Title: Bits and Pieces: #15 The Serpent's Bite
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: Well, I'm working on this series again...slowly and a bit uncertainly. Probably will make some errors with my own continuity, but hopefully I can work out where this was supposed to go.

Bits and Pieces: #15 
The Serpent's Bite

The world below the Goa'uld mothership was quiet and beautiful, the chaos and difficulties invisible from such a distance. From this vantage point it was a symphony of blue, white and green, melded in swirling patterns against a starswept, velvet black sky.

It was both the most beautiful and most horrifying thing that the members of SG-1 had ever seen.

Jack O'Neill swallowed hard as he realized his team was completely out of options. That was earth they were looking at, and if he had his way, Apophis would see it annihilated. And considering the armament headed toward their homeworld, Apophis was all too likely to get his way. "Captain Carter?" he croaked at last.

Carter's response was instant, since she knew perfectly well what he intended to ask. "Sir?"

"Were you able to put enough C-4 around the ship to make a dent?" It was the only hope he saw for stopping the attack force bearing down on their world.

Sam nodded, pushing aside any normal, human fears, her tone as flat and practical as she could make it. "We placed charges where they should generate secondary explosions, so ... yes, sir, should make a helluva a dent." Hopefully enough to destroy the mothership, but if not, at least enough to make combat impossible. She stared at the distant image of her homeworld, a part of her shaking inside to think that its survival rested solely in their hands. For once, she found herself wishing she'd just stayed quietly ignorant of the stargate project. She didn't want this much responsibility. No one could want this much responsibility.

"Thank you, Captain," her superior's clipped response cut off that thought, forcing Sam to play catch up for a second, her brain once again racing at its normal speed, mentally testing the situation from all angles and coming up with....

A thought occurred and she started to speak. "Given enough time, I might be able to figure out--"

O'Neill cut her off in his don't-go-there voice. "Negative." Far more practical than his second in command, he knew they couldn't take the risk, not when the explosives were a certainty, and the ship had to be stopped. He gestured toward the door that was all that stood between them and a phalanx of Jaffa. "We should expect some of their reinforcements through that door any second. Stand by to detonate your charges on my order."

She didn't argue, tamping down an instinctive impulse to try and find a way to fix things. The colonel was right. They didn't have time and it was too big a risk. "Yes, sir." She took a deep breath, readying herself for what was to come. Facing the final seconds of her life, she suddenly found herself grateful she'd sent that last email. Hopefully, Janet had found it and knew that their fight hadn't meant a damn thing, that she still ... cared very much ... and had done her best to see both Cass and Janet safe. She didn't want to die with the one person she--

She was yanked out of her silent musings by an impatient Daniel. "Wait," he snapped as he lunged around the end of the central command console, searching for something in his pockets.

Jack barely resisted the urge to growl a curse under his breath, his tone harsh and snappish as he responded sharply, "Daniel, if we don't stop them now, we may never stop them." They didn't have time for any more delays and certainly not one of Daniel's lectures on why they shouldn't do something that Jack knew perfectly well they should do, just because a few people might get killed. As far as Jack was concerned, if it was the enemy doing the dying, he was all for the idea. Daniel often saw things another way.

The Egyptologist's tone was impatient as he pulled the last of the readied explosives out of a pocket. "Yeah, I know that." He tacked the detonator under the edge of the main command console and activated it, then looked back at Jack. "Let's just make it as big a dent as possible, okay?" The hint of sarcasm in his tone was directed at Jack, who ducked his head in acknowledgment.

Sam ignored the ongoing tension between the two men, too used to it to care. Also too close to dying to care. "Ready and awaiting your order, sir."

Taking a deep breath, Jack looked at his team, knowing they were all about to die. It would be as quick and painless as such things can be, he supposed, and they were doing it for all the right reasons. "Okay. And I suppose now is the time for me to say something profound." He thought about it for a moment, unable to come up with words that adequately expressed the love and respect he had for each of them. Nothing did the trick and he just wished he had a way of saving them as well their world.

Carter used the moment's pause to sink into herself, silently wishing well to the woman and child who had become her family. They'd be okay. They had to be. Chances were, they'd be back home, safe and sound in a couple of weeks, and if not, then they had supplies and were part of the best team Sam could put together. She just wished there was some way in hell she could see them one last time. A tiny shiver slid over her skin as the thought occurred unbidden that she also wished she hadn't left that night; that after that kiss, she'd done what every cell in her body had been screaming for, taken Janet's hand and simply drawn her back into the house, and into her bedroom. A momentary flash burned itself onto her mind's eye of their bodies twined together. She'd held Janet close and seen her in the showers, knew how pale and soft her skin was, had seen and felt the perfect curve of hip, breast, and thigh. It was so easy to imagine lying next to that body, her fingers sliding along a graceful slope of muscle and velvety flesh, lips following in a trail of delicate kisses, Janet's gaze meeting her own, her gaze sleepy-eyed and black with arousal. She was still shaken by the brief revelation when O'Neill spoke up again.

"Nothing comes to mind," he muttered disgustedly, oblivious to the way his second in command had to take a moment to shake off her distraction. "Let's do it," he ordered Carter with a quick wave of one hand.

Sam nodded quickly, pulling out the master detonator, her hands shaking faintly as she began fumbling with the device.

"O'Neill," Teal'c abruptly interrupted, his attention directed toward the blocky shadow that suddenly appeared in the window, "Apophis' ship approaches."

The huge, pyramidal structure floated gracefully into view. Intricate designs decorated the walls, making it look like some ancient building magically transported into space, the sign a bizarre contrast against the velvety sky.

"We overheard him in the gateroom," Daniel quickly explained as they all watched the giant ship draw closer. "He said he'd rejoin Klorel once they came out of the shadows."

O'Neill paled several notches. He'd thought they were only dealing with one ship. Now, it looked like it was two. "Teal'c, if we can knock out this ship, will it stop them?" Maybe if the one they were on blew up when it was close enough, the explosion would take out the second vessel.

The news wasn't good, and when delivered in Teal'c's ultra-serious monotone, it managed to sound even worse than it was. "It will not. Apophis' vessel is equipped with defense shields, he will still be able to destroy your cities from high above."

Something hammered at the door to the command chamber, the sound enough to make them all jump. Obviously, someone knew they were there, which meant they'd be preparing to retake control. That was not going to be a pretty fight.

His mind racing, Jack glanced at his second. "Tell me those C-4 charges are on an automatic timer."

Sam nodded, trying to ignore the sounds from the corridor just outside. "They're on an automatic timer," she confirmed.

 

Jack allowed himself a small sigh of relief. "Good. Maybe they could find a way to get to the other ship and disable it while this one was blowing. "How long do we have?"

Sam winced, knowing he wasn't going to like the answer. "Twenty-four hours."

And he didn't. "Twenty-four hours?" the colonel demanded, his outrage more frustration than anger, but still enough to make her defensive.

"At the time, sir, I thought we were still light-years away." In truth, thinking they still had a year before reaching earth orbit, she would have made it more like forty-eight, but the max the timers allowed was twenty-four.

Another hard blow to the door made them all jump.

"Just a minute!" Jack shouted at their attackers in an explosion of frustration. He focused on his teammate. "Teal'c, work with me, buddy. Is there any other way out of here?" Maybe if they could--

Teal'c ended any hopes in a single, grimly uttered word. "None."

The doors to the command chamber started to slide, the Jaffa warriors on the other side forcing the slotted panels apart.

O'Neill waved his team back from the doors. "All right, cover up." Time for a fight, whether they were ready for it or not.

Sam dove for cover, her mind completely on the present even as she heart Jack's muttered, "This is turning out to be a bad day." Truer words had never been spoken.

Unfortunately, she had a bad feeling it was about to get even worse as the doors slid open another notch, and the colonel opened fire. Quickly emptying the clip on his sidearm, he switched to one of the stolen Goa'uld hand weapons, while Sam fired her MP5, aiming for the widening crack between door panels in hopes of taking out the Jaffa trying to get in.

She was still firing when a small metal globe arced through the door. It hit the floor, barely bouncing, then a golden glow flashed outward, followed by a piercing whine.

Sam tried to hold on and remain conscious, but within seconds the floor came up and hit her and she knew no more. Her last thought as the blackness descended was a burst of gratitude that those closest to her were safe. She had no idea of the irony of the sentiment.

* * * * * *

Janet Fraiser's left calf was threatening to cramp so stressed was her position where she knelt on one knee, her sidearm up and trained on the man who stood several yards away, Cassie slung up in one arm, his hand braced across the child's mouth to containing her screams, his MP5 aimed her way. So much for the idea that the beta team had been sent to a new Garden of Eden that was completely safe and protected from their enemies. Somehow, the Goa'uld were here, and she was apparently facing one of them.

"Put...the...gun...down," Robert Makepeace---or at least his body---ordered, the words coming in short, sharp syllables.

Janet shook her head slowly, bruised shoulders aching from the effort of keeping the weapon poised to fire. "Put Cassie down," she shot back, her voice just as hard as his. She couldn't back down, not when it meant the child's life. She had no doubt that the moment she surrendered her weapon, they were both dead.

He shook his head, the faint gesture just barely visible in the dark. "Don't make me kill you, Doctor," he said, his voice softening ever so slightly, a tiny flicker of emotion injecting itself into the moment. She wondered if maybe the softly spoken words offered some small hint of the man trapped inside the body. Was he even now fighting to take back control. "You know I can."

"You'll make a hell of a lot of noise ... and it won't be easy to explain away," she countered, painfully aware of just how vulnerable both she and the child were.

"I don't think much explanation will be needed," he growled, any softness disappearing. "Now, put the gun down." Cass was kicking wildly, her feet hammering into his back and hip, though he showed no sign of feeling the blows. "You have until the count of three."

Janet's finger tightened fractionally on the trigger as she fought to sight the weapon on his forehead, praying she could take him down with a single shot. Otherwise, this was all just an exercise in futility.

"One...."

It was unlikely that even a Goa'uld could rebound from trauma that massive, but she wouldn't get more than one shot. If she missed the first time, she wouldn't have time for a second before he cut her down.

"Two...."

She started to fire, but Makepeace suddenly jerked to one side, moving so fast she couldn't track him reliably in the dark, and she held off. There was a glint of white and an explosion of furious profanities from the marine as she realized Cassie had managed to bite the hand across her mouth. Still struggling wildly, the child clamped down hard enough to draw blood. Cursing, the colonel tried to yank his hand free, but the girl wasn't letting go, her desperate effort gaining an extra moment or two. Janet didn't stop to think or plan, just reacted, diving at the man holding her adopted daughter while he was still distracted. She tackled him hard, the impact hard enough to jar her from head to toe and nearly unbalance him. Makepeace stumbled, but caught himself just in time, halting a near fall that would have sent them all tumbling.

Desperate to get Cassie clear, Janet hammered the butt of her pistol into his left shoulder---she didn't dare fire in such close quarters for fear of hitting Cassie by accident. A grunt of pain signaled that she'd done some damage, but he didn't lose his grip on the child. He brought his right arm around, but the heavy machine gun was more of a hindrance than a help, buying Janet just enough time to slam the butt of her pistol into his shoulder again. The third time, he twisted into the blow, knocking the weapon free as he let go of his rifle to grab for the back of her collar.

