Title: First Prime
Pairings: Sam/Janet, eventually
Category: Drama, AU
Disclaimer: These folks don't belong to me. I stole them from MGM's toybox without asking their mommies for permission. I promise to return them more or less unscathed.
Archive: This one I have to say no to, sorry!
Spoilers: "Children of the Gods," "Cor'Ai," "Singularity," "A Matter of Time," "Bane," probably many, many more I've overlooked...
Notes: Wow. It's finally beginning. I actually, for the first time, can go back and look at the date this whole thing started and can see it was on November 20, 2003 that the seedlings were planted in an LJ post by howlsthunder. Months and many agonizing rewrites later, I've deemed it Ready To Post. Beats, incalculable thanks go out to you. This story was made so much better by your input. Not just corrections, but ideas for new scenes, expanding scenes, and the like. All illustrations are howlsthunder's and there are more to come in the future!
Summary: During the second mission of the SGC Sam was left behind. What did she do to survive, what will she sacrifice to go back?
The Colonel squinted, turning his head slightly so that the sun wasn't glaring directly through his glasses. Silence. He knelt in the grass, wincing as a rock dug into his knee. Tossing the pebble aside, he scanned the treeline before turning to his 2IC. The blonde woman turned back towards him, shaking her head. The rest of the team maintained their positions by the DHD, awaiting word on whether or not it was safe to continue on or if they'd have to head home in a rush. The Colonel pulled the brim of his hat down, chewed on the inside of his cheek and exhaled slowly.
"If they're here, they've already seen us."
"And if they're not?" his 2IC inquired.
"Then we've just wasted fifteen minutes crouching in a field." He scanned once more, pausing when he thought he spotted movement in one of the trees. "Damn Jaffa," he growled, tugging his gloves back on and tightly gripping his P90. They'd waited long enough. "We're moving forward." He turned to the remains of his team and motioned with his head. They stepped away from the DHD and headed for the treeline.
The Colonel straightened, as did his 2IC. As he opened his mouth to tell them their directives, he saw something enter the clearing behind the Stargate. "Damn it to hell," he muttered. "We have Jaffa!"
He brought his gun up as the two non-military members of his team dropped themselves out of the line of fire. Before he could open fire on the Jaffa warrior behind the Stargate, another staff weapon burst behind him. His 2IC yelped in pain, spinning as she fell. Her P90 spit an arc of fire in the direction of the alien whose shot had grazed her leg. The Colonel dropped into a crouch and fired at the same bushes. Several Jaffa appeared behind high out-croppings of rock, letting loose only one volley before ducking back behind their cover.
The Colonel kept an internal monologue of increasingly foul curses running through his head as he watched the damn alien soldiers pin down his four-man team. His 2IC was trying to stand, but blood had already coated her thigh and was filling her boot. "Fall back!" the Colonel ordered, already heading for the DHD. Another retreat at the hands of these cunning Jaffa. When they had first opened the Stargate five years earlier, the Jaffa had been an easy enough foe; rushing into battle, sounding battle horns that inadvertently alerted enemies to their positions... but now it seemed someone had taught the Jaffa the art of the sneak attack. And the SGC was suffering at the rate of one SG member a day, on average.
He reached the DHD, but the Jaffa were swarming now. He stared down at the dialer, knowing that he couldn't risk a Jaffa getting through the Gate, couldn't risk them maybe seeing the iris code. He bit his lip and turned his back on the dialer. They were going down, but they could go down firing.
"We are not retreating!" the Colonel called to his team. "Take some of these sons of bitches with you when you fall!"
He whipped his P90 up and opened fire, spraying the trees where the majority of the Jaffa had emerged. A staff blast grazed him and he fell to one knee, wincing at the burning sensation he felt even through his jacket.
The voice was female, coming from somewhere in the dark woods. He angled and fired in it's direction.
"Kree, Jaffa! Halt! Cease firing!"
A few Jaffa continued, but the majority seemed to heed the call. "Jaffa!" the voice continued. A woman stalked from the forest, armor smeared brown with dirt. Her blonde hair, cut short to keep it out of her face, was also matted with dirt. Her face bore thin scars, bruises marking her cheeks and forehead. She looked like hell warmed over. Actually, that wasn't true... The only warm thing about the woman was the fiery golden emblem on her forehead denoting her as First Prime to Apophis.
The Colonel raised his weapon, aiming center mass on the approaching woman. She stopped about a hundred yards away at the edge of the clearing. She looked at the team, eyeing their uniforms with something that resembled... what, was that hope? Fear? She finally looked at the Colonel again. "What is your name?" she asked.
"Colonel Robert Makepeace," he barked. "SG-3."
"Earth?" she asked.
"Yeah," Makepeace nodded, tightening his grip. "Earth."
The woman looked like she'd been hit in the stomach. She took a few steps back, then walked to one of the Jaffa. She took the staff weapon from his hands and turned a slow circle to see all of her troops. "Lay down your weapons. If another shot is fired at these soldiers, I will kill you myself. If you wish to be free, as you have been promised these past years... follow me. The rest of you, return to Apophis and tell him of our betrayal."
The Jaffa seemed as dumbfounded as the human soldiers. The blonde First Prime was the only movement on the battle field as she crossed the distance between the two forces. The Jaffa behind her looked shocked, surprised, confused and some of them looked furious. He tensed, eyes locked on the staff weapon in her hand. When she was within arm's length, she brought the staff weapon up and laid it across her other arm. "Take it." He didn't hesitate to disarm her.
