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rocketfic | cloak and dagger

Title: Cloak and Dagger by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Sam/Janet
Notes: Part 7 of 9 of the Ancient Air Series. Sequel to The Lost Are Found.

The first time it happened was during her American History final.

She was scribbling away furiously on the last essay question, expounding on the issues of taxation in the young American economy when she realized she'd misspelled a word. She rubbed it out with her eraser, then dropped the pink block back on the corner of her desk. She reached again for the mechanical pencil Sam had given her a few weeks previous, and let out a squeak when it sailed off the surface of the desk and neatly into her hand.

Cassie stared at the pencil, then cast furtive eyes around the classroom to see if anyone else had noticed. After a long moment she exhaled and returned to the test, hoping her shaking hands would not make the remainder of her answer illegible.

Assistant Consul Andra Ugart strode quickly up the cavernous main stairway in the Great House, cursing the rain and snarled traffic that had made her so late for the emergency meeting with her supervisor. Her footsteps were loud and percussive on the marble floor, and the long late afternoon shadows lent the whole building an eerie, haunted feeling.

She yanked the hood of her raincoat off her head to nod in passing to the ubiquitous bored government security guards, then hurried down the east corridor to the complicated maze of tiny offices that housed the Consul staff.

"My apologies for being late, sir," she called as she kicked open her office door, shrugged off her coat, and tossed it in the general direction of the coat hook on the wall. "There was some sort of train accident, and they were having difficulty rerouting traffic around it." After a quick pause to straighten her suit, she stepped into her boss' doorway.

Valerijs Latrel sat slumped against his desk, a frozen look of horror evident on his artificially sunken, emaciated face. His jaw hung slightly open and slack in the relaxed posture of recent death.

Andra wasn't sure whether to scream, vomit, or bolt from the room. She swallowed once, hard, and reached out with a shaky hand to lean against the doorframe.

"Jumis bless us... Not another one."

One airman after another ducked out of her path as she moved with determined steps through the hallways of the SGC. She deepened her scowl and watched the young soldiers practically smother themselves into the concrete walls just to stay out of her way. Only when she'd reached the confines of the elevator did she allow her features to relax into their more customary warmth, with just a hint of a grin. She'd discovered a long time ago the benefits of maintaining an image of stern CMO intimidation, and sometimes it was just fun to practice.

Janet Fraiser stepped out of the elevator on level 19 and wandered down to Sam's lab. One hand was already poised to knock on the open door when she looked up and saw Colonel O'Neill standing across the room, waving frantically at her to keep quiet. Instead of knocking she tucked her hand into her lab coat pocket, taking in the scene before her with some bemusement.

Sam had her nose -- literally -- stuck into the guts of some new alien doodad, and was fiddling curiously with its innards. Off toward the back of her lab, Colonel O'Neill and Daniel stood together, huddled in the shadows with matching grins. Daniel was staring attentively at his watch.

The doctor absorbed all this with a minute sigh. Sam was often the target of jokes, bets, and a few tasteless pranks, and this looked like some kind of wager about how long it would take for her to notice the two men wandering her lab in plain sight while her focus was consumed by the SGC's latest and greatest mysterious new technology. Sam was by nature a good sport and amiably put up with this kind of thing, but the lack of respect it showed irked Janet to no end.

She quirked a disapproving eyebrow at the Colonel, who threw up his hands and mouthed a defensive, "What?!"

Her chin dropped just a bit and she glared, a dark, menacing expression that said, "You embarrass her and you'll answer to me." The Colonel huffed out a frustrated breath, rolled his eyes, then grabbed Daniel by the sleeve, yanking the younger man with him out of the lab. Janet helpfully stepped out of their way as they trudged out the door, ignoring the Colonel's slightly annoyed look while she returned Daniel's confused little wave.

All of this transpired without Sam apparently noticing. Janet watched the blonde work for a long moment and felt a smile come unbidden to her face. "Hey."

Carter lifted her head, pulling her attention away from the guts of the alien device. She had a black smudge across the bridge of her nose where it had been poked into the old machinery. "Hey. Thanks for scaring them off. They were starting to bug me."

The doctor grinned outright and leaned one hip against the desk. "You knew they were here the whole time?"

"Sure," Sam said, as she scrunched her nose with a conspiratorial smile. "Have to keep up the 'never-ending nerd' reputation. Just like how you stomp all over base waving needles around to terrify every airman who walks by."

"I do not," Janet protested immediately. Merry blue eyes batted at her, and she decided to change the subject completely. "So what are you working on?" she asked, with a jerk of her chin toward the alien device.

"Don't know," Sam said, her grin threatening to split her face in two. "SG-12 just brought this back from the ruins on P9Y-511. It's got a motor of some kind, but with a differential gear system I've never seen before."

The doctor sighed and folded her arms. "Uh oh. I know that look. Our garage floor is going to be covered with bits of metal and tools while you experiment for the next three weeks, right?"

Our garage.

Sam savored the off-handed reference with a smile. They'd only officially been living under the same roof for a couple weeks, but the adjustment had been remarkably painless. She decided it was probably because their lives had been thoroughly intertwined long before they shared a physical address.

Janet leaned over and rubbed the smudge off Sam's nose with her thumb. "I'll hold the flashlight for you when you decide to rebuild your motorcycle engine with your new differential gears," she promised.

"Ooh. You know I love it when you talk gears and flashlights," Sam declared in a low growl, looking the smaller woman over with a leer.

Janet snorted. "Geek," she accused mildly. With the smudge now effectively removed, the doctor let her fingers slide lightly over that beloved face in a gentle caress. "Don't forget we have a dinner date this evening."

"Looking forward to it," the blonde promised. "Give me a call when you get home?"

Janet's answer was precluded by the sudden blaring of the alarm indicating an unscheduled offworld wormhole activation. The two women looked up, then shared a brief look of regret as Sam pushed herself out of her chair to hurry up to the command center. "Love you," the brunette mouthed.

Sam stepped into her space and reached up to curl warm fingers around Janet's neck just under her ear. She returned the silent declaration with a smile before putting on her professional face again and hurrying out of her lab.

The doctor watched her go with a sigh.

Three hours later, Janet knocked softly on Hammond's office door. He waved her in with a preoccupied little gesture, then studied her for a beat.

"Sir?" she prompted politely.

"Doctor," he drawled. "The Jumish people on P72-317 have requested our help investigating some rather mysterious deaths among their government leaders."

Her eyebrows shot up, and she reached out to take the file he handed over. "Mysterious deaths?"

"Mysterious in that their own physicians can find no apparent cause." He hesitated, then gave her a vague "go ahead" wave.

The doctor nodded and flipped open the file, skimming a couple paragraphs to get a head start. There were a few reports from Jumish law enforcement, a couple documents equivalent to autopsy results, but nothing that immediately leapt out at her. "General, I get the feeling you think there's more going on here then they've told us," she murmured.

"Something doesn't smell right," Hammond agreed, glad that she'd picked up on his unease. "The Jumish representatives specifically asked for personnel that had not visited their world previously. Something about SG-1 being too recognizable and their presence possibly alarming the citizens." Janet scowled faintly. She didn't remember Sam ever mentioning the Jumish. As if reading her expression, her commanding officer nodded and said, "Major Carter was performing gate diagnostics while SG-1 and SG-4 were away on the initial Jumish contact. I'm assigning her command of this mission."

The doctor pursed her lips and nodded. "Who else are you planning to send?"

"That was what I wanted to speak to you about." He sat back and sighed, looking her over. "Major Carter has selected her team, and has chosen Doctor Oliveras."

She didn't bother hiding her surprise. Oliveras was a junior officer, relatively new to the SGC -- hell, he was relatively new to medicine. "That's... not the choice I would have made, sir."

"I didn't think so," he replied. "Please take it up with Major Carter."

"Yes sir," she replied, expecting to be dismissed. When that didn't happen, she looked to her CO expectantly. "Is there anything else, General?"

"Doctor, if there is some kind of... problem... between you and Major Carter..."

"No problem, sir," Janet said immediately. "This is just a misunderstanding."

He looked relieved. "Very well. Dismissed."

At the door she paused and turned back to look at him. "If I may ask -- what is it the Jumish have that we want?" She knew full well that SGC personnel were never lent out to other worlds out of sheer generosity.

"Ore refining technology," the general answered succinctly. "The President has placed a high value on this planet's continued allied status."

She nodded, understanding everything he left unsaid. There were a lot of facts and figures flying around base these days -- cost-benefit analyses of personnel training versus the technological rewards of their work, justifications for black budget ops and the secret funneling of funds out of the Pentagon, and scrutiny of their effectiveness from levels of government most didn't even know existed. She knew the general tried to shield his people from the political chatter, but it hummed in the background of their daily lives nonetheless. Thus Hammond's point about the President was subtle but well-taken; they were being watched on this one.

"I'll talk to Major Carter, sir."

"See that you do. The team gates out at 0800 tomorrow."

Janet pulled into her driveway and trudged up the front path to the house, dreading the argument she could see brewing ahead of her. Sam was already home, probably getting some things together in anticipation of her early jump out the next morning.

She found her lover in the kitchen, leaning over a pot of boiling water that was apparently cooking some pasta. Sam watched her furtively as Janet puttered around the house, depositing bits of her uniform and kicking off her heels. Finally the doctor dropped her car keys with a clatter on the kitchen table, and caught Sam's startled flinch with just a touch of satisfaction.

"Hey," Janet said quietly. Her lover turned piercing blue eyes on her and allowed a tight smile. "I was told I needed to report to the mission CO to see why she'd assigned one of my junior officers to assist on P72-317."

Sam's jaw worked for a moment, and she studiously watched the pasta boiling away. "Seemed like the best use of resources."

The doctor rolled her eyes and perched on a stool next to the counter. "Oh, bullshit, Major."

"General Hammond gave me my choice of team members, and I chose." Sam looked up with a mildly triumphant expression. "Are you telling me one of your staff isn't capable of the job?"

Refusing to be baited, Janet merely shook her head. "Of course not. But you know that's not the real issue here."

"Seems pretty straightforward to me."


"Major," Sam barked in response, jabbing a finger into her own chest. "Assigned to command this mission, and I've made my decision."

This time Janet let loose the reins on her temper. "I am given full discretion over my staff and resources, Major, and in that regard I can override you in a heartbeat!"

"Hammond backed me up," the blonde spat.

"Then he asked me if I agreed with your choice. Which I don't, and you knew I wouldn't. He even asked if we were fighting about something."

"Well, we are, aren't we?" Sam asked petulantly.

The brunette held back a sigh. "You know the quickest way for this mission to be accomplished is for me to go with the team."

"There's no evidence to support that."

"Evidence?!" Janet said with an incredulous laugh. "How's this? I'm the best doctor the project has, and the only specialist in alien physiology on the planet. Furthermore, I'm..."

"Too valuable to risk offworld," the blonde interjected.

"On an allied world, in a non-hostile environment..."

"Where people are dropping dead due to an unknown cause."

"Where people are in need of help, and I'm the best bet to help them!" Janet cried. "Sam, this is ridiculous."

"We don't really know what's going on out there, and anything could happen," Sam said calmly, trying to back away from the emotional precipice. "Oliveras can send you samples of whatever you need through the gate so you can help us out."

"Damned inefficient."

"It's actually more efficient," Sam countered. "I'll be better able to operate as mission commander if I'm not also having to worry about my girlfriend's welfare."

Janet sat back, perversely relieved that the core of the matter was finally out in the open. "Do you need me to list the reasons why you have to get over that?"

Her lover abandoned all pretense of rational consideration and glared at her, then flung the wooden spoon she'd been using to stir the pasta across the kitchen counter with a frustrated growl. She stomped out of the kitchen and up the stairs, and the dull echo of the slamming bedroom door reverberated through the house.

The doctor sighed. She stepped over to the stove to turn off the heat boiling the pasta, then followed her lover.

Sam had flung herself in a frustrated sprawl across the bed. As the door opened, she sat up, her eyes blazing and ready for the continued argument.

"I can take care of myself," Janet began.

"Not while you're taking care of everybody else," Sam countered, casting out an open hand in frustration. "I've seen you do it, Janet. You lose track of time, you don't sleep or eat... You're an excellent doctor, but your focus on your patients is to the exclusion of everything else. An entire army of Jaffa could sneak up on you while you're working."

"Which is why I trust the soldiers around me to do their job and watch my back." She sighed, and chose not to point out the irony of Sam criticizing anyone else's extreme professional focus. "And any doctor worth their oath would do the exact same thing."

"Any soldier worth their boots would maintain awareness of their surroundings."

That one stung. Janet withdrew a bit to regroup. It was an old argument between them: the often contradictory duties of being a soldier and a healer. And despite all they'd been through together, Sam appeared to retain just the slightest bit of doubt in Janet's combat abilities.

As if just realizing the full implication of her last statement, Sam slumped, the anxious tension dissipating in one frustrated sigh.

"That's not what this is really about, is it?" the doctor managed at last.

Sam scrubbed the top of her head with shaky fingers. "Maybe not."

With a nod, Janet began to tick through their new routine list of symptoms. "Had any dreams or visions lately?"

"No," the blonde sighed.

"Any remnants of Jolinar? Any Ancient prophecies I need to know about? Any new revelations about life, the universe, and everything?"

"No," Sam admitted, exhaling a tiny, reluctant laugh. "Nothing that interesting. Just an old-fashioned bad feeling."

"Uh huh," Janet said. She realized with great relief that the argument was over. "Sweetheart, you need me out there."

"The base needs you here," Sam emphasized. She looked down and fiddled with a loose thread on the bedspread. "I just need you, regardless."

Janet exhaled loudly though her nose, considering that. "They're an allied world."


"Not involved in any active rebellions or wars or Goa'uld invasions."

"Not that we know of."

"Then this falls under the category of 'acceptable risk,' Sam. Bad feeling or not."


"I have final say on the assignment of my staff, Major Carter," the brunette said firmly. "I'm what you get."

Her lover's shoulders fell a bit with resignation. "Fine."

"Okay," Janet agreed. She stepped closer, letting her knees bump into Sam's at the edge of the bed, and deliberately lightened her tone. "So, this'll be an adventure, us working together offworld again. We had so much fun last time."

