| Part 1 | Part 2 |
"LOOK OUT!" The warning shout came even as a small, compact body tackled into Sam Carter. They hit the railing that ran along the left side of the ramp up to the gate and toppled over together even as she had an impression of something whizzing past her cheek. A moment of freefall and then a crashing impact on the cement floor of the gateroom, followed by a gasp inducing collision between Janet Fraiser's elbow and her midsection. Catching a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, Sam twisted despite painful breathlessness, rolling the doctor to the floor beneath her and swinging her MP5 around into firing position in one motion. But by the time she came around, all she saw was the broad frame of the M.A.L.P. and a few glimpses of her teammates scrambling for cover on the other side of the ramp. The unarmed personnel had already cleared the area -- well-trained to do just that in the event of an emergency -- and the iris had shut down to prevent any more unwanted visitors from entering the gateroom, while the blast doors slid closed to prevent anything from getting into the rest of the base.
SG-1 was just back from a brief mission to P8R-673. The mission had been unspectacular, even dull, since they'd discovered little more than huge expanses of sandy beach minus the ocean -- there were a few ancient tattered remains of stone structures, but nothing liveable and no life of any kind other than a few small plants. But moments after stepping back through the gate all hell had broken loose with the doctor's warning cry and quick dive to get Sam out of the way. She caught a glimpse of O'Neill where he'd taken cover behind a M.A.L.P. being readied for an outbound mission, his MP5 up and ready. Cautiously, he started to rise, ready to fire. He dove back down almost instantly, barely avoiding a tiny dart-like projectile fired his way from the other side of the M.A.L.P..
If Sam had had any doubts that the doctor had really seen something before her impromptu football tackle, it evaporated in an instant. "Janet?" she breathed, sparing a quick glance for the woman pinned to the floor beneath her.
"Something followed you through the gate," Fraiser panted, answering the obvious question. "I didn't get a good look, but it shot some kind of stinger from its tail." She'd seen just enough to glimpse the dart-like projectile fire and leapt at the same instant.
Sam nodded, realizing what she'd seen whiz past her cheek as she glanced around, hunting for anything they might use as cover. Unfortunately, the gateroom was deliberately kept bare to deny invaders any hiding places they might use to gain a foothold and move forward.
After the moments of utter havoc, the gateroom suddenly fell eerily still and silent.
"Carter?!" O'Neill called out.
"We're okay!" Sam called back. "Fraiser's with me."
"Daniel? Teal'c?" the colonel called out, checking on the rest of his team.
"I am uninjured, Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c deep voice came back almost instantly.
"Shaken, but not stirred here," Daniel added breathlessly.
"Can you see what it is?" Sam asked, still hunting for some sign of the thing that had come through the gate after them.
"Oh yeah," the colonel responded archly, "we can definitely see it." He carefully rose up and peered over the top of the M.A.L.P., ready to dive back. "You should too in another moment...though hopefully it'll be a corpse within another second or two." He edged sideways, checking his weapon, then settling it in position to fire around the edge of the M.A.L.P. when his target shifted into position to give him a good shot without exposing himself.
Sam felt the doctor move beneath her, twisting to look back at the wall behind them from an upside down position. A beat passed and then they had a completely unobstructed view as the cause of all the excitement stepped around in front of the M.A.L.P..
Low slung with a flat, heavy body built like a cross between a porcupine and a badger, the creature standing about halfway up the ramp was hairless with ridged spikes running down its broad back. Small, porcine eyes glared at the remaining humans with unreadable intent, while its segmented tail arced over its back like an oversize scorpion.
"Hold your fire!" Fraiser shouted suddenly.
"Doc?" O'Neill yelled back, his finger already tightening on the trigger. Teeth gritted in frustration, he didn't fire, but he kept tracking the creature through the weapon's sight.
"The venom ... it's eating through the cement wherever it hits," Fraiser shouted back, staring at the creature as best she could from her odd vantage point.