Her weapon gone, Janet hit him hard, her knuckles splitting as they collided with his jaw, then hit him again, the panicked blows coupled with Cassie's teeth embedded in his hand enough to disorient even the battle-hardened marine. Cursing, he used his grip on her collar to shake her hard enough to rattle her teeth, his chin impacting her forehead hard enough to make her see stars. Her knees wobbled ever so slightly, but she didn't go down.

Forearm braced against his throat, Janet twisted, clawing at the arm wrapped around a squirming Cassie, and tried to drive a knee into his groin. The blow was only a glancing one, but it was still close enough to draw a grunt of pain and momentarily unbalance the big man. Digging her hand into the child's collar, Janet pulled hard and hammered his inner thigh a second time. This time he lost his grip.

"Run!" Janet ordered Cassie as she literally slung her free.

The girl hit the ground several feet away even as Janet threw her full weight into Makepeace again, purposely off balancing them both. This time he wasn't braced firmly enough to remain standing. A brief sense of falling and then they hit the ground, Makepeace on his back, Fraiser, falling into his chest, one elbow jamming the marine in the jaw. Far bigger and stronger with or without a Goa'uld's strength, he rolled, tumbling her onto her back, though he was still moving a beat slower than normal. Janet saw her attacker rear up, grabbing for the knife on his belt, and punched hard, using one of the maneuvers Teal'c had taught her to send him sprawling to the side. Not caring that he was a combat trained officer twice her weight and god only knew how many times as strong, she rolled and dove after him, grabbing for her own knife as she moved, her entire focus on stopping her attacker. She was undoubtedly going to die, but she had to slow him down as much as possible. It was Cassie's only chance.

Fraiser collided with a moving mass of solid bone and muscle, tasting blood as his elbow slammed into the side of her face in the scrambling, tumbling battle that followed. Bigger and heavier, he used size and sheer muscle against her, slamming her hard into the ground, but couldn't get a firm grip as she fought with adrenaline-driven desperation. She tried to bring the knife to bear, but a meaty fist wrapped around her hand, battering it into a nearby tree limb until taut muscles gave way and the weapon spilled away from her fingers. Muscles flexing with effort, Makepeace heaved her another several feet, letting gravity and rock strewn earth do the battering for him. He followed, his fist tangling in the front collar of her jacket as he straddled slim hips, moonlight gleaming off the blade in his other hand---her dropped one, she realized as she noted his was still sheathed on his belt. She tried to rear up, but the grip on her jacket was too tight, and she wasn't strong enough to throw him off. One quick slash with the blade and she was dead. She had no doubt the creature would use more than enough strength to make sure the job was done right in one blow.

Makepeace seemed to freeze, and she waited to see the gleam of Goa'uld lit eyes or hear the rumbly echo of a taunt murmured in alien tones. She suddenly realized that something hard and square edged was pressing into her upper arm. Her dropped sidearm.

So close, yet so far.

Makepeace still hadn't moved, his expression unreadable in the faint light.

She had one slim chance and she took it, twisting wildly and grabbing for the weapon, rolling, and somehow breaking his grip on her jacket as she got her fingers around the grip on the pistol. Except the position put her half on her stomach, and far more vulnerable. A hard hand grabbed her by the shoulder, shoving her face down into the dirt as his body came back down on hers. Janet tried to wrench herself free and twist, but he grabbed her hair, pulling her head back so hard she thought he meant to snap her neck. She saw the glitter of the blade out of the corner of her eye and expected to feel the kiss of tempered steel across her throat at any second. Lifting the pistol, she aimed blindly over her shoulder, finger already bearing down on the trigger when she suddenly became aware of a slight figure standing just to the side, her hands wrapped around Makepeace's raised arm, a childish voice echoing in the night now that the sounds of combat weren't filling her ears.

"No! You can't!" Still pulling Makepeace's arm with one hand, Cassie pushed at the gun Janet had aimed blindly over her shoulder. "He's not a Goa'uld," she panted desperately, her voice hoarse and rough, leaving her guardian with the impression that she must have been trying to get them to hear her during the brief stint of combat---doubtless no more than a few seconds. "Neither of you are Goa'uld."

Both adults froze. Hyped up from combat, sporting several new cuts and bruises, it took both of them a moment to comprehend the words.

"You're not Goa'uld," Cass said again when neither adult responded. She pulled harder at limbs braced to kill, struggling to barricade them from doing each other more harm. "Neither of you."

A moment of silence followed as both adults realized what she was saying.

"Cass, are you absolutely sure?" Janet whispered, still fighting the hand pulling at her arm, the trigger just short of releasing the hammer and sending a bullet crashing through her attacker.

"As in one hundred percent, kid?" Makepeace added, also resisting the child's pressure to back off, his other hand still tight on Janet's hair.

Near tears, her voice cracking with terror, Cassie nodded. "You're not Goa'uld," she insisted desperately. "You're both completely human. You've gotta believe me."

Makepeace didn't relax, but he did ease the grip on Fraiser's hair fractionally, allowing her head to tip forward to a more natural angle, while she relaxed her finger ever so slightly on the trigger. The colonel leaned down, his mouth near the doctor's ear. "If you aren't a Goa'uld, why the hell were you running?"

She turned her head just enough to catch sight of her captor out of the corner of her eye. "Someone bumped against our tent and Cass sensed a Goa'uld--"

"So, why the hell didn't you come to me?" he demanded angrily.

Trying to see him better, Janet felt the pressure on her scalp as she twisted her head a little farther to the side. "You were acting weird earlier ... and you'd been walking the perimeter of the camp alone ... the perfect target. I knew if they'd gotten you, you'd be after Cass. I was trying to get her clear before I did anything."

 

That pulled him up short. It made a certain amount of sense. "Johnson's dead," he said after a beat. "Whoever killed him was strong enough to snap his neck." He still didn't release his grip on the doctor's hair.

"And you think I did it?" Fraiser demanded incredulously. Johnson was even taller and heavier than Makepeace. There was no way in hell.

"If you were a Goa'uld, you could've," he pointed out logically. The parasitic aliens increased human strength exponentially. Tiny as she was, the doctor could easily have snapped the unsuspecting lieutenant's neck under those circumstances.

"But she's not," Cassie inserted, still trying to make the two adults see that they weren't enemies.

Makepeace flashed a glance at the child, assessing her sincerity. She'd lost so much. Would she be willing to lie to save the woman who'd become her foster mother, even if she had been taken by one of the creatures? The kid might be desperate enough to think that there was still something of Fraiser in there, and she was smart enough to know that if Fraiser was a Goa'uld, he almost had to kill her since they had no safe way of keeping an infected human captive, and no way of removing the creature even if they could get her back to base.

The girl saw his doubt and leaned more heavily on his arm, desperately trying to pull it back, though he scarcely noticed her added weight. "She's not," Cassie said again.

"You were alone at the edge of camp after everyone bedded down," he accused Fraiser quietly. "In the dark ... where it would have been too easy to take you down ... and speaking of acting weird...." He was silent for a moment before he continued, "You were hiding something."

True enough, but not what he was afraid of. "I just needed to be alone for a few minutes," she denied the implication. "Things were kind of closing in, that's all. Hell, Martinez was with me most of the time."

"She's not a Goa'uld," Cassie added, a pleading note entering her voice. She tugged again. "You've gotta believe me." He flashed a sideways look at the child and slackened his grip ever so slightly. Feeling him relax fractionally, Fraiser started to push up on one hand, only to find herself shoved back into the dirt, leaves and twigs pressing painfully into her skin, the smell of damp, loamy earth filling her nose.

A soft, pained grunt escaped her lips, followed by a hissed curse. "Dammit, if I was a Goa'uld, would I be on the bottom of this little confrontation?" she demanded.

It was a hell of a good point. If she was a Goa'uld, she could have snapped his neck too, not to mention flung him several feet and started breaking limbs for sport. Calmer now and seeing the logic of her point, he abruptly released his grip on her hair.

Letting her head fall forward, Janet pushed up on her elbows and exhaled a low groan. Not so terrified now, it occurred to her that every single inch of her body hurt. Hell, even her hair hurt. She felt Makepeace shift so that less of his weight was bearing down on her back and slowly lowered the pistol. She glanced back, noting the way the big man moved to one side, his face pale, a pained sigh escaping his lips, and relaxed another fraction. Somehow she couldn't imagine a Goa'uld being all that bothered by her attack, and he was definitely hurting.

He noted her perusal and offered a lopsided smile. "You owe Teal'c a note of thanks," he groaned and reached up to wipe at a streak of blood where she'd clawed his face. "I didn't expect a couple of those moves." Flashing a glance at the child silently watching them, he resisted the urge to grab his crotch and moan, though he couldn't suppress a healthy flinch as he shifted to one knee so he was no longer straddling her hips.

Fraiser rolled to a sitting position. "Sorry about that," she apologized with a sympathetic wince, concluding he really wasn't a Goa'uld. A Goa'uld hurting like that would have torn her limb from limb for fun. They weren't a forgiving species.

He watched her holster her sidearm, then passed her knife back to her. "Under the circumstances, it's forgivable. It's not like you had much chance in this fight if you weren't a Goa'uld." He glanced at Cass again. "And you had the kid to protect." Forcing down any remaining shakiness, he pushed to his feet, looking around uneasily as it occurred to him that during their brief fight, it would have been all too easy for someone to sneak up on them. Slinging his MP5 back around with one hand, he reached down with his other, offering Fraiser a hand up.

Stiff from the battering, she accepted his help and climbed to her feet with a low groan, then looked down, startled when a small hand snuck into her own.

"Y'okay?" Cass questioned worriedly.

Janet nodded, and gently ruffled the girl's hair with her other hand. "Yeah, just a little beat up." She traded apologetic looks with Makepeace as it occurred to both of them that they probably would have killed each other if not for the child's intervention. "You were very brave. Thank you."

Makepeace cleared his throat, his tone firmer than the doctor's as he rested a hand on the child's shoulder and leaned down into her line of sight. "But, kid, in the future, if the doc or I tell you to run, you run. Okay?" While everything had come out okay, he didn't want her to risk her life down the line somewhere.

Cassie offered a serious nod and didn't resist as Janet hugged her tightly to her side. She slipped her free arm around Janet's waist, unusually willing to accept a reassuring embrace after the scare they'd just had.

Keeping an arm around the child, the doctor looked back up at her superior. "What happened with Johnson?" she asked, hoping that maybe if they shared what they knew, they could come up with a likely suspect.

Makepeace shook his head. "Somebody got in behind him. There wasn't even any sign of a struggle. Whoever did it was strong as hell...." He trailed off momentarily. A Goa'uld would be more than strong enough. "I called Marks and Hanson ... told 'em to get up there to man the lookout." He nodded toward the lookout point. "I was just coming to get you ... see if you could come with any evidence about who it might be when I saw you and the kid and realized something strange was going on." He had decided to trust her, but she noted that he was still keeping a close eye on things. Trust, but verify. "So, what happened? How'd you know there was a Goa'uld?"