"'Fun,'" Sam repeated with a snort. "Sure, if you count nearly dying... How many times? Then me forgetting everything, traversing the fractured space-time continuum, ascending, de-ascending..."

The doctor hitched her legs over Sam's, straddling her lover's body on the bed while she spoke. "Yeah."

"God, I wish you weren't so damn stubborn."

"I know." Janet settled her weight on Sam's legs, and let one hand wander beneath the hem of her lover's shirt. Her fingers found warm, bare skin and deliberately set to work soothing the tension coiled underneath.

"And sometimes I wish you weren't the best in the world at what you do," Sam added.

"Backatchya, babe," the doctor said with a smile, tweaking a bit of skin against the blonde's rib cage.

Sam didn't want to be placated just yet, but she did let herself relax a bit under her lover's skillful touch. After a few minutes of sullen silence, she muttered, "I do know you can take care of yourself."

"Do you?" The brunette canted her head to one side. "Even when I'm not acting as avatar of Ancient civilizations?" Blue eyes fluttered shut. Janet stilled the hand massaging her lover's belly and waited.

"I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you while under my command," Sam whispered. "And I don't ever want to find out what life is like without you."

"I'm not going anywhere," Janet answered.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," Sam protested weakly.

"Sam, listen to me." She waited until her lover's face tilted up toward her, her blue eyes wide and miserable. "I will always be with you. No matter what."

From anyone else it might have been an empty promise. Sam inhaled sharply, feeling the power of that vow, and the vibrant, latent energy within her lover that backed it up.

"We have to help these people," Janet continued. "And we can't afford to approach this one with less than our absolute best."

"Hammond gave you the 'President values their continued allied status' speech?"

"Mmhmm," the doctor murmured. "So we'll get in there, kick some alien contagion ass, and get home. Piece of cake."

Sam raised one hand to tangle her fingers in Janet's hair, shuddering just a bit as the brunette's hands began to wander under her clothes again. "I'm not letting you out of my sight for a second."

"I'm counting on it," Janet responded, then bent to press her lips to Sam's, venting the last breaths of anger and frustration between them in a kiss.

"Cass? You okay?"

The teen started. "Y-yeah. Fine."

Janet squinted at her, noting the untouched plate of dinner before her and the decidedly preoccupied look in her daughter's eyes. "Sam and I are going offworld for a few days. The guys will be taking turns staying with you."

"Sure, okay," Cassie muttered.

"How'd your final go today? History, right?"

The girl looked distinctly alarmed at the question. "Fine," she blurted. "It went fine."

Janet remained unconvinced, but shrugged it off. God only knew what matter of typical teenaged angst was disturbing her daughter that evening. Experience told her that it would likely blow over within a few hours, just as soon as Cassie's attention was fixed on something else.

The next morning Janet pulled a dark coat over her shoulders and tugged her hair out from under the collar. It felt a little odd to be roaming the base in civvies, but upon the Jumish representatives' advice they'd agreed the best way to conduct their initial investigation was to be as inconspicuous as possible. That meant civilian Jumish-style clothing -- no BDUs, and no P-90s. She could only imagine how less than thrilled Sam was about that development.

She entered the gateroom to meet up with the rest of the team just as the wormhole whooshed open. Lieutenant Satterfield gave her a little smile from under a fur-lined hat as she secured the last of their equipment on a MALP, and Airman Kirkovich looked nervously up the ramp at the shimmering event horizon.

Sam entered from the other door, sweeping into the gateroom in a billowing black coat and scarf. She handed Janet a Tok'ra communicator and 'zat, which the doctor promptly tucked into her pockets. The blonde looked them all over, and gave an approving nod. "I know you've been briefed," she said, unconsciously assuming her best command voice. "We have to assume there is more to this situation than originally reported, so keep your eyes open."

"Yes, ma'am," Satterfield and Kirkovich responded sharply. Janet only grinned.

"Let's go," Sam declared, then strode up the ramp, following the MALP into the event horizon.

The Jumish people had, much like their Tau'ri counterparts, tucked their Stargate away in a secured military installation. Janet eyed the subtle display of force their hosts had arranged as she descended the ramp behind Sam. The guards did not storm the gateroom as they might have on Earth, but their attention and weaponry left little doubt that unwelcome intruders would meet fierce resistance.

A slender woman with dark hair and striking blue eyes strode forward to meet the party. "I am Andra Ugart, Fifth Consul of the Great House."

"Major Samantha Carter," Sam answered, and shook Ugart's outstretched hand. "My colleagues -- Doctor Janet Fraiser, Lieutenant Elaine Satterfield, Airman Joseph Kirkovich."

"My people are grateful for your assistance in this matter," Ugart said, with the unpracticed formality of a new diplomat.

Janet dredged up what she'd read in the mission briefing about the Fifth Consul, and took a moment to study the Jumish woman. Ugart had been selected to fill her superior's position after his death, then had lobbied for her government to seek outside assistance as their nation's citizens succumbed at random to the mysterious pathogen. The doctor noted the distinct lines of stress creasing the young woman's face.

Sam gave her a slow nod, no doubt conducting her own private scrutiny. "We're happy to help."

Ugart smiled in some relief and gestured toward an armored exit door. "We have set up a laboratory for your use off-base. If you'd accompany me, please."

As the team moved to unpack equipment from the MALP, Janet noticed a couple of the Jumish guards looming uncomfortably close by. Ugart's politeness aside, it was clear their presence was not entirely welcome here.

Twenty minutes later they were seated in a ground vehicle with dark tinted windows, driving along the outskirts of what looked like a fairly well populated city. Carter scowled and looked out the windows anxiously as they took turn after turn down narrow streets. In the back seat, Elaine Satterfield shifted a bit as she picked up on the growing unease of her commanding officer. She palmed her sidearm in her pocket and waited for whatever threat Major Carter was anticipating.

To the lieutenant's watchful eyes, Doctor Fraiser appeared also to detect the building stress, but was far better at disguising her reaction. Just when Elaine had nearly gone rigid with anxiety, she saw the doctor shift and turn to look at Major Carter.

Janet gave her lover tiny smile, then asked a silent question with a delicate twitch of her eyebrows. So what do you think?

Sam glowered back, frustration evident in every minute movement. I don't know yet.

The doctor's eyes warmed. She offered a subtle shrug. Well, we'll find out soon enough, won't we? Relax.



The blonde grinned despite herself and shook her head. She realized she was a little restless, and not just because of the obvious Jumish reticence. This was her first command since regaining medical clearance a few weeks previous, and she felt like she had something to prove.

Janet, of course, knew all that already, and her gently understanding expression was a balm to her frayed nerves. Sam settled back into her seat and resigned herself to watchful attention.

In the seat behind them, Elaine Satterfield watched the silent conversation with great interest -- especially when Major Carter visibly relaxed, and the tension level in the vehicle plummeted.

She'd heard things about Carter and Fraiser both -- rumors of extraordinary things the women had encountered, and of their subsequent inseparability. Some of the more impressionable junior officers were convinced that the women even had superpowers. As of that very morning, whispers around base placed the wagered duration of the mission at three days tops, and as a bonus they would probably bring back the Ancients' baldness cure for General Hammond as well.

Elaine decided she was looking forward to seeing them together in action.

From beside the vehicle's driver, Andra Ugart leaned around her seat to address the team. "You are newcomers to Meza Virs, are you not?"

Sam merely nodded, and chose not to point out that the Jumish request for assistance from the SGC had specifically asked for "newcomers."

Taking Sam's silence as her social cue, Janet flashed a warm smile at their hostess. "We've read the reports our first contact teams made regarding your peoples' remarkable technological progress..."

"Especially given our limited natural resources and relatively small population?" Ugart smiled. "Our world suffered a great geologic shift nearly two hundred years ago, rendering it quite intemperate." She cast a rueful look toward the sleet pelting down outside. "Those who survived clustered here, at Meza Virs. We had to learn new ways or face death."

They'd already learned as much in the mission briefing, but Janet nodded politely. "Your efficiency at processing natural resources is impressive."

"Which is really why you are here, is it not?" the politician asked with an appraising look. "If we did not have technology you wanted, you would never have agreed to help us."

Just when the collective mood had started to mellow, Satterfield noticed the atmosphere spike with tension once more in the wake of the politician's calculated words.

"We are glad to offer help to any ally," Janet said firmly. "And we hope our allies would reciprocate in kind."

It was apparently the right answer; Ugart offered a faint smile and seemed to relax. The rest of the drive passed uneventfully until they pulled to a stop in front of an imposing gray building.

Airman Kirkovich had remained silent throughout the ride, staring determinedly out the tinted windows. Satterfield poked him in the arm as the vehicle's doors opened and the occupants began to pile out. "Wake up, Joe. We're at Grandma's," she teased.

He turned thoughtful eyes on her. "Did you notice the people here all look the same?

Satterfield scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"We passed at least four sets of identical twins on our way here."

"Four different twins?"

He nodded seriously. "One set of triplets."

The lieutenant frowned, then hopped out of the ground car to start retrieving her gear.

Ugart and the small Jumish security contingent escorted the team to a high-ceilinged room not unlike a typical chemistry lab found on earth. It was equipped with long tables and plenty of familiar-looking equipment. Janet nodded in satisfaction. "This will do nicely. Thank you."

"This building used to be attached to the city's University," the consul explained. "We have vacated it for your use. You will find living quarters on the upper floors."

Sam made a discreet pass with her fingers across the surface of a nearby table, and dragged up a considerable layer of dust. She smiled gamely at Ugart. "We'll need access to your records and samples."

"And I'd like to conduct an autopsy on a recent victim, if possible," Janet added.

The diplomat froze, just for a moment. "I will see what I can arrange. There will be guards outside the building -- please tell them if you require anything else."

"We will. Thank you." Sam plastered a smile on her face until Ugart and her train of armed minions stole back out of the building, then turned back to her team. "All right. Satterfield, Kirkovich. Sweep the building. Do me a favor and check for RF transmissions."

"Yes ma'am," Satterfield answered. She and the airman drew their respective weapons and immediately disappeared into the bowels of the empty building.

"You think they've bugged this place?" Janet asked.

"Wouldn't surprise me. 'Vacated for our use' my foot," Sam muttered. "This building probably hasn't been used in five years. And they're going through an awful lot of trouble to keep us isolated from the rest of the population."

"Maybe they're worried about contagion," Janet offered as she sorted through the packs of gear. She didn't sound terribly convinced.

"Maybe. Do you think those guards are to keep them out, or us in?"

The doctor gave her a rueful look, conceding the point. "Okay, so maybe this mission is a little fishy."

Sam threw up her hands in mock revelation. "Now she believes me."


Unbend a few paperclips.

Spin again.


"Hey, Daniel." Spin.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm sitting in Carter's lab, bored off my ass."

"I can see that much."

The colonel sighed and looked around the room, peering at the uninviting gadgets scattered over every surface. "It's no fun when Carter's not around." He kicked the desk and sent the stool into another lazy spin.

"I'll tell her you said that," Daniel replied with a smile.

"T's got Cass duty tonight?" O'Neill asked.

"Yeah, but she sent me an email informing me that someone needs to get Teal'c some new movies. She can't sit through 'The Phantom Menace' one more time."

"Well, really - who can?"

"So I was thinking maybe I'd stop and get a couple DVDs, then grab some Chinese for dinner and hang out with them tonight," the archeologist said. "Care to join us?"

"Can't," O'Neill muttered. "I'm busy." He spun again on the stool.

Daniel's eyebrows climbed his forehead in patent disbelief.

"What? I could have plans!" The colonel pouted for a moment, and fiddled with his unbent paper clips. Eventually he exhaled an annoyed breath. "Fine. But get extra potstickers this time."

The younger man grinned and headed back out of the lab.

"So far, the reports say that each victim was an adult, in apparent good health," Janet said as she flipped through the files provided by the Jumish medical authority. "Beyond that, there's no obvious link. Women, men, different ages, different occupations..."

Sam nodded as she waited for her laptop to boot. The crisp white of Janet's labcoat in her peripheral vision contrasted vividly with the dull gray of the abandoned building.

Wait. Labcoat?

"You're wearing a labcoat," Sam observed blandly.

"Yeah, I brought it with me."

"You brought a labcoat to an alien planet."

Janet frowned and looked down at herself. "I like having one to work in," she said defensively. "I didn't know there was a dress code."

It was so typical of her lover to consciously inject her own version of normalcy into inherently alien situations. The blonde couldn't help but chuckle. Janet poked her and returned to her reports.

"I don't really need babysitters," Cassandra declared in complete exasperation as the three Earth-bound members of SG-1 invaded her living room.

"You don't, but Daniel does," Jack said, as he pushed the younger man out of his way to claim a spot on the ottoman. "Besides, your mom asked us to. And we always do what your mom asks." He paused thoughtfully. "Well, most of the time."

"Yeah, but only because you're afraid of her," Daniel retorted.

Cassie snorted and dug into her dinner. "Really?"

"Afraid?! Of what? Five feet two inches of needle-wielding terror?" he scoffed, then shrugged. "A little, sure." He glared at Daniel when he heard him chuckle. "Watch it, monkey-boy. You follow her orders and you're not even military. What does that say?"

"That she's usually right?" Daniel answered around a mouthful of rice.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, as he impatiently worked the remote control to navigate through the DVD's menu system. He scowled at the device as he inadvertently set the DVD's playback to French, then Spanish, and silently wished a curse upon Tau'ri electronics manufacturers for making the buttons so small.

"It's not 'fear' anyway," O'Neill protested. "It's respect." Cassie was snickering and clearly not buying a word of it. "Seriously. Your mom is pretty much the only reason any of us are still breathing." He reached over and poked the teen in the kneecap. "That includes you, kiddo."

"Not to mention that whole 'ascending to a higher plane of existence and saving the universe' thing," Daniel added. "That was pretty cool."

"And she has won the heart of MajorCarter," Teal'c rumbled. "A task to which many have aspired."

The other three abruptly stopped eating, and spent a couple moments staring at each other. They were so used to not actually talking about the relationship between the two women that hearing it stated so matter-of-factly was quite jarring.

O'Neill was the first to recover. "Yeah, that too," he murmured, then raised his beer bottle in a toast. "To the Doc."

"To the Doc!" Daniel crowed, and clinked his bottle against Jack's.

"To Mom," Cassie said with a smile. "And Sam."

