| Part 1 | Part 2 |
IF THIS IS POOL, HOW COME I CAN'T GO IN THE DEEP END?
Janet didn't think she ever completely lost consciousness -- though she was so badly dazed it was hard to be certain -- but she was aware of the sounds of combat; cracking noises that sounded like wood and bone, flesh slapping against flesh, grunts, groans, and curses, and things that sounded like heavy slabs of meat hitting the floor. That could not be good.
Nor could the fact everything suddenly went silent.
Her entire body one giant bruise, her head throbbing violently, she struggled to push back the cottony haze, fighting her way up from near-unconsciousness. Dark eyes slid open, focusing on the bland surface of the concrete floor for a brief second before she looked up. She was lying amid a jumble of tables and chairs, half under the mess, her left shoulder throbbing so badly she couldn't help but wonder if it was broken. So much for her performance in her first real command position. Fighting a groan, she pushed up on one elbow in time to see Wilkerson -- or rather the man that had been Wilkerson -- one arm hooked over the bar as he struggled to rise, his face and what she could see of his upper body badly bruised and bloodied, but not mortally so by the look of it. Of her colleagues, there was no sign and she had to fight a wave of nausea as she realized they were probably lying on the floor out of sight ... dead. The Goa'uld had won and she was all that was left.
Under no illusions about her own chances against a Goa'uld, she wondered if General Hammond would say nice things at her funeral or would he excoriate himself for taking a chance on a younger, female officer when there had been any number of other older, male candidates for her position that others would have preferred.
And then Wilkerson lost his grip on the slickly polished bar and went down with a dull scream. Janet heard the thud as he hit the floor again, then several snarled words in a language she didn't recognize but was certain were curses just from the tone.
She glanced back, assessing her own position -- one leg was pinned and she hurt like hell, but there was no major bleeding and when she wiggled her feet, they both responded without too much difficulty. She could hear Wilkerson still muttering in the same language, the inhumanly deep voice sending chills down her spine. Obviously, the others had done enough damage to nearly incapacitate him, even if they hadn't been able to save themselves. Gritting her teeth, Janet worked her leg free, reaching back to steady the heavy table so it didn't crash. Her only chance would be some small element of surprise.
Logically, she knew she should run for it. Get the hell out the door and make sure someone survived to tell the SGC what had happened.
Illogically, she couldn't just run away when it meant reducing their sacrifice to nothing, even if it only meant she was one more sacrifice.
Breathing a soft prayer, she braced her hands on the floor, silently pulling her body forward and out from under the upended brace of tables, then pushing on up to one knee, careful to stay low.
A grunt and a thud rattled something near the bar, then she heard more invectives muttered in an inhuman voice.
Edging forward as fast as she dared, Janet peered through the forest of toppled tables and chairs to catch a glimpse of Wilkerson where he half lay and half sat. His shirt so badly torn it was little more than tatters, he peeled it off and threw it aside, then leaned on one hand, reaching for something out of her line of sight, his muscles knotting with effort as he began dragging it toward himself.
It took her a moment to realize that his broken arm -- the one the Goa'uld had apparently healed, or perhaps simply hadn't cared was broken -- was broken again. Far more seriously this time, since she could see an edge of bloodied bone poking through gashed flesh at the elbow just above the tattered remains of the cast. And what he was dragging was Colonel O'Neill. O'Neill was limp and bloodied, and Wilkerson had a death grip on his collar as he struggled to make the badly broken arm do what he wanted.
Janet frowned, struggling to understand. Was he just trying to finish the colonel off? No, that didn't make sense. O'Neill was close enough that he could easily have gotten a hand around his throat. It wanted something else ... but what? Shaking her head, she pushed the thought off, creeping closer, surprised by the burst of pain that tightened like a band around her chest as she caught a glimpse of a slender figure lying in a sprawl amid several upended tables and chairs, blood streaming into a pale cap of gold hair. Gritting her teeth against the surge of emotion, she pushed it back. If Carter was dead, any mourning could wait until later, and if she wasn't, then her best chance at survival lay with Janet finding a way of stopping the thing inside Wilkerson.
With no sign of anything she could use as a weapon and no real plan, it occurred to Janet that she was probably insane, not to mention suicidal. She heard a low growl and leaned forward until Wilkerson came back into her line of sight through a sea of chair legs and toppled tables. He finished dragging O'Neill to his side, then shoved the colonel onto his side so he was facing the other direction. Janet frowned, head canting to one side as she tried to understand what the Goa'uld was doing. As far as she could tell, he wasn't trying to harm O'Neill, just struggling to position the colonel. Then Wilkerson rolled until he was lying on his stomach and scooted until he was nudged up against the colonel, the movement drawing pained gasps and grunts. As he turned away, she pushed upright, moving forward on light feet, able to see better now. No wonder he was hurting. She could see the gash in his side and a leg so badly broken, it made his arm look like nothing more than a bruise. Even a Goa'uld had to have some limits in how fast it could heal injuries that severe.
And then suddenly it all made sense. She knew exactly what it was doing. They didn't have a lot of intel on exactly how the creatures went about such things, but it was obviously intending to take over O'Neill. She broke into a run as Wilkerson convulsed, something rippling and moving under the flesh over his spine.
"Oh God," that was her own voice, gasping and shocky sounding playing in her ears as she dodged through the chaos of furniture, knocking several chairs aside in her haste.
Lost in its own spasmodic exit from Wilkerson, the Goa'uld didn't hear her coming as it erupted through blood and bone. The dragon-like head and snake-like upper body rose up from the back of the young lieutenant's neck, crimson running down the sleek body in bright streamers. Nothing she'd read about them indicated whether they could hear or see outside of the host, nor how quickly they could take over a new body, but if it did manage to control O'Neill, they were all dead.