"He bumped the tent," Cassie answered for Janet, her voice small and serious. She let go of her death grip on her foster mother's waist, clutching her chest lightly as though in pain. "The feeling ... it woke me up. It was a Goa'uld." They had tested her ability to sense them by exposing her to Teal'c until she knew that feeling all too well.

Makepeace frowned, absorbing the information, not liking the idea of one of the aliens wandering through camp at will. "You sure?"

The girl nodded, her expression sad and knowing. "It was a Goa'uld," she said again.

The marine looked from the child to the woman holding her close, then back to the child. "Any idea who it might have been?"

Janet shook her head. "By the time I got out of the tent he, or she, was gone. And you're the only person I've seen since we left."

The marine considered his options for a moment, knowing he had to move quickly, but at the same time, well aware that a decision made in haste might cost them all very dearly. "We need to keep the kid safe," he said at last. Without access to modern equipment, she offered the most reliable way they had of telling who was or wasn't a Goa'uld, so Cassandra's safety had to be paramount. "But we've gotta figure out who it is. I think our best bet is to clear a couple of my men ... make sure they're okay ... then lock down the camp ... make sure your intruder didn't leave any little surprises ... then just go through everybody one by one."

Uneasy with allowing Cassie to be that exposed and vulnerable, the doctor considered the suggestion. "But the Goa'uld may realize what Cass can do," she pointed out, afraid of making the child a target. "And so will everyone else." She'd come to realize the wisdom of the colonel's desire to keep her abilities secret and was very hesitant to give up that information.

Makepeace understood her fears. "We need an excuse for you to have to check everyone in the camp ... say you've spotted some kind of local parasite or infection...."

She nodded to indicate that was possible.

"...then have the kid close." He reached out, resting a hand lightly on the doctor's shoulder. "I'll keep two men with you ... make sure you're both protected--"

"I don't give a damn about me," Janet snapped, instinctively tightening her hold on the child against her side. "I'm just afraid that--"

"I can do it," Cassie inserted, her voice small and soft. She looked up at the two adults. "That's why I'm here, right?" she whispered, her eyes huge and terrified. "General Hammond wouldn't have sent a kid otherwise." She was smart enough to understand the price of her survival.

Janet flinched and gently smoothed honey colored hair back from the child's brow, but didn't argue.

"I'll make sure she's as safe as I can make her," Makepeace promised. "And you too. Realistically, if a Goa'uld sees you checking everyone in camp, you're the one who could become a target." He nodded in the direction of camp. "I'm gonna do a check in with the pickets ... make sure everything's okay ... and keep to the set schedule, so no one can get suspicious, then I'll call Michaels and Everly ... have them meet us here ... and if they're okay, we start working."

Janet nodded slowly, sinking into herself and holding on tightly to Cass while he stepped off a couple of feet to call guards on duty. She looked down at the child pressed against her side, praying she was making the right decision.

Cass' head tipped upward, blue eyes gleaming in the moonlight. "He's not a Goa'uld," she said again, sensing that Janet was still having her doubts. "It'll be okay."

The doctor offered a reassuring smile and continued brushing a hand lightly over the child's hair, but made sure her knife and sidearm were still undogged and cleared for use just in case. She tugged Cassie a little closer when the child started to pull back, ready to move fast if anything happened, while she tracked the colonel's conversation with one ear.

He'd barely started checking in with the team guarding the gate when she heard the first distant pop, the sound deep and quick, like the cork coming out of the world's biggest champagne bottle. And then a dozen things happened at once. Makepeace's voice turned rough and impatient as he started demanding to know what was happening over his radio, though it was obvious from his tone that he wasn't getting any answers. Janet heard more of the same pops underlying his increasingly stressed voice, then on the third demand to know what was going on, felt the earth under her feet start to tremble. "Colonel," she hissed, her voice tight, one hand holding Cass to her side, the other gripping her sidearm with white-knuckled strength.

He held up a hand to silence her, his attention so focused on whatever he was, or wasn't, hearing that he didn't notice the low rumble boiling up through the ground.

"Colonel," she said again, her tone far sharper this time, her attention directed toward the ground.

"Doctor," he began impatiently, "I don't have time...."

It occurred to her as he was speaking that the distant pops had stopped, making way for an eerie silence that was totally at odds with the vibrations under her feet. An earthquake? No, she'd been through a couple before and this was completely different. And earthquake's didn't come with light displays, did they, she thought as she caught the first flickering green glow rose up behind the trees, coming from somewhere near the gate.

Still focused on his radio, Makepeace didn't notice the hint of greenish light. "It's like something's interfering with the signal," he muttered as much to himself as her.

"I'm guessing it has something to do with that, sir," she said, uncertain whether to be frightened or awed as the light gained in intensity, dancing and flickering across the treetops like St. Elmo's Fire.

He finally looked up, jaw momentarily dropping open. He closed it again to exhale a low curse.

"The ground," Cassie whispered, and Janet's chin dropped as she felt what Cass had; an increasing vibration, enough now to shake the soft earth like planter's soil being tamped into place in a flower pot.

When the explosion came it was almost a relief, a release of building tension. It shook the ground, and sent a powerful blast of air through the trees, sending leaves and branches flying.

Tightening her hold on Cassie, Janet threw up her other arm and braced herself to remain on her feet, while the child buried her face in her foster mother's hip to escape the flying debris.

Makepeace dug in his feet to keep from going down as he stared toward the gate with an expression of horror. Expecting a flash of fire in the sky, he was surprised when all he saw was the eerie, flickering green light. Regaining his equilibrium almost instantly, he spun toward Fraiser. "You've got a radio, right?" The words came as fast as he could say them.

She nodded quickly.

"Stay here. Keep the kid safe." He flashed another look toward the gate. "Keep your radio open. I'll send someone when I can. I gotta go." He didn't like leaving them alone like this, but it seemed better than dragging the child into god only knew what. He didn't wait for her to respond before he turned on his heel and took off at a run, heading straight toward the still rumbling explosion and glittering green lights.

Her instincts were torn, simultaneously telling her to protect the child pressed against her side, and to run straight toward where her skills as a doctor were likely to be needed. She almost went, but Makepeace was right, Cassie needed to be protected, not just because she was a child, but because of what she could do. With a Goa'uld among them, her importance was magnified a thousandfold. She tightened her hold on the girl, her attention still focused on the distant lights. The explosions had died away, but the strange sparks of green fire continued to dance and play against the backdrop of a velvety night sky. "Come on," she said at last, pulling Cassie back and moving fast up a nearby slope. Maybe if they could find higher ground, she could see something and figure out what the hell was going on.

They hadn't gone very far when a nearby crackle brought Fraiser up short. She spun, drawing her pistol, searching the surrounding forest with frightened eyes, painfully aware of the way the trees seemed to take a life of their own, closing in and forming a jagged and sharp edged prison cell. "Who's there?" she demanded, hoping that Makepeace had sent one of the men he'd called for along as additional protection.

Nothing.

Janet released her hold on Cassie's hand, while the child shifted her hands, clinging tightly to Janet's side. She whispered her adopted mother's name, her voice sepulchrally soft in the faint light.

"We'll be okay," the doctor breathed, and tugged the child with her as she started moving again. There's nothing there, she assured herself, just the wind in the trees and your own fears.

She wasn't that lucky.

* * * * * *

Robert Makepeace ran, long legs eating up the distance as fast as he could make them. He was talking steadily into the microphone that hung in front of his mouth, demanding a response that didn't come while praying to hear something back, but getting only noise. A big man, muscular and in good shape, he nonetheless wasn't meant for wind sprints, and the only thing that kept him going was the sheer terror that his people needed him and he wasn't going to get there fast enough. He hit the edge of the camp still running at full speed, dodging tents and shouting out orders to the people he saw still making their way into the night air, many still half asleep and stumbling. "Get your weapons and get ready to move!" He dodged a broad figure and kept moving, running as fast as he could and feeling like he was gaining no ground at all.

And then suddenly, he was at the edge of camp, standing on the beginnings of the slope down to the gate, jaw hanging open as he got a look at the spiderweb of green lights flickering and dancing over the figure of the stargate. It took less than a second to track them to their source. Pitched into the ground roughly twenty feet from the base of the gate platform, the silver cylinder that appeared to be generating the strange lights came to a point at the top and bottom, and was perhaps a foot in diameter, and four feet tall. It appeared to be attached to a single stake driven into the ground, making it look, for all the world like a giant, chrome bottle rocket with green sparklers spraying outward from the nose cone.

"Colonel!" Len Jacobs stumbled up, his hair askew, vest and jacket unzipped. Makepeace ignored the curvaceous blonde who was obviously trailing after him.

"Get everybody organized and together up here," he snapped to the other man, his attention on the scene below. He could just make out a few figures moving, black shadows among the sprinkling of lights. "We may have a Goa'uld in camp. I want you to pull everyone back and stay together." He turned a hard look on the younger man, wishing he had someone more stable to leave in charge, but without a working radio, had no way of knowing where anyone was, and Jacobs was here. "No panicking ... just keep together and you'll be okay." Hopefully. "I've gotta go down there."

Makepeace barely waited for Jacobs' panicked sounding, "Yes, sir," before he started moving again, taking the steepest route down to get there as quickly as possible.

He hit the bottom of the slope as the flickering green lights appeared to draw back on themselves, no longer dancing over the treetops, and instead forming a bright green latticework that surrounded the stargate and control panel. Squinting, he shaded his eyes, still moving fast as he realized there was a figure standing within the confines of the birdcage-like display of energy, his back to Makepeace, one hand entering coordinates in to the DHD. Tall, broad, definitely male, his every movement absolutely precise. Out of the corner of his eyes, the colonel saw the pickets at the edge of the clearing sluggishly scrambling for their feet, none of them moving like they should have been, and less than half of them visible.

Instinct told Makepeace that the responsible party was the figure standing within the spray of lights. "HANDS IN THE AIR! RIGHT NOW!" he roared, rifle braced against his shoulder, finger poised on the trigger.

The figure turned toward Makepeace, greenish lights reflecting off dark skin and stark features. For just a moment, he thought it was Teal'c, but no, this man was even bigger, his face narrower and harder, though the raised symbol on his forehead was cut in the same deep gold relief. Another of Apophis' Jaffa. Reaching back, the Jaffa pressed on another of the glyphs and the gate started to spin as something approaching a smile curved harsh lips. "YOU WILL DIE SOON, TAU'RI!" he responded, his voice, deep and harsh, rising above the night. "YOU AND ALL OF YOUR PATHETIC SPECIES!" The stargate exploded outward, the roar deafening them both for a moment. As it settled back into the glassy surface that signaled a gate opened to other worlds, the Jaffa's smile broadened, though there was nothing humorous in the expression. He mounted the steps to the gate, every move still precise and calculated. "GIVE CAPTAIN CARTER HATHOR'S LAST RESPECTS!"

Abruptly shaking off the momentary paralysis, Makepeace opened fire in a series of three-shot bursts. Two trigger pulls unloosed six volleys at the Jaffa, but there was no sign that any of them hit, and the alien never altered his measured stride toward the open gate. The colonel checked his aim, fired again, certain something should make contact this time, but nothing. Cursing under his breath, he dropped the rifle and broke in to a run. If bullets wouldn't take the bastard down, then he'd just have to do it by hand.