Her arm shot out, grabbing him above the left elbow and twisting. Makepeace grit his teeth, but held his fire. She was looking at the patch on his shoulder, which showed the Stargate symbol for Earth. She blinked back tears, which were now cutting rows through the dirt caking her face. She released him and straightened her spine, staring him in the face. "My name is Samantha Carter. Formerly Captain Samantha Carter, formerly of SG-1," she said. Her voice cracked when she added, "Will you take me home?"
"What the HELL were you thinking, Makepeace?!"
Hammond held up a hand to silence O'Neill, then turned to the leader of SG-3. "Colonel, I'll have to go with Jack on this one. Whatever she claims, that woman is wearing the symbol of First Prime. She's the leader of the Jaffa for Apophis, the very Goa'uld we've been trying to overcome the past five years."
"I recognized her, Sir. After she said her name. She was the first MIA officer for this command."
Jack's face was stone. "Captain Samantha Carter died under my command, Colonel Makepeace. She's KIA, not missing. Daniel and I barely escaped with our lives. If there was even the slightest chance she had survived, I would *not* have left her behind, do you understand me?"
"Colonel," Hammond said softly. "You have to admit, the... woman you brought back does bear a striking resemblance to our lost officer. And Dr. Fraiser has determined there is no sign of a Jaffa pouch or a Goa'uld presence."
"There is a gold... tattoo... engraved in her head," Jack insisted. "There is no trusting this woman, General."
"Jack, for the benefit of clarity, how exactly did Captain Carter die?" Jack sighed and leaned back, covering his face. "I know we've been through it countless times, but please. Just to make sure there's no chance she did survive."
Jack leaned forward and began to recount his second mission through the Stargate...
Jack woke, dazed, his head pounding and his clothing caked with mud. He forced himself up, scanning the far wall of his cell. They were crowded into a stone room with he guessed fifty or sixty other prisoners. The price for standing up to a god, he supposed... A quick examination of the high, thin windows and the wide, steel door told him escape would be tricky. If it was even possible to escape.
To his left, Captain Samantha Carter stirred and muttered something. "Take it easy, Captain," he said. "No need to scare all the fine folks around us..."
Carter blinked, regaining her focus and turning to the civilian of the team. "Daniel's still out, Sir."
O'Neill nodded and stood. "Stay with him in case he comes to. I'm going to have a look around."
"Which is when I found Ska'ara," Jack sighed, sitting up straight. "When I got back to Carter and Daniel, he had come to. We spoke about coming up with a plan, when one of Apophis' Jaffa came up to me. He asked about my watch, I told him what it meant and he asked where I was from..."
"Earth," Jack said to the large black guard. "Chicago, if you want to be specific."
"Your words mean nothing," the guard spat.
"Um... we're from here," Daniel said, drawing the Gate symbol for Earth on the ground. The guard swiped his staff weapon across the dirt, obscuring the drawing.
"Not long after that," Jack sighed, "all hell broke loose."
"Kill the rest."
Panic erupted as the serpent guards, led by the stoic one who had grabbed O'Neill's wrist, advanced on the prisoners. Carter helped Daniel to his feet and did the best she could to protect the innocent people behind her. O'Neill ducked to one side, moving past Ska'ara. He pressed his hands to the small of the boy's back and whispered into his ear. Ska'ara turned slightly and nodded, handing something to the Colonel. Jack thanked him quietly and moved away, inching towards the front of the room.
O'Neill cupped his weapon in the palm of his hand, looking for the first vulnerable spot. He found it in the third Jaffa from the left; his hands were bare. The others wore gloves of some sort. O'Neill pulled the cigarette lighter from his pocket and flicked the top open. He glanced across the room at Carter, who nodded that she was prepared to move in an instant. O'Neill took a breath and lunged forward.
He slammed into the bare-handed Jaffa, causing the two around him to step back in shock. He flicked on the lighter and pressed the wick against the guard's fingers. Behind the mask, the man howled in pain and released his grip on the staff. O'Neill dropped the lighter and stood, bringing the weapon up with him. He fired blindly at first, taking out two of the serpent guards flanking him. "Carter!" he cried out.
The Captain didn't reply. She separated herself from the people she was protecting and attacked a distracted serpent guard. He saw her coming a split second early and spun, hitting her in the stomach with the butt of his staff. The air was forced out of her lungs as she crumpled, her body folding and going limp. As her boots hit the floor, however, she had enough presence of mind to head butt him. They fell to the ground in a mess of limbs.
Once the guards that could grab him had been dispatched, O'Neill picked a spot on the wall he had scouted earlier... a hollow-sounding area that he believed one of these staff weapons could penetrate. He fired... and the wall exploded in a wave of brick and mortar. "Captain!" he called, unaware his second-in-command was currently locked in a fistfight with one of the guards. "Get these people out of here!"
Daniel, who saw both O'Neill and Carter, stood and made his way to the hole. "Come on!" he called to the prisoners. "This way! Hurry!"
The prisoners, moving towards the light of day, became a mob. They moved in an unruly wave, crushing the unconscious bodies of Jaffa beneath their feet. The exodus separated Carter and O'Neill, making them invisible to each other. Daniel, seeing a young girl with no shirt to cover herself, quickly shed his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. "It's going to be all right," he promised.
The leader of the guards had approached O'Neill's position, staff weapon aimed half-heartedly at the Colonel's midsection. O'Neill turned and aimed at the Jaffa. They stood in silence for a moment, then the leader said, "I cannot allow you to leave here."