Brightly colored wings of ridged flesh flared away from the sharply contoured head as the Goa'uld reared back, seeming to get its bearings. And then Janet saw it make its dive for the back of the colonel's neck and made a dive of her own. In one mad leap, she covered the last eight feet or so, skidding the last couple across the floor, face first like she was headed for home with the winning run in the final game of the World Series, arm and shoulder muscles painfully elongated to gain any possible distance. With desperation adding speed and strength, she somehow managed to get her hand around the thing's neck before it could reach the colonel. Its skin was hot and slick with fresh blood, steely muscles rippling beneath the flesh. Momentum carried her forward until she nudged up against Wilkerson's side, her arms braced across his back even as she wrenched the creature back from the colonel as hard as she could.
Enraged at her interference, the Goa'uld twisted in her hold, the arched head swinging toward her, icy breath playing over her face as it hissed furiously. Janet reared back, arms outstretched as far as she could reach, instinctively ducking as it rippled and dived at her, the taloned maw of its mouth working angrily. It was phenomenally strong, the taloned, wing-like protrusions that ran down its spine slicing into her palm as it struggled desperately in her hold. It lunged again, neck muscles pulsating and rippling, so powerful it nearly escaped her grip. She twisted her head away, twisting and throwing up one shoulder protectively to escape having her face laid open by the claws on the mouth. She'd had some vague thought of simply pulling it free, but feeling the raw strength in the creature and the ripple and movement under hand as it twined itself more securely with Wilkerson's spinal column, she realized with a sick rush that wasn't an option. She was doing well to simply hold onto the damn thing.
Even with both hands gripping it now, she could feel it sliding through her hold, trying to get back into Wilkerson one moment, lunging for O'Neill the next, then diving at her, screeching furiously. Sooner or later, one tactic or another was going to work if she didn't either get help or do something.
And since getting help didn't seem to be happening....
She redoubled the hold she had with her right hand, knowing that her left was nowhere near strong enough to contain the creature, then let go with her left, pressing her cheek into her shoulder as it lunged at her again. Kicking off to throw herself across Wilkerson, she braced her hand against O'Neill's center back and shoved hard, desperately just trying to get him out of the way. A complete dead-weight, the colonel barely moved with her first shove, but with terror driven adrenaline flooding her veins, she braced herself and pressed again, muscles straining until she felt him slide several inches then flop over onto his stomach -- hopefully out of range of the creature trying to invade him now. She didn't know if it could hear or see, but it certainly seemed to know something was up and it twisted wildly, screaming as it dove at her like a bird of prey on the hunt. The sharply taloned mouth hit her shoulder, slicing through her shirt and drawing blood. Pain flaring through her arm, Janet nearly lost her grip and thrust herself back, ducking the swinging head as she felt it sliding through her fingers in an effort to re-enter Wilkerson.
Clamping down with both hands, Janet managed to arrest its escape as the cobra-like wings along either side of its head butted against her closed hand, preventing it from easily sliding any further, but she was far from certain how long she could hold on. It had already laid open her palm, her blood making it that much harder to hold onto and her hands were already weakening from pain and strain.
If worst came to worst, she would at least have a better chance against the already injured body of the lieutenant than against O'Neill.
A sudden crash brought her head up just in time to see the frightened face of the bartender appear above the edge of the bar, his eyes wide with terror. He must have hidden when the fight started and been there the whole time.
He stared at her, then at the hissing, struggling thing clenched tightly in her hands and shook his head, muttering dazedly as he backed away. "It's not real...can't be real...this isn't happening."
"HELP!!" Janet screamed, trying to break through the man's rising tide of panic, but he just kept shaking his head and backing away until he suddenly broke, spinning and bolting out a door that led into the back. "No," she growled, fighting to stay calm and praying someone would come in the front door. "HELP!! SOMEBODY!!! HELP!!" She fell silent when a low groan reached her ears and twisted, trying to peer over her shoulder to see where it had come from. A flicker of hesitant movement from one of Carter's dangling leg sent an explosion of hope through the doctor. "CARTER! WAKE UP!" Janet hissed a curse under her breath as the Goa'uld exploded into another round of violent writhings, leaving several new cuts on her palms, then dove at her face, tearing a fresh gash in her shoulder when she reared back to avoid the talons. "SAM!!! PLEASE!!"
Another groan and then suddenly Carter was moving, gracelessly pushing up on one hand as she blinked, struggling to shake off a daze, not even certain what had happened yet. Fraiser's shouts had helped yank her up from unconsciousness, but she wasn't really tracking yet.
"SAM!!" Janet heard a note of panic in her own voice as she shouted again, desperate for help before the worst happened.
The captain's head swung her way, blue eyes going wide as they fell on the horrific tableau. "Holy God," Sam gasped, thrusting to unsteady feet. Every inch of her body blazed with throbbing pain and she could barely make her eyes focus together, but she forced herself to move. By the look of it Fraiser couldn't hold the thing on her own much longer. She lurched forward, stumbling on the last step, one hand hitting the floor next to the doctor's shoulder, opposite the side where she was gripping the hissing Goa'uld.
Janet ducked another hissing, screaming attack from the creature, crying out when it hit her upper arm, but this time Carter was there, the press of the blond's body against her back on odd kind of comfort as the captain lunged across her and slapped at the thing, driving it back. Then her hand closed on Janet's, firming her grip when there was nowhere else she could get a solid grip of her own.
"What happened?" Sam gasped, wincing as the sharp talons on the creature's mouth made a lunge at her own forearm.
"It was trying to get into O'Neill," Janet hissed in explanation. "I caught it before it could get to him, but I can't get it out of Wilkerson." In fact, the creature had succeeded in slipping a few inches back into the hapless lieutenant. She wasn't even sure he was still alive considering the damage done when the creature exited the back of his neck, but if there was any chance for the man, she had to try.