A few long strides and he lunged, hit the green lights, then wished he hadn't. It was like hitting the life size, industrial-strength, joy buzzer from hell, and the next thing he knew he was hitting the ground, rocks and stiff weeds cutting into his palms, dirt up his nose, his stomach rolling violently.

The marine scrambled desperately, trying to get his knees under him, but it was like trying to swim through cold road tar, and he couldn't seem to get his equilibrium back. If this was what the pickets were going through, it was no wonder they were staggering. With a monumental effort, he pushed up on one hand, teeth gritted with the fierceness of the struggle as he found the strength to swing the automatic rifle around and let loose a last, ineffective volley.

The alien glanced back as he started to step through the gate, the dark smile turning triumphant, and Makepeace thought he caught a brief edge of baritone laughter before the Jaffa stepped into the glassy surface and disappeared entirely.

The marine was still fighting to regain his feet, frustrated by the way his muscles refused to cooperate with his every effort. As a result the hand that grabbed his shoulder, steadying him when he was seriously considering throwing up and pitching back to the earth was a lot more welcome than it might have been under different circumstances.

"Colonel, are you all right?" the voice was male, worried, and vaguely familiar.

Makepeace glanced at the man kneeling to his right, seeing features that were also no more than vaguely familiar as he struggled to make the synapses firing in his brain do so in a somewhat less random fashion. He searched his memory for a moment, finally coming up with an answer after what seemed like a very long beat. "Martinez, right?" he mumbled. The other man nodded, and Makepeace abruptly realized the kid was taking his pulse and checking his pupils. He allowed the gesture mostly because he couldn't have stopped it if he'd wanted to, but also because he was realistic enough to realize he might well need medical attention.

"What happened, sir?" the young medic said as he continued checking the colonel's vitals.

Makepeace shook his head dazedly. "I dunno," he admitted, his words slightly slurred. "Came late to the party." He looked back toward the gate as the watery surface faded into nothingness. "The Jaffa mentioned Hathor ... so I'm guessin' i's no’ good." Though mentionin' Carter didn't make much sense. "Said to give Carter her last respects." He shook his head dazedly. That made no sense whatsoever. Then he looked back at the rocket-shaped device. Or maybe it did. Hathor had reason to hate Carter, since the captain had ended her hopes of taking over earth. His gaze moved on to the gate, still surrounded by a brilliant emerald cage. Whatever Hathor's problems with the captain, he had more important problems to worry about. "Get somebody down here who might understand this thing." He glanced toward the edge of the clearing, seeing more people moving now, then back to see several figures headed down from the rise above. "We need to get everyone together. Find out who's here ... see if anyone's missing." Teeth gritted, he straightened, forcing the daze back. "Tighten it up and keep it together."

* * * * * *

Shots fired.

Janet had been around enough small arms fire to recognize the distant sounds. Not a good sign. She and Cass were still climbing, trying to get to higher ground to get a view of the camp and the gate. Unfortunately, the forest was too thick, cutting off any view blow the altitude of the treetop on the opposite side of the gate. Even that was enough for her to see that the greenish lights were no long playing in the treetops, though there was still enough of a glow visible to make it apparent something was still going on. Other than the soft, staticky hiss of her radio, the forest was eerily silent.

"What's happening?" Cassie whispered, her voice very small and frightened.

Janet shook her head and looked back at the glow, once again torn between keeping the child clear of the situation and seeing to her duties if there was an emergency. "I don't know," she admitted.

"Simple," an unexpected voice answered Cassie's question while they were still staring across what they could see of the valley, "your species is dying."

Janet spun, shoving the child aside as she reached for her sidearm. "Cass, run!" the doctor snapped, suddenly becoming aware of a tall, angular shadow several feet away and moving fast. She had an impression of camo fatigues, but didn’t recognize what she could see of his face or build.

Her weapon cleared the holster, but before she could fire a hard hand lashed out, grabbing her right wrist and clamping down with brutal strength. The slap that followed sent the doctor crashing to her knees even as she heard Cassie flee through the thick brush. She glanced back just long enough to catch sight of the child's slight figure disappearing between two trees. Agonizing pressure on her hand brought her head back around just as her attacker calmly stripped her weapon out of numb fingers and flung it away.

"The child matters not. She will die like the rest of your race," he said very softly, his voice deep and utterly emotionless, the total lack of intonation enough to make Teal'c sound like Sarah Bernhardt. Her eyes rose to his forehead. Despite the stolen uniform, he was a Jaffa, she realized, if not a particularly high ranking one, since the mark on his forehead was simply tattooed on, not the gold inlay seen on the more high ranking warriors that served the Goa'uld. The design was unfamiliar. Not the twisted snakes of those who served Apophis, but she didn't know enough to understand what that meant. She was still staring when he shoved his other hand under her collar, yanking out her dog tags. He read them quickly, his lip curling with disdain. "You are Janet Fraiser." The disgust in his tone made it obvious he knew her name. "I had hoped I was mistaken in what I overheard on your communications devices ... that my Goddess was correct that your betrayal had already been rightfully punished, but since you still live, you may still serve Hathor. Until your death."

Of course. The Goa'uld witch must have gotten the coordinates somehow before leaving. Janet wondered if junior had been waiting here since then, or only come when it looked like earth was under attack. "She's no goddess," she hissed, her voice rough with pain, "just a slug with delusions of grandeur."

He twisted harder on her wrist, drawing a soft cry of pain. "I have been unable to locate Samantha Carter amongst the others. You will tell me where she is."

He didn't know Sam wasn't there she realized even as she tightened her free hand into a fist, slinging a punch straight for the womb in his stomach where a larval Goa'uld dwelled. It was one of the few vulnerable points on a Jaffa's body. He caught her hand before she could make contact, clamping down until she was amazed not to hear the popping of bones.

"And you will tell me now."

Only the moment he realized Sam wasn't there, she was dead, Janet realized. She was probably dead anyway, but if he wanted information, he was certain to kill her the moment he had it. She shook her head. "Go to hell."

He released her left wrist and reached down, fist curling into the front of her jacket to haul her to her feet with brutal strength. "It is you who are now in hell," he murmured, the toneless murmur more horrifying than hate or rage would have been. "And your only escape is to tell me what I wish to know."

Another sharp head shake. "Never."

Muscles compressed and suddenly Janet found herself airborne, sent flying by a hard throw. A moment of total disorientation, and then she hit rock and leaf strewn earth, tumbling with the force of her momentum before skidding to a halt on her stomach. She pushed up on her hands and was still struggling to clear her head when a hand curled into her collar, hauling her upright.

"Where is Samantha Carter?" the implacable question sounded like it was bubbling up through water as it vied with the ringing in her ears for attention.

Janet shook her head. The blow that followed wasn't unexpected and she relaxed into it, flipping end over end before she hit the dirt again, leaves and rocks tearing at her skin, her mouth tasting of blood.

"Where?" he demanded, the words echoing painfully inside her skull.

Teeth gritted, Janet pushed to her knees, head tipping back as the Jaffa drew close, grabbing her collar again, her left forearm braced across her ribs, her body one giant blaze of agony. She coughed heavily, gagging at the pressure caused by drawing air into her lungs

"I can make your death a quick one," he offered, the grim words making it clear that her death would be very painful otherwise.

She snorted softly, wondering if there was any chance that the men Makepeace had sent for might still show up. She was playing for time, hoping she could survive long enough for some chance to present itself. So far, the blows had been painful, but not potentially lethal. "Don't do me any favors," she groaned. Her head drooped for a moment only to come back up as a cold, sharp-edged caress brushed just under her jawline. She caught a glimpse of glittering metal, the weapon some kind of curved, intricately etched blade, the finely honed edge toying against soft skin.

"The only possible favor I would ever do for you is a fast cut." And then his hand suddenly whipped the blade across her throat, just barely touching, but drawing a delicate red line along a path that would slash her throat from ear to ear.

It was so fast she barely even had time to gasp, the tiny sting caused by the knife momentarily leaving her afraid he'd cut deep and she was dying. She knew how easily a sharp blade could slice, the injury almost undetectable for the first moment or two until the pain caught up with the reality of the wound. It took a tiny beat to be certain it was only a warning of what was to come.

"Now tell me," he commanded.

She sat back on her heels, trying to lean away from him, but his grip on her hair tightened, blocking her escape. Denied even that small measure of freedom, she just shook her head.

Dark eyes slid over the woman with matter of fact cruelty. "My goddess gave me leave to take you if I wish." His lip curled, and he shook his head, the words clearly intended as an insult as he continued, "but I think not." He continued teasing the blade over her throat. "But perhaps the child...." He saw the rage burn in her eyes and smiled triumphantly, probing the weakness he'd found. "Tell me where Samantha Carter is, and I'll make her end quick and peaceful instead..." He held out the promise, confident he’d finally found the means to get what he wanted.

Staring up at him, Janet tried to twist her head away, but he didn't allow her the freedom to move. "You really would do that to a child, wouldn't you?" she whispered, not quite able to believe such evil existed.

"I would do anything for my Goddess." He smiled, and she saw the same kind of worship she'd seen on the faces of the men in the SGC during Hathor's brief reign. Teal'c hadn't been affected by her poison, but apparently her own Jaffa were if that look was anything to gauge by. Which only made sense, considering that she'd intended to make O'Neill her new first prime. Unaffected, he'd have killed her. Which meant junior might have some of the same weaknesses that the men on the base had. Certainly, the probability was that he wasn't very experienced or very well trained. There simply hadn't been enough time, and she doubted the system lords traded their servants around.

And his eyes had that same undirected lust she'd seen in the men on the base during Hathor's brief reign. It was the only weapon she had.

She swallowed hard, suddenly aware of the cold stream of sweat trickling down the line of her spine as she consciously slowed her breathing, calming the fight or flight instinct that wanted to panic and run. "I don't want to die," she whispered at last, not having to work hard at all to sound weak and frightened. She pulled her arms back, not fighting him, subtly checking to make certain the knife hadn't fallen from its sheath on her belt, relieved to the feel the hilt brush her forearm, checking the desire to grab for it. If he saw her move, he'd slit her throat before it cleared the sheath. "There must be something you can do...."

She half expected to feel cold steel dig into her throat, but instead his hand gentled ever so slightly where he clutched her hair, while the knife continued simply scraping lazy patterns on her skin.

"Please," she begged.

His fingers remained tangled in her hair, but he stretched his thumb to stroke her cheek at the edge of her hairline, his expression shifting, lust and uncertainty blending together on harsh features. "It was Samantha Carter I was commanded to kill," he murmured haltingly, his eyes dropping to slide over her slight form again. "But my goddess hates you as well--"

"I can help you," she broke in, not giving him time to think about what Hathor might want done to her, "do whatever you want...."

There was lust in his eyes, but suspicion as well. "If you think to trick me," he growled, struggling to understand what she was doing, sensing that she wasn't as amenable as she seemed, yet so blinded by Hathor's influence that he couldn't follow through on the distrust. Hathor’s power stripped men of the ability to think independently, and since he hadn't been directly ordered to kill Frasier---an oversight doubtless attributable to the Goa'uld's assumption that she was already dead---it left one set of impulses at war with another.