Sam swung her head around, losing all color as she saw what had the doctor worried. The stinger that had nearly hit her had embedded itself in the wall and was pulsing gently, reminding her of a beesting she'd gotten as a child. The stinger had remained stuck in her arm, the bulbous sack of poison continuing to inject itself even though the bee was dead. The stinger caught in the wall wasn't very large; perhaps four inches long at most with a sharply pointed quill at one end and a bulbous middle before it tapered to a fluttery end. It couldn't have held more than a few tablespoons of venom, but all around where it hit, the cement was crumbling so badly that Sam could see it even from that distance.
Fraiser tipped her head back again, staring at the damage from her upside down vantage point. "God only knows what'll happen if you shoot it ... for all we know its blood could have the same effect."
The colonel growled a soft curse, but continued to hold his fire. "I've got a clear shot. I can take it in one ... wouldn't even be much blood!" he argued.
Fraiser shook her head, hissing, "No--"
"Too risky!" Sam shouted, understanding the doctor's fear. Despite her superior's confidence, there was no way to be certain the creature could be that easily killed. Biology had a way of getting very complex on the other side of the gate. And if that small amount of venom did that much damage, there was no telling what could happen if they started shooting. "She's right, hold your fire!"
The creature grunted softly, probably some kind of warning, Sam decided, concluding it was reacting to the stress in their voices. It shifted from foot to foot, but with the humans out of its immediate territory, didn't fire again, either feeling more confident or needing time to recharge.
"Gotta agree with that plan," Daniel called out, adding support, uncertain O'Neill would listen to their entreaties not to shoot. The colonel tended to be more than a little trigger happy in his experience. "I can see where one of those things hit the wall over here and the cement is just powdering wherever the venom touched." Start spattering that all over the place and things could quickly get ugly.
"All right," O'Neill growled, "so what do we do?"
"Good question, Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond's voice boomed from the loudspeakers, his tone a cross between worried and irritated. These sorts of things never seemed to happen with any of the other SG teams. "And while we're at it, any idea what the hell that thing is?"
The creature tensed, peering suspiciously at the ceiling, stocky muscles rippling. The tail swung slowly back and forth as though hunting for a possible target.
Sam peered back up at the booth and made a quick slicing motion across her throat as she called up, "Sir, I think the loudspeaker is making it nervous ... maybe we'd better stick to the two way radios." Particularly since she and Fraiser were in a very exposed position. The creature sniffled, its head weaving back and forth, sturdy legs shifting restlessly. "It looks like the loudspeaker's making it nervous."
"Agreed," Hammond's voice came over her earpiece now. "Tell me what you know."
"We didn't see anything like that on P8R-673," O'Neill responded, the microphone on his headset carrying his voice to the booth and the rest of SG-1.
"Anyone else?" Hammond questioned hopefully. SG-1 specialized in the weird and unexplained. The creature now standing in his gateroom definitely qualified as both.
"I have no experience of any such creature," Teal'c responded calmly. While he had considerably more experience and knowledge of what existed throughout the worlds connected by the Stargates, he was often as much in the dark as they were. It was a big universe out there.
"No ideas here," Daniel added. He specialized in ancient languages and cultures, not otherworldly wildlife.
Sam looked down at Fraiser, who had pushed up on one elbow and was studying the creature now. Since she was the first one who'd noticed both the creature and the venom properties, Sam quietly asked, "Any ideas?"
A quick head shake. "Don't look at me. You're the ones it followed home." She gnawed on her lower lip. "You really didn't see anything like that?" It seemed like a hard thing to miss. It wasn't that big, but it was definitely noticeable.
Sam shook her head. "Nothing. We didn't see anything moving at all." Certainly nothing anywhere near the gate. She flashed a quick glance down, then looked back at the creature, tracking it carefully. "Did you see it come through the gate?"
A frown sketched its way across the doctor's brow as she shook her head. "I'm not sure...." She hesitated, trying to remember the exact progression of events. "I was next to the gate ... overseeing some equipment being loaded on an outbound M.A.L.P. ... I looked down and saw it ... it started to fire, and I realized you'd be hit if I didn't do something." Her frown deepened as she struggled with the memory. It had all happened so quickly. "It must have followed you through the gate though." It was the only explanation she could see.