"I can stop it from fighting at least," Carter growled under her breath and shifted so she could thrust her free hand into her front pocket. There was a small, razor sharp knife on her keychain. It wouldn't kill a human, but it would slice through flesh easily enough ... including Goa'uld flesh.
"No!" Janet snapped when she saw the knife and realized what the other woman intended. "God only knows what kind of bacterial contamination we could be looking at if you do that."
Gasping as talons left another trailing wound on her forearm, Sam tightened grip, feeling the doctor wince beneath her, since it was her hands being pressed into the clawed wings, then shook the thing hard enough to rattle it if only for a moment. "Then what?"
After a brief pause, Fraiser cursed under her breath. No time for a lot of choices. There was no way they were going to be able to hold onto it long enough to arrange for transport or even just try and drive him back to the SGC. "There's a medkit in my car ... blue Toyota Celica parked in front. It's got a scalpel--"
"But you said not to cut it," Sam whispered in confusion.
"I'm not going to cut it. I'm gonna cut it out," the doctor said decisively. It probably wasn't possible, but with no way to secure the creature or simply yank it free, it was the only chance she could see, even though it wasn't more than a one or two percent possibility. Most likely, she was gong to kill Wilkerson; at best, she might just leave him a paraplegic, but it was the only option she saw.
"They tried that with Kawalsky," Sam reminded her. "It didn't work."
"That Goa'uld was still completely immersed in Kawalsky. I'm hoping that since this one has released its hold on Wilkerson's brain, we can get it out." It was a vague hope at best, but it was the only one she had left. "Now, go ... I need that kit. I can hold it long enough," she added desperately when Carter still hadn't moved.
Hissing curses under her breath, Sam started to do as Fraiser had asked, only to freeze in place as a table behind them suddenly went crashing to the floor, thrown aside by a powerful shove from Teal'c. The Jaffa sat straight up, the cuts and bruises on his face and upper body already sealing and beginning to heal.
"Teal'c!" Sam shouted as she saw him pushed to his feet, his movements surprisingly graceful considering he'd been unconscious under a pile of tables only moments before. Apparently there were a few advantages to carrying a Goa'uld symbiote in a pouch in his belly. "There's a med-kit in Fraiser's car. It's the blue one in front--"
"It's behind the driver's seat!" Fraiser broke in.
"I do not have the key," the Jaffa said as uncertainly as he ever said or did anything.
"Just break the goddamn window," Janet ground out, not caring at that point. The Goa'uld made another lunge at her face, driving her back against Carter to avoid the slashing claws. "I've got comprehensive," she added under her breath. "Let's hope I'm still alive to make a claim when this is over."
After a brief nod, Teal'c hurried out.
"What do you want me to do once you start?" Sam questioned simply, muscles flexing as she shook the thing again, hoping it might buy them a little more time. Whatever happened, it was likely to get ugly and Fraiser needed to know she was ready to help any way she could.
Janet swallowed hard, running over everything she'd read and now seen, making the plan on the fly. "I'm going to make an incision down the back and see what happens. It's possible Wilkerson could regain consciousness, but I don't think so, in which case, you'll need to try and help hold him down. It's also possible that the Goa'uld may start to thrash where it's wrapped around his spinal column ... if it does...." She had no real idea what to do if it did that. Hell, she was already making it up as she went along. "Just try and pin it with your hands if you can."
"Okay," Sam exhaled, peering past Fraiser's shoulder in an effort to get a better look, despite the way her stomach rolled at the sight of bruised and torn flesh, though it did occur to her to wonder how exactly she was supposed to stop the thing from thrashing all things considered. "I'll do whatever I can," she added a little hesitantly, wishing she had more idea what that might be.
Fraiser just nodded, her concentration focused on the Goa'uld clenched tightly in their hands. It was weakening now, its struggles more spasmodic, coming and going as though it needed to rest periodically, where before it had thrashed steadily. Either it was tiring from the struggles or being outside of the host was beginning to affect it.
Teal'c reappeared in moments, his knuckles bruised from breaking safety glass, the soft sided kit in hand. He unzipped it as he dropped down beside the two women. "What do you wish me to do?"
Janet glanced up and carefully eased her right hand free, while still holding tight with her left, her grip bolstered by Sam's. "There's a sealed scalpel in there. I need you to open the seal without touching the blade and hold it out. I'll take it ... then open the gauze packages and put them on top ... try not to touch them if you can." It wasn't exactly a situation where much sterilization was even remotely possible -- she couldn't even risk letting go to put on gloves, but she was doing the best she could. "Then call for transport. If I can do this, we'll have to get him to a hospital as fast as possible." Another quick glance at their surroundings. "Then see if you can do anything to help the others." It wouldn't do any good to do everything possible to save Wilkerson and forget the rest of the wounded.
He nodded, quickly doing as she asked, taking a moment to drag O'Neill clear and check his pulse before hurrying away, understanding the wisdom in her quietly given order.
"Sam," Fraiser redoubled her left-handed grip on the squirming Goa'uld. It was definitely weakening. "Can you use your free hand to check his pulse?" she breathed. She'd been able to feel him breathing before, but it suddenly struck her that she wasn't sure anymore.
Sam thrust a hand under Wilkerson, pressing her fingers against his throat, surprised when she found his heartbeat on the first try. "Thready, but it's there." She did a mental wince as she saw a ripple of movement over his spine and realized what it was. As if responding to that thought, the creature hissed and lunged, tearing at them in a flurry of movement, lethal looking talons leaving a bloody trail on her upper arm until Sam reached out and boxed it hard. It reared back, screaming its rage and darting back and forth, threatening both women in an effort to cause some injury, no matter how minor.