"I wouldn't dare," she breathed, the words coming out rough and uneven. It took all of her self-control not to spit and fight, and instead simply look up at him. "I know you could easily kill me."

"Yes," he said softly, his thumb still moving lightly against her cheek, "I could."

"I know that." Careful to maintain eye contact, Janet slowly eased to her feet. He tensed, suspicious of her motives, but didn't immediately react. The bead of sweat sliding down her back had grown to a small river, and it was hard to keep from trembling with nervousness. "That's why I don't want to fight you." She fully expected him to lift the knife in his hand and track the vulnerable arch of her throat, but it remained poised at his side as though he'd forgotten his intention to slash from ear to ear.

Faintly glazed eyes stared down at her. "Where is Samantha Carter?" he repeated the question. "Tell me or I'll snap your neck like the one on the overlook." He finally showed a measure of expression; an icy smile that sent a chill down her spine before shifting to one of raw hunger. "If you do, I'll spare you ... keep you for my own...."

"It's easy," the doctor exhaled, her gaze still holding his, body turned ever so slightly to one side, hand shifting back subtly to feel for her knife. Anxious fire leapt in his eyes in response to the softly spoken words and he leaned forward ever slightly, eager to find out how to find the woman whose death would so please his mistress. Slender fingers closed on the cold hilt of the knife sheathed on her belt, easing it free as she stared up at her captor.

"Well?" he prompted when she still hadn't spoken.

A hint of a smile touched full lips, the tiny flicker of triumph she couldn't hide warning him that things weren't as they seemed a beat too late. Then she was moving, using the knife the way she'd been trained. "She's not here." She felt the resistance of bone and gristle as she stabbed, the doctor in her automatically assessing the quality of flesh sliced by the blade. She felt it slice through the Goa'uld, the difference in resistance of tough flesh and impossibly delicate cartilaginous bones noticeable to someone who'd cut through human flesh before.

Her attacker gagged and would have pulled back, but she grabbed his collar with her other hand, not letting him escape as she increased the pressure on the knife, feeling the razor sharp blade slice through organs, then nick bone as it reached his spine. He started to swing his own weapon, but it was positioned to slash, not stab, and simply tore through the pockets on her vest, shredding heavy canvas and grating against the equipment stored inside.

Two sets of eyes dropped at the same moment, falling to where her hand was gripping the hilt of the fighting knife buried in his belly. His breath suddenly ragged, the pain catching up with him, though he seemed to be in denial over the severity of the wound, he tried to attack again with his own weapon, lifting it in a path toward her throat. It was hard to tell who was more surprised when she blocked the strike the way Teal'c had taught her, her forearm hitting his precisely over a nerve bundle that made their relative strength differences immaterial for just a second. He gasped, fingers momentarily spasming and letting go of the weapon.

"I will ... enjoy ... your ... death..." he coughed between gasps, but there was no strength in the hand that reached for her shirtfront.

Once before she'd failed to follow Teal'c's admonition to keep pressing the fight and nearly paid for the mistake with her life. With all of their lives, Cassandra's included, on the line, it was a mistake she couldn't risk making a second time. In spite of the part of her that wanted to pull back and stop right there, wanted to try and save his life, she thrust again, driving past the resistance offered by his spine. "Not likely." She might well be doomed---they might all be doomed---but he damn well wasn't going to enjoy the experience. This time, rather than pride or disdain, the emotion that spasmed in his eyes was pure terror as that very fact occurred to him.

Her attacker wavered on his feet, slumping, his unsteadiness pressing them closer together until they were nearly eye to eye. Startled by the very human fear in his gaze, Janet would have pulled back, but he abruptly gripped her shoulder in a hard hand. As she stared into his eyes, it occurred to her to wonder how old he was. Because of the larval Goa'uld Jaffa didn't age at the same rate as other humans. Teal'c was well over a hundred. But her attacker suddenly looked very young---like a boy pretending to be a man.

"You were ... supposed to ... die..." he croaked, his knees suddenly buckling. It had never occurred to him there could be any outcome other than whatever he chose. "Why ... didn't ... you?"

Janet staggered back a pace as her assailant went down like a ton of bricks. "You underestimated your opponent," she said very softly, automatically assessing his condition, moving from soldier back to doctor in an instant. He was dying. Even had the wound not been as severe as it was, she was certain she'd killed the Goa'uld in that thrust and without the creature to serve as his immune system, he would die. She stumbled back another step as he reached for the knife still stuck in his belly, pulling it free, agony and confusion gleaming in his eyes as he stared at it, then at her. There were bits of orange and reddish, Goa'uld flesh caught on the blade.

"You ... killed ... it..." he groaned, referring to the creature he carried, some part of him not quite believing such a thing was even possible. She should have been dead or at least completely submissive, willing to trade anything just to survive. Instead she was standing over him and he'd failed his goddess and godling he carried.

Her knees threatening to give way, Janet leaned heavily against a nearby tree, unable to look away. "I'm sorry," she whispered, startled by the pity she couldn't help but feel. No longer a cold-eyed killer, now that he was dying, he just looked like another frightened young man not so different from the soldiers who moved in and out of her infirmary every day.

A small, fatalistic sound that was half cough, half laugh, bubbled up from his chest, thick blood spattering his lips. "I ... don't ... understand..." he coughed, staring up at her as though she was some kind of strange apparition.

Her eyes suddenly stinging with unwanted tears, she nodded. "I know." She was seeing a frightened, dying boy. No matter what or why, she was oddly grateful to find that she could still pity him. "That's why we can't let you win."

He shuddered then, blood bubbling onto his lips before his frightened eyes rolled back in his head, and his hand flopped to the dirt, fingers limp, allowing the knife to spill free. A few more hard tremors shook his heavy frame, then he lay limp.

Suddenly trembling violently, Fraiser slumped, slowly sinking into a sitting position, unable to take her eyes off the man she had very likely just killed. She twisted suddenly, gorge rising, vomiting violently. In joining the Air Force, she'd long ago accepted that reality might conflict with her training as a doctor and basic drive to save life, but intellectual knowledge and tactile reality were two very different things. Leaning back, her stomach empty now, she fumbled for her canteen, taking a mouthful of water, then spitting it out, rinsing some of the foul taste from her mouth. Feeling as though she was moving in slow motion, she used the tree as a brace and pushed to her feet. Her ribs ached, but as she breathed in, there were no sharp pains and no sense of pulling that might indicate any serious damage. Thankfully, her vest and jacket had absorbed the worst of the trauma of being tumbled around so brutally.

The sudden crackle of rustling underbrush brought her head up and set her heart start hammering violently in her chest. Her pistol and knife were lost, and other than throwing a few MRE's at an attacker, she was pretty much out of options. Even her usually sharp wit seemed to be nowhere in evidence.

"Is he dead?" the voice was very small and frightened, barely rising above the delicate rustle of leaves as a slight figure stepped out of a thick stand of saplings.

Relief sliding through her, Janet sagged back against the tree at her back as she realized it was just Cassie, but at the same time, her heart sank. The girl should have run. She could have been killed by staying close. "Cass," she exhaled, "you should have run like I told you."

"I did," the girl insisted, "but then I was afraid the Goa'uld might be in camp ... and you might need help." She drew close to Janet's side, eyes still fastened on the Jaffa sprawled some distance away. "So, is he dead?" she repeated the question.

"I don't know," Janet admitted. Dying? Yes. Dead? Maybe, maybe not. She ran her gaze over the surrounding area, finally stopping when she saw a telltale glint to her right and several feet behind her. Her sidearm. "You stay back," she ordered the child, then pushed away from the tree, wincing as her left knee protested. Limping, she retrieved the dropped weapon, quickly checking it, then turning to keep it trained on her attacker where he lay unmoving. Drawing close, she kicked the knife away from his open hand, making sure he couldn't grab it if he was just pretending to be unconscious, then knelt. Without turning the pistol away, she checked his pulse with her free hand and found it fast and thready. A quick study of the wound revealed it to be every bit as deep as she'd thought. Pulling lightly on the edge of the gash confirmed that she'd sliced the larval Goa'uld in half. The creature was undoubtedly dead. Rising to her feet, she backed up, mind racing. The Jaffa was still alive, might even regain consciousness for a time. It was unlikely that he'd answer any questions, but then again, the Goa'uld often liked to brag, and the Jaffa might follow suit.

"What now?" Cassie whispered, stepping up to Janet's side, one arm sliding supportively around the woman's waist when she staggered.

The doctor looked back in the direction of the camp uncertainly. Something had definitely happened, but she was beat to hell. If another attacker appeared, she wasn't going to be able to do much, and the colonel needed to know what had happened, that they were probably looking at Jaffa attackers, not Goa'uld. "We go back," she decided out loud. She rested a hand lightly on the child's shoulder. "But if anything happens on the way, I want you to run back to camp ... keep going and don't look back. Understood?" she said, her voice firm enough to drive the point home.

Cassie simply nodded this time, but kept a supportive arm around her guardian as they limped back the way they'd come.

* * * * * *

Robert Makepeace stood off to one side of the glowing cage that enclosed the stargate, an annoyed expression on his face as he listened to the science types debate what they were looking at. At best, he understood about one word in five and requests for additional information had so far only resulted in explanations that made even less sense than the original comments. The one thing he had figured out---judging by the rate at which theories were flying back and forth---was that wild-assed guesses aside, they had no more idea what it was than he did. He would have felt better about that realization if it weren't for the fact that knowing what it was might make the difference in the team's survival. He could handle feeling like an ignoramus if it was balanced against some certainty that others on his team knew what the hell was going on. At least the whatever-it-was it didn't look like it was going to explode or otherwise fry them all in the immediate future. By the look of things, it was just meant to trap them there.

Of course, if the Goa'uld wanted them trapped there, it was very unlikely it was so they could throw a really wild party.

At least not the kind of wild party any sane person wanted to attend.

Once again, he cursed Jack O'Neill for missing this little outing, then just for good measure he mentally lobbed a few additional obscenities Carter’s way. He glared at the eager-eyed engineers busy dissecting the thing as he grudgingly admitted to himself that the astrophysicist's strange knack for alien technology would have been a welcome addition to the team. If nothing else, she would have understood the seriousness of the situation; that this device wasn't some fun new toy to play with, but rather something that might very possibly be the first step in their annihilation.

And on that cheerful note....

He cursed Jack O'Neill again. If not for the other man and his desperate need to play Don Quixote, he would have been here and Makepeace would have been back on earth dealing with things he was far more comfortable with, like impending combat and likely death. Not exactly a fun time, it's true, but at least a task he was qualified for, unlike what he was listening to now.

Maybe Fraiser would have a better--

"Shit," the profanity exploded from his lips as he remembered the woman and child left in the forest when everything blew. Faced with trying to get things back under control in camp, and the danger emanating from the gate, he'd just completely forgotten. They were probably okay, he reminded himself. Elvis had left the building. It was just that the radios were still down and he knew the doctor couldn't call for help if there was a problem. He signaled to the chief engineer, then pointed back toward camp. "Gotta go."