"How?" Sam whispered out loud. "There was nothing on the platform with us, and that thing doesn't look like it moves all that fast." It didn't make any sense. She watched the thing shuffle back and forth, its eyes and tail sweeping the room, hunting for any signs of threat. How could it have gotten close enough to get through the gate behind them without being seen?
Fraiser shrugged. "Maybe it can move faster than you'd think," she suggested thoughtfully. "Or maybe there was a hiding place you didn't see."
Sam shook her head. "The gate platform was in the middle of a sandy plain. There were some ruins a couple of miles away, but nothing close." She frowned, unable to envision something that size hiding successfully in the terrain they'd seen. "I just don't see how..." she whispered to herself, trailing off when she couldn't come up with any answers.
"Captain Carter?" Hammond's voice questioned in her ear after a beat. "Ideas?"
"Not at the moment, sir." She looked around the room, noting her teammates -- all of whom she was relieved to see were in less vulnerable positions than she and the doctor. Moving slowly and carefully in order to look as non-threatening as possible, she pushed to one knee without letting her MP5 waver, ready to drop back down if the creature showed any further signs of aggression ... not that Sam was entirely certain what that would have entailed. The heavy head turned her way, tiny black eyes tracking every movement.
"Sam ... be careful," Fraiser whispered, her breathing slow with tension.
"Definitely my plan," Sam breathed, barely even moving her lips.
The creature continued to watch her carefully, but didn't react.
On one knee now, Sam studied the thing, trying to find some explanation for how it had gotten there without being seen while she assessed its mood. "But I think it's calmer now." She considered the options carefully, then glanced up at the control booth, noting the watching personnel. She made a small gesture toward the gate. "Maybe if we open the iris it'll go back home." It had to be from P8R-673, even if they hadn't seen it, so maybe given the chance it would just leave.
"Or we could let another one through," Hammond pointed out grimly, a sudden vision of a room full of venomous, dart shooting, hairless badgers running through his head. No, that sort of thing definitely never happened with the other SG teams.
"If we can't risk shooting it, and we can't pick it up and throw it back... what other choice do we have?" Sam asked practically, still watching the creature, her arm beginning to ache from holding the heavy MP5 up and ready to fire.
"I still say we should just shoot the damn thing," O'Neill growled in frustration, then muttered something inaudible under his breath. "Look, Fraiser doesn't know that shooting it would be a problem--"
"But we can't certain it wouldn't," Hammond cut him off sharply. "That's strictly a last ditch choice."
"Besides, we can't just go killing everything we encounter through the gate," she added. That wasn't the purpose of the gate and certainly wasn't what she'd signed up for.
"I'm not suggesting that," O'Neill snapped impatiently as he checked his weapon, glancing up even though he couldn't see anything but the sides of the M.A.L.P.. "I'm suggesting we blow the damn thing away. Put a couple of clips through it and it won't be firing any more darts at anyone."
"With all the chest beating going on," Fraiser muttered under her breath as she braced her hands on the floor and carefully pushed herself into a sitting position, "you'd think we were shooting a remake of Gorillas in the Mist."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Sam's mouth lifted in the tiniest of smiles. O'Neill's testosterone level did tend to get a little high some days. Acting as though she hadn't heard the doctor's whispered comment, she called out to her superior, "Blowing it away is possibly the worst choice available. That could spatter biological material everywhere." And they had no way of knowing if the venom was the only bodily fluid with a tendency to melt things.
The colonel growled several choice invectives under his breath. "I still say we should shoot," he grumbled.
Sam felt the woman behind her move and realized she intended to push to a crouch. "Stay behind me," she quietly warned.
One sculpted brow arched in an eloquent comment. "Don't tell me you're the alpha female," Janet muttered.
"No," Sam said, her tone and look both gently chiding, "what I am, is wearing a nomex flight suit and a kevlar tactical vest...." A pale brow lifted assessingly as she flashed a look at the doctor. "Your labcoat is cotton, right?"
Fraiser had the good graces to flinch, her tone wryly defensive as she responded, "It's scotch-guarded." Blond brows ticked up another notch and the doctor offered a self-deprecating shrug. "However, point taken," she allowed. "I'll stay behind you."