Was that... regret in his voice? No matter. O'Neill shrugged and said, "Shame." He charged the staff weapon and fired, hitting the man where they had seen the Goa'uld pouch before. The leader cried out and collapsed in a bloody heap. Jack moved towards the hole in the wall, motioning for the remaining prisoners to get a move on.
"That where I think things get a little... wrong, Sir," Jack sighed.
"Meaning... what I thought happened next obviously didn't. If - and I still think this is a big 'if' - Captain Samantha Carter is in the infirmary right now, what I think I saw couldn't--"
"Just tell me what you saw, Colonel," Hammond said softly.
Jack sighed and scratched behind his ear. "Daniel and I were moving the prisoners out the hole in the stone wall. I pushed Daniel through the hole, knowing we needed him to dial us out in a hurry back at the Stargate. I took over for him and that's when I saw Carter fighting the guard."
His hands were around her throat and her hands were buried in his stomach. She'd seen the pouch of the Jaffa who had infiltrated the SGC and the doctors had assumed it could be a sensitive area. Judging by the pain etched on the man's face, they were right. She twisted the snake within the pouch and tried to pull, but she couldn't get the symbiote free. She was losing air, her mind going hazy as her oxygen was cut off.
Her eyes cut quickly up, seeing her commanding officer standing at an exit point. She gave one final, painful twist and jerked half of the symbiote from the pouch. Blue blood oozed down her hand and the Jaffa howled in ear-shattering pain. She tossed aside the destroyed Goa'uld and pulled the man's hands from her throat. She stood, stumbling towards O'Neill... and--
"And?" Hammond asked.
Jack sighed. "She... could *not* have survived it, Sir."
O'Neill stepped away from the hole, raising his staff weapon towards the guard grappling with his second-in-command. As he took aim, he saw Carter stand. Blue blood marked both of her hands and she seemed dazed but okay. He locked onto the Jaffa, who twitched just as O'Neill charged the weapon.
But the egg at the other end didn't crackle with electricity. Instead, the staff part of the weapon heated up. Before O'Neill could react, the weapon exploded at both ends in a massive mushroom cloud of fire. O'Neill was thrown back, slamming into the wall with the force of the explosion. His lungs felt like they'd been wrapped in steel bands, and he couldn't feel his arms below the elbow. He couldn't look; couldn't take it if he saw stubs.
Instead, he forced himself to his feet and looked at the destruction. Captain Samantha Carter, who had been in the direct line of fire for the jammed staff weapon, lay in a pool of blood. Unmoving. Broken, shattered. He stepped back, limping slightly, and stepped through the hole in the wall.
"I saw her face, Sir. She was covered in blood, unmoving. I didn't see her breathe."
"Yet she's very alive in the infirmary," Hammond countered.
Daniel nodded, then suggested, "The Goa'uld may have used a sarcophagus on her."
"The Goa'uld would only use a sarcophagus on an enemy if they meant to torture them," Jack said. "The only important piece of evidence is engraved on her forehead. Whatever happened between that day in the cell and today in the clearing, she took allegiance to the enemy. She became the highest-ranking officer in their ranks. Which is equivalent to us making Heru'ur the General of this command. You think about what a prisoner would have to do to earn that kind of respect."
Hammond dismissed them for the time being, telling them to stay close just in case. As Jack headed for the stairs, he looked down at his hands. The palms were still red and cracked from the explosion. His arms were even worse; there were days he couldn't bend his right elbow. He closed his fists, wondering if he *had* left an injured team member behind enemy lines.
'No. She was dead. I was certain of it.'
And echoing in his head like a klaxon was a conversation he'd had with a former CO not too terribly long ago...
Cromwell said, "I was sick to my stomach when I found out you were still alive. I wanted to go back for you. Someone dropped a dime on the incursion. You got hit, you went down. I made a judgement call to save the rest of the team."
Jack sighed. "And I saw you take off. And then I saw four months of my life disappear in some stinking Iraqi prison."
"I thought you were dead!"
"You thought *wrong!* What do you want? You want me to forgive you, is that it?"
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"Well, that's tough. What happened to 'nobody gets left behind'?"
Cromwell pointed to the video capture of Henry Boyd on the screen above them, his team stranded on a world being devoured by a black hole. "Well, what about him?"
"That is a totally different scenario."
"That is the same damn thing, Jack."
Jack clenched his burnt hands and left the briefing room.
Makepeace had gone through the Stargate first. Hammond had cleared Sam to come through, but the Jaffa accompanying her - the ones supposedly wishing to be free - had to stay behind. Sam gave them the Gate address to a safe world that Master Bra'tac had given her, then followed the SG team to her homeworld.
She stood in awe, taking in the Gate Room. How could it be so unchanged after so long? It was just how she remembered it. She had little time for reverie, however, as airmen descended upon her and shackled her arms and ankles. General Hammond appeared at the base of the ramp, jaw set firmly as he watched the soldiers search her for weapons. As a black bag was lowered over her head, Makepeace explained, "This is a secure facility. We can't have you memorizing the layout."
"It's a secure facility I've been in before," Sam reminded him, her voice muffled behind the bag. "But I understand."
She was led down the ramp and Makepeace stopped her before Hammond. She recognized the General's soft, yet gruff voice from beyond the darkness of the bag. "Ma'am, I hope like hell you're our missing soldier."
"I am, Sir," she assured him.