He was halfway up the hillside and still cursing his own distraction when a lieutenant met him on the way down. Fraiser was back in camp with a medical team, and it didn't sound pretty. According to the lieutenant, the doctor had stumbled into camp insisting she'd faced down a Jaffa in the woods. Makepeace couldn't imagine that coming out well at all.

Visions of his second in command on the verge of death, guilt driving him, he broke into a run. Christ, she was a doctor, not a grunt. What the hell had he been thinking leaving her alone with the kid? He was moving so fast, he didn't even hear what the lieutenant called after him.

The remaining team members were gathered a short distance from the top of the rise, clustered together to defend each other, all armed and jumpy. He brushed past the outer guards and kept moving, quickly spotting a couple of still groggy lookouts where the medical team was looking after them at the center of the group. Good. They were in the most protected position.

Long-legged strides took him through the crowd as it parted to make way, allowing him to see through the crush to where Martinez and Hayes---the second doctor on the team were leaning over a figure lying prone on a stretcher supported by an equipment locker on either end. He could see a pair lower legs, still encased on boots and fatigues, but no more than that.

It was the sight of a shredded, black tactical vest that pulled him up short. Thrown over an equipment locker, it was slashed in a gaping, horizontal wound that laid it open roughly at stomach level. The attack had sliced through the tough, canvas pockets, then the open weave shell. Only the zipper appeared to still be intact. He didn't want to think about what that kind of savagery must have done to the flesh beneath and suddenly found himself in less of a hurry to continue forward. He'd lost people under his command before. He knew what that felt like. No sane man would be in a hurry to experience that kind of pain or guilt again.

Which was why he couldn't seem to take his eyes off slashed and gashed black fabric, staring at it with the kind of horror usually reserved for destroyed flesh. In a way it was like staring at the damaged flesh and bone. He'd seen enough blood in his life to know exactly what the corresponding injury would probably look like, and his imagination was already conjuring a pretty good mental image of it.

The sudden sound of Dr. Hayes' voice sounding frustrated and annoyed drew his head up.

"Dammit, stay down."

"Look, I'm fine, just a little--"

"Fraiser?" Makepeace growled, his voice coming out more gruff than intended as he stepped around the equipment lockers and personnel blocking his view, incredibly relieved to see her looking remarkably whole and undamaged. His eyes ran over her where she lay on the makeshift cot, vest and jacket both gone. There were some bruises, but nothing that wouldn't heal. His eyes dropped to her stomach. Her black undershirt had been unevenly cut in places, the perforated line following the same path as the one in the gashed tactical vest, but miraculously, the flesh revealed by the messy slice bore little more damage than a faint red mark and a few drops of blood. "You okay?" he continued, still sounding rougher than he meant to.

She looked up, expressive eyes going wide, and batted Hayes' arm aside to push up on one hand. "A little worse for the wear, sir," she admitted, her tone ironic and undercut by an unsteady groan. A slight rustle of movement drew his gaze sideways and he noted that Cassie was standing just off the doctor's left shoulder. "But all things considered, better than I would have predicted."

Still shaken and struggling to integrate expectations with reality, he nodded. She was a little bruised and cut up, one hand and forearm tightly bandaged, the other still showing the evidence of the fight she'd been in, and to judge by the way she was moving, there were more than a few bruises under her clothes. But overall, she looked damn good. His head tipping back, he heaved a harsh sigh, shoulders slumping as he reached up to run a hand over his short cropped hair. He hooked his thumb over a shoulder. "The louie mentioned a Jaffa?" he said on a questioning note.

She nodded. "He attacked. I got lucky and he probably wasn't very experienced...and seemed to be in some kind of Hathor-induced haze." She indicated the forest bounding the rear of the camp with a loose gesture. "I sent four men to retrieve him. He may be dead by now, but he was still alive when I left him ... might be possible to question him."

The colonel's expression hardened. "If he's a Jaffa, he may be running a four minute mile by now." The larval Goa'uld served as the carrier's immune system, and allowed them to do some pretty amazing healing tricks.

She shook her head. "I doubt it, sir. I stabbed him in the stomach ... cut the Goa'uld in half...." The words sputtered to an uneasy halt and she looking down, fumbling with the torn front of her t-shirt, the bandages hiding split and bruised knuckles particularly pale against black cotton, and scratched flesh. "If he's not dead now, he soon will be." Without the Goa'uld, no Jaffa could live long. Certainly he wouldn't heal from the injuries she'd inflicted.

"You sure?" he questioned doubtfully, finding it very difficult to believe the woman was capable of making such a major strike against one of the alien warriors.

Head still down, she nodded. "He was unconscious ... so I checked. The Goa'uld was cut in half ... definitely dead."

Makepeace supposed he should have been surprised by the note of shame in her voice---after all, the Jaffa had been out to kill her---but he wasn't. Killing wasn't something to be taken lightly as she knew better than most. She'd ushered enough of her charges out of this world, holding their hands, offering what comfort she could even as she fought to save them. That she would feel guilty for ending an enemy's life was right in character from what he'd seen. He considered offering his sympathies, but it wasn't the time. He wasn't sure he could honestly express any regret for the death of a Jaffa out to kill one of his people, and he certainly wasn't up to being sorry for a dead snake. "I'm glad you're okay," was all he could think of to say. He glanced at the child hanging close. "Both of you." He glanced at Hayes, who was glaring disapprovingly, but managed to control the urge to intercede and press her superior back down onto the stretcher. "They okay?" he asked, the double meaning of the question implicit in his tone.

She understood the question he was asking, and nodded. "I've checked them both, sir. It's okay." She noted her superior's ironic look and flushed. "No serious injuries," she attempted to cover the fact that she'd carefully checked both of them upon their return.

"And no Goa'uld either," Fraiser offered dryly, well aware of what was really going on. A small hand curved to her shoulder as Cassie drew closer and she reached up to enclose the child's hand in her own. This time she allowed Hayes to push her back flat onto the stretcher, falling back with an exhausted sigh, her already battered body running out of strength as the final traces of adrenaline that had kept her going drained away. "What about the glow we saw? What was it?"

Makepeace shrugged. "Nothing you need to worry about for the moment." That situation was relatively static, and the experts were on it. Better she get cleaned up so maybe she could translate for him when the engineers started offering more theories.

She picked up on the terse note in his voice and started to push back up, her voice questioning, "Sir?"

It was obvious she wasn't going to relax until she had some idea what was going on. "There was a second Jaffa," he explained as simply as possible. "He did something that's blocking the gate." She would have spoken, but he held up a hand to stop her. "The experts are trying to figure out what it is, but for the moment the best thing you can do is look after yourself." He glanced back in the direction he'd come. "Things are quiet, but they may not stay that way, and I want in the best condition possible if all hell breaks loose."

It went against the grain, but she allowed Hayes to press her back down, hissing through tightly clenched teeth as she twisted her shoulder the wrong way and battered muscles protested.

"Is it that bad?" he asked sympathetically.

Eyes sliding closed, she shook her head. "A little sore," she underplayed her injuries. "I'll be all right in a little while."

Hayes and Martinez both rolled their eyes, and he could see the thought running through their brains. Their superior was being just as bad as the soldiers she routinely treated when it came to admitting her own pain.

"Well, I should probably go check and see if they've brought your attacker back yet," Makepeace said after an uncomfortable silence. He wanted to make sure they kept that bastard well away from the rest of the camp. He didn't care if the Goa'uld in him was dead, he didn't trust a Jaffa as far as he could throw one.

Hayes and Martinez shared a look, then the doctor looked at Makepeace. "One of us should really go with you, sir. If he's still alive, he'll need treatment."

"Good idea, Doctor," he glanced at Fraiser, then at Hayes, who was a couple of inches taller than her superior, but not exactly firefight material, and finally at Martinez, who wasn't a huge man, but had a pretty solid set of biceps. Makepeace knew from his file that he'd served as a field medic before joining the infirmary staff. "If you don't need Martinez here?"

One dark eye flicked open, then slid closed again. "She's doesn't," Fraiser assured her superior, wincing as Hayes began carefully cleaning the grit and blood from her unbandaged hand. "There's no sign of internal injuries or concussion. Two people is really overkill." She opened both eyes this time. "And if he's still alive, he'll need treatment to keep him that way for questioning." Martinez could do most of what both doctors could, and had more field experience than Hayes. She turned a hard look on the medic. "Get one of us if you need help." As much as she hurt, she could still do the job if necessary.

"I will," he assured her, then grabbed a field kit and moved to follow Makepeace.

"Don't worry," Makepeace murmured on a note of understanding, "I'll send somebody to get you if you're needed. Meantime, you get some rest."

She didn't argue this time, and he waved to Martinez to stay put and disappeared for a moment to speak briefly to the guards. As he finished, he waved to the medic to follow him before moving away into the darkness. Makepeace threw one last glance over his shoulder, then looked at the man moving easily at his side. "They really okay?" he asked a little worriedly.

Martinez nodded, his concentration on the rough ground to keep from tripping in the darkness, the unwieldy medkit leaving him less sure-footed than normal. "They're fine, sir." He risked a quick look back. "A little shaken, but who wouldn't be after...y’know ... facing down a Jaffa?" He shook his head.

"Yeah," Makepeace murmured, trying not to allow too many suspicions in. After all, Hayes had said the kid and Fraiser were both clear. Hell, he didn't even know if a kid could be taken over by one of the creatures. Still, he was glad he'd posted one of the guards on Fraiser just in case. "She said you were with her earlier?" he said by way of question, then added a quick explanation when Martinez looked a little uncertain. "Before she went to bed ... at the edge of camp."

"Yes, sir," he confirmed quietly. The medic nodded, his expression and tone unreadable, leaving Makepeace to wonder what they might have been talking about. Any kind of romantic relationship between the doctor and the medic would be completely against regs, but he was a good looking guy and seemed to be pretty bright. Wouldn't be the first time somebody crossed the line. He'd heard a few rumors about the guy now that he thought about it, but he'd learned never to put much stock in such things. The way people made up stories to keep themselves entertained, there was probably at least one story floating around that had him in love with Jack O'Neill.

"I just needed to know for sure," the colonel explained when he realized the other man was still staring at him oddly. "I saw her out there acting a little odd ... and ... well ... with everything going on."

"You saw her?" Martinez murmured, keeping his voice low.

"Yeah ... just kinda got to thinking ... and ... never mind," he brushed the question away, not wanting to consider that he'd stood for several minutes silently watching the woman, Jacobs' suggestions beating a none-too-helpful drumbeat in his head. He flashed a quick glance at the man moving easily by his side, his look covertly assessing before he could think better of it. If she was having a fling with the medic, it was none of his damn business so long as it didn't affect how things ran. And besides, he had a hell of a lot more important matters to considers. Like the fact that they had a goddamned Goa'uld barrier of some kind over the gate and no way to get home, plus no one likely to be looking for them for at least two weeks. If ever.

All that and the radios still weren't working. He muttered a curse under his breath and lengthened his stride, forcing the other man to work to keep up.

They hadn't gone much farther when he heard a shout from the direction they were headed.

"Colonel!" Two of the four men Fraiser had sent were carrying a limp body between them while the other two were guarding point.

"He still alive?" Makepeace called out.

"Just barely, sir."