"Good choice," Sam said softly, then looked up, focusing on her teammates. "If we could just hold off on the killing for a minute or two...." She swung her gaze over to the gently swaying beast standing on the ramp. It was ugly as hell, but the eyes watching her didn't strike her as malevolent, just uncertain and a little nervous. Not too bright most likely, but not mindlessly aggressive either. It tracked her as she shifted to a half crouch, but remained surprisingly relaxed. Sam glanced back up at the booth, meeting Hammond's gaze from a distance, wondering what he was thinking.
"You have a plan, Captain?" the general questioned, his voice echoing in her ear. He didn't like the idea of killing the thing either -- for reasons too numerous to list -- and was willing to allow her some slack to deal with things as she saw fit.
"Not exactly, sir," she admitted as she swung her head back around, keeping an eye on the intruder as she slowly pushed to her feet. "Just trying to get a little more information." She was surprised when she felt a flicker of movement behind her and realized Janet was climbing to her feet as well. She flashed a quick look back as the doctor leaned to one side to peer around her.
The creature's tail swung momentarily their way, then away again and the dark eyes touched on them, then swept suspiciously back to where O'Neill was crouched behind the M.A.L.P.. The colonel straightened fractionally, peering up over the edge of the heavy transport device. Muscles rippled in the creature's thick tail and suddenly it fired another of the biological darts. O'Neill ducked back down just in time to avoid the fast moving projectile, growling curses under his breath as he tightened his grip on his weapon and prepared to open fire.
Sam tensed, ready to hit the floor when the creature's eyes swung her way again, but it showed no sign of intending to fire again. She saw O'Neill start to come back up. "Hold your fire, Colonel!" The creature tensed at her sharp tone, then relaxed as it continued to watch her.
"Carter, are you out of your mind?" O'Neill demanded. "That thing just shot at me."
"I know," she said softly, trusting her radio to carry her voice to her teammates. "At you, but not at us." She straightened the rest of the way to her feet, well aware that the doctor did likewise, though she stayed well behind Sam. The creature was clearly aware of the movement, but not upset. "Teal'c, see what happens if you move," she instructed quietly, "but be ready to duck."
"Understood," the Jaffa responded.
"Captain?" Hammond's voice held a note of question, but he fell silent when Sam simply held up a hand for quiet, her full attention on what she could see of her teammate as he rose fractionally. Almost instantly, the creature's head and tail swung at the same time and again a ripple of muscle ran down its spine and through its tail.
Teal'c hit the floor and the dart skimmed harmlessly over his head, impacting the wall where the venom began trickling slowly outward, pitting the thick cement in moments.
"Captain, if you could avoid coaxing that thing into destroying the gateroom an inch at a time, it would be appreciated," Hammond chastised.
"It doesn't like the men," Janet whispered. Sam took a cautious step forward, but the creature only watched her, the powerful shoulders almost seeming to relax fractionally. She realized almost instantly that Fraiser was following right in her footsteps when the doctor's hand bumped her back very lightly. "And it doesn't mind us ... or at least it doesn't mind you.... I dunno if it's even seen me yet."
Hammond could apparently hear at least some of Fraiser's comments over Sam's mic because he responded almost instantly. "Gender biased aliens? That's ridiculous--"
"Not necessarily," Sam disagreed. "It may not be about gender ... it could be reacting to any number of factors ... looks ... body odor ... or something else we aren't even aware of." She took another cautious step forward and felt the doctor follow suit. "Do you always stay this close?" she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
Fraiser shrugged. "You're the one who pointed out that you're wearing nomex and I'm wearing cotton," she shot back pertly.
"In other words, I'm nothing but cover?"
"Don't even need other words," Fraiser exhaled, "when those will do so well." She tipped her head to one side, peering around Carter's shoulder and meeting the creature's black gaze. It simply stared at her placidly. In fact, if anything it relaxed another notch. "Though I'm not sure I need it."
"Captain?" Hammond said on a questioning note as he carefully watched the scene in the gateroom below.
Carter held up a hand, silencing her superior.
"Sam, do you think it's--" Daniel started to ask, only to have the words end in a squawk as Teal'c yanked him out of the way of the dart fired his direction.