Teal'c face creased in a minute grin, just as the movie began to play. "Indeed."

"Lieutenant, could you give this to the Doc?" Kirkovich called out to Satterfield as he hauled the box up the stairs to the lab.

"What is it?" Elaine asked.

"Some samples or something. The Jumish medical authority just dropped them off outside."

"You know, you don't have to sit out there in the cold," the lieutenant said as she relieved him of the carton.

Kirkovich shrugged. He'd taken his watch post just outside the building because he felt the need to keep a closer eye on their hosts. He figured that if the guards assigned to them could stand out on the steps in the wind and sleet for hours on end, so could he.

And maybe he might learn something useful about the these people in the process.

"Do you need me inside for anything, ma'am?"

Satterfield shook her head. "So far, so good."

"Then I'll be at my post."

Hours later, the feeble electric light in the dormitory-style rooms above the lab did little to combat the gray chill of the weather outside, or the faded neglect of the building itself. Sam trudged toward the room Janet had claimed, and leaned against the door frame while watching her lover sit on a dingy bunk, stripping off her boots and heavy socks.

"The SGC should be opening the gate to request a status report in a few minutes," the blonde said.

"Will the MALP relay at the gate will reach this far?" Janet asked.

"The Tok'ra communicators are designed to cover hundreds of miles. Shouldn't be a problem, unless they've disabled the MALP."

The doctor frowned and considered that for a moment. "You really don't trust these people."

"No, I really don't."

"Sam, what if we were in their position? What if Earth's population had been decimated by a natural disaster, but we managed to survive solely by virtue of our own wits? Then a couple hundred years go by, and the survivors start dying apparently at random due to a completely unidentifiable cause - how eager would we be to dial the gate and start begging near strangers for help? There's a measure of wounded pride here."

"We've asked for help from more advanced races before," Sam pointed out.

"And look what that's gotten us. The Tok'ra barely speak to us, the Tollan have been destroyed, the Nox are only interested in helping passively..."

"Then why ask for help at all?"

Janet gave her a thoughtful look. "That's the question, isn't it?"

Sam's brows drew together. She stepped into the room and pulled up a chair, spinning it backwards and straddling it with long legs. "You think there's more than one agenda here."

"Sure. There's the one that wants nothing to do with us, then there's the one that is desperate enough to seek us out anyway."

That made sense. "So which side is Ugart on?" Sam mused aloud.

"And why does her government oppose it?" Janet added.

"More to the point, what can we do about it? We can't get involved in an internal political struggle."

Janet shook her head ruefully. "Aren't we involved already?"

Sam stared off into space for a moment, weighing the situation. Ideally they could perform their humanitarian duty and simply leave, but Janet had a point. If there were conflicting governmental agendas here, anything they did had potential to tick off the wrong people. The Jumish military was no token display of force; if the team was cut off from the gate, they'd be hard-pressed to fight their way through. Where did that leave them?

"Tomorrow I'll start on the samples," Janet was saying. "When I have a better idea what we're dealing with, then we'll figure out how to play it."

"All right," Sam agreed with a sigh. She leaned forward to prop her chin on the back of the chair and regard her lover. "It was stupid to think I could do this without you," she admitted quietly.

"It was stupid to think I'd let you get away with it," Janet replied with a little smirk. "But I don't think you actually thought that would happen."

"Hey - it was worth a shot."

The doctor snorted a bit. "Are you feeling okay? Any headaches? Dizziness?"

"I feel great. And I'm not having any trouble remembering anything," Sam answered pointedly.

Janet raised her hands. "Just checking. It is your first extended time offworld since... everything."

"Yeah." Sam took a moment just to look at her lover, enjoying the deep softness of the dark eyes that peered back at her. "Everything" was a good way to describe what had happened to them. They'd taken to not actually talking about it, or referring to it in a kind of oblique code, but the changes in and between them were hard to ignore.

Harder still was describing what exactly was different. They had been in love -- deeply -- before the journey to the Ancient homeworld, but now their feelings seemed amplified, even more profound.

They were hyper-aware of each other, to the point where words were often superfluous. And touching... well, touching was simply indescribable.

Sam shivered, only partially because of the chill in the room. "You going to be warm enough in here?"

"No," Janet answered with a lazy half-smile. Not by myself.

"Yeah, it'll be pretty chilly next door, too," the blonde said. You know I'd stay and keep you warm if I could. She pushed herself upright and gave her lover a wistful smile as she stepped back out of the room. "Goodnight, Janet."

"G'night, Sam."

Sam closed the door behind her and waited pensively for the SGC's hail.

"We need their help," Andra insisted once more. She knew it was fruitless; the Consulate was determined not to see reason. "Our people are dying."

"Our people have survived for generations without help from outsiders," the Prime Consul replied. He practically spat the last word out in disgust.

Andra stood looking up at the imperious faces of her government's highest leaders. As an assistant she had never been allowed to speak on the Consul floor. Now that she had succeeded Fifth Consul Latrel, she faced the daunting challenge of political maneuvering in a deeply established and profoundly stubborn governmental structure. She never quite knew where the boundaries of propriety were, but surely requesting help from the Tau'ri was in their best interests...

"We are out of our depth in this matter, Consul," she said firmly.

"We are resilient, and we will survive as we always have," the wizened man countered.

"Then why are we hiding the riot at the hospital? Why was the quarter locked down and the rest of the citizens told a train had derailed?" She fired the accusation like a warning shot, then watched the Consulate to see of any of them flinched.

Not one of them did.

"Fifth Consul," the oldest man said in dire tones. "We have taken the appropriate measures to protect the interests of our people."

Andra felt a sudden sinking in the pit of her stomach, as she realized the breadth of the deceit in which her leaders had already engaged. None of this was a surprise -- not the sickness killing their people at random, not the riots, not the slow, irretrievable crumbling of their very way of life.

They'd seen it all coming.

She swallowed hard, and attempted to compose herself. "Of course, Consul," she said as steadily as she could. "The welfare of our people is my only concern."

"The outsiders may remain and work. For now," the Second Consul decreed.

Andra inclined her head respectfully, then beat a hasty retreat from the Consul chambers.

What had they done?

Janet woke before dawn and threw on several layers of clothing before heading back downstairs to the lab. She was anxious to get this mission completed and return home, as Sam's suspicions about this place were definitely catching. That nervousness was only compounded by the fact that she could see her breath billowing in vaporous plumes indoors, all of which posed a significant challenge to her professional concern for the Jumish people. She dug through their rations until she found some instant coffee, then set a beaker of water over a flame to boil.

Elaine pushed open the heavy front door of the abandoned building and squinted into the icy Jumish morning. Kirkovich was, as she'd expected, already pacing the front stoop at his self-appointed post. She handed her younger teammate a mug of coffee, then leaned against the open door, breathing in the still, cool air. For a few moments the two soldiers watched the Jumish guards patiently make their rounds on the road below. "Anything going on out here?" She rolled her own mug between her palms.

"No, ma'am," Kirkovich answered. "Anything going on in there?"

The lieutenant sniffed and peered back over her shoulder. "No, but they're doing that thing again."

"What thing?"

"The talking-without-talking thing."

The airman peeked around the doorway to observe the phenomenon for himself. "Yeah? How do you think they do that?"

"I heard it had something to do with the Ancients," Satterfield murmured. She stared back down the hallway at the two majors in complete fascination, watching them interact with apparently very little need for speech.

"Well, I think it's creepy," the younger soldier replied. He turned on his heel and made another circuit in front of the building. Across the wide, empty street, three men stole into another rickety building. In his peripheral vision, he saw the lieutenant still watching their superiors intently. "Wouldya stop staring?" he said in a harsh whisper.

Satterfield tore her eyes away reluctantly and grinned at the Airman. "C'mon, Joe -- don't you wonder what happened to them? I mean, we know they discovered the Ancient Homeworld, but everything else about that mission is classified."

"There's probably a really good reason for that," he said with a sniff. After a long moment, he swiveled back to face her. "How do you know something happened?"

"I overheard Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson talk about them in the commissary one day... Major Carter had sustained a minor injury while offworld, and the Colonel made a joke that Doctor Fraiser probably knew about it before Major Carter herself did."

Kirkovich rolled his eyes. "That doesn't mean anything. Fraiser has always just known stuff about everybody. It's spooky."

She shook her head, and took another sip of her coffee. "Nah. Something happened. They're different. You can see it."

"They're doing that thing again."

"What thing?"

"The staring-at-us-like-we've-sprouted-extra-heads thing," Sam murmured.

Janet sighed and shook her head, which was mostly obscured by the large cowl of her microscope. "I have no idea what they find so fascinating." She absently handed Sam a test tube, which the blonde in fact needed, but hadn't asked for.

Sam grinned, plucked the glassware out of her lover's hand, and bent back over her sample. "I think Satterfield has a crush on you." She frowned when she realized the test tube was too small for her sampled reagent. The second she thought it, another larger, wider container materialized right in front of her face, held aloft by her lover's hand.

"She likes Daniel, remember?" Janet replied.

The blonde paused, took the proffered device, and sat back in her seat. She regarded her lover for a long moment. "Hey, do you ever think..."


"You don't know what I was going to say," Sam accused.

"Yes, I do. And no, I don't think we need to study it."

"You and I have shared something wholly unique in the history of human evolution as we know it, and you don't want to know more about it?"

"No," Janet said definitively. "And we don't know that it's all that unique."

"But you can practically hear what I'm thinking."

"No, I can't," the doctor countered with a sigh. She pulled away from the microscope and rubbed her eyes wearily. They'd had debates remarkably similar to this one on and off for the past month.

Sam smiled ruefully at her lover, and twirled the test tube in her fingers. "There's something..."

"Fine, maybe there is. But I don't want to study it, measure it, quantify it, or even call attention to it. I don't want to end up locked in some NID lab while they poke, prod, and dissect me so they can try to predict the next phase in human evolution. I'm not a 'Seer,' Sam. I'm not a hok'taur, I'm just me. I happen to be able to predict a lot of things about you because I've known you for six years, loved you for almost exactly that long, and worked with you day in and day out for more hours than I care to count," Janet declared in exasperation. "Besides, I'm not the only one who underwent some extreme transformations out there."

Sam rose from her seat and stepped around the table closer to the doctor. "I know," she said quietly. "And I'm different, so I'm pretty sure you are too." Dark eyes darted up to search hers. "I know you hate talking about this stuff." She shrugged. "I just wonder how long we'll be able to keep it under wraps."

Just then Satterfield stepped into the doorway and cleared her throat. "Ma'ams? Consul Ugart is here."

Janet could feel Sam's eyes on her, and knew that their discussion was far from over. She took a deliberate step away from Sam, literally distancing herself from the unsettling topic. A moment later Ugart stepped in behind Satterfield, looking distinctly unsettled herself.

"Doctor Fraiser, Major Carter," the diplomat said in greeting. "May I inquire as to your progress?"

With a small sigh, Janet regarded the chain of tests she and Sam had set up. So far every test they'd run had been wholly unremarkable; there wasn't even evidence of increased white cell count. She was reluctant to say it, but she strongly suspected the Jumish had given them dummy samples.

"So far we've had little luck," the doctor said diplomatically, mindful of the fact that they still weren't sure how to gauge Ugart's intentions.

"You've found nothing at all?" Ugart asked, crestfallen.

"No, though I would still like the chance to examine a victim's body," Janet replied, subtly pressing the same point she'd made the day before.

The politician paled. "Of course. I'll pass along your request. Again. Thank you." She spun on her heel and hurried back down the hallway and out the building.

Janet scowled after her and shared a look with her lover. After a moment, both women sighed and returned to their testing. Satterfield took in the entire scene with a frown, then turned and trailed after the diplomat.

"Uncle Jack?"

He muted the television and looked up at the shadow barely crossing the living room threshold. "Yeah, Cass? What's up?"

She took half a step forward, still hiding mostly outside of the room. "I... Um. I need to talk to you."

O'Neill leaned forward off the couch to get a better look at her. "Ooooo-kay," he drawled. "Come on in here and we'll chat."

Cassandra inched closer. The light from the television screen fell across her face, and the faint terror in her expression made Jack's stomach lurch.

"What's wrong?" he demanded in alarm.

She winced at the deep timbre of his voice. "I think... I think something may be wrong with me."

He leapt from the seat and strode toward her. "Are you hurt? Sick?"

The girl shook her head and shrank even closer to the wall. "No. I don't think so. I don't know."

Jack realized he was scaring her even more, and forced himself to back off and relax just a bit. "So what's up?"

"I've been noticing these... changes."

His brain nearly seized when it processed the likely implications of that statement. He stared at her, dumbfounded. Surely Janet had already explained the wonders of puberty to her daughter? "Uhh..."

"It started before Mom and Sam left, but I didn't know how to tell them. It's only getting worse."

Jack gave the phone next to the couch a profoundly wistful look, and wondered if he could call Daniel and make him deal with this. The archeologist was a lot more sensitive and in tune with women's issues, wasn't he? "Well, Cass," he said slowly. "These things happen. I'm sure it's pretty scary, but it's a very normal part of growing up." There, that sounded reasonably enlightened and mature. He silently congratulated himself.

Cassandra looked unconvinced. "I don't think so..."

"Yep. Your mom could explain it better, but it has to do with hormonal changes and stuff."

Her eyebrows shot up in a disbelieving way that had him doubting Janet was not her biological mother. Whenever he saw that look in the infirmary, he was certain to be on the wrong end of something pointy. "God. I'm not talking about my period," she said, exasperated.

He rubbed his face, quite aware that he was blushing. "You're not?"

Cassie sighed and looked at the remote control still perched where Jack had left it on the couch. She reached out with one hand and concentrated until it twitched, lifted off the couch, and sailed gracefully into her hand.

Jack's jaw dropped open. "I thought that went away, after..."

"After Nirrti. It did." She stared at the remote in her hand. "It's back."

Sudden telekinetic abilities were so much easier to deal with than the possible alternatives. He wasted no time calling the base infirmary to make sure Warner was on duty, then shooed Cassandra off to his car.

A few minutes later she was sitting in his Jeep and buckling her seatbelt. "Did you think I was going to make you buy me tampons or something?" she asked as Jack clambered into the driver's side.

The blush was back full force, and he winced. "It was a... concern."

Cassie snorted.