As if to confirm the statement, the Jaffa struggled to lift his head, just barely conscious, his eyes dazed with pain, but full of hate. "You're going to die," he gasped, offering a bloody-mouthed smile, a harsh cough bringing more blood up. "But before you do ... I'm going to ... kill the Tau'ri bitch ... for my goddess."

Makepeace didn't say a word as he drew closer, peering down at the prisoner. It would be so easy to simply kill the son of a bitch and be done with it, and he seriously considered that option. If not for the fact that the prisoner might be able to offer some insight as to what was happening, he might have just done it. "No," he said at last, "you're not."

* * * * * *

Sam Carter was dreaming. In her mind, she was lying in the grass on velvet-sky night, the stars overhead delicate pinpricks of glittering light. Cassie was there, playing somewhere close and safe, bounding through the damp grass with Simon and giggling happily.

And Janet was there, her shoulder warm and firm where it nudged up against Sam's.

"That's Cassiopeia," Sam murmured before launching in a story she barely noticed in the wake of her awareness of the woman lying next to her.

"Sam," Janet whispered at last, her voice low and inviting, drawing Sam to roll onto her side, head propped up on one hand, while she settled the other one on her friend's stomach. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she was certain that Cassie had left them alone while disappearing into her own safe place.

"Janet," Sam breathed, fingers just barely stroking and slowly making their way under the other woman's blouse, contacting warm flesh inch by inch. Suddenly the only stars that mattered were the one reflected in dark brown eyes.

A hesitant, sexy-sweet smile curved full lips and a graceful hand rose to languidly outline Sam's mouth, stroking lightly, every touch a knowing tease. "You shouldn't have left the other night," Janet chided gently, still caressing soft lips with a tender hand.

Sam could feel the tension running through the other woman, the hand on Janet's stomach registering the change in her breathing, and way stomach muscles contracted with nervousness. Dark eyes reflected uncertainty and a degree of hurt that made her flinch under the weight of regret for the pain she'd unintentionally inflicted. "No," she agreed, her voice soft and reassuring, "I shouldn't have."

Janet released a tiny sigh that echoed her relief at every level and outlined Sam's lower lip with her thumb. Her eyes slid closed, a tremor making her breath catch as Sam spread her hand against the soft skin of her friend's stomach.

"In fact," Sam breathed, leaning closer, "I really think we should do something about that." After a brief moment of surprise on Janet's part, the kiss that followed was incredibly tender, meshing their lips together in a luxurious trade of sweet caresses. Spreading her hand a little wider, she eased it into the warm valley between full breasts, fingertips toying over velvety flesh, painting delicate, erotic designs. She rolled onto her back, drawing Janet up to lie on top of her, the doctor's slight frame dovetailing neatly with her own. The hand that had been propping her head up trailed up Janet's back, exploring the line of her spine before curving to the back of her head. She moaned into the kiss, and soon tasted Janet's answering whimper of need and want. "...wanted you so long," she panted when their lips parted ever so slightly. She reached up, resting her hand along the side of her friend's face. "...loved you so long...."

A graceful hand slipped through her hair, toying with the strands that fell across her brow, then carefully brushing them back. Janet leaned down, teasing another sweet kiss from softly parted lips. "Tell me when," she commanded, demanding a measure of blood in return for her own pain.

"I don't know ... a long time. Maybe from the first moment I saw you," Sam admitted, unable to trace the influx of emotion to a single moment. It was simply there, a part of her, and it seemed as though it had never not been a part of her. She stroked a soft lower lip, shivering as she felt the brush of sharp incisors against the pad of her thumb. "Maybe even from the first moment I was born."

Janet smiled again, the expression a thousand watt invitation, the intensity of it enough to make Sam's heart skip at least a dozen beats. She had no idea when or how, but the grass was suddenly a bed, and their clothes had joined Cassie in whatever never-never-land she'd disappeared to, leaving only a random twining of sheets to separate flesh from flesh. If there was anything to prevent them from taking what they both wanted so desperately, she had no idea what it might be.

Sam rolled again, drawing Janet beneath her, the sheets sliding and teasing them with the promise of what was to come. "Tell me," she begged after a beat, "please. I need to know...."

Janet smiled, and traced a hand up the arch of Sam's throat, every faint touch drawing a shiver of awareness. "Need to know what," she teased.

"How you feel," Sam whispered, awareness turning to apprehension, the sense that there was something there in the dark with them making her fear for their safety.

"Oh, Sam," Janet breathed, but she was moving too slowly, leaving Sam with the dangerous sense that there wouldn't be enough time. The darkness, the real darkness, was drawing closer, and with it, all the things that would separate and destroy them both. "If you think hard enough, you know the answer."

Sam could hear voices now, pursuing them, bringing along all the things that made this so dangerous. Braced on her shoulders, she glanced over one shoulder even as she slid gentle fingers through auburn silk. "Just tell me," she pleaded.

Janet's smile was a little sad this time. ""Sam, If you don't already know it, you're not ready to hear it."

Before Sam could plead again, the voices were there, reaching for her, threatening them both. She tensed, the only thought in her head that she had to protect Janet from the things in the dark.

A hand brushed her face, and she clamped down with her teeth, rolling and pushing back, reality warping and changing even as she moved. She opened her eyes to darkness, broken not by shimmering stars and the silhouette of a would-be lover, but simply by more darkness.

She heard pained yelps, and recognized Colonel O'Neill's voice even as it struck her that the fabric rubbing against her skin wasn't the fantasy softness of silk sheets, but the bulky reality of fatigues and a tactical vest. Blinding pain followed rapidly on the heels of the depressing realization that none of it was real. "Colonel," she gasped, still struggling to break free of the dream, her tone uncertain. She thought she heard a vaguely Jack O'Neillish grunt of confirmation. "Sorry, sir, it's just so dark," she offered the only explanation she could think of. She could hardly tell him that he'd interrupted a fantasy of passion with the SGC's CMO. Her day was quite bad enough as it was. No need to make things even worse. The last thing she remembered, the Jaffa had tossed in some kind of bomb or grenade. Instinct told her, they weren't going to wake up to find themselves in Peewee's Playhouse.

"Oh, Carter!" O'Neill complained, his voice a verbal wince, making it obvious he was hurting. A moment later, he continued in an about face, his tone wryly admiring, "It's all right. I like your attitude."

Jack's tone might have been a verbal wince, but Daniel's was the verbal equivalent of the black raven of impending doom, low and full of intense depression. "It isn't dark," he murmured, his tone all the more awful for its lack of overt emotion, "we're blind ... and we failed."

Sensing their teammate's raw depression, the colonel was quick to step in, his attitude surprisingly upbeat, but then Jack O'Neill had a habit of being upbeat at the oddest times. He might be sarcastic and prone to the sharpest of one liners, but at the same time he had a basic positive outlook that often seemed at odds with the sarcastic side. "All right, take it easy, Daniel. We've been in worse situations than this.

Sam suspected the colonel wanted to hit Teal'c when he offered a calm, "Not to my knowledge."

Judging by Jack's tone, she was right. "Thanks, Teal'c."

None of it did the least to abate Daniel's deep well of depression. "Right now they're getting ready to wipe out the major cities of earth. They'll do it from orbit, out of reach." He'd already had to watch the people he cared for die once because of this scenario. They weren't quite the same, but close enough, and he wasn't sure he could live through watching it a second time in his own universe.

"Daniel--" Jack growled, fighting to forestall the descent into emotional darkness.

The Egyptologist's answering tone was almost angry. "Jack, I've already been through this once before," he growled softly, his voice gaining in intensity as he was reminded of all those deaths he'd already seen. Another Sam, another Jack, a Teal'c who'd never had a chance to join them, all of earth, and all of Chulak. "I've already seen this before---" He could not do this again.

O'Neill's voice was an odd combination of sympathetic and impatient as he cut the younger man off. "Daniel, will you relax? You've been through it before and you survived.

Sam heard a soft rustle of movement to her right and looked that direction, blinking and squinting as a hint of shadow tried to resolve into something approaching recognizable shapes. She blinked again, rubbing her eyes as she tried to decide whether her eyesight was coming back or it was just a trick of the mind.

"We're just having a bad day," Jack continued, oblivious to his second in command’s struggles with her vision.

Sam kept blinking and rubbing, her eyes tearing now, but she could just make out a shadow of movement that was shaped vaguely like Jack O'Neill as well as a hint of the confines of their cell. "Colonel," she broke in, "I think I'm starting to see something."

"My sight returns as well," Teal'c murmured, speaking for the first time in several moments.

Jack faked a lighthearted tone, struggling with his own fears by forcing a false sense of optimism. "Now that's what I want to hear. Carter, if someone comes in here, you..." he paused momentarily, hunting for the silliest thing he could think of to say before advising her to, "bite 'em in the hand."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, his advice had the desired effect and she laughed softly. "Yes, sir."

"That's the spirit," O'Neill offered by way of praise, his tone lighter now.

"Yeah, bite 'em, that should help," Daniel grumbled sarcastically, uncharacteristically unwilling to see anything but the grimmest scenario possible.

"It'll ... it'll be okay ... somehow," Sam whispered, reaching out to rest a hand lightly on her teammate's forearm. He rolled his arm over, shifting his hand until he found hers and squeezed tightly.

"You don't know what it was like," he whispered, his voice soft and ragged, and intended for her ears alone. "Watching them all die ... watching all of you die." She heard the soft sounds as he drew in a deep breath and released it heavily and saw the faint shadow of his shoulders rising and slumping again. "Knowing everyone was ... gone ... and the hurt they'd suffered."

Sam was grateful that the colonel was either politely ignoring them, or too busy with his own problems to hear. "I know," she soothed, realizing that Jack's good-natured bullying was the last thing that Daniel needed at that point, "but you've gotta pull it together." She squeezed his hand a little harder. "We need you if we're gonna find a way out of this ... a way to change how things come out."

"Sam---" he began, but she cut him off, her voice soft, but firm.

"Daniel, there's still time. We'll find a way," she said, her voice intent, not with Jack O'Neill's raw bravado, but with her own kind of absolute commitment. "It doesn't have to come out the same way."

Another heavy sigh escaped his lips. "Yeah," he said softly, sounding as though he was trying to convince himself. He kept talking, working his way through things. "We've already changed a few things ... saved a few lives ... just have to keep changing things...."

She frowned uncertainly, not understanding what he was talking about. "Already saved lives?" Carter questioned, sensing there was something she didn't know.

"Fraiser," Daniel murmured without thinking. "You got her out of there. In the other universe, she didn't even make it this far." The way he said it was so offhand it was obvious he thought she knew what he was talking about and was just offering a small reminder.

Sam gasped as though struck, feeling as though someone had knocked the air from her lungs. "Janet?" she croaked uncertainly. The doctor's fate in the alternate universe had never been mentioned and it had been an odd kind of comfort to think that she'd possibly survived on that universe's Beta Site---the main colonization project on that earth. "What are you saying?"

She felt more than saw Daniel tense, the muscles under her hand flexing as the faint shadow she could make out stiffened. "I thought you..." he started to say, then fell silent. She could see well enough now to realize that his mouth was hanging open. She glanced over her shoulder, squinting to spot Jack and Teal'c, a large, broad shadow and a far slighter one. They'd risen and moved as far away as possible, checking the bars of their cell by feel. She looked back at Daniel.