Tension rippled through powerful looking muscles as the creature's head snapped sideway. Its tiny eyes narrowing, it focused on the crates where Teal'c and Daniel had taken cover, then it growled, the sound low and rumbly.
"Guys, stay down," Sam said, purposely keeping her tone calm. "And don't say anything."
The men all went silent. As if drawn by the sound, the creature's head swung back and its muscles relaxed almost instantly.
"Easy, big guy ... er ... girl ... er ... whatever," Sam soothed, her voice soft and coaxing. "I'm not gonna hurt ya, Junior." It stared at her, swaying ever so slightly as she drew a step closer, black eyes blinking almost sleepily.
"Is it just me or is it getting more aggressive toward the men ... and steadily more mellow about us?" Janet whispered thoughtfully.
"I don't think it's just you," Sam murmured. She glanced back at the doctor, noting that she was leaning well away from her shoulder, but the creature didn't appear in the least bit upset. It had to be able to see her at least as well as it could Daniel, but it showed none of the same aggression. "Any ideas why?"
Fraiser considered the question. "Could be something gender based like pheromones, or hormones ... or maybe it picks up on fear and/or aggression--"
"And the men get more stressed every time it shoots at them, whereas we're calming down as it doesn't..." Sam broke in, her tone thoughtful. It was a definite possibility.
"Or it could be something else entirely," Fraiser offered practically. They were within perhaps ten feet of the creature now and it snorted softly, shuffling its heavy feet, while hairless eyelids fluttered ever so slightly. "It's tired," she breathed, automatically lowering her voice.
Sam nodded, still holding the creature's gaze, her look hypnotic ... or at least she hoped it was hypnotic. "I know," she exhaled. "You're just a sleepy little guy, aren't you?"
The broad snout snuffled the floor of the ramp, then beady eyes lifted back up to meet Sam's gaze.
"General Hammond," Sam spoke softly, still using that same coaxing tone.
"The gate's still open behind the iris, right?"
"Yes, Captain," he assured her a little hesitantly. He had a bad idea he knew what was coming. "Though we can't keep it open too much longer ... about another fifteen minutes."
Sam nodded, still using the gentle voice as she continued to creep forward. "Hopefully it won't take any longer than that." She took a deep breath, letting it out to calm her nerves as it occurred to her what she'd committed to doing. "When I tell you, sir, open the iris--"
"Trust me, sir. I'm not going to ask you to do anything I don't think is safe for this facility." Sam's gaze never broke from the creature and her voice maintained the gentle sing-song, soothing quality.
A moment passed and then Hammond quietly responded, "Very well. We'll be ready." Since they couldn't safely shoot it and its defenses made capturing it tricky at best, he was willing to give her the latitude she needed to follow her instincts.
"Easy ... easy...." Sam said gently as she reached the edge of the ramp. She had to climb over the handrail, since going around meant adding another fifteen feet to her path, and she was too heavily kitted out to easily go under. The creature tensed ever so slightly as she gripped the rail in her free hand and stepped onto the edge of the ramp, its gaze sharpening suspiciously.
"Careful," Fraiser breathed when she saw the response.
"It's okay, Junior ... nobody's gonna hurt ya," Sam babbled gently as she swung a leg over the rail. "I'm just going to come over and say hi." She swung her other leg over and landed lightly, her boots rattling the metal floor of the ramp.
With a tiny squeal, the creature scuttled back until it was alongside the M.A.L.P., staring up at her with fear tinged with aggression.
"Easy ... easy ... it's okay," Sam soothed, holding out her hand in what she hoped was a calming motion. "I just wanna say hi ... not gonna hurt ya." She felt the tiniest hint of movement of the ramp beneath her feet and glanced back out of the corner of her eye, catching a glimpse of Janet as she ducked under the handrail and climbed onto the ramp. "Are you out of your mind, Doctor?" she asked without ever losing that sing song quality.
"Not really," the other woman responded, her tone every bit as treacly. "But since you're my cover...."
Hearing the doctor's coaxing voice, the creature leaned to one side, peering past Sam at the woman behind her.