Late that night, Sam trailed Janet into her room, not even asking if her lover minded the company as she pulled up the room's solitary chair and sat.

Janet smiled to herself and perched on her bunk, tucking her legs underneath her. "What's up?"

"Nothing. I just miss you."

The doctor didn't need to point out that they'd been together almost exclusively for the past forty-eight hours. She understood what Sam meant. "Yeah, I know."

Sam tilted the chair back and propped her feet on Janet's bunk. For a few minutes they just enjoyed the quiet companionship, killing time until the SGC called in for their scheduled status report.

"So... Different how?" the doctor murmured.


"You said you're 'different.' How?"

The blonde frowned. "You know what I meant."

"Sam," Janet said, rubbing her eyes wearily. "Despite what you seem to think, I can't read your mind. Different how?"

Sam sighed and shifted a bit in her seat.

"You're the one who wanted to talk about this earlier," the brunette pointed out wryly. She finally indulged herself in a little contact, reaching out to rest a hand on the long leg stretched out at her side.

Blue eyes peered at her in entreaty. "Different like that," Sam answered. "Can't you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Janet's thumb started to stroke idly against the body-warmed fabric of her lover's pantleg.

Sam closed her eyes. The heat of that small bit of friction burned inside her, rushing through her brain in a jumble of images and sensations. "You do things to me," she whispered.

"And this is only a recent occurrence? I think I'm offended," Janet replied, a smirk evident in her voice.

Sam wasn't listening, instead focused on the crowd of varying input buzzing along her nerves. It was familiar, somehow, and through the thrumming she recalled Orlin's voice.

"My kind are capable of a level of communication that shares our innermost essence."

"An exchange of spirit," Sam mused aloud.

"What is?"

"That's what happened to us. That's what Orlin called it. He tried it with me and it knocked me out."

Janet's eyes narrowed at the reference to the wayward Ancient that had stalked Sam almost a year before. "He 'exchanged spirit' with you?"

"He tried. It didn't... work very well."

"And you lost consciousness? You never told me about that." The doctor tried to keep the anger out of her voice, and only partially succeeded.

Sam's face creased in a wince. "It wasn't like it was 'good' for me, Janet. It was complete sensory overload."

"So he violated you," Janet's voice rose with her growing upset.

Sam pulled her feet off the bed and scooted her chair closer. "No. No, he didn't. At least I don't think he intended to. He just thought I was capable of something I wasn't yet." She dipped her head, peering at her lover through her lashes. "I couldn't do that until you."

Janet frowned. Whenever she cast her mind back to the moments of ascension back at the Ancient homeworld, the whirl of impressions and meaning grew simply overwhelming. So intense and so profound was the experience, she had no words to attach to it. "Well," she began hesitantly. "We've always been capable of more together than separately."

At that, Sam smiled a bit. "Ever since we got back, everything's just... more intense, somehow. You really don't notice a change?"

"At the risk of inflating your ego to unsustainable levels, I'll have you know that you have always been fairly intense to me, Major Carter," the doctor reponded wryly. "Maybe you're just catching up."

"Maybe," Sam allowed. She regarded her lover quietly. Or maybe she was just that unused to having a lover who possessed capabilities beyond her own. She turned that thought over in her brain a few times, suddenly realizing it to be the truth; Janet had latched onto something far beyond her own comprehension, and despite protestations to the contrary, she had wielded it to change the very makeup of the universe.

"What is it?" Janet murmured, after watching complex thoughts chase around behind her lover's eyes.

"Are you protecting me or yourself?" the blonde wondered aloud.

Janet's nostrils flared, but she didn't answer. Her lover's blue eyes were locked on her face, intense and a little sad. "I don't know what you mean," the doctor said after a long moment.

"Yeah, you do," Sam replied. "I just wish you didn't feel you had to hide it from me."

"I'm not 'hiding' anything, Sam," the brunette spat in frustration. She huddled on the far end of the bunk, tucking her legs underneath her and looking entirely miserable.

Sam dropped her head forward to stare at the floor, berating herself for pushing, and Janet for pushing back. It was obvious from Janet's discomfiture that the topic was troublesome to her lover, but Sam couldn't figure out why. Sam herself had been through enough remarkable and unique changes over the years that she'd learned to become fairly open about the whole thing.

"I don't know what it all means," Janet admitted quietly, as she fiddled with the blanket bunched beneath her. "I don't know what I've become." She looked up at Sam then, her eyes wide and begging for reassurance. "I don't know who we are, Sam. Not anymore."

"We're just... us," Sam said feebly, and shook her head.

"Are we even still human?" the doctor asked, pleading for an easy, affirmative answer, which of course her lover could not immediately give. "Sam, I saw things... I did things... that I don't even know how to describe. I was way more than this," she said, holding out her hands to indicate their ordinary, corporeal selves. "For a while, anyway."

"And you're afraid of what that means," Sam murmured.

"Of course I am," Janet whispered harshly in return. "No one bothered to give me a pamphlet and tell me 'this is what things will be like after you evolve into a higher life form.'"

And there it was, out in the open at last. Sam couldn't stifle a small feeling of relief, as if there had been a splinter stuck under her skin for the past several weeks that had finally worked its way free. "Higher life form or not... you're still you, Janet," she said quietly, putting her whole heart into the words.

"Oh, sure... Just with a few enhancements, like the driving need to save the universe and the occasional ability to read my girlfriend's mind."

Sam smiled, meeting Janet's troubled eyes. "Then you can feel just how much I love you -- 'enhanced' or not."

The doctor's head canted to one side as she returned her lover's intense gaze. "I always could," she said with a smile, then leaned forward and wrapped her fingers around Sam's closest hand. "Can you feel it back?"

The rush of sensation swarmed once more in her brain, and Sam had to shut her eyes. "Oh, yeah," she exhaled. She pried her eyes open again with a breath, and loosed a bemused laugh. "God... You have no idea how much I wish we weren't on duty right now."

Janet's lips twisted in a wry grimace. "I think I might."

Sam chuckled and sat back, pulling reluctantly away from Janet's soft touch. She felt flushed, almost drunk from the power of the moment.

"Major Carter, this is SGC. Please respond," came a muffled voice. The blonde sighed and dug into a pocket to pull out the Tok'ra communicator. Janet just watched her as she gave a succinct report on the events of the day. At one point Sam got up to pace around the small room as she relayed their frustration with the Jumish authorities.

At the conclusion of her report, there was silence for a beat, then Hammond's voice returned. "Major, is Doctor Fraiser there?"

Sam handed over the communicator.

"Fraiser here, sir," Janet replied.

"Doctor... I need to inform you that Cassandra has been admitted to the infirmary."

Janet leapt off her bunk so quickly she nearly whacked her head on the bed above. "What happened, sir?" She looked to Sam and saw her own terror mirrored in her lover's eyes.

Colonel O'Neill's voice broke in. "She's okay, Doc. She's just making stuff float around like before Nirrti fixed her."

"I'm assured by Doctor Warner that this new... condition... poses no apparent threat to her health. She is merely under observation at this point," Hammond added.

Janet felt her pulse hammer out of control. Her daughter was sick, and so, so far away... She didn't even notice when Sam plucked the communicator back out of her hand.

"Sir, permission to end the mission earlier than..."

"Steady, Carter," O'Neill ordered. "Cassie's okay. I swear. We're just keeping an eye on her."

"That's what was bothering her before we left," Janet whispered.

"Apparently this all started a few days ago," Jack continued, as if he'd heard the doctor. "She wasn't too sure what to do about it, but when it was obvious it wasn't just going away, she decided to bring it up."

Sam didn't respond right away, but instead just eyed her lover for a long moment. Finally, she reactivated the comm. "Sir, if you wouldn't mind..."

"We'll yell at you the second anything changes, Carter. I promise," O'Neill replied.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Sam replied. She signed off and tucked the communicator back in her pocket before gazing down at Janet's wide, scared eyes. "Hey, she's okay," Sam said quietly. She lifted her hands to rest on the smaller woman's shoulders, giving a comforting squeeze. "They're taking care of her."

Janet looked up at her in mild panic, not really hearing Sam's reassurance. After a long moment, Sam gave in to her instincts, ignoring protocol to pull her lover into a hard hug. The brunette trembled in her arms, and gratefully returned the embrace.

Sleep just wasn't going to happen. Janet trudged back down the dingy stairs into her makeshift lab, and winced when she flipped on the buzzing overhead lights. She sat in front of her microscope and looked at the array of beakers, test tubes, and slides they'd examined earlier.

Ugart had given them nothing.

But what if Ugart actually had nothing to give?

The doctor frowned. The sooner they got this solved, the sooner they could leave the gray, sleety world of the Jumish and get back to Cassie.

She was profoundly relieved that the balance of SG-1 was still Earthside; if she could trust any other people to look after her daughter in a crisis, it was those three men.

Unfortunately, if she could trust any other people to somehow complicate or multiply the danger her daughter was already in, it was also those same three men. Janet chuckled, picturing the three-shift watch rotation they'd no doubt established to stay with the teen. She could just imagine her daughter's resulting huffy frustration.

"You guys should really give it a break. I don't NEED a watchdog." The teen fidgeted in her bed, and tried not to scratch at the electrodes stuck to her skin.

Teal'c's eyebrow tilted curiously. "I was not aware your pet canine was even allowed on base."

She knew he was teasing, but tried not to give him the satisfaction of a smile. "This is an invasion of privacy," she said grumpily.

"Perhaps," the Jaffa acknowledged, as he pulled up a stool and sat down. "But you did promise to teach me how to play chess."

Janet shook herself. For a moment it was like she'd actually been in the infirmary watching the entire conversation. The walls of the lab seemed a bit cramped all of a sudden, so she wandered down the hall and stepped onto the stoop of the building to get some fresh air. She shivered when the icy alien wind instantly cut through her.

Airman Kirkovich was sitting on the top step of the small porch, and he immediately leapt to attention. "Ma'am. Can I help you?"

"No, Airman. Just taking a break," she said with a smile. "Speaking of breaks... How long are you planning to stay out here?"

"Lieutenant Satterfield will relieve me in an hour, ma'am."

Janet nodded and wrapped her arms around her torso. "Thank you for keeping an eye on things. Those four snipers out there are a little nervewracking."

"Four, ma'am?" he asked in surprise. He'd only counted three.

"Mmhmm. There's one in the boarded window in that brick building. Eighth floor."

Kirkovich took a slow turn, casually casting an eye toward the building in question. Sure enough, there was a telltale shift in the shadows of one half-boarded window. He completed his survey and turned back to the doctor, regarding her curiously. "That's quite a catch, ma'am."

She smiled a bit. "What I don't get is why they dragged us out here just to keep us under armed guard. Wouldn't they have been able to keep a closer eye on us if they'd kept us at the base near the Stargate?"

He wasn't sure if the question was rhetorical or not; superior officers didn't tend to ask his opinion on things, but she seemed to be expecting an answer. "I'm not sure, ma'am."

"Me neither," she said quietly, her attention focused on something he couldn't see.

"They really don't want us here," Kirkovich offered.

"But they asked us to come anyway, and have deliberately kept us isolated." Janet shook her head, then bade the airman a bemused farewell as she turned to wander back to her tests.

She only got about two steps away before Kirkovich stopped her. "Ma'am?" he called, alarmed. "I think they just pulled out."

Janet spun around and moved back to his side, squinting in to the dark as she waited for him to confirm the snipers' absence with his binoculars. The lonely street, already eerily quiet, was suddenly oppressive in its abandonment. Her gaze hardened as she studied the shadows. "Wake up our team," she ordered sharply. Kirkovich dropped his binoculars and immediately took off to comply.

Her jaw clenched, then she spun on her heel to return to the lab to start packing.

Sam tugged a fleece sweater over her head, ignoring the static that made her hair stick in about twelve different directions. "What's up?" she asked as she rounded the doorway into the lab.

"Our Jumish military escort just vanished," Janet said tersely. She powered off the generator that had been driving their equipment and started unplugging things at random.

The blonde scowled, not fully understanding the source of the doctor's alarm. "Maybe it was a shift change?"

Janet paused, and gave her lover a look. "Not likely," she said on a tense inhalation of breath.

"Okay," Sam agreed, as the real gravity of Janet's prediction finally sunk in. "You think something's coming?" It was a question not of Janet's professional opinion, but of her latent precognitive abilities, and they both knew it.

The doctor's eyes locked on her lover's for a moment, then darted away. "I have no idea," Janet muttered, as she started stacking test tubes in a protective case.

"Janet," Sam said, very quietly.

"Something's coming," Janet acknowledged, avoiding her lover's intense gaze.

Sam nodded and turned to head down the hallway, gesturing for Kirkovich to follow.

The blonde stalked back out onto the stoop of the building, and swore when she heard a dull explosion off in the distance. Whatever the political situation really was on this world, it was safe to say it had just become rather unstable. "What are the chances of us being able to find our way back to the gate?" she muttered, peering at a column of smoke as it rose behind the buildings.

"I remember the route, ma'am," Kirkovich answered. "If that helps." He hesitated a bit when the major looked back at him sharply. "With our travel time and estimated speed, I'd say we're about twenty clicks from the Jumish base."

She grinned, gave the airman an approving nod, and headed back to the lab. Satterfield was tugging a heavy backpack into place across her shoulders, and Janet was stowing the last of their gear. "We need to assume whatever just happened has probably jeopardized our relations with the Jumish government," Sam announced, largely unnecessarily. "Let's head back to the gate, then request backup from SGC if we need it." She waited for arguments or suggestions, but the team merely shared a few glances of grim determination.

"We have twelve hours until the next scheduled contact from Earth," Janet said, ignoring the pang of dread that if they heard anything sooner, it would likely be because of a change in Cassie's condition.

"Right. So let's move under cover of darkness while we can," Sam continued. "We need to stay out of sight and move quickly. Our equipment is disposable at this point. Keep your 'zats ready, and keep your eyes open." She looked them over one last time. "Questions?"

"No ma'am," Satterfield and Kirkovich said in unison.

"Let's get home," Janet said, giving Sam a look heavy with meaning.

"Right," Sam agreed. She spun and lead the team back out of the building.

Andra Ugart was just bounding up the steps of the building as they filed out, and she nearly collided with Sam. "Major Carter. I'm going to have to ask that you and your team come with me," she said. Nervous apprehension practically poured off of her body.