Heaving a grateful sigh of relief, Janet nodded. No more time to delay. "Then we're doing this." She shifted her hands as best she could, getting a grip with her left, muscles threatening to cramp as she clamped down a little harder. Sensing the movement, the thing whipped around, ready to attack, but Sam slapped it again, drawing its rage back on her. Holding tightly to the scalpel Teal'c had handed her, Fraiser tracked what she could see of the snake-like profile along Wilkerson's spine, then pushed up as much as she dared while maintaining her balance. "Just be ready for anything." And then she started cutting with her right hand while still holding the creature with her left. She was no surgeon, but she'd assisted on several surgeries and even done some simple things in the Gulf, though nothing on par with this. She knew the anatomy and had good hands and instincts.
She also knew a few prayers and she said every one of them as she put just enough pressure on the scalped to slice through flesh, incredibly aware that no way in hell should anyone ever try what she was doing, but also well aware it was the man's only chance. Blood welled around the blade, making it hard to see exactly what she was doing. She made the first couple of inches of the incision without incident, her hand amazingly steady under the circumstances as she revealed the soldier's spine and the creature twined around it.
And then the creature sensed what she was doing and twisted in her grip, hissing in sheer rage, its body writhing where it clung to Wilkerson's spinal column. "Try and pin it. I can hold its neck alone now," she ordered Carter as the captain reached under her elbows, pressing her hands against the lieutenant's back fingers pushing in where she could make out the rises of the Goa'uld's body. Unfortunately, that only seemed to enrage the thing further, forcing Janet to fight it more desperately and cut even faster. No time to do it neatly. Cursing under her breath, she dragged the scalpel down the man's back in one long, straight cut and didn't end until she was past the end of the thing's tail. God only knew what kind of damage she'd just done, but she'd laid it bare.
The creature spat and lunged at her, but she was already using bare fingers to pry its tail free from the vertebrae where it had hooked itself, amazed once again by the thing's strength. She tracked its position as she worked. From what they knew, the Goa'uld usually coiled themselves several times around the host's spine, but it had only wrapped itself once ... probably because it had been exiting, then tried to flee back into the host -- which was probably the only reason she had any chance at all of succeeding. It had already released its control over Wilkerson and with the head clear, couldn't reestablish it. Hard muscles tightened convulsively around the lieutenant's spine until she had visions of his vertebrae collapsing under the pressure. And then Carter's hands covered hers where she gripped the alien by the neck.
"Just tell me what to do," the captain said quickly.
"Steady pressure," Janet whispered, muscles flexing as she literally started leaning her weight on the tail as she straightened it. "It's only wrapped once and I think maybe we can get it out." Though god only knew how much nerve damage they'd do in trying.
And then she felt it move slightly, losing some of its purchase.
The thing roared and screamed, twisted and writhed, its entire existence focused on escape and attack as they moved it what seemed like a millimeter at a time. Tunnel-visioned down until the entire world consisted only of each other, the Goa'uld, and the unconscious lieutenant, neither woman noticed when Teal'c returned with Daniel stumbling along beside him, then moved on to check on the others, or when O'Neill groaned and rolled into a sitting position, only to let out an almost girlish shriek and scuttle backwards when he saw what was happening a short distance away.
It was all completely irrelevant to the task at hand so neither woman registered any of it.
And then suddenly, the creature was free ... the tail whipping wildly as it screamed, swinging its head back and forth, snapping and clawing at them amazingly effectively for something with no arms or teeth. Janet lost her grip and fell back on her heels as Carter purposely flung it away from them. Not her preferred approach, but she couldn't complain either.
It hit the floor and tumbled, then lifted its head with a screech and seemed about to try and escape, writhing across the ground like a snake. It had gone no more than a few inches when a heavy table base landed on it ... several times. So much for avoiding any contamination.
"Uh ... Teal'c, I think it's dead now," O'Neill said at last. "Not to mention, flat enough for some high school girl to press it in her diary next to her prom corsage." He smirked at his own joke, using bravado to cover his own, very primitive response to waking up almost face to maw with a screaming Goa'uld.
Cursing under her breath, Janet ignored it all, already focused on doing what she could to stop the blood flowing freely from the incision on Wilkerson's upper back. She would have preferred they take the thing alive and definitely would have preferred not to risk any kind of contamination, but obviously that wasn't going to happen. "Where the hell is that transport?" she ground out. It would be a sad irony indeed if, after everything that had happened, it was blood loss that killed him.
"They'll get here," Sam whispered. She tensed fractionally as the doctor caught her wrists, guiding her hands into position on the gauze pads on Wilkerson's back.
"Keep constant pressure," she ordered briskly and Carter quickly did as told.
"Anything we can do to help?" O'Neill questioned as he scrambled to his feet.
Fraiser just shook her head.
O'Neill dropped to one knee beside Fraiser, trying not to look at the blood or think too hard about the thing Teal'c had killed. "Doc'," he said softly, his voice for her ears alone, though he knew Carter could hear as well. For a moment, his game face fell, his voice thick with remembered horror. "They took one of those outa Kawalsky, but it was really still in there ... still had him...." He trailed off, the question implicit in his wording.
She swallowed hard, not breaking her concentration, and nodded. She'd read Warner's reports on the surgery and the aftermath as well as the complete account of what had happened. She glanced at the colonel and shared a worried look. "I know," she admitted, "but the Goa'uld had released control over Wilkerson before I removed it ... hopefully that'll make the difference." She tried to sound more confident than she actually felt. "If not ... we'll figure something out...."
O'Neill seemed about to say something only to change his mind. A muscle pulsed in his jaw. "Yeah," he exhaled at last. His eyes flicked down, touching on Wilkerson's back, then back up, his expression one of grudging respect. "Whatever happens, you did one hell of a job. I owe you a beer."