"Hi there," Janet said through her most charming smile. The creature's black gaze met her own, and it wavered again, exhaustion making the thick eyelids flutter. "You're a tired baby, aren't you?" she babbled and then her head canted to one side as a thought occurred to her. Her brows shot up. "Maybe you are just a tired baby," she mused out loud, her tone still soft and inviting as she carefully stepped forward another pace.
"Janet?" Sam whispered in a questioning aside.
"Maybe it's not an adult whatever-it-is," Fraiser responded, still holding the alien creature's gaze. It seemed to be calming down again. "Maybe it's a baby ... and something about you reminds it of its mother...."
Sam heard a muted snicker over her headset -- O'Neill's she was sure -- as she turned her head enough to flash an annoyed glare at the doctor. "I'm trying not to take that as an insult," she complained, though she managed to keep using the same sing-song tone.
The doctor shrugged under the sharp look. "It was just an idea ... and I didn't mean looks ... could be a smell or a sound." Another shrug. "Almost anything." She continued flashing her most charming smile, though this time it was directed Carter's way. "Okay, dumb idea."
A blond brow climbed high on the captain's forehead. "Not necessarily," Sam muttered, though she didn't sound thrilled by the admission. They were only about a couple of feet away now and she slowly started to crouch down, trying to put herself more on level with the thing. If it was a baby, it might be less nervous if she wasn't towering over it ... if it was an adult too, she supposed. As she moved, she baby-talked to it, babbling nonsensically.
It shifted uncertainly from side to side, the heavy head wavering on its thick neck, but its tail relaxed, the tip dipping toward its back.
"You're a handsome, little whatever-you-are, aren't you?" Janet added to the babble, as she slid to one knee behind Carter, carefully keeping pace as Sam eased forward. Then suddenly, one foot slipped on a slick section of the steel ramp. Momentarily unbalanced, she braced one hand against Sam's back as she half fell against the taller woman, but her other hand slipped past the blond's side. She felt Carter stiffen as she caught herself and suddenly realized just where her outstretched hand was.
Her spread fingertips hung in the air only inches from the creature's snout and it was fully awake again, thick ridged muscles taut beneath the heavy flesh, while its tail lifted, swinging their way.
"Don't move," Sam bit out, her own body utterly still despite the weight of the smaller woman's impact against her back.
Barely even breathing, Janet just stared for a second, incredibly aware of just how much danger she might have put them both in. "Not moving," she exhaled when she could speak again. The black eyes locked on her, their expression unreadable. "Easy ... just take it easy, Junior. You know I don't wanna hurt you." To her eyes, it seemed like it relaxed, but it was hard to be certain. "I'm not big on hurting anybody ... pretty much harmless in fact ... I just wanna help you."
Then the heavy head swung toward her fingers and Janet had to fight the urge to yelp or yank her hand back, while every muscle in Carter's body went rigid with tension, her fingers tight on the trigger of her MP5.
"Don't fire," Janet breathed. She'd gotten herself into this. She wasn't going to risk getting someone else hurt because her foot slipped. They still didn't know what might happen if someone opened fire and there was blood spattered everywhere.
"Janet?" Sam whispered almost inaudibly as she watched the thick snout draw closer to slim fingers.
"I just want to help you," Fraiser repeated, babbling to the creature. "So please don't eat my hand." And then she felt its breath on her fingers.
Sam felt the woman pressed against her back tense, a tiny gasp escaping her lips. "Janet?" she whispered again, uncertain what she should do.
"It's okay," the doctor breathed. "It just ... uh ... licked my hand."
Carter slanted a worried look at the woman. "Burning at all?"
Fraiser responded with the faintest of head shakes, her voice little more than a soft breath. "No ... it's just really ... gross." She fought to stay calm as the creature snuffled softly and nuzzled her fingers, leaving a thick trail of drool across her knuckles. "You're just being friendly, aren't you, Junior," she said softly, her tone coaxing despite the flicker of panic she struggled to keep hidden. "And hopefully not hungry." Her other hand clamped on the shoulder of Sam's vest, she slowly turned the hand under the creature's mouth so it was palm up, then moved her fingers slowly and began carefully scratching it under the chin. Black eyes looked at her a little uncertainly, then it slowly tipped its head back and to the side. Several moments passed and she gradually scratched a little more firmly, then felt a gentle ripple begin under her fingertips. "It's ... purring," she exhaled. "You like the feel of that, little guy?" she questioned, still using that same sweet voice. As if in response to the question, it leaned more firmly into her fingers.