Hammond remained unmoved. To Makepeace, he said, "Take her to the quarantine area. Then bring Colonel O'Neill and Dr. Jackson to the briefing room with you."
Sam couldn't believe her ears. It couldn't be. It couldn't.
Makepeace led her out of the Gate Room and down a short corridor. The elevator came immediately and they stepped inside. Sam expected to feel an upward lurch as the elevator ascended, but the floor pressed against her feet for a moment. 'Down?' she thought. Then she remembered the abandoned levels far below the Stargate. Levels that were often used to house hazardous or explosive material. She swallowed nervously, praying they wouldn't leave her alone in those dark, empty levels.
The elevator doors opened and Makepeace removed her mask. The level before her was disturbingly stark. The only furnishing was a glass square in the center of the wide space. Makepeace gently prodded her forward and she fell into step alongside him. He opened the door to the quarantine and she went inside, hearing the door latch behind her. Makepeace glanced at the four airmen who had accompanied him. "Keep a close eye on her," he ordered.
"Wait, Colonel," Sam said softly. He paused. "Colonel Jack O'Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson... they're here?"
"They survived the first mission?"
Makepeace frowned. "If you are who you say you are, then no one died on the first mission. Doctor Fraiser will be here shortly for your examination." He turned and moved out of the abandoned level. Once he was gone, Sam sat on the edge of the bed provided in her little glass cube and let her mind wander back to that awful day.
Sam was unprepared for the utter, unrelenting hatred she saw in the guard's eyes. In the Gulf, she'd killed enemies from a distance. Never had she looked one in the face, not this close. She could smell the stink of his breath, could see the blood vessels in his eyes. He growled and tightened his grip around her throat. She recalled the corpse of the Jaffa that had come through the Stargate on Earth, pictured the X-cut in his stomach. She balled her hand into a fist and punched this man exactly where the pouch had been... and felt nauseated when it broke through. Her hand was inside of him.
The symbiote wrapped itself around her hand and she grabbed it as tight as he was clutching her throat. The Jaffa stopped breathing for a moment and Sam saw the obvious sensitivity there. With a feral smile, she twisted her wrist and tugged. He howled in pain.
She pulled again, harder, but it wouldn't come free. And she was in dire need of oxygen; her lungs were on fire.
Her eyes cut up and, through her too-long bangs, she saw her commanding officer standing next to an exit point. 'Now or never,' she thought. With one final twist of her wrist, she pulled her elbow back as hard as she could. Half of the symbiote came free, blue blood dripping down her hand and onto her jacket. The Jaffa, blinded by excruciating pain, released her throat. She pulled herself free and stumbled towards the exit O'Neill had created.
She looked up in time to see him aiming a staff weapon at the Jaffa below her. As he fired - an all-too loud sound, it seemed, even from her limited experience with the weapons - the Jaffa's hand grabbed hold of her ankle in one final show of force. She couldn't correct her gait in time and fell face-forward, her nose breaking against the hard stone of the cell floor. She cried out in pain, her entire face feeling like it was on fire, as the world disappeared in a flash of heat and light.
"What is your name?"
Sam was brought back to the present by the soft, feminine voice so nearby. A petite brunette was standing on the other side of the glass wall, a clipboard in the crook of one arm. "What?" Sam asked.
"What should I call you?" the woman asked, looking up.
"Sam. Samantha Carter."
The woman marked something, then indicated for a guard to open the door. He did as she instructed, locking it behind her once she was inside. "Okay, Ms. Carter..."
There had been a time Sam would have corrected the woman immediately with the correct title. But that had been a long time ago...
"You've been scanned for explosives or weapons that may be hidden in your armor." Sam was surprised by this news... when had they scanned her? While she sat there or in the elevator? Immediately upon stepping through the Stargate? The doctor continued, "However, we need to be certain." She turned and pulled a nearly-sheer curtain over the glass, partially blocking the view of the guards. "Please remove your armor, one item at a time. Remove an item only when I tell you to." She marked something down. "Remove the chest plate, please."
One piece at a time, Sam removed her armor. The doctor picked up each piece as it was removed, then passed it through a small access panel in the quarantine glass to an airman waiting outside. They ran it through a portable X-Ray machine, examined it thoroughly, tested it's strength, then bagged and tagged it. When Sam was left in only a chain mail tunic and the coarse fabric of her underwear, the doctor placed a paper gown on the bed next to her.
The doctor asked for the tunic and Sam unlatched the back, letting it fall forward and baring herself. As the doctor took the tunic, Sam slipped her arms into the paper gown and hid her body once more. She didn't breathe the entire time she was exposed; force of habit. The doctor waited for the airmen to finish with the tunic, then asked for the underwear. Sam removed it, tucked the edges of the gown under her thighs and waited.
"Lay down," the doctor ordered. Sam complied.
What followed what an intensive, intrusive and utterly complete examination. The doctor spoke into a lapel-mounted microphone that led to the pocket of her lab coat. Recording information of bruises, scars, evidence of rape, evidence of torture... all of it aloud, and the airmen had to hear every word of it. By the time the doctor was finished, Sam felt humiliated. The doctor took extra care to examine the gold tattoo carved into Sam's forehead. She touched it tenderly, recording her findings, then shut the recorder off. "Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Carter. I'll let General Hammond know you pose no health threat to this base."
'Which means I'll be moved from this cell to a nice, cozy cell upstairs,' she translated for herself. She sat up and asked, "What should I call you?"