"Only if you plan on escorting us back to the Stargate," Sam replied.

From two steps behind her lover, Janet could see other forms moving quickly toward them across the dark boulevard. She carefully tugged her 'zat out of her pocket, and saw Kirkovich do the same.

"Please," Ugart insisted. "You will not be harmed."

The shadowed forms behind the politician resolved into about a dozen men and women in Jumish civilian garb, carrying an assortment of foreign but unmistakably deadly projectile weapons. They shifted nervously, but kept their guard mostly down.

Sam forced herself not to react, instead staring impassively at Ugart. Over her shoulder, she could feel Janet step a bit closer. The other two soldiers waited on alert for an outright threat. "I need to ask that you take us back to your Stargate," Sam reiterated in a quiet, measured tone.

"I'm afraid that's not possible," Ugart replied. "You must come with us." She took a step backward, and held her hands out at her sides.

The armed group behind her stirred a bit, and one woman moved to whisper harshly in her ear. "Andra, we have to move on."

"I brought these people here to help us," Ugart whispered back. "We have to protect them."

Fighting their way out wasn't an acceptable risk, Sam decided as she eyed their opposition. They were significantly outnumbered and outgunned, and even if the guards were as inexperienced with the weapons as they appeared, her team would still likely be cut down before they could get away. Further, if Ugart's people really thought they needed protecting, then they could probably use all the allies they could get. With a subtle wave of her hand, she ordered her companions to stand down.

Ugart's shoulders dropped in unmasked relief. "This way. Quickly," she said, and turned to move swiftly down the abandoned street. Her armed escorts parted to let her pass, then waited for the four offworlders to follow. Sam cast a brief look at Janet, then set out after the politician into the darkness.

Forty minutes later, they'd reached what looked like yet another nondescript, abandoned building. One of the armed men rapped a stoccatto pattern on a door, and they could hear as it was unlatched from within. It swung open to reveal a stout, anxious woman, who jerked her head once to indicate they should all hurry inside.

They descended a dark flight of stairs that took them below street level, into a set of damp and ill-lit tunnels.

Janet had to skip every dozen or so steps to keep up with the pace of their escorts. Her alarm upon their "capture" had faded once she realized these people meant them no particular harm. The armed men and women surrounding them had their attention trained far more on their surroundings than on their charges.

A few hundred more feet through the underground passage, and they hurried up another rickety flight of stairs, into what looked like a renovated version of the building in which they'd originally set up their laboratory.

They drew to a halt as a stout older man approached Ugart. "Which are the scientists?"

Ugart pointed to Carter and Fraiser. "They are."

"Very well. You two will come with me," the man pronounced, gesturing down a hallway. "The others will be taken to our secondary front."

"You get my whole team or nothing," Sam countered. The man stared back at her with the impatient air of someone unused to being opposed.

Finally, Ugart stepped between them. "Your companions will not be harmed."

"We stay together," the major said firmly.

"They will be looking for four off-worlders traveling together," Ugart pointed out. "It will be easiest for us to conceal your whereabouts if you divide your group."

"Conceal us from whom?" Janet interjected, drawing annoyed glares from the Jumish around them.

The diplomat sighed. "I will explain. For now, your people need to rendezvous with our other cell. Time is of the essence."

Ugart had a point, as much as Sam hated to admit it. Their fate rested largely on the goodwill of the Jumish people, and Ugart's companions were so far the only ones who hadn't pointed their guns at them. By now they'd come too far, and Sam was out of options.

She shot a look at Satterfield, who shrugged faintly. "I think we'll be all right, ma'am," the younger woman said.

The major's jaw clenched as she turned back to the diplomat. "They keep their communications devices and weapons."

"Of course," Ugart said immediately. "In fact... Viktor?" A young man stepped forward at her summons. "Would you get some spare rifles for our guests, please?" He nodded and hurried away, and the politician turned back to Sam. "You are more likely to blend in if you're not seen with your energy weapons."

Sam ignored her, and turned the junior members of her team, giving hushed orders to check in every half hour. As they hefted their new alien weapons and checked their ammunition, she gave Kirkovich one last, pointed look, and told him to keep an eye on where they were going. He nodded solemnly, understanding the order to keep track of their relative distances should they need to reunite in a hurry.

Finally, Satterfield and Kirkovich were shuffled off amongst another huddled escort, back down the stairs and into the tunnels below.

Sam watched them go, and wondered what the hell they'd gotten themselves into.

A few minutes later, Sam and Janet found themselves alone in yet another sterile gray barracks room, seated together on a low bunk and waiting for Ugart's promised return.

Sam stayed rigidly alert, wishing desperately that she could pace or chew on her nail and think like she usually did when things spun out of her control. Unfortunately she didn't have the luxury of nervous habits; she was in command, and now her team was split up on a world teetering at the apparent verge of outright civil war. With that thought and a deliberately slow exhale of breath, she turned to look at her companion.

Beside her, Janet's dark features were burdened, worried in equal measures about themselves and about their daughter. Sam suddenly decided a mild distraction was in order, for both their sakes. She nudged her lover with her elbow. "Hey, remember the first time we were locked up together?"

It took a moment for the question to filter through Janet's brain before she blinked in recognition. "The 'Women Behind Bars movie' crack?" the doctor answered wryly. "How could I forget?"

"I kept hoping you'd notice I was flirting with you," the blonde admitted, a little sheepishly.

"Oh, trust me, I noticed."

Sam skittered to a mental halt and peered at the other woman. That wasn't the answer she was expecting.

"You're not exactly good at 'subtle,' Sam," Janet said dryly. "I figured if I threw my ex-husband up like a flare you'd back off." She could feel the mild hurt in Sam's eyes. "Oh, come on. We hardly knew each other, and there you were being all tall and beautiful and awkward and heroic, in a cell with me and three other women... What was I supposed to do?"

Sam's eyebrows shot up. "You thought I was beautiful?"

"You missed 'awkward.' Of course you were beautiful. Stop it." Janet poked her in the thigh. "Besides, that's ultimately what got us out of there. I figured if I couldn't withstand full-bore Carter Charm, those blissed-out airmen hardly stood a chance."

The blonde grinned and dropped her gaze as she scooted in just a little closer to her lover. "I'm usually a little better at 'subtle.'" She scowled at Janet's answering indelicate snort. "No, really. I was just so happy to have someone I could actually talk to," she said, thinking back on their early interactions. It was no wonder she'd come on a little strong. "Somehow, I knew you got it, you know? I was so excited to be around you, I could hardly contain myself."

Now, that explained a lot. Janet often thought of her first months in the SGC as a slightly more cerebral version of boot camp, where she was under constant pressure to be brilliant and right, and to get smarter by the day. It had been exhausting, going ten rounds at a time as Samantha Carter's intellectual sparring partner, and she never quite felt she'd measured up. She'd never suspected that Sam had challenged her because of the sheer joy of finding such a challenge herself.

"I'm glad I didn't totally scare you off," Sam said quietly, propping her chin on the smaller woman's shoulder.

"Little chance of that, Sam. You had me at 'Women Behind Bars movie,'" Janet muttered.

"Well, you had me at 'libidinous,'" Sam shot back with a grin.

Dark eyes rolled to glare at Sam for a moment before Janet broke into a reluctant smile. "Okay, so you weren't the only one doing a bit of flirting that day."

Sam raised her head to press a kiss to Janet's temple. "I knew it," she whispered, pulling in all the comfort of that stolen moment together. Janet snuggled just a bit closer and released a sigh, her expression a bit more relaxed than before.

The blonde grinned in satisfaction, feeling her head clear just a little. Mission accomplished.

The knob on the heavy door squealed painfully as it opened. Sam sat up straighter, but did not shift away from her lover. She remained seated protectively at the smaller woman's side, raising her gaze in defiance as Ugart stole into the room.

The politician eyed them for a moment, then sighed and closed the door behind her.

"I must apologize for involving your people in this," Ugart said, as she sagged slightly in apparent exhaustion.

"What exactly is happening?" Janet asked.

"What isn't?" Ugart replied sadly. A far-off explosion rattled dully through the shutters on the window, drawing her dismayed attention for a moment. "My world is disintegrating, and my people are dying." She released a ragged breath before her next admission. "And our own government did this to us."

"You think they've released the contagion into the population?" Janet asked, sharing a look with Sam. "I don't understand."

"Neither do I," the diplomat admitted. "But I cannot explain this otherwise. I believe they know what is killing our people."

"Do you think they have the means of stopping it?" Sam asked. For an instant, Ugart's shoulders dropped, and her natural bearing of responsibility and command fell away. Sam realized the woman was probably no older than thirty, carrying a burden for which she'd never been prepared. "The explosions, and the militia -- your people have revolted, haven't they?" Sam said, as the pieces finally fell into place. "To try and force the government into revealing what they actually know?"

"You've started a coup," Janet breathed.

Ugart glanced at her sharply, but didn't deny it.

"You used your position to incite the citizens..."

"They didn't need any incitement," Ugart interrupted angrily. "There have been riots building for weeks. My people need answers, and we need them now." She watched the two off-worlders for a long moment, then strode slowly across the room to draw back the shutters on the window and stare out. The faint flames of a distant fire shone ominously in her eyes. "When I woke up this morning I didn't expect I'd be leading a civil war by nightfall," she said, her voice hollow with dread. "Jumis forgive me."

Sam and Janet looked at each other with identical expressions of foreboding. "If you want us to figure out if the government is behind the illness killing your people," Janet said, "Then I still need to examine an actual victim."

Ugart nodded and turned back to face them gravely. "And so you shall," she replied, in a voice tight with anguish. "My sister. She was found twelve hours ago."

Cassie stared at the doctors conferring quietly in the corner of the observation room, watching their faces for any sign of what they thought was really going on with her.

Seated off to her left, Jack was eyeing the doctors too, his own curiosity plain on his face. He met her gaze every so often to give her a reassuring smile, or a comical eyebrow tilt.

She missed her mom, she realized abruptly. She'd had to deal with Janet's frequent absences due to base emergencies or the occasional trip offworld, but never when she was sick before.

Except she didn't feel sick. This time around there was no fever, no seizures, and no crippling dizziness. She reached out with her mind to lift a pair of forceps off the tray across the room and make it twirl in the air, just as Warner and his medical entourage moved warily toward her.

"How are you feeling, Ms. Fraiser?" Doctor Warner asked carefully.

"I feel fine."

"Well, that's good," he said with a nod. "Because every test we have says you are fine, except for some unusual neural activity we can't yet identify. I'm guessing it has to do with... that." He pointed to the metal instrument still spinning carelessly in midair across the room.

She looked blankly back at him, then looked at Jack for help. The colonel read the signal perfectly, and pushed himself to his feet. "So she could get out of here, maybe?" the colonel asked.

Warner hesitated. "I wouldn't be comfortable having her away from the base, but I think we could at least discharge her from the infirmary."

Jack looked to Cassie. "What do you think, kiddo? We'll set you up with some quarters and put you to work?"

"Work?" she said dubiously.

"Sure. Daniel could use a lab assistant."

"What about school?" What about my friends? What about summer vacation?

Jack pursed his lips. "Well, you were in the middle of finals, right? We can arrange to give the rest of your tests here. We'll make sure you don't cheat and everything."

Cassie sighed and nodded, knowing that was the best deal she was going to get. The colonel patted her shoulder and took off to make the necessary arrangements, leaving her sitting pensive and alone in the infirmary.

She couldn't help brooding, even as she remotely lifted other instruments off the tray to spin in graceful arcs around the twirling forceps. Idly, she wondered if she would ever actually be allowed to leave the mountain complex again. What about my life?

"You all right, Lieutenant?"

Satterfield took the proffered hand in front of her face, and let Kirkovich pull her upright from the splintered floorboard she'd tripped over. "After we've been captured together on an alien planet that's on the brink of civil war, you can call me by my first name, Joe. It's an SGC rule."

He smiled at her in the darkness. "No can do, ma'am."

"Right," she answered wryly. She tugged the Tok'ra communicator out of her coat and keyed it. "Satterfield to Major Carter."

"Carter here," came the immediate answer.

Elaine sighed in relief. "Checking in as ordered, Major. We're holed up in a bunker on the west side of town."

"How far from the gate?"

Satterfield looked at Kirkovich, who shrugged. "Ten, maybe twelve clicks?" he guessed.

"Good," Carter answered. "Try to maintain that position."

The lieutenant looked around at the exhausted faces of their Jumish counterparts, as they hefted their weapons and peered out of boarded windows. "I don't think that will be a problem, ma'am."

She signed off, then settled in with Kirkovich to wait.

Sam tucked the communication device back into her pocket and tapped on the window to the lab where Janet was working. Rendered slightly clumsy by her ungainly biohazard suit, Janet executed a careful, slow turn to look back at her. The blonde's eyebrows rose, silently inquiring as to her progress. All Sam could see through the cowl of the doctor's hood were Janet's dark eyes, and she could read the emotion there plainly; whatever Janet had found, it had her nervous.

Sam nodded and stepped away from the window, letting Janet get back to work.

Finally, Janet had closed the Y-incision and tugged a sheet back over the dead woman's body. Sam squinted at the woman's familiar, if emaciated, profile as it was obscured by the flimsy cloth, then she waited while Janet shuffled back out of the lab and gratefully pulled off her suit's containment hood.

"They could have been twins," Sam said quietly.

"They were. Identical," the doctor answered with a tired bob of her head. Ugart had admitted as much to her earlier.

"So what did you find?"

Janet scowled as she stripped off pieces of the biohazard suit. "Her internal organs look like those of a hundred year old woman. If her heart hadn't failed first, everything else was pretty close behind."

"So the disease caused spontaneous, rapid aging."

"I'm not so sure we're looking at a natural pathogen. Her body shows no signs of trying to fight off whatever it was that caused this."

"Artificial, spontaneous, rapid aging?" Sam asked. It sounded a little too familiar. "Like the Argosians?"

"Maybe. And maybe for the same kinds of reasons."

That got Sam's attention, even through the waves of stress and fatigue that were blurring the world before her. "A Goa'uld experiment?"

Janet gave her a thoughtful look, then turned as Ugart walked slowly into the room. The diplomat appeared unable to bring herself to look through the window at the obscured body of her sister.

"Did you find what you need?" Ugart asked, her voice strained.