Moving cautiously, Sam reached out, well aware of the alien's black eyes watching her carefully. It twitched ever so slightly as her fingers made contact, then relaxed almost instantly as she began scratching firmly behind its ears. "Still purring?" she whispered to the woman behind her.
"Even louder actually," the doctor breathed, slightly awed to realize she was sitting there touching an alien and feeling it purr. "And it's leaning into my fingers the more firmly I scratch it."
"Think maybe we can talk it into going home now?" Sam questioned, her fingers still working behind the tiny tufts of flesh she assumed were the creature's ears. The heavy tail relaxed, flopping gently against the line of its spine.
"I'm ready to try," Janet murmured, her voice still soft and soothing.
Sam risked a glance back and up toward the control booth, relieved to see the general still standing at the window watching carefully. "Go ahead and open the iris, sir," she said softly, well aware that he could hear everything she said.
He answered for the first time in several minutes. "I hope you know what you're doing, Captain."
"Me too," Sam admitted, then looked back down at the creature. Happy now, it was still ugly as hell, but there was a twisted sort of cuteness to its blunt features. "Okay, fella, let's just do this slowly." It tensed momentarily as the sound of the iris sliding out of the way echoed through the room, making tiny mewling sounds in the back of its throat and shuffling nervously, the black eyes staring expectantly up at the two women.
"It's okay ... nobody's gonna hurt you...." Sam soothed, while the doctor murmured equally meaningless nonsense phrases until it calmed. Slinging her MP5 onto her back, Sam reached out with that hand, scritching her way down the creature's back, then hooking her hand loosely over its back at the base of the thickly muscled tail. "Let's just get you turned around now," she murmured, her voice ending in a soft grunt as she started to apply enough muscle to slowly urge the creature around. It didn't precisely resist, but rather didn't seem to notice the effort, the sturdy body so firmly planted that any effort to move it was like trying to push a cement block out of the way. "It's not working," she exhaled, then flashed a nervous glance at the open depths of the gate, wondering how much longer it would hold.
"Let's trying something else," Janet whispered.
Sam tensed as she felt the doctor shift to a crouch and began easing sideways out from behind even the slight cover she offered, her fingers still working under the wide chin. It tracked her as she moved, head swinging slowly to follow her gently scratching fingers.
"It's working," Carter said softly, the coaxing tone soothing the beast. Shifting to a crouch, she followed the doctor's lead, rubbing behind the tiny ears as she began to shuffle sideways. Working together, they got it turned, then began drawing it toward the gate. Calm now, it eyed the watery confines with all the interest of a cow chewing its cud.
"You don't have much more time, Captain," Hammond warned her through the headset tucked in her ear. He was edgy keeping the gate open any longer than absolutely necessary.
"We've got to hurry," she warned the doctor.
"You realize we're going to have to go through with it?" Janet responded. It showed no inclination of going anywhere on its own, though it seemed calm enough as long as they kept up the ear and chin scratching.
Sam nodded. She would have preferred not to include the doctor in the effort, but the men couldn't help and she couldn't handle the animal alone. She noted the way it leaned into Janet's firm caresses. And it definitely liked the other woman. She petted her hand rhythmically down the broad back. Tiny spiked ridges ran along its sides, flickering and twitching as her fingers trailed past, though whether it was simply an autonomic response or some sign of pleasure, it was impossible to tell. She slid her hand underneath the creature, petting its belly as they reached the gate. Sam looked at the doctor, noting that she'd slid a hand under its chest. "On three."
"Shut the gate down the moment we're through," Carter instructed the general.
"Understood, we'll await your return signal," his voice came back.
Still scratching the contentedly purring alien behind the ears and under the belly, while Fraiser handled its chin and chest, Sam counted off, "One ... two ... three ... lift." It was as heavy as a small horse, and had both women straining as they heaved the suddenly squealing creature up between them and dove through the gate.