The doctor turned, then looked at the airmen outside. "Doctor Fraiser."
"Do you have a first name?"
The woman hesitated, pursed her lips, and finally said, "Janet Fraiser." She turned and left the quarantine area.
Alone, Sam sniffed and pulled her feet onto the bed. She hugged her knees to her chest and waited to be transferred upstairs.
The wooden staff came down in a high arc, whistling through the air before hitting Sam below the knees with a loud "CRACK!"
She woke with a cry, the sting still burning her calves. She was on her feet in an instant, hands clutching at her attacker. Master Bra'tac easily avoided the clumsy move and swung on her, pinning her arm behind her back. He forced her to the ground and laid a staff weapon across the back of her neck to hold her down. Not an ordinary staff weapon, she noticed. An oak staff. The same oak staff he'd made her carve the day before. She still had the blisters on her hands. "Weak Tau'ri woman," Bra'tac spit down at her. "You are as frail as they say you are."
"No," Sam snapped back.
"You allowed me into your tent, where I could just as easily have killed you. You deserve whatever you get."
Sam fought against him, trying to push him off. But the old man was stronger than he appeared. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked, going limp against the ground. "Not sleep?"
Bra'tac removed himself from her and she stood on her own. "You sleep. But with one eye open. Come... we have already wasted precious hours."
She looked out the window and saw the sun just above the horizon. In a few minutes, it would be night and they would continue their secret training exercises. With a hard exhale, Sam followed her new master out of the tent.
According to the cameras mounted by the elevator doors, Sam was fast asleep. By the time Janet reached the side of the quarantine, however, she was standing and alert. "Light sleeper?" Janet asked, using her keycard to open the door.
"Something like that."
Two guards had followed Janet from the elevators. They moved forward once the door was unlocked, placing cuffs on the blonde's wrists. "Where am I being moved to?"
"Upstairs, for the time being."
"We've been doing some research about removing that tattoo... it's proving difficult."
Sam started to protest, but didn't want to seem loyal to Apophis. She wanted to keep it for other reasons... the etching had been a rite of passage for her. It signified what she had survived. To have people researching how to remove it felt like someone was trying to take away an Olympic medal. But, for the time being, she allowed them to lead her from the small cell to the elevators. From one cell to another...
With a sigh, George Hammond lowered himself to a crouch. His knees protested, but this had to be an eye-to-eye meeting. He placed a hand on the frail wrist in front of him and watched the long-dead eyes rise. George managed a smile. "Hello, Jacob."
The older man forced a smile. "Come ta... ask me back, George?" Jacob asked, lips curling into his trademark smile. About halfway through, he collapsed in a coughing fit. He clung to the blankets wrapped around his rocking chair and shook until the seizure subsided. He cleared his throat and touched his chin. "I think I caught the flu," he joked, his voice sounding like it was being processed through a cloud of gravel.
"Jacob," George said softly, moving his hand into his friend's. "I have news."
"About Sam?" Jacob's eyes sparkled. "You... Did you find her?" He was breathing hard now, a bit of color rising in his cheeks. "Tell me, George."
"We found her, Jacob. Alive."
Jacob closed his eyes and sobbed. "She's alive?"
Jacob swallowed painfully, tears trying to fall from his eyes but finding little moisture. George knew Jacob had been hanging on for word of his daughter's fate and had been astounded with every birthday the man reached. Now that he knew Sam was alive - and had been for all this time, making his vigil worthwhile - George knew he would never see another holiday. "Tell me," Jacob repeated. "Everything. I know you've been keeping what happened secret, but goddamnit, George..."
The General licked his lips. "Rest, Jake."
"Your daughter is fine. Just take that knowledge and rest."
George patted his friend's hand, then squeezed his shoulder. George stood, crisply addressing his friend. He turned on his heel and walked to the door, knowing full well that Jacob Carter could be dead before he reached the parking lot of the nursing home. For a long while, he sat behind the wheel of his car (it seemed too impersonal to have an aide drive him) and stared at Jacob Carter's window. 'Forgive me for not telling you everything,' Hammond asked. 'It's for the best. Trust me.' He started the car and began the long journey back to the SGC.
They brought in a specialist; Sam never learned his name.
The guards cuffed her to a high-backed steel chair in a tiny room, the only decoration a two-way mirror behind her. The inquisitor stood in front of her, his arms crossed and his head bowed. She never saw his eyes clearly.
He asked her name, her rank and her serial number. He asked her personal questions. He asked about her service record. Then he repeated each question in a different order. He drank from a styrofoam cup and offered her none. He paced in a circle around her chair, knelt in front of her, snapped his fingers and smoked a cigarette, all while asking the same repetitive questions.
He asked about television shows. He asked about world politics. He asked about celebrities and movies. He asked name, rank and serial number. He asked if she knew what country she was in. How many continents there were. How many moons does Earth have? How many suns? How many planets are in the solar system? Count to 100. Who was Adolf Hitler? Marilyn Monroe? Mickey Mantle? Mickey Mouse?
Name, rank and serial number.
Her brother's name. Her father's name. Her sister's name (a trick question). Her mother's name. Who was Elvis Presley? Winnipeg was in what country? The capital of Alaska was what?
Name, rank and serial number.
On and on and on in a continuous loop the questioning continued. Finally, there was a knock on the glass behind Sam's chair and the questions ceased as the man exited the room. When the door opened again, Sam raised her head, expecting another bout of inane questions... only to be faced with Janet Fraiser and an airman. On the doctor's order, the airman unlocked Sam's cuffs. They led her out of the room and down a corridor, where several officers stood aside to let them through.