"More like the whole brewery, sir," Carter broke in quietly, "since she probably saved your life too."
O'Neill frowned in confusion. "Huh?" That was news to him.
"The Goa'uld was trying to leave Wilkerson in favor of a new host ... you." Knowing that her superior had been bearing a certain amount of resentment toward the doctor, Sam gently thrust the point home. "You were unconscious at the time. She caught it before it could get to you."
He paled several notches, an instinctive kind of horror leaving him nauseous and shaken. He looked back at the doctor's downbent head, his voice low as he agreed, "A whole brewery, Doc."
She just shrugged, wincing as the gesture pulled at her bloodied shoulder.
"I believe the Emergency Response Team has arrived," Teal'c informed them as he returned from checking on the marines, who were beginning to regain consciousness.
Moments later, armed men in bulky protective gear swarmed into the building from all sides, guns pointed at their own people as they quickly took control of the situation. With an enemy like the Goa'uld, they couldn't afford to trust anyone until they knew exactly what was going on.
Her hands raised, Janet stepped back from her patient, nodding back toward him. "That man needs to be transferred to a secure medical facility asap. I cut a Goa'uld out of his back ... but I don't know how successful I was or how much damage I may have done." She shook her head helplessly, the shock of what she'd just done sinking in. "He needs a complete medical team to assess his condition." The addendum, 'If he survives,' went unsaid, but it was obvious from the man's expression that he understood it. She looked over to where Teal'c had flattened the Goa'uld in question. "There's also a biological contaminant." Dark eyes flicked a glance at Teal'c before swinging back to the soldier in charge. "A cleanup team needs to be brought in to deal with that."
"Yes, Ma'am," he clipped, then gestured a team member behind the dazed officers forward.
Janet felt the cool press of steel against her skin as a handcuff was latched around her wrist, then the soldier behind her pulled both arms down and latched the second cuff into place. They were taking no chances. One hand gripping the back of her shirt collar, the other holding an MP5, the barrel centered on her back, he hustled her out even as the others were similarly dealt with. Twisting, Janet managed to get a last look at Wilkerson as a medical team hurried in and began stabilizing him for transport. Still half turned, her eyes briefly locked with Carter's.
"Any chance he's got, you gave him," the blond said softly.
"It's still not much," Janet sighed as she allowed herself to be loaded into a waiting truck. "Not much at all." She shook her head sadly, leaning against the back wall of the truck as it suddenly occurred to her just how battered she was feeling physically as well as emotionally. The blood was already drying where the creature had managed to tear at flesh, but she couldn't help but wonder how long the emotional scars would take to heal.
"But it's something," Sam pointed out quietly, understanding the other woman's depression better than she would have liked. She hadn't been on the project that long, but she'd already run into too many situations where her choices were between bad and worse. "And if it weren't for you, that thing probably would've gotten into the colonel and killed us all."
Janet looked up, meeting the other woman's understanding gaze, surprised by how much it helped soothe the knot forming in her stomach. "Thank you," she exhaled, drawing a gentle smile from Carter.
"Just the truth," the blond responded quietly. "And when you get a little distance, it may even feel that way to you," she added. She knew too well what it was like to feel guilty when miracles only came in half measures.
Janet leaned her head against the wall of the truck with a soft sigh, eyes sliding closed, hoping against hope the other woman was right. And then there was no further chance for discussion as the noisy military truck rumbled to life and lurched in the direction of the base.
* * * * * *
Twelve Hours Later
Showered, her injuries freshly cleaned and bandaged, Sam Carter paused for a moment in the doorway when she found Janet Fraiser in the observation booth above Isolation Room Three. Amazingly enough, Wilkerson was still alive under close guard in the room below, tended by the finest team that could be assembled for his care. The doctor had seen to that even as her own injuries were being treated. In fact, she'd been considerably more intent on his care than her own.
The hours since the fight in the bar had been busy ones for all involved. The battered officers had been subjected to a thorough check to make certain they were free from any sign of the Goa'uld the instant they arrived at the base, then been hurried into a debriefing with General Hammond. The briefing had been quick and to the point. The Goa'uld had entered the base via an SG team returning from Z3R-567, a world whose inhabitants were little more than simple farmers. Two team-members had been badly injured in a rockfall and their teammates had rushed them straight to the infirmary. In the confusion, one of the men -- a captain by the name of Haskins -- had slipped deeper into the infirmary unnoticed by the guards on the outer doors. They'd found his body stuffed in a storage closet, the wounds making it obvious he'd died when a Goa'uld had exited his back. There was little doubt when they reviewed the security tapes it was the same creature that had infected Wilkerson.
The survivors from the bar had told their own tale quickly, then hurried to their various duties; the doctor back to the Infirmary and her patient, while SG-1 and the marines helped with efforts to make certain the base was still secure and the Goa'uld hadn't left any unpleasant surprises.
Stretching tired muscles, Sam silently watched the other woman, hesitant to intrude when she was so obviously concentrating on something. Her head downbent over a folder of lab results, she looked up every few moments to check on the man in the room below. She'd found time to grab a shower and trade her civvies for a uniform -- the pale cotton blouse bulged over the bandage on one shoulder -- and her hands and left forearm were neatly bandaged now, but otherwise Sam was comfortably certain she hadn't let the injured man out of her sight since being released from the briefing. She finally stepped forward when the doctor closed the folder and laid it aside. "Hey there."
Fraiser glanced back, a hint of a smile gracing her mouth as she saw Sam, though her eyes remained worried. She was well aware that the Goa'uld had had access to most of the base and teams were checking the base from top to bottom. "Hey...." Dark eyes took in the fact that fact Carter's hair was damp from a recent shower, her injuries freshly treated. She had a hard time believing the captain would have taken the break necessary for that if things weren't under control. "I take it all's clear?" she questioned.
