'd thought they had more time, a year at least. That was the reason for rescuing O'Neill and Teal'c from their captors. She'd thought they'd be able to help stop the ship before it got anywhere near earth.

There was a note of something akin to accusation in Daniel's voice. "I thought you said we couldn't be there for at least a year." Clearly, they’d arrived and in only a matter of hours. Sam wasn't supposed to make mistakes like that.

She shrugged a little helplessly. "I guess this ship can go way faster than ten times the speed of light." O'Neill rose, momentarily forgetting Skaara/Klorel where he lay wounded at his feet, the soft sound drawing a look from Sam as she quietly informed him, "Colonel, we saw death gliders." She forced down the nausea at the thought, going on autopilot when she couldn't quite comprehend what was really happening. "They're prepping for launch, sir." O'Neill's sick, horrified look said it all, and Sam was ashamed to feel a tiny surge of relief that at least Cass and Janet had a chance at survival. With luck, someone she cared for would live if the worst happened.

* * * * * * *

Cass and Janet made it only a few yards, then suddenly, a fast moving phantom surged out of the dappled shadows to her left---the same side Cass was on---and slightly behind them. Janet tried to throw up a protective arm and bring the pistol to bear, but couldn't move fast enough. Something hard and heavy---the stock on his MP5 most likely---slammed into her back, catching her right where her shoulder curved into her neck, the blow hard enough to send her flying.

Bright pinpoints of agony flaring through her neck and back, Janet momentarily tumbled end over end as she hit the edge of a slight incline, the rough forest floor tearing at every exposed patch of bare skin. Somehow, she managed to maintain a tight grip on her sidearm---the .9 millimeter M9 uncomfortably large and heavy in her hand---and dug in. Rolling with her momentum, she came up on one knee, bringing the pistol to bear, her heart sinking as she realized that Makepeace now held the squirming child slung up his left arm. In his right hand he held a primed MP5 aimed right at his second in command.

"Drop it, Doctor," Makepeace's voice was low, but diamond-hard, allowing no room for negotiation. She tried to see if his eyes glowed, but the shadows that cut across his face were simply inky black.

She shook her head wildly. "Go to hell," she snarled, but didn't take a chance of firing. There was no way in hell she could shoot and risk hitting the child in his arms.

"Put the gun down, or die," was his response, and she was painfully certain he meant every word of the threat.

End: Season One

Continue to what's written of Bits and Pieces #15 The Serpent's Bite:
#15 isn't yet finished and includes spoilers, outlines, scenework, etc.

 

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