Sam was finally deposited in a holding cell, behind a row of steel bars and a laser grid. She sat on the edge of the bed, pulling the wool blankets up over her shoulders. Janet checked her pupils, checked her heart rate and finally told her to get some rest. Janet exited the cell, the guards reactivating the grid. As Janet was about to leave, Sam said her name.
The doctor turned.
Janet looked momentarily lost as to how to respond, then said, "You're welcome." She managed a brief smile before leaving the room.
She woke with blood in her mouth and pushed herself off the floor, spitting the vile-tasting copper from her mouth. Pushing herself up and rolling onto her back, she realized hers was not the only blood she was smelling. Death surrounded her. Her face felt numb; when she touched her nose, it sent shockwaves of pain through her body. It took several minutes before she found the strength to pull herself into a sitting position.
The Jaffa from earlier all lay in heaps of broken limbs. Their armor was still smoldering (although, from the stench, she assumed most of the burning was flesh). She stood, picking up a staff weapon and balancing herself against it as she scanned the cell. There was no sign of Colonel O'Neill or Daniel. Kicking aside a lifeless leg, she headed for the exit O'Neill had blasted earlier. Blood covered the opening, a pool of it settled on the stone floor. She knelt, her muscles protesting, and touched the dried pool. 'This is where he was standing,' she realized. 'When there was that explosion...'
She blinked and stood, leaning again on the staff. Outside, it was pitch black; night had fallen and countless creatures chittered and sang in the woods. Darkness... which means the deadline had passed and the Earth Stargate was locked. She fought back an initial surge of fear at being stranded off-world. She knew panic wouldn't help her. She stepped out of the cell into the cool night air, taking a breath of the untainted air. The moon was high, almost directly above her. Taking another deep breath, she looked to the sky and began to walk along the wall of the now-abandoned palace.
Fifty paces behind her, the bushes parted and the man who'd been watching all night for any survivors began to follow her.
She stopped to rest at a stream, taking off her jacket and using a wet sleeve to gingerly clean the blood from her face. Her reflection revealed a horror story, so she did it by touch: gently here, stronger there, avoid this spot, etc. When she'd gotten most of the flaky, dried blood from her skin, she dunked her head into the cool water and held it there for a moment.
The hand of the Jaffa who'd been stalking her pushed it down just as she started to come up for air.
She thrashed, finally panicking. The Jaffa moved one leg to the other side of her body, sitting on the small of her back. He used both hands to hold her head below the water, his arms strong and set. She reached up, unable to reach his face with her fingernails. She tried to buck him off, but he was too heavy. As his bulk pressed down on her spine, and his hands pressed down on her head, she a sense of overwhelming hopelessness set in.
Just as she had stopped fighting, her arms and legs going limp, a man rushed from the trees. One quick swipe with the butt of his staff weapon dislodged the Jaffa from Sam's back. Her rescuer paused only long enough to roll Sam onto her back, making sure her face was out of the water, then turned and fired a single shot at the other stealthy Jaffa. That business done, he turned and knelt next to the unconscious - and, he feared, dead - body of the human soldier. He pulled back his hand covering and parted her lips, pressing two fingers past her tongue.
After a few passes, her body convulsed and he rolled her onto her side. She threw up copiously, most of it water and the rest the remains of a day pack. When her body finished heaving, her rescuer rolled her onto her back and knelt next to her. She coughed a few times, wiping her lips and staring blankly into the sky.
He tenderly touched her face and she hissed through her teeth. "Easy."
Without a word, he placed two fingers on either side of her nose and pressed it back into place. She screamed in pain, her face on fire. He pulled back and she rolled onto her side, holding her face. "You are fortunate," he said, his old voice soft.
"You should have let me die, stranger," she hissed, her voice muffled and nasal.
He clasped his hand around her wrist and pulled her into a standing position. He held her upright, pulling her close so she could see his eyes. "My name is not Stranger. It is Bra'tac."
"Why did you save me?" she asked.
Bra'tac stepped back, releasing her arm. "Because my protege saw something in you and your comrades. I have learned to trust his instincts over the years." He turned and started back into the woods.
Sam looked at the dead body laying next to the stream, pushing her wet hair out of her eyes. "Is this your protege?"
"No. My student was named Teal'c. Your leader killed him in that cell." He turned and began walking again. When he was almost out of sight, he called back, "Are you following or not?"
Sam looked at the dead man again... the man who had all but killed her. She picked up her jacket and trudged after Bra'tac.
Colonel Jack O'Neill watched as the woman who would have been his second-in-command lay sleeping. The guard had offered to wake her, but Jack had refused. All he could see was that fateful day; watching the staff explode in his hands, making his way back to the Stargate, coming back with word that a member of his team had fallen. He shook his head and left the holding area, again staring at the red, almost plastic skin of his hands. They could have been fixed completely, all memory of that day erased with a bit of surgery... but he had refused. He needed to be reminded.
In the corridor, he ran into Daniel Jackson. "Going to see the prisoner?" O'Neill asked, self-consciously crossing his arms and tucking his hands under his armpits.
"I was thinking about it."
Jack glanced at the guard, then asked, "About Sha're?"
Daniel blinked. "I have to know, Jack."
Jack sighed. "Daniel, we don't know that she can be trusted."
"She's given you no reason to believe she can't be trusted," Daniel argued.