"It's a start," Janet answered, consciously injecting a note of encouragement into her voice. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Sam watched the diplomat nod. "We're sorry for your loss," she offered quietly.

Ugart's eyes brightened with unshed tears, and she nodded once more. "I thought I was lucky... I was the only person I knew who hadn't lost someone."

"Can you tell us what happened?" the doctor asked gently.

"No," Ugart answered in evident despair. "No one ever knows. No one ever sees anything... Someone just discovers a body." Finally, she dragged her gaze toward the window, barely holding herself together as she stared at the white sheet. "I... found her... this morning. That was when I knew..." She took a ragged breath. "Something had to change." After a moment she looked away from the body, and held her chin up defiantly. "What I did, I did for every Jumish citizen who has lost a sister. Or brother."

"We understand," Janet replied. It might not have been the most politic response, but she could sense Sam's agreement anyway.

The diplomat studied the other women for a beat, then sighed. "The sun will rise in two hours. I must admit I am not certain what will happen when tomorrow comes, Doctor Fraiser." She turned and trudged away, the weight of her entire world heavy on her shoulders.

Dawn arrived.

Surprisingly, nothing much happened.

Sam tried to keep her concentration on the tissue samples Janet had given her to analyze, but was more interested in the militia members pacing outside their door. She'd noted that they'd gone through three shift changes just while she and Janet were working. Whatever discord had kept the Jumish people up that night had apparently tired them out; she hadn't heard any more explosions in a couple hours, and the last time Satterfield had reported in, it sounded like the militia's immediacy had worn off.

The organ Janet was examining made a splorching sound as she transferred it to a smaller pan. Sam winced involuntarily, and tried to refocus on her work. She could handle the tinier bits of humanity; cells and slivers of tissue that fit under a microscope were hard to resolve into a former human being. Plus, they didn't tend to smell quite so appreciably...

"You don't have to do this part, Sam."

The blonde looked up, careful to keep her eyes on Janet's half-obscured face and not on the larger samples she had spread out in front of her. "I'm okay," she lied, swallowing deliberately.

Janet gave her an understanding look; her eyes were blessedly warm over the sterile white of her surgical mask. "You're making me queasy by proxy."

"Sorry," Sam answered with a chuckle. She managed a smile at her lover and bent back over her work.

Cassie dug her hands into the pockets of her baggy, borrowed fatigues as she paced slowly around Daniel's lab. The difference between his workspace and Sam's or her mother's was striking; while you could tell if a speck of dust was out of place in Janet's office, and Sam's lab was always a little cluttered but still fiercely ordered, she couldn't even walk in Daniel's lab without colliding into piles of priceless artifacts or alien manuscripts.

He was perched on the one available stool, and seemed as at a loss of what to do with her as she was with him. For a couple minutes they just stared at each other while Daniel drummed his fingers on his desk.

She jerked her chin toward the inscription on the chalkboard. "So what's that stuff?"

He stood and moved behind her to look at the Ancient symbols thoughtfully. "Oh, well, that's... that's a translation I've been working on," he explained. "We found it in a temple..."

"'Hostis humani generis...'" Cassie said idly. She reached up to trace the symbols with the tips of her fingers. "Do you think it's about the Goa'uld?"

Daniel blinked. "Wait. You can read that?"

"Yeah. 'The enemy of humanity,'" she translated slowly. "Then there's something about the stars."

He grabbed his notes and started writing furiously. "What else does it say?"

She tilted her head and began to read, her voice gaining confidence in the ancient dialect with each syllable.

Three hours after the sun had risen on the chilly Jumish morning, Sam decided they were due a break. She'd already ordered Satterfield and Kirkovich to get some rest, and now just had to figure out how to get her lover to do the same.

She eyed their militia guards, and seized a moment when they weren't paying a lot of attention. She stepped behind Janet, bumping into her lover's back with an audible yawn.

"You should get some sleep," Janet said automatically.

"So should you," Sam said back. She stepped very deliberately against Janet's warmth, resting her hands on the counter's surface to either side of Janet's waist and effectively pinning the smaller woman there.

The doctor kept working for a minute or two, ignoring the amused, pointed stare from her lover, as well as the tickle of breath across the back of her neck. Finally, she set down her samples and turned within Sam's arms. "Let me guess. You're not going to rest until I do."

"That's right, Doctor."

Janet's eyes flicked over the pressing proximity of her lover's stance, and the rather suggestive position they were both in. "You're being awfully forward today, Major."

"Must be exhaustion," Sam replied with a smile. "You should probably come sleep with me before it gets worse."

The doctor snorted. "That is quite possibly the worst line I've ever heard."

Sam didn't reply, but lifted one hand to tug her fingertips through Janet's disheveled hair. The brunette was pale with fatigue, and probably only managing to stay upright out of sheer stubbornness. After a moment, Janet let her head drop forward, admitting defeat.

"C'mon," Sam murmured. She put a hand to the small of Janet's back and led her out the lab and down the hallway to where their bunkroom waited, somewhat surprised when their watchdogs didn't even murmur a word of protest. The young, scruffy militia members merely trailed after them obediently, taking new positions outside the dormitory door.

Janet just stood there, blinking away her weariness and watching as Sam dragged two cots side by side, then draped blankets over them. "Do you think that's really a good idea?" the doctor asked, eyeing the final configuration.

"I don't care," Sam answered blandly. "And if these people want us to save their civilization, they won't care either."

Deciding she was too tired to argue, Janet merely shrugged and crawled into the makeshift bed. Sam followed, taking the cot between Janet and the door. They laid on their sides facing each other, shifting against the rough covers and trying to relax.

"You already know what's going on here," Sam murmured, as she stroked Janet's mussed hair.

The doctor yawned. "Now who's doing the mind reading?"

Sam waited. She knew that tone, and knew Janet was about to start thinking aloud.

"We've seen technology that controls aging before," Janet began, referring to the nanocytes they'd discovered years previous on Argos.

"Right. Pelops wanted to accelerate generational development to monitor human evolution."

"Mmhmm," the brunette replied, only half awake. The repetitive motion of Sam's fingers sliding through her hair was having its intended soothing effect, and she found it hard to muster her thoughts. "But that time the nanocytes were present throughout the tissue, instead of..." She took one last deep breath and surrendered to slumber.

Within a couple of hours, the hushed base rumors of Cassie's newfound linguistic skills had found their way to Jack O'Neill. He immediately went to Daniel's lab, then waited in the doorway while he watched the teen tear through a translation that had been puzzling the archeologist for weeks.

"Does this refer to the 'stars,' or the 'travelers?'" Daniel asked, pointing to a particular pronoun.

The teen tilted her head. "Both, I think."

"Huh. Okay," Daniel grunted in reply, as he scribbled furiously in his notebook.

Jack took advantage of the break to step fully into the office. "So, you can read Ancient, huh?"

Cassie nodded miserably. She looked as enthusiastic at the discovery as Jack himself had been years before. "Mom'll be thrilled I've finally gotten good at a foreign language."

He could hear the wistfulness there, and the worry. Over her head, he exchanged a glance with Daniel, who could only shrug.

"You know," Jack began. "These Ancients really piss me off, sometimes." He waited until she looked back at him. "They just leave bits of some galactic mystery lying around like cheese."

Daniel and Cassie only blinked at him.

"You know... In a maze? With mice?" He waved an impatient hand at the Ancient texts. "This stuff is the cheese. They scatter it around 'cause they think we're not smart enough to get there on our own."

"Get where on our own?" Daniel asked, still perplexed by the butchered metaphor.

"I don't know, Daniel. That's why it's a mystery," the colonel replied in exasperation.

"You think this is all on purpose?" Cassie asked in a small voice. "Like, according to some kind of plan?" She wasn't sure if the notion was reassuring or terrifying.

"I dunno, kid," Jack answered honestly. "Let's just say it wouldn't surprise me."

Janet always said that she enjoyed watching Sam sleep. While Sam herself thought that particular habit was a little nutty, she couldn't see any real reason to argue with it. She also happened to know that Janet tended to get up in the middle of the night to check on Cassie, too, despite the fact that the girl hadn't suffered from nightmares for years. It was just one of those automatic things the doctor did for her own peace of mind; whether you were a lover, a daughter, or a patient, she didn't let herself relax unless she knew you were okay.

So when Sam found herself still anxiously awake as the fitful Jumish sun struggled to illuminate their dusty refuge, she took the opportunity to watch Janet for once. The smaller woman was curled on her side, facing Sam, with one hand tucked comfortably under her chin. The pose was impossibly cute, and Sam found herself smiling out of sheer reflex. Even unconscious, Janet's presence drew her, filling her with a burst of overwhelming tenderness.

There were times she wished that they'd been afforded the opportunity to meet and fall in love in rather more ordinary circumstances. She'd once complained that their relationship had been yanked wholly out of their control, that they were just along for the ride in a grand plot of cosmic forces.

She looked around at the darkened room on the alien world, feeling the pressing weight of destiny around and between them, and knew that Big Things were coming, yet again. She knew it as surely as she somehow knew that Janet was the pivot point for human history itself, and that she was meant to help... somehow.

It seemed "ordinary" just wasn't their forte. Sam grinned, unable to dodge that particular realization.

She couldn't help but wonder, though, if she would have loved Janet if she hadn't been destined to. If the complicated twists of fate that had brought them together loosened enough to allow them an opportunity to go their separate ways, would she still have the same bone-deep longing for the doctor's companionship? Would the sight of Janet's smile still be so beautiful it hurt?

The blonde sighed, and raised a hand to stroke her lover's somnolent brow. In response to the gentle touch, Janet's breathing hitched, and she shifted a bit in her sleep, releasing a bare puff of breath. When she settled again, she was half bathed in a strip of orange, tired afternoon light.

Sam almost laughed aloud. Instead, she bent close to Janet's ear and whispered, "You are so amazing."

Fated or not, there was no place she would rather be.

Right on schedule a few hours later, the wormhole bound for the Jumish world flared open, and Sergeant Davis keyed his standard communications protocol, tapping the Tok'ra comm relay on the deployed MALP.

"SGC to Major Carter."

He waited a beat, watching the screen for MALP telemetry. He felt General Hammond approach over his shoulder, and tried again.

"Major Carter, this is SGC. Do you copy?"

After a few more seconds of silence, the wormhole automatically disengaged.

Jack had been hovering in the background of the control room, waiting for the chance to update Fraiser on Cassie's condition. "That's not so good," he muttered, stepping forward.

Hammond grunted his agreement. "Ready another MALP and dial again, Sergeant." He turned and pinned a look on Jack. "And have SG-5 get prepped, just in case." He waited in the control room, outwardly the picture of perfect command calm. It wouldn't do to add his own agitation to the growing unease among his subordinates.

Within ten minutes, a second MALP was lumbering into position at the base of the ramp.

It was moments like this, while waiting for the gate to cycle through another set of seven chevrons, that George allowed himself to admit that he played favorites. SG-1 was his favorite of all the teams under his command; the people were top-notch, they had been through things no human should have to endure, and still they managed to save the world on a regular basis. When any of them were in danger, he felt more helpless than usual. Most of the time all he wanted to do was grab a rifle and charge into the gate after them.

This time it was ten times worse knowing Fraiser was out there, too.

If any of the technicians around him hadn't had their attention completely focused on the gate, they might have noticed the general's fingers tapping an impatient rhythm on his thigh.

"MALP is clear," Davis reported. "Receiving telemetry."

The flash of a staff weapon's energy blast bisected the screen in crystal clarity before the feed cut to static.

Hammond swore softly.

Only Sergeant Davis heard him. He paled as he watched his CO stalk out of the control room, then flinched when Hammond barked out orders for a briefing right now.

Colonel O'Neill was right. This was not good at all.

"There they are," Janet breathed in triumph. She stood up to let Sam sit in her place in front of the microscope, stretching subtly while the blonde adjusted the eyepiece to squint at the sample slide.

There were hundreds of microscopic machines, all clumped together, discernible from the surrounding brain tissue only by their artificial angles against the smear of organic cells.

"Nanocytes, just like you thought," Sam agreed. "They look inactive." That much was a relief.

"Mmhmm. I'm guessing this version goes dormant when the victim dies."

"But I don't understand why we didn't find them before. On Argos they were so much more aggressive... systemic."

"These had to have been modified," Janet replied. "All other evidence indicates the Jumish are aging normally, until these are triggered or activated somehow."

"And you've only found them in brain tissue."

The doctor nodded thoughtfully. "Which tells me they're either doing something specific in that portion of the brain, or they're meant to be collected and analyzed later."

With that little revelation, Sam felt her jaw set. "All of which means we have an active Goa'uld presence on this planet. Funny how the Consulate didn't mention that before."

"Well, if Ugart's right, the government has probably been handing over their own people as test subjects."

Grimly, Sam stepped away from the microscope and summoned the attention of their guards. "We need to see Ugart. Now." After the young men scurried off to locate their leader, she turned back to Janet, finding thoughtful dark eyes fastened on her.

"And when exactly were you going to mention that we're well past check-in from Earth?" the doctor asked quietly.

Sam shrugged. "It's only been a few hours. Not an emergency, yet."

Janet's eyebrows shot up. "Just when do we hit 'emergency' status?"

"Officially?" Sam sighed. "About twenty minutes."

"Satterfield to Major Carter," the young lieutenant repeated for the fifth time into her comm. "Major Carter, do you copy?"

Next to her, Kirkovich was trying his best not to look nervous. "What do we do, ma'am?"

Elaine got to her feet, and grabbed the sleeve of a nearby militia member. "How are you maintaining contact with your central group?" she demanded.

The young man swallowed nervously. "Uh... right now? We're sort of... not. City communications have been severed."

"Nice of you to tell us that," Satterfield snarled, and he flinched. She blew out a heavy sigh, then looked around. "You guys must have had a contingency plan for this."

There were a few quiet murmurs, but no one answered her question directly.

Kirkovich sidled a little closer. "Maybe we should get to the Stargate. If our communications relay has been disabled, that means the gate may have been compromised," he said quietly.

"That's what I'm thinking," Elaine agreed. "But I'd rather not leave these people behind. For their sake and ours."

"The ring is at the military base," a young woman chirped. "We're supposed to converge our forces there anyway, to get weapons and try to get the military to back us." She withstood some particularly disapproving glares from her older cohorts. "What?" she asked defiantly.