Sam nodded. "We checked everything we could come up with ... and it all looks okay." She stepped forward. "Security has managed to track both Haskins' and Wilkerson's positions on the videotapes from the security cameras nearly the entire time they were present... and they don't think either of them had a chance to do anything." Despite the hopeful nature of the words, Carter, like Fraiser, still looked a little worried. "Teal'c thinks that it was probably a low ranking rogue Goa'uld ... apparently the System Lords tracked some kind of traitor to Z3R-567 within the last few years. They thought it had escaped, but it looks like it hid amid the local populace ... then got into Haskins in hopes of escaping here. Probably expected to find we were still primitives it could easily dominate. By the time it had Haskins and realized otherwise, it was too late." She shrugged uneasily. "Teal'c believes that's why it didn't really have a plan or weapons ... just blindly attacked. Probably was afraid we knew what it was, and figured it's only chance at escape lay in killing us."
Fraiser let out a low whistle and shook her head. "I'm not sure whether to be relieved or more worried," she whispered almost inaudibly. Sam knew how she felt. Attacks by random Goa'uld on worlds that had seemed friendly was almost more threatening than concentrated efforts by armored Jaffa. It meant nothing could be trusted no matter how innocent it looked. She looked up again after a beat. "How are you feeling?"
Sam shrugged, wincing as bruised muscles protested. "Been better, been worse," she murmured. She gestured to the bandage taped neatly to her forehead at the hairline. "The surgical glue kind of stings."
"I hate that stuff," Janet sympathized. "Any dizziness or double vision?"
A hint of a smile curved Carter's mouth. The doctor who'd cleaned her up had already asked all of the necessary questions and checked her symptoms quite thoroughly, but it was obvious Fraiser wasn't one for trusting anyone else when it came to her charges. "Nah, bit of a headache, but that's all. No sign of concussion according to the doctor."
"You're lucky ... as hard as you got hit."
"I was blessed with a thick skull...." Her eyes rolled thoughtfully skyward as she considered her own words. "At least that's what they told me when I was growing up," Sam joked to ease her some of own tension -- it had been a hell of a day.
Fraiser snorted softly, though she was smiling. "Somehow I doubt that," she disagreed.
Carter nodded toward the doctor, knowing she'd taken a few solid hits of her own. "How are you doing?"
"Also thick-skulled apparently," Janet drawled, then looked back down at her patient, eyes flicking from monitor to monitor, automatically cataloguing the results in her head.
"How is he?" Sam questioned as she crossed to the doctor's side, hitching her hip against the counter that ran along the wall just under of the window. Doctors and nurses were busy with the man in the room below where he lay strapped face down on a bed designed for someone with back injuries. Sam couldn't help but wonder if it was the same one they'd used for Kawalsky. His wrists, she noted, were latched to the frame with padded, metal cuffs. If the Goa'uld was still alive inside of Wilkerson, it could tear through anything weaker.
Fraiser shrugged, still watching the proceedings surrounding the young lieutenant. "Still alive ... which is more than I expected ... and the preliminary tests aren't as bad as they could be. There's no sign of the Goa'uld ... but after what happened with Kawalsky, we're taking all precautions until we can be certain." Though she couldn't help but wonder if all of the observation and MRI's in the world would ever completely ease their worries.
A worried frown ghosted across Sam's expression. "Any idea how long that might take?" she asked as though she'd read Fraiser's mind.
A slow head shake and soft sigh were really all the answer that Sam needed, but Janet went ahead and added, "Not really. We don't know enough about these creatures...." She muttered an annoyed imprecation. "And we're not likely to get a whole lot of valuable information from the one in the bar."
"Pretty well destroyed, huh?" Sam murmured sympathetically. The doctor couldn't be happy over the loss of such a valuable specimen.
"Oh yeah ... might get some cellular information, but not much more. He was remarkably thorough." She muttered another nearly inaudible curse, then took a deep breath and let it out to calm herself. "As for Wilkerson," she continued after a short beat, "a surgical team spent better than six hours trying to clean up the damage and stabilize him. Several vertebrae were cracked or shattered by the creature, but it looks like his spinal cord is relatively intact. There's undoubtedly damage, but we won't know how much for some time. At best, he's looking at a long road back, but the neurosurgeon we brought in is hopeful...." She started to reach up as if to massage her neck, only to wince as the movement pulled at her injured shoulder, then lifted her other hand halfway, only to note the bandage wrapped around her palm with a small disgusted sound. She dropped both hands to her sides.
Sam slanted a curious look at the doctor. "Problem?" she questioned.
Fraiser made a small gesture. "Neck spasm," she muttered tersely. "It's a stress thing. Normally, I can massage it into letting go, but," she held up her hands a little helplessly, "but I can't really reach at the moment." And even if she could, her fingers were still too tender to put enough pressure on the knotted cords and muscles to make the spasms let go. None of the injuries were deep, but the scratches tended to pull painfully if she put any pressure on them.
Sam noted Fraiser's pained expression with a sympathetic look. "Really nasty, huh?"
"Definitely not pleasant," Janet groaned, eyes sliding closed as she calculated how many Advil it would take to dull the pain. The number was high enough to leave her wondering which was worse, the neckache or the nausea from that much ibuprofen.
"I have the same problem," Sam commiserated, shuddering with the remembered pain of having every muscle in her neck and shoulders totally cramped. "Hurts like hell until it finally lets go."
Janet nodded distantly, only half listening. The spasm was getting steadily worse and finally she reached up in another attempt to massage the clenching agony away. Unfortunately the effort made the muscle spasm even worse, drawing a tiny pained groan.