"Did you not see the little gold snake embedded in that woman's forehead? That stands for loyalty and devotion. Doc Fraiser examined her, said that thing goes to the bone. Do you have any idea what kind of pain that would be? To have a design sliced bone-deep in your flesh, then to have gold poured into the wound... keeping in mind the gold would have to be liquid and recently melted, in other words scalding. That is not something you do lightly."
Daniel looked at the closed door of the holding cell. "Then we have to ask ourselves why she would be willing to do it."
"I have all the answers I need," Jack said, moving away from the other man.
Bra'tac held the orak knife in one hand, slowly turning it. The blade was pressed against the palm of his opposite hand, cutting the flesh slightly and leaking a trail of blood to his wrist. "The pain is immense."
Sam took a deep breath and swallowed a mouthful of the hardest liquor the Jaffa exiles had. She wiped her lips and nodded. "I know the pain." She looked at the numerous red scars on her upper arm. "Believe me, I know."
She wore a sleeveless brown tunic and a pair of baggy gray trousers. The material was far too baggy around her much-smaller legs, but it did the job. It also helped conceal her form from the male Jaffa... She finished off the jug wine, pushing aside her glass and standing from the table. "Is it time?"
"It shall be soon. Apophis wishes to be present at the ceremony."
Sam scoffed. "Of course... he probably wants to see me suffer at every opportunity. What else is new..."
Bra'tac waved off her paranoia. "It is customary. He wishes to see the pain his followers are willing to inflict upon themselves in his honor. It is, indeed, perverse."
She shook her head, then looked in a mirror. Holding her bangs out of the way (had she still been in the military, there was no way her hair would be near this length), she took one last look at her unmarred forehead. "Okay," she said, her voice shuddering a bit. "Let's get this over with."
They stepped out of the tent and found themselves in the midst of an impromptu celebration. Streamers hung from the rafters of the few houses in the village. People were drinking jug wine, laughing, wrestling for a better view. Bra'tac ran the knife against his thigh, making a spine-chilling 'shhniiitc' sound. She swallowed sharply and scanned the crowd. Jaffa were preparing the way for their lord's arrival. Sam reached out and touched Bra'tac's cape. He turned and nodded slightly to her. She took a deep breath and stepped onto the platform.
Three Jaffa men and two of the exiled women were waiting at the wooden chair she was to occupy. The chair was of peculiar design; the seat was sloped down and the upright was sloped back, like a dentist's chair. Sam took a seat and one of the Jaffa men immediately wrapped his right arm around her left. The other stepped forward, doing the same with her right. The women knelt before her and held her feet in place.
Sam blinked nervously, feeling the sweat flowing below her tunic. Bra'tac stood near her head and used a reeking black gel to brush her hair out of the way. The final Jaffa male stood beside her and held her head steady. Bra'tac wet a rag in the jug wine and squeezed it into Sam's open mouth. She swallowed the drug-tainted liquor and felt her head swim slightly. The wine was strong, but it definitely was not enough for what she was about to experience.
"Apophis approaches!" a Jaffa cried.
Sam tensed and the Jaffa held her limbs steady. She was breathing hard, panting. Bra'tac swept a dry rag across her forehead, clearing the canvas for his artwork. She heard Apophis step onto the platform, but couldn't see him from her position. Bra'tac held the knife in a ceremonial flame for a few moments, then held the blade over her face. Her heart leapt at the sight of the weapon, but she grit her teeth and looked up at her Master. "Are you prepared for this, Carter?"
She swallowed. "Do it."
Bra'tac gripped the knife as tightly as possible, his knuckles going white. He rested the tip of the knife against her skin and she felt the heat of it, gasping involuntarily. She closed her eyes and held her breath.
Bra'tac made the first arc, the bottom of the outside ring.
A primal scream tore itself loose from Sam as her flesh was lacerated. Her entire body tensed and the Jaffa holding her down increased their pressure. Her fingers formed claws, her back arched and her mouth opened so wide an outside observer would think she'd dislocated her jaw. Blood from the first incision seeped down the side of her face, marking the lines around her tightly-shut eyes and dripping from her hair.
Slowly but surely, the design was etched. Bra'tac had the skill and the knowledge that made it a quick procedure, however each inch caused the nerve endings throughout her body to cry out in torturous pain. Sam was sobbing by the time the blood-red serpent was finished. Her face was completely scarlet with her own blood, her voice gone from screaming. She was nearly unconscious, but the jug wine kept her from going out completely. To her horror, she deduced the wine dulled none of the pain; just made sure that she was awake for everything. Bra'tac had lied.
She wept as her face was cleaned with a cold, wet sponge. She had blood in her mouth, blood in her eyes, blood in her ears. Her forehead was throbbing with such pain that it seemed separate of her body; it felt as if he had fileted an entire section of her skull. She wondered, her mind wandering, if her hair was also red. She'd always wondered what she would look like as a redhead...
Bra'tac stepped away and, in the drunken haze of pain and liquor, she thought it was over. She relaxed. A hand appeared over her eyes, cupped downward. She wasted time wondering what it was there for and had no time to prepare as the molten gold was poured onto her head. The searing ore burned through her skull like a spike being driven by a jackhammer. Her body convulsed once, twice, three times and then, jug wine or not, she passed out.
She woke three days later. Bra'tac was there, sitting in the shadows in the corner of her tent. She didn't sit up. She didn't move. She simply blinked at him and tried to see how much of her body was mobile. "Ewly... d." Sam managed, trying to say 'You lied.'