The lieutenant eyed her, then for the first time took a good look at the faces of the other militia members. They were exhausted, afraid, and God, were they young. She was, suddenly, the most well-trained and competent military mind these people had. And they were watching her intently.

Elaine took a deep breath, and felt Kirkovich at her shoulder, his presence a friendly bit of solidarity. "Great. So when are we leaving?" she asked, her voice easily carrying across the room.

"This is not a matter for outsiders," said a low voice from behind her. An older man, presumably the de facto leader of this portion of the militia, emerged from the shadows.

"Ordinarily, I'd agree," Elaine replied. "But we're here now, and we can help each other. My people will be sending other teams through the gate to find us."

"Whose side will they be on?" came a snide remark from across the room.

"Mine," Elaine said sharply. "So whose side do you want me to be on?"

A low murmur buzzed around the room, as they debated the merits of permitting even more interference from the off-worlders.

"You've trusted us this far," Kirkovich said reasonably. "If we wanted to help your government put you down, we would have done it by now. But it sounds like we both want the same thing - to get to the Stargate and get reinforcements."

The grumbles of dissent eased.

"It's not safe out there," said a particularly scruffy man. The people around him nodded gravely in agreement.

Satterfield couldn't help but exhale a laugh. "It's not 'safe' to start a civil war, either," she said dryly, choosing not to point out that they hadn't heard so much as a siren in the distance for hours. "What about the underground tunnels?"

"They aren't well mapped," the man replied, but his tone was far less confident as murmurs rose around him. Elaine merely waited for a few moments, letting the wave of uncertainty and vague dissent wash over the room. Finally, another teenaged boy spoke up to her left.

"I'll go with you," he said. "They're expecting us to be there."

Grudgingly, most of the group agreed with his point, and after a few minutes two soldiers and a couple dozen armed revolutionaries stole back into the dark tunnels under the city.

Jack paused for a moment outside Daniel's lab, allowing himself the luxury of a brief sigh. Then he squared his shoulders, put on a smile, and stepped into the doorway. "Hey Cass, Daniel," he said genially. "How's it going?"

His forced casualness wasn't fooling anybody.

"What's wrong?" Cassie demanded immediately.

The colonel winced a bit. "We've lost contact with Sam's team," he explained. "Teal'c and I are going with SG-5 and 10 to investigate."

Daniel straightened. "I'll go with you."

"Nah. Hammond thinks it'll be best if you stay here with Cassie."

The younger man's eyebrows shot up. "'No?'" Two and a half teams were being dispatched on what was presumably a rescue mission, and he wasn't allowed to make the trip? When Jack dropped his gaze guiltily, Daniel did some quick mental math. SG-5 and SG-10 were marine units. They were expecting a fight on the other end.

Daniel bristled a bit. He might be a scientist, but he still knew his way around a P-90, and was often pretty resourceful in battle.

Then suddenly he realized -- he wasn't being asked to stay behind. He was being asked to stay with Cassie. If her abilities developed further -- which they showed every indication of doing -- she could wind up only speaking Ancient, and only able to communicate with Daniel.

All of which meant Jack wasn't really expecting to come home.

The entire progression of thought took less than five seconds, and Jack had watched the understanding unfold in the younger man's eyes. He also saw the moment of realization, when Daniel turned suddenly pale.

"So, yeah," Jack said, as he swung his arms jauntily, then turned to address Cassie. "We'll be back before you know it, kiddo. And your mom... moms will kick your ass for skipping school. No worries."

She was a smart kid, who had seen too much tragedy in her young life to be blind to the risks these people took every day on behalf of people just like her. She stepped around Daniel's desk and hugged Jack, hard. "Be careful," she whispered.

Jack patted her hair a bit awkwardly, then disengaged from her grasp. "You got it," he murmured. He looked over at Daniel, nodded once, then hurried off to prep with the teams.

"I do not understand what this means," Ugart said plaintively.

"We've seen this kind of technology before. It's pretty safe to say your people didn't develop it," Sam explained.

"But where else would it have come from?" the politician asked. She had thought the events of the past two days had placed her beyond the capability of shock. Now it had dulled her thought processes to the point that she could not comprehend the subtle implications of her government's true treachery. "Did you do this?"

Sam shook her head. "No, this is beyond our capabilities as well."

"Then who?" Ugart demanded again.

"Your government told our initial team that your people hadn't had contact with the Goa'uld for generations," Janet said patiently.

"We have not," Ugart insisted. "Jumis left our world hundreds of years ago."

Sam took a deep breath. The answer would be pretty damn clear once the politician got over her denial. "Your world is falling apart, Consul. Clearly you haven't been sustaining yourselves as well as the government would have you think."

"And so you believe they have traded our lives to the Goa'uld?" Ugart blurted, her voice rising even as she felt the truth of the allegation. "To what end?"

It was, of course, the question they had yet to answer. Whatever experiment the Goa'uld had set in motion here, it was likely not to reveal its true purpose until the Jumish people were wiped out.

Sam and Janet shared a glance, and the doctor stepped forward.

"Consul, are multiple births common among your people?" Janet asked.

"Yes, ever since the time of Jumis," Ugart answered, utterly bewildered. Her confusion deepened the the furrows of her brow. "It was his 'blessing' to our world."

"You said many of your people have had a brother or a sister struck by this infection," Janet said slowly, as if thinking aloud. "Do you happen to recall if it was more common for those deaths to occur among families of twins or triplets?"

"Twin studies," Sam breathed, in almost involuntarily realization, while the doctor nodded her agreement.

Ugart looked sharply between the two scientists. "What does that mean?" she demanded.

"On Earth, we sometimes use twins as subjects of scientific study, because they're genetically identical," Janet explained. "It allows you to rule out a large variable when measuring experimental responses."

The color drained from Ugart's face and she sat, barely finding the edge of a chair behind her. "The Goa'uld are experimenting on us?"

Janet pursed her lips and shrugged, not ready to make a definitive accusation. "When we previously encountered this technology, it was created by a Goa'uld to accelerate generational growth in a contained human population. They wanted to see the natural progress of human evolution."

"But this," Sam said, indicating their test results, "looks like someone isn't interested in waiting on natural progress."

The overload of information swam plainly across Ugart's face while she stared back at them. "They have betrayed us," she said finally, having plucked out that one bit of fact upon which to focus.

"It looks that way," Janet answered carefully. "But there may be another explanation."

"Then we will give them the chance to provide it," Ugart declared, as she stood and swept back out of the lab. In her wake, her fellow rebels scrambled to follow her barked orders, as they prepared to set off to the rendezvous at the military base.

Sam gave Janet's shoulder a friendly squeeze, and they shared a brief smile before packing up to follow the Jumish into the lion's den.

"It wasn't always like this," a man informed Kirkovich as they picked their way over the broken floor of the abandoned tunnel.

"No? What happened?" the airman asked amiably.

For a moment the Jumish man merely concentrated on keeping his feet steady on the slick and uneven bricks below him. Insular as his people were, it was difficult to admit their shortcomings. And yet, competing with his innate pride was a sense of shame that offworlders had been pulled into the implosion of his society.

"There used to be millions of us," he said finally. "In beautiful cities around the entire planet. We were free of the Goa'uld, and we were prosperous." For a moment, the man paused, watching his fellow revolutionaries scuff along in the dark sewer. Kirkovich waited too, subtly allowing the man to catch his breath.

"We were arrogant fools," the man growled, as he began walking again. "Totally unprepared when the weather turned."

The young airman nodded, remembering the timeline laid out in the mission files. "Our first contact reports indicated there was a geological disaster."

"'Disaster,'" the man said with a derisive snort. "If that's what you call half the northern continent disappearing in a day."

Kirkovich stared at him. "Half a continent?"

"Over-mining," the Jumish man replied with a shrug. "It had weakened the entire crust. When a major faultline collapsed, there was a massive chain reaction." His eyes glazed over as he imagined the horror of his forefathers. "Hundreds of thousands were swallowed by the sea. Millions more perished when the sky went dark. The rest ended up here."

Kirkovich didn't have the advanced degrees Major Carter possessed, but he was pretty sure the cataclysmic event the man described wasn't a natural or human-made occurrence. He suddenly suspected the Jumish weren't as free of the Goa'uld as they might have thought. "It's amazing you were able to survive at all," he offered quietly.

"And for what?" the man answered harshly. "This is what our civilization has become?" He gestured to the grungy, tired group stumbling along under the city. "Maybe we should have perished long ago."

To that, the airman had no response, so he resumed his quiet trudge alongside the revolutionaries.

"My mother used to sing to me."

Daniel glanced at her, and grunted some form of perfunctory acknowledgment.

"Back on Hanka," Cassie added, quietly.

At that, the archeologist sat back, and deliberately set his file aside. "Yeah? What did she sing?"

She shook her head once abruptly. "Don't remember."

He waited, but she didn't seem inclined to add more. "My mother used to sing to me, too," he offered, after a little hesitation. "Especially during thunderstorms, when I got scared." He scowled thoughtfully at the recollection. "You know, I can remember that she sang, but I can't remember what her voice sounded like."

Cassie's stare bored into him, plucking what was unsaid straight out of the air between them. "What happened to her?"

"She and my father died," he answered, with a practiced shrug. "In an accident. My grandparents raised me after that."

"I'm sorry," she said, sincerely. She hadn't expected to have something so fundamental in common.

He smiled back at her. "Yeah. Thanks. I miss them... but it worked out, you know?"

"Yeah," she said.

A stray memory tumbled through his brain, of a time when he was invisible and wandering the halls of the SGC unseen. He'd stopped in the infirmary to check on Jack and Sam, and found Janet there - as usual - hovering over her patients. The doctor had been certain she was alone, otherwise he never would have witnessed the gentle stroke of her hand across Sam's pale forehead, or heard her quiet, peaceful humming.

"Does Janet ever sing to you?" he asked, suddenly.

"No. She claims all she knows are 'inappropriate' showtunes."

Daniel laughed, both at the unexpectedness of that particular revelation and the sudden, ridiculous mental image of the very staid Doctor Fraiser vamping it up on a stage.

Cassie chuckled too, despite herself. "I think she sings to Sam, though."

In his memory, Janet had abruptly stopped humming and looked furtively around the infirmary, as if feeling Daniel's presence on the back of her neck. Then she shrugged and resumed her song, pausing only to bend and plant a gentle kiss on Sam's brow.

"I bet you're right," he said aloud. It was oddly satisfying, and they shared a smile for a moment before Cassie's gaze dropped.

"They're in trouble," she announced, sadly.

"We don't know that yet," Daniel countered. "Wait and see."

"We're in trouble," Sam said, low enough for only Janet to hear.

"Yeah. Noticed that," the doctor replied dryly. "I was kind of waiting for 'I told you so.'"

Sam chuckled. "Not this time." She looked around at the desolate, boarded buildings as they passed by, and wondered a bit at the human capacity for utter denial; the Jumish city was clearly on the verge of utter collapse, though the actual turn of events still somehow managed to surprise everyone. "I don't suppose I could talk you into hiding out while we..."

Janet didn't even bother answering; she just turned and cocked an eloquent eyebrow.

The blonde grinned sheepishly and raised her hands in surrender. A few moments later she reached out to fix Janet's coat collar where it had folded awkwardly, and smiled when dark eyes swung over to hers again. It was a perfectly ordinary gesture, one that wouldn't warrant much notice if they were walking down the street together back home. While on duty on an alien world, it was definitely over their prescribed line.

When Sam's touch lingered, then smoothed over the fabric on her shoulder, Janet suddenly recalled their conversation from hours before.

"I don't care," Sam had said. "And if these people want us to save their civilization, they won't care either."

That... was new, Janet reflected idly, allowing herself to be distracted from the cold and the fatigue in her legs. Sam had always been perfectly content to remain circumspect about her affections. She even admitted once that she'd allowed the rumors of her relationship with Jack O'Neill to blossom merely because it meant people left her alone.

Unrequited love for her commanding officer was safe; an open relationship with another female officer was definitely not. All of a sudden, Janet realized that Sam wasn't much interested in "safe" anymore, and that was really what her comment had meant earlier. She took a deep breath, then blew it out and watched the mist billow around her face.

So. Where did that leave them, their jobs, and the fates of billions of people across the galaxy who happened to depend on them both? She had never really imagined herself to be a poster child for progressive military policy.

Then again, she'd never really imagined herself to be an adoptive mother to an alien child, the foremost human expert on alien physiology, and the love interest of the most brilliant, beautiful woman she'd ever laid eyes on. She looked over at Sam, who was pacing alongside and watching the shadows around them attentively.

"Hey," Janet murmured, just under her breath. Sam immediately looked back at her, twitching her eyebrows in question. "I love you."

Sam couldn't restrain a beaming smile. "Love you, too," she whispered back.

It was probably a little pointless to be keeping quiet. Anyone who chanced a look their way would have seen the indelible, glowing affection they shared.

A cleared throat finally drew their attention away from each other.

"Consul," Janet greeted the other woman, trying to wrestle her professionalism back into place. "Do you know what resistance we'll encounter when we get to the base?"

"No," Ugart admitted. "I only know we will need your evidence to sway the military to our side."

Sam exhaled loudly, and hoped that the guys with the big guns weren't feeling terribly trigger happy. "Why did your government want us so far from the Stargate?" she asked, curiously.

Ugart frowned, studying the damp street. "I was never given a reason."

Sam cast a glance at Janet, who bit back a curse. They'd likely been shuffled away from the gate to prevent them from discovering the Goa'uld collaboration.

All of which meant that they were headed into the heart of the military force behind a civil war, and that the military was likely complicit in hiding the government's collaboration of a Goa'uld.

"Sam, look," Janet murmured, gesturing behind them.

Sam spun, shocked to see the volume of the crowd behind them. Their formerly-tiny band of insurrectionists had quadrupled in size, with more people joining them by the minute. They were suddenly part of a grim, silent army of people wanting answers.

She only hoped they knew the right questions to ask.

They called it "siege protocol."

Immediately after opening the gate, two teams of heavily-armed men would toss in flash-bangs and storm through, minimizing the reaction time of any enemies waiting on the other side. They wore heavy body armor, carried riot shields, and boasted enough weaponry to arm a small country.

According to the official Pentagon analyses, half of them would probably die.