Sam watched the obvious agony with an understanding look. She'd been there more than once. "Anything I can do to help?" she offered at last, her tone a little uncertain.
The doctor just shook her head, eyes sliding closed as she let her hand fall to her side, concluding that the effort required to lift her arm was just making things worse. "I'll be okay," she grunted, though her expression belied the words.
After another minute or two of sympathetic wincing, Sam quietly asked, "Are you sure I can't help?" Normally, she wouldn't have made the offer to someone she barely knew, but she liked Fraiser and nearly dying together made for a certain level of intimacy. "I've done it for myself a lot of times, so I know the drill...." Besides, just watching the doctor's obvious discomfort was starting to make her own neck and shoulders clench sympathetically. "Just tell me what to do and maybe I can knock it loose the way you normally would for yourself."
A hint of a frown creased Fraiser's forehead and she seemed uncertain how to respond for a moment, and then the pain overcame any reticence. She made a tiny gesture with her right hand, indicating the side of her neck, flinching as even that small movement stressed already cramped muscles. "I think everything's knotted," she admitted, "but it's worst on the right."
Carter stepped behind the smaller woman, her touch automatically gentling when a tiny whimper vibrated the narrow shoulders under her hands. Working very carefully, she used her thumbs to trace the line of taut cords through the thin fabric of the doctor's blouse. "You weren't kidding," she said. "Feels like someone poured quick-dry cement in there."
"It's been one of those days," Janet groaned, wincing as Sam pressed a little harder, "probably not the last one I'll have on this project."
Carter couldn't help it, she laughed softly. "Probably not," she allowed. The SGC wasn't the sort of place likely to reduce tension. She continued the slow massage. "But there's some good news too," she added to distract the other woman.
"Ow," Janet yelped as Sam hit a particularly sensitive point, then continued, "Good news?" she repeated doubtfully.
"Mmhm," Sam confirmed, fingers still working slowly. "After your shaky start, you may be Colonel O'Neill's favorite person in the whole world today."
Fraiser leaned forward, her hands braced on the counter as agony rippled along the muscles in her back and shoulders, though it was a sensation that promised some level of relief in the near future. "Lucky me," she groaned. "He'll forget the moment I stick a needle someplace he doesn't like."
Sam laughed despite herself, firming the pressure with her thumbs as she felt taut muscles warm and elongate fractionally. "He's not quite that bad," she disagreed, her tone wry. "But don't tell him I said that."
Which earned her a soft laugh. "Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me."
A moment of comfortable silence followed while Sam continued working cramped muscles into some measure of relaxation. "I read your redesign proposal for the infirmary," she murmured conversationally just to have something to say. "Some good ideas in there." She'd been impressed by the fact that the doctor had come up with a considerably better plan than the one a team of experts had prepared; one that was conscious of the need for security, but also saw to the comfort of the patients and the protection of the facility from further contamination if there was a problem. "Any idea how much longer before they're fully implemented?" Sam felt some of the tension leave the muscles under her fingers.
"The engineering team is hopeful we can have everything up and running in the next couple of weeks," Janet responded. "So until then, we'll have extra security underfoot." She didn't sound especially thrilled by the prospect even if it was a matter of safety.
"Well, it could be worse ... General Hammond could have assigned the marines to guard the infirmary," she teased lightly, then worked her thumb into a particularly tight ligament and felt it let go like a rubber band snapping, absorbing the doctor's sharp flinch as pain spun away from that contact point.
"Don't even joke about the marines ... and I think that did it," Janet groaned, letting her head fall all the way forward as the pain let up and blessed relief echoed through suddenly relaxed muscles and tendons. She rolled her head back and forth on her neck and worked her shoulders, stretching out the last of the kinks. Carter continued massaging her neck and shoulders, sliding her fingers along her muscles as they warmed and softened until finally Janet pulled away. The doctor turned to peer up at the blond with a grateful smile. "Thanks ... you're a lifesaver." She folded her arms loosely across her chest and hitched her hip against the counter behind her. Russet brows rose in silent question. "So, did you just come down here to massage my ego and my shoulders?" she asked pertly. "Not that I'm complaining, you understand. Or is there something I can do for you?"
"Actually, I wanted to see how Wilkerson was doing," Sam said as she peered past the doctor's shoulder. After all, she'd helped remove the creature burrowed in the man's back. She looked back at the doctor. "And see how you're holding up." She remembered the first time she'd had her first real look at what they were facing. It still gave her some sleepless nights. "And since I got the briefing on Wilkerson...." She trailed off, the implication obvious. It was time for the doctor to talk about herself for once.
"I'm fine ... really," Janet assured her, though she didn't sound as certain as she'd hoped.
One fine, blond brow rose doubtfully. "Aside from the quick dry cement in your neck, back, and shoulders?" Carter questioned dubiously.
Janet couldn't quite contain a small, wry laugh. "Aside from that," she muttered a little defensively.
"Has anyone ever told you you're a really lousy liar?" Sam demanded politely. Fraiser had to be shaken with everything she'd seen and denying it wasn't going to help. She knew from personal experience that only went so far.
The doctor's mouth opened for a moment and she started to give a pat answer, but the look in blue eyes challenged her until she snapped her mouth shut. "Truth?" she questioned after a beat.
"Preferably," Sam said.
Fraiser sighed softly. "Every inch of my body hurts, I can barely bend my fingers or see straight ... and I'm scared shitless and don't expect to get much sleep this week." She peered at Carter with forced good cheer. "Happy now?"
And got a gentle laugh in response. "Not exactly happy," Sam allowed, "but relieved to hear you admit it."
"It's not funny," Janet groaned. "I fought to get this position and now I'm questioning my sanity for taking it."
Sam considered several responses before deciding on, "To quote a comment someone recently made to me, 'Good.'"