"Daniel?" Carter prompted when her teammate still hadn't spoken.

He was silent for a long moment, then finally spoke, his voice so soft it was clearly meant only for her ears. "She was part of the first team through the gate ... and the first to die."

Suddenly Sam couldn't breathe, or maybe she could breathe and she just wasn't absorbing the oxygen. She wasn't sure. It was like she was deep under the ocean, her lungs bellowing in and out but with nothing but water filling them. Filling her lungs, damping the sound reaching her ears, dimming the light in the room, and leaving her light-headed. No, that couldn't be. Janet couldn't be.... She couldn't even finish the thought. Her skull suddenly throbbing violently, she just shook her head. She couldn't think of anything else to do.

She didn't know whether Daniel's vision was coming back or if he was just sensitive enough to pick up on her shock, but his voice was an uneven stammer when he spoke. "I told Fraiser ... I-I thought she would've ... that you'd--"

"No," Sam exhaled, uncertain whether she was more hurt or angry that Janet hadn't told her. They'd all been shaken to hear of their alternates' deaths. She couldn't envision that Janet had been any different. Why the hell hadn't she shared that? She ran a hand over her hair, distracted from the reality of her returning vision by the gut punch of emotion that accompanied the notion of any Janet Fraiser dying in any universe. She didn't have time for this, and yet there seemed to be no way around it. She fisted one hand tightly at her side, nails digging into her palm. "She never mentioned it," she finished at last.

This time it was Daniel who reached out to offer comfort, finding her hand by feel and squeezing hard. "I'm sure she just did what she thought was best."

Sam nodded stiffly, forcing the emotion storm down as a luxury she couldn't afford. "We will get through this," she whispered the words like a mantra, then tipped her head up, focusing on the dim outline of her friend. "We will succeed, Daniel," she said very softly, as if simple determination could make it so. "We have to."

* * * * * *

Dawn came on perversely quiet feet for the beta team, the sun peaking through delicate clouds and thick runs of trees to cast dappled shadows across cool earth, a few small birds chattering unfamiliar songs somewhere in the distance, the morning air cool and sweet, pale morning light reflecting off the glittering cage that now surrounded the stargate.

Janet Fraiser stood at the base, staring up at the strangely beautiful crystal-like structure with its pale interlacing of green streamers. The engineers were studying the latest set of figures and muttering to themselves, but she ignored the low level chatter, her mind elsewhere.

"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" a deep voice complained near her left shoulder.

She glanced back to find her superior looking at her with an annoyed expression and struggling valiantly not to stare at the newest development. Slender shoulders dipped in a faint shrug. "Wasn't doing anybody any good lying around ... and since you won't let me near the prisoner---"

"You're not needed," he reiterated his earlier comments without explaining that on those occasions the prisoner was conscious what he mostly did was direct the ugliest threats imaginable at Fraiser. She had enough on her plate. She didn't need to know about that too. "So, any idea what that thing is?"

She shrugged and gestured loosely to indicate the crystalline cage. "Ice," she responded, the answer catching him by surprise.

Not quite believing it, Makepeace started to reach out, but she caught his arm by the wrist, stopping him.

"Supercold," she warned him. "Just touching it adheres your skin and leaves you burned." She held up a finger on her other hand to show him the faintly reddened tip. "Hurts like hell."

He offered a wry grin. "I'll bet you got your tongue stuck to a metal flagpole as a kid too," he murmured, making light of the situation as best he could.

She shrugged and managed a hint of a smile, though there was no real pleasure in it.

Serious again, he indicated the gaps in the latticework cage. "Can we get someone through between the bars?"

"Yeah, Gage was thin enough to slip through with only minor cold burns ... but the gate is truly walled over in that same ice...and they’ve had no luck cutting it. It’s hard as hell and reforms almost instantly if you melt it. We don’t have any way of generating enough heat for anywhere near long enough to have a hope in hell of making a hole and keeping it open." Which meant they wouldn't be going through the gate until they could figure out some way to deal with that ugly fact.

"Any chance the event horizon could be used to take it out?" Makepeace questioned thoughtfully. The energy burst was pretty powerful. It could destroy equipment or tear a human body to pieces.

She shook her head uncertainly. "The engineers don't know...and they’re a little afraid of what might happen if it doesn’t," she responded, indicating they'd already bounced that idea around. "It takes a lot of energy to create that much ice and we haven’t figured out where the hell it’s coming from or what’s generating it." Nobody was sure of the stresses involved or how they’d respond to pressure. Yes, the event horizon could be held in check---the iris at the SGC had done so more than once---but it wasn’t simple and there was no way of knowing how much force the ice wall would withstand, nor what might happen if it was hit with that volume of energy. "Besides, we don't dare try for fear of giving our position away."

The colonel made a face. "Somehow, I think they know we're here," he said acidly. "This rig ... the Jaffa ... that's no accident."

Fraiser flinched. "Good point." She ran a hand over her hair. "Which begs the question of how they knew."

He looked at her. "You said he mentioned Hathor?"

She nodded. "Yeah ... his queen." They shared a look, both putting it all together at the same time. "She must have found about it when she had control of the SGC." Her lips pursed as she considered the confrontation she'd had with the Jaffa---the one she shouldn't have been able to win, and yet had. He'd been distracted, bordering on sexually aroused, and obsessed to a degree that reminded her eerily of the way Tony Philips had been when he'd attacked her. It almost made it all make sense. "The Jaffa...when we fought, his mind wasn't on the fight." A tiny shudder of revulsion worked its way down her spine. "He was out of control and not thinking...desperate to please her...just like the men when Hathor had control. They were ready to do anything for her. It would make sense if she was the one behind it...she'd enjoy that kind of revenge...particularly on Sam."

He considered what she'd said for a moment, then let out a tired sigh, unable to argue. "The more I hear about that day, the more I'm glad I was off duty."

"I definitely wouldn’t have minded giving it a miss," Janet admitted, still staring at the icy cage keeping them away from the gate. A shiver slid down her spine. "Every time I think the damn thing is over it finds a way to bite me on the ass again."

Makepeace cast a sympathetic look her way, but didn’t immediately reply, just went back to staring at the strangely beautiful sight of the ice cage. "So any brilliant ideas?" he asked after a long moment.

Hating the helplessness, Janet shook her head, the motion sharp and impatient, her mouth pursed unhappily. Dammit, if only Sam had been there, she had no doubt the other woman would have found some kind of answer to the question.

"Feels like it should be them in charge," Makepeace muttered as if he’d read her mind, "instead of you and I, doesn’t it?"

Fraiser peered up at him, trying to decide what he meant and uncertain from his tone.

Noting her look, he shrugged. "Just guessing I’m not the only here with some self doubts," he sighed.

She cast another look his way, this time seeing the fears she’d missed before as she was reminded that she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t the first choice for this mission. "This isn’t your fault, sir," she reminded him gently.

He offered her a wry smile. "Yours either, Doctor."

They stood in companionable silence for a long moment, both lost in their respective thoughts before Janet finally spoke up. "So what do we do now?"

Makepeace shrugged. He'd already been considering that question. "We try and figure out what the hell that thing is." Which was obvious enough, but bought him some additional time as he considered his other options. "Meanwhile, I think we should bivouac down here...closer to the gate---"

"Sir," Janet began, a little startled by that plan when she knew it had always been intended that they camp above the gate where they could defend themselves if an enemy force came through, "are you sure that's wise---"

"No," he admitted before she could get any farther. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder at the camp set up on the overlooking hill. "But if the Goa'uld had wanted to take us out by invading, I think they already would have." He looked back to the encased figure of the stargate. "And we may need to move fast at some point."

"Through the gate?" she clarified a little uncertainly.

He nodded. "It's the only thing that would make any difference."

Then he glanced back over his shoulder and Janet abruptly understood. The gate represented the only possible escape—assuming they could find a way to open it again. Nothing else offered any hope if some kind of force moved against them. Unfortunately, it was also a doorway through which prospective enemies might well appear. All of which made camping nearby both a necessity and a threat. She exhaled a heavy sigh, rubbing her upper arms as it distantly occurred to her that a chill wind had come up. She had to figure it out, she thought with gritted teeth, otherwise they were all doomed. A shiver slid up her spine as she thought of Cass, and what she'd already been through. No, she wouldn't let it happen again. Her gaze went to what she'd come to think of as the bottle rocket from hell, the Goa'uld control pod that had apparently created the ice cage.

Makepeace's gaze followed her. "We could try an RPG," he mused.

Tempting as the idea was, she shook her head. "Save your ammo," she advised, thinking they might need it later. "At least for the moment. It's got some kind of force field around it—"

"Might not stand up to an RPG."

"Yeah, and according to Marks, if it doesn't, we might just have a nuclear explosion on our hands," she informed him, her tone shorter than she'd intended. Catching her temper and yanking it back under control, she held out a hand in a calming motion. "Let's just take it easy for the moment...see if we can figure out a little more before we blow anything up."

He didn't seem upset by her slight peevishness as he sighed softly. His tone wistful, he murmured, "I miss simple enemies...the kind you could just shoot...and who died reliably...and who didn't fuck with your head...."

Glancing his way, a hint of a wry smile curved Janet's lips. "Don't we all, sir," she exhaled, her tone sympathetic. "Don't we all." Their gazes met in an unexpected moment of understanding and sad smiles traded back and forth until finally Janet straightened her shoulders. "I should probably get back to work...Andrews was crunching some numbers and they should be ready by now."

Makepeace nodded, silently watching her hurry off before turning to stare at the barrier over the gate for a long moment. Feeling the weight of every life resting on his shoulders, he fought the urge to start pounding on the eery green threads of ice with his bare fists. Wouldn't do any good, he reminded himself. Finally, he consciously shook off the threat of depression and turned toward the camp, his game face back in place. There was a lot of work left to be done if they were going to move camp down beside the gate, and no better time to get started.

* * * * * *

Daniel was dying.

SG-1 had managed to survive capture thanks to aid from Teal'c's former teacher, a Jaffa by the name of Bra'tac. They'd even turned the tables on the Apophis, taking command of Klorel's ship, and using the transport rings to make their way onto Apophis' ship with the intent of disabling it.

But in the doing, Daniel had taken a staff blast full on.

Teeth gritted against the agonizing pain, he waved his teammates on. "Get out of here!" he shouted above the sounds of combat.

"Daniel!" Sam shook her head, ready to fight for him, but he waved again.

"GO!" His expression was almost pleading, the memory of the things he'd seen in the alternate universe alive in his eyes. "SAVE THEM!"

For a moment, Sam was utterly frozen, then Bra'tac grabbed her arm, dragging her along. "If you value your world and his sacrifice, Captain Carter, you will move!"

With no time to waste mourning one man, no matter who he was, Sam could only force down the pain as she broke into a hard run alongside her remaining teammates. "Have to make it count," she muttered to herself as an image of Janet and Cass ran through her head. They were theoretically safe, but she was smart enough to know the Goa’uld wouldn’t stop if they conquered earth. The people Sam loved most would still be in horrible danger. They’d lose their homes and become the hunted. No, she couldn’t let it happen. Not in this universe.

* * * * * *


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