SG-5 and 10 were Marine units, trained to perform exactly this type of operation. They'd staged countless mock sieges on the Beta Site, perfected the techniques of rolling in low upon emergence from the event horizon, and had mastered the brutal art of warfare in close quarters.

It still made Jack nauseous to look at them, and know that Carter, Fraiser, and their team might not even be alive on the other side to appreciate the effort.

"Rapid dialing program loaded," announced Sergeant Davis from the control room.

The two teams took their places on the side of the ramp, ready to follow the energy spill from the wormhole straight onto the Jumish world. Teal'c took his place next to Jack behind the safety line, his staff at the ready.

"You are apprehensive, O'Neill," the Jaffa observed quietly.

"Yeah," he murmured.

"These men are aware of their duties," Teal'c said, with a note of respect for their obvious composure.

"Rapid dialing sequence initiated," came Davis' voice, before Jack could respond. They all tensed, and even though the dialing sequence was far quicker than usual, it seemed to drag out impossibly long.

Finally, the wormhole cascaded open and the siege teams stormed through. The comm was open, and Jack leaned forward on his toes in anticipation of the firefight he assumed would await them on the other side. Instead, the distinct lack of radio chatter sent a shiver of disquiet through him.

"SGC, this is SG-10," came the calm voice of Major Newsome. "We are all clear here."

"Roger that," Hammond replied, the relief in his voice palpable as it boomed through the gateroom's loudspeakers. "Colonel O'Neill? You have a go."

Jack nodded, glanced at Teal'c, and headed up the ramp. The second his boots found purchase on the other side of the wormhole, he fired up a comm relay for their borrowed Tok'ra devices. "O'Neill to Carter. Carter? You out there?"

"Carter here," came the response after a few seconds. "It's good to hear your voice, Colonel."

He let out a breath of utter relief. "Likewise, Carter. What's your situation?"

"It's... complicated, sir. Satterfield? Are you getting this transmission?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied the young lieutenant. "We are en route to the base with the secondary front."

"'Front?'" O'Neill snapped.

"The political situation here has destabilized dramatically," Sam's voice explained. "We got split up among some insurrectionists. The good news is, we're all inbound to you. But since we lost our relay, we were afraid the gate had been compromised."

Teal'c and the other two SG teams had fanned out, inching forward in a radius around the gate to look for threats. O'Neill eyed the bits of two different charred MALPs that lay crumpled in the shadows, and swore under his breath. It looked like a Goa'uld had thrown a temper tantrum in the immediate vicinity. "I think 'compromised' is a good word for it, Carter. Be advised, we may have Goa'uld incursion."

"I was just about to warn you of that, sir," Sam replied grimly. "We have reason to believe the government may have been involved as well."

"Hence the 'destabilization.' Got it," O'Neill answered. "Okay. We'll have teams holding the gate, and Teal'c and I will try to meet you en route."

He tucked the comm back in his pocket, ignoring the fact that his hand was shaking from the sheer relief that his teammates were okay. "Teal'c!" he hollered. "Let's you and me find our way out of this place. The rest of you guys, hold the gate." He trotted down the gate's pedestal, caught up with the Jaffa, and headed deeper into the base.

The first indication they were approaching the military base was Ugart's gasp of alarm.

The second was the man suspended more than twenty feet off the ground, struggling against an unseen force. Sam and Janet immediately sprinted toward him, running past a few dozen slack-jawed Jumish soldiers and right into the imposing courtyard at the entrance of the base.

"Please!" the man wheezed, muscles strained with anguish. "We have done what you asked!"

"Then where are the Tau'ri?" a modulated, arrogant Goa'uld voice demanded.

A modulated, arrogant, familiar voice. The two women skidded to a halt some thirty yards away, still concealed by clumps of inert soldiers.

"Nirrti," Sam snarled in recognition.

Janet swung her gaze around wildly. "But where is she?"

"Cloaked," Sam answered. She swore, and quickly took stock of the scene. The soldiers surrounding them were all backing away, obviously terrified of the invisible creature that wielded such power. Their cover was thinning, they didn't have any TERs, and the Jumish weaponry they had been given would be useless against a Goa'uld's personal shield.

A moment later, Andra Ugart burst through the crowd nearby. "Stop this!" she cried.

A figure shimmered before resolving into the sinister Goa'uld scientist, wielding a modified hand device. "And why would I do that?" Nirrti asked, as condescension leaked from every syllable.

A handful of soldiers who still had some presence of mind opened fire, only to watch their bullets ricochet off an invisible barrier. One bullet careened off the shield and slammed sickeningly into the dangling leg of the man caught in her grasp. He groaned, too weak to muster more than a flinch.

That was all it took for the remaining soldiers clustered around Sam and Janet to scatter in panic. Janet forced her way forward, driven by instinct to try to get to the injured man. Sam could do little but follow her.

"You want Tau'ri?" Janet yelled. "Come get one!"

Nirrti's eyes flashed in what almost passed for alarm as she recognized the small form hurtling toward her, followed closely by her blonde guardian. Again. It was nearly comical how predictable these particular humans could be. Always charging to the rescue. Always interfering with her plans.

She growled, and with a twitch of her fingers her captive was discarded, flung away by a burst of energy that sent him careening over the heads of Jumish solders before he crashed to the ground.

Nirrti's hand swung around, and Janet braced herself, expecting to be caught in the chest by the familiar blast of the hand device. Instead, Janet heard a grunt behind her, and she turned to watch in horror as Sam flew upward off her feet, coming to a lurching halt out of reach some feet above. Sam couldn't restrain the grunt of pain as the alien energy pulse throbbed through her nerve endings.

"Sa-," Janet began, only to be cut off as strong alien fingers closed around her throat. She gagged and writhed in a sudden struggle for breath as she clutched at Nirrti's wrist and the Goa'uld's face loomed impossibly large before her.

"Doctor Fraiser," the alien greeted. "It is such a pleasure to see you again. Where is the rest of your team -- the additional subjects I'd asked these politicians to procure?" Nirrti asked casually, while a flick of her wrist sent Sam twisting in agony.

From her vantage point in midair, Sam could see a new crowd of citizens gathering behind Nirrti, led by Satterfield and Kirkovich. The young soldiers looked ready to bolt into certain doom, all on behalf of their commanding officers. She took a breath to dissuade them, when Janet's ragged voice beat her to the punch.

"We came alone," Janet wheezed. Looking over Nirrti's shoulder, she caught Satterfield's eye and silently willed the younger woman to understand what she meant. "They wouldn't allow more than two offworlders."

Nirrti pondered the claim for a moment, and offered a patronizing smirk. "They are rather like Earth children... so unwilling to talk to strangers. Such an insular society makes an excellent control group for experimentation, don't you think?"

Janet gasped as the alien's fingers closed fractionally tighter around her throat. "I doubt they appreciate the irony."

"Perhaps not," the Goa'uld conceded. "Still, I have watched your teams on dozens of worlds," she continued, her voice oddly sinuous despite the alien distortion. "I know you most often work in groups of four. So where are the others? I had so hoped to gain new test subjects for comparison."

Kirkovich looked over to Satterfield in horror. "Lieutenant?" he whispered.

"Stay put, Joe," she answered, just as quietly. "They want us to sit tight."

"We can't let her keep hurting them!"

"We have to," she replied, staring at Janet Fraiser as if she could read their fate in her eyes.

"You have us," Janet said firmly. "What does it matter?"

"I would not waste my experiments on you, Doctor Fraiser. For you I plan to enjoy myself." Additional commotion to one side drew her narrowed gaze for a moment. Colonel O'Neill had apparently rousted a few allies within the base, and they were quickly storming toward the courtyard. She was effectively surrounded now, by Jumish civilians and soldiers who had heard enough to realize that this alien creature was the one to blame for their world's disintegration. Slowly, the natives were also realizing they had numbers on their side; surely they could find a way to overcome her technology and make her pay.

The sense of unrest pressed against the three women at its focal point, until it drove Nirrti to action. She smiled cruelly, and tightened her grip on Janet's neck even further. From several feet above, Sam saw her lover's eyes widen.

"Let her go!" Sam cried, as she struggled in a futile effort to break free of Nirrti's invisible hold. In response, the Goa'uld waved her fingers, sending a colorful orange pulse screaming through the air until it enveloped Sam, who writhed in pain for a moment before losing consciousness.

"Sam!" Janet coughed. There were spots swimming in front of her eyes, and she was counting the seconds to hypoxia. Still, she clawed at Nirrti's firm hold, willing herself to fight the alien until her last breath.

Nirrti eyed her almost clinically, feeling the power in the small frame that dangled in the grip of her fingers, and decided that Janet Fraiser would provide her a great deal of entertainment -- almost enough to make up for the utter, dismal failure of her experiments on this world. She turned and began to walk, summoning the last of her effective intimidation on this world to part the gathered armies before her while she dragged the two human women along.

"Where are they going?" Kirkovich asked. He and Satterfield surged forward with the Jumish crowd, most of whom were asking themselves the same question. His steps stuttered when he felt a vortex of air swirl against his face. It was a sensation he recognized, but could not immediately identify.

Until he remembered Nirrti's fondness for cloaking technology.

He grabbed Satterfield's sleeve. "She has a ship," he said desperately. "It has to be over there, in the courtyard."

"Joe, there's nothing there," she answered, even as her steps lengthened.

"It's a tel'tac, venting its drive manifold. Don't you feel the breeze? It's hot. Nothing about this place is hot."

Time seemed to slow as Satterfield watched the situation spin irretrievably away. Fraiser and Carter were unconscious, if not already dead, and firmly in the custody of a nasty alien hostile. The crowd looked ready to open fire, heedless of the safety of the two offworlders between them and the Goa'uld who had utterly crushed their civilization.

The only possible thing she could think to do was call for help.

"Colonel O'Neill, this is Satterfield," she said desperately into her comm, as she broke into a run. "We think Nirrti has a cloaked ship..."

"We know, Lieutenant! We're coming, so just keep your head down!"

With all her inhuman strength and speed, Nirrti strode across the courtyard well ahead of the crush of angry Jumish citizens. As the clamor grew and weapons raised, the Goa'uld's pace reflected just a touch of apprehension, and she drew her arm forward, tugging Sam along even faster in midair, until the energy tether between them snapped, and the blonde woman went flying.

The crowd held its collective breath as they watched the major arc slowly though the air, waiting for the sickening thud of her slack body against the ground.

Instead, Carter simply vanished as she crossed the threshold of the cloaked vessel.

Heedless of her orders, Elaine bolted. She pushed past the last of the soldiers in front of her and ran in a flat sprint across the courtyard to reach Nirrti and Fraiser. With her mind's eye, she'd demarcated the boundary in space where Carter had disappeared, and she was convinced she could get there before it was too late.

What she would do when she got there was a different question. Her only goal was to slow Nirrti down.

Her own breath was harsh in her ears as she ran, and she noted with some surprise that Fraiser was still conscious, and looking at her over the alien's shoulder. Then even the sound of her breathing was drowned out by... something. The new noise in her brain stunned her with its sheer impossibility, and her pace faltered.

Still, Elaine held her hand out, reaching for the doctor even as Janet's dark eyes watched her sadly. A few more steps, and maybe she could distract the Goa'uld into releasing her captive...

... until Nirrti and Fraiser winked out of sight before her.

She heard orders barked sharply in Goa'uld, and the immediate resulting blast of the ship's engines gusted scalding air that knocked her to the ground. Her hand was still out, still reaching for Doctor Fraiser's. Even as the ship decloaked and soared overhead, she reached out, as if the few short feet between her and the doctor could be called back just by wishing it.

"Lieutenant!" Kirkovich yelled, as he pelted to her side.

Every inch of her exposed skin was violently red and had already begun to blister, but she couldn't feel it. All she could feel was the ringing in her head left by the silent, yet undeniably powerful conversation she'd just had with Janet Fraiser.

Elaine paced. She, like the other SGC members who had visited Meza Virs, had spent the past week in level one quarantine, as they had all shown evidence of exposure to Nirrti's nanocytes. While the SGC's resources were taxed to the limit and Earth's best minds that didn't include Samantha Carter and Janet Fraiser rushed to find a way to disable the microscopic machines, Elaine, Joe, Teal'c, and Colonel O'Neill had all been shipped off to Area 51 to wait.

She'd heard that Doctor Jackson was coming to visit his teammates that morning, and that Cassandra Fraiser would be with him. Before she lost her nerve, Elaine fired off a brief request to speak to Cassandra.

The wait seemed interminable before Doctor Jackson peeked into her relatively private isolation booth from behind thick glass. He offered a little wave that Elaine would have found inordinately cute if she hadn't already been focused on the young woman trailing him.

Quick mental math reminded her that Cassandra was not all that much younger than she was, and in some ways, the teen had been forced to grow up a whole lot more quickly. Daniel looked at them both, then nodded a bit and stepped back out of the ward to allow them to chat.

"Ms. Fraiser," Elaine said by way of greeting, hating how it sounded as soon as it crossed her lips. "Cassie," she amended. "Thank you for coming."

Cassie only shrugged, looking a little overwhelmed.

"Look -- I just... I wanted to say..." Elaine stammered, trying to remember the speech she'd so carefully rehearsed.

Cassie stared at her. "Jack told me what happened," she said quietly. "I know it wasn't your fault."

Instead of absolution, it felt like a sucker punch. Elaine took a deep breath to steady herself. "She was thinking about you," she blurted. "She wanted me to make sure you were okay." After a moment she exhaled a laugh. "Actually, it was more like an order."

"She said that?" Cassie asked, suddenly fighting off tears.

"No... not in so many words," the lieutenant admitted. "It's hard to explain. I could hear her. In my head."

Her own halting explanation could not hope to provide an accurate account of the feeling of Janet Fraiser's eyes boring into hers, with attendant whispers and apologies and explanations colliding in a single, distinguishable voice she'd heard within her skull clear as a bell.

"That probably doesn't make much sense," Elaine said after a moment.

"It does, actually," Cassie said with a sad smile. "Mom can Do Stuff. She thinks I don't know."

"Oh," the lieutenant breathed. And only days earlier, she'd been making jokes about the doctor's superpowers.

"Did she say anything else?"

Elaine swallowed, hard. "Yeah. She said, 'Everything will be all right.'"

Continue to the next chapter, Tiger by the Tail.
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