Fraiser leaned more heavily against the counter, picking up a discarded pen and playing with it idly to have something to do with her hands. "No fair," she complained, "using my own words against me."
"All's fair in love and war," Sam disagreed, "And this is definitely a war." She sighed sympathetically. "And didn't you also mention being more worried about the ones who weren't scared?" They were the ones who were either stupidly brave or hiding their terror and letting it eat them alive.
"I may have mentioned something like that," Fraiser admitted dryly, sensing she was about to be hoisted by her own petard.
"Well, you were right. You came face to face with an alien bent on your destruction today. If you weren't having some doubts, I'd be having some about your sanity. But you came through...." Sam shook her head in amazement as she remembered the scene she'd found when she regained consciousness. "And you saved two teammates ... maybe even all of us. You may have some doubts, but no one else does. You can do this."
Janet shook her head slowly and turned to stare out the window at the man in the room below. Before seeing the creature erupting out of Wilkerson, it had all seemed academic somehow. She'd known what the enemy was, but it hadn't seemed quite real. Now, it was very real indeed and she'd have to be inhuman not to wonder at her own ability to do the job.
Sensing the other woman's ongoing uncertainty, Sam tried another tack. "I realize you weren't the first candidate for the position ... that General Hammond chose you over Burton and Hawthorne despite some resistance from higher up." The general had kept that fact quiet, but on a base like the SGC it was impossible to keep something like that totally silent. So long as information wasn't classified there was always someone who knew and only told their best friend. She saw tension ripple through the smaller woman's shoulders. The other two men were both well known in the Air Force and had considerable political power and contacts in D.C. From what she'd read of their work, they also hadn't had an original idea between them in the last ten years. "For what it's worth ... from what I saw today, he made the right choice."
"And my doubts?" Janet asked thoughtfully.
"Those you're stuck with," Sam said practically. She'd been there --lived there if she was honest -- each new challenge the gate threw at her leaving her wondering if this would be time she screwed up and people got hurt. "Just like the rest of us."
"Speaking of cheerful philosophies..." Fraiser exhaled heavily as she turned back, knowingly echoing Carter's earlier response.
Sam laughed very softly. "No, just practical."
"I'm going to have to learn to watch my words around you," the doctor complained, drawing a grin from the blond.
"Nah, I'm harmless," Carter disagreed, holding up her hands as if to demonstrate the point. "I just know what it's like the first time you face this stuff." She'd had a little more time than the doctor to adjust the realities of the enemy they faced, but it still left her shaking if she thought about it too hard. "I figured somebody ought to check in and see how you're doing."
A distant expression on her face, Janet turned back to study her patient. "All things considered," she began at last, "I'm okay. A little shaky maybe, but I guess that's to be expected...."
"Definitely," Sam confirmed.
Janet took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling some of the tension leave her body as she did so, surprised by how much it helped to have someone outside of herself show some faith in her abilities. "But I'm going to be fine," she exhaled after a beat, forcing the worst of the fear down through a combination of logic and willpower. She was going to have to get used to the weirdness. As bad it was, she was comfortably certain this wasn't the end of the strange times in her life; it was the beginning.
"Yes, you are," Sam agreed quietly.
The doctor looked back, her expression curious. "So, is it always like this?"
Carter shrugged. "Today was a little more special than most," she admitted, "but it can be a wild ride." She couldn't lie about that part. She peered at the doctor, wondering how she would handle that piece of news. They'd already had several people reassigned because, despite all of the psych evaluations, once faced with a reality no one could be prepared for, they couldn't deal with it.
She was gratified by the doctor's wry smile and the way she shook her head, her tone self-mocking as she muttered, "I always knew my weakness for roller coasters would get me in trouble one day."
"Yeah, we're all in that boat," Sam murmured understandingly. Anyone who wanted a simple nine to five job with no outside worries didn't belong on a project like the SGC. A person had to love it to survive. "A buncha E ticket addicts who can't get our fix any other way ... but at least the company's good and none of the rides are coated in cotton candy."
"That's one way of putting it," Janet mused with a wry head shake, thinking of everything that had happened in the last hours. She was frustrated by not getting an intact creature, but just the cellular analysis of the sample they did have might well take years. And Carter's pep talk, odd as it was, seemed to be doing the trick. She looked back, smiling at the blond captain, her eyes twinkling. "And the company's definitely good." She hadn't met many people who understood her rabid curiosity about anything and everything. That the other woman did made a for a potent appeal.
"Anytime ... gotta keep the first doctor who ever gave me a relatively painless physical around, after all." Sam glanced at her watch. "However, that said, I've got a meeting I need to get to. Since SG-1 is off for the next few days, I'm suddenly booked solid." As the most knowledgeable person on earth on the workings of the gate, she was in demand whenever she had a spare moment. Knowing that, she'd really just meant to check in and see how Wilkerson was doing and how the doctor was holding up after her trial by fire.
"Thanks ... I appreciate it," Janet said with quiet sincerity.
Sam winked. "And when we're both feeling a little better, I still want that game of pool," she teased as she started to leave.
"It may be a few days before I'm up to it."
Sam shrugged. "I can wait ... and we'll both be around." She flashed another of the infectious grins. "After all, roller coaster addicts have to stick together."
"That we do," Janet agreed, stuffing her hands in her pockets and leaning back against the counter. A moment later, Carter issued a last parting comment and slipped out, leaving the doctor staring after her with a bemused expression. "Definitely an E ticket ride," she sighed at last, though it was hard to be certain exactly what she was referring to. Finally, she shook off the daze and straightened, turning to punch up the ongoing results coming in on Wilkerson on a nearby computer. After a moment, she glanced back over her shoulder. "And we're barely out of the station...."