Bra'tac closed his eyes.
Sam wept quietly for a few minutes, the pain still unbearable. She had a headache, from both the jug wine and the 'surgery.' She found a cup near her bedside and used the majority of her strength to lift it to her lips. Bra'tac moved to her side and assisted, pouring the blissfully cold water into her mouth. Across the room, she saw her reflection in the filthy glass that served as her mirror. Both eyes were black. Her forehead was a field of red and gold. The ends of her hair, fanned around her head on the pillow, were marked red and black, while the hair near her forehead was gone. She learned later that the molten gold had burned it away. At the moment, she thought she looked like one of the Three Stooges.
When she had drained the cup, her Master refilled it. Pouring another cupful into her mouth, he whispered, "Congratulations."
She looked up at him through bloodshot eyes.
"You have met the first challenge of being First Prime. You have succeeded."
Sam closed her eyes, wondering why success felt so much like death.
The fifth day of Sam's imprisonment at the SGC, she was brought before a panel. Senator Kinsey, Colonel Maybourne, Major Davis, General Hammond, Colonel O'Neill and Colonel Makepeace were all present. She sat silently at the head of the table, her wrists bound by the ever-present chains that she'd come to accept. O'Neill refused to make eye contact with her. Maybourne seemed eager, while Kinsey looked prepared to spit bullets at her. After a long moment, Major Davis closed his folder and steepled his hands over it.
"Okay, Captain Carter--"
"Samantha," she said sharply, kicking herself even as she said it.
Davis glanced at Hammond, then stuttered, "I-I'm sorry?"
She took a deep breath, then said, "I prefer Samantha now."
"Are you denouncing the military?" Maybourne asked. Or rather, sneered. "Perhaps you have another loyalty?"
"No," Sam insisted. "It's... just..."
"We have time, Captain," O'Neill said.
Sam fell face-forward into the mud, Bra'tac's foot planted in the center of her back. She spit out a mouthful of mud and clenched her fists, filling them with handfuls of mud. Rolling to one side, she got to her feet and hurled one mudball at her teacher. He swept it aside, but the second one hit him in the face. Sam attacked then, but the Master simply closed his eyes and blocked her advance with his staff. He brought the weapon down on her right foot, then shoved her backwards.
Sam back-pedaled and he cracked her across the jaw with his weapon. She stumbled and he laid the staff across her spine. She flattened and he sighed, "Wrong."
Sam rose quickly, but Bra'tac easily swept her feet out from beneath her. "No," he said.
From her prone position, Sam grabbed his ankles and jerked him down. He landed with a quiet 'whuff!' and she crawled onto his stomach. She disarmed him and laid the staff across his throat, cutting off his oxygen. "NO!" she cried, echoing him. "WRONG! DO IT AGAIN!" she cried. "NO! WRONG!"
"You are failing," Bra'tac wheezed painfully. And calmly. The bastard.
"YOU are FAILING!" Sam screamed, tears burning her eyes. "I am a Captain in the United States Air Force! You CANNOT treat me like shit!"
Bra'tac calmly freed his weapon from her hands and pushed her onto her back. He stood without any apparent effort and planted his foot on her stomach. He towered above her, having turned the tables without breaking a sweat. "You are nothing. You are worse than 'chit'."
"I am a Captain... in the United..."
Bra'tac hit her again with the staff weapon, this time drawing blood from her bottom lip. "You are not."
"I AM!" she insisted.
He stepped back and offered a hand. When she stood, he swept his feet across hers and she fell again. He planted the staff in the mud next to her, then said, "You are 'chit'." He smoothed his tunic and turned, calmly walking away, leaving Sam crying in the mud.
"What are you?" he asked.
"I am a Captain in the United States Air Force."
Bra'tac floored her.
"What are you?"
"An Air Force Captain, you son of a bitch."
In the ensuing battle, Bra'tac broke her hand.
He planted his foot on her broken hand, the bones shifting painfully below his boot. Sam winced in pain, but did not cry out. "What are you?" Bra'tac asked calmly.
A long moment, then she slumped her shoulders. In a voice as weak as surrender, she whispered, "I'm shit."
"Yesterday, you were captain. In an air force."
She looked up at him with hatred and resignation. "Today, I'm shit."
Bra'tac stepped back and extended his hand. He helped her up, resting his hands on her shoulders. "Finally. Now, let us see about making you more than that for tomorrow, Samantha."
She remained in her seat for four more hours, during which time the people gathered whispered to each other or searched their folders. Except for Colonel O'Neill... he simply stared at his hands. Finally, Kinsey checked his watch and made a disgusted noise. "It looks like we'll be cutting this session short." He shut his folder and the others around the table did the same. As they dispersed, an airman escorted Sam back to her cell.
She had been locked up for twenty minutes when the door beeped and Janet Fraiser stepped inside. She was carrying a tray of cafeteria food. Sam stood, immediately salivating at the long-lost scent of a cheeseburger and fries. She'd forgotten what it smelled like and was immediately regretting letting the memory slip. Janet slipped the tray through the bars and Sam took it, carrying it to her bunk and taking the biggest bite she could. She moaned in ecstasy, then looked through the bars. When she'd chewed her mouthful, she looked questioningly at Janet. "Why are you delivering food to me?" she asked, shoving a handful of crinkle-cut fries into her mouth.
Janet clasped her hands in front of her and looked as if she were searching for words. Finally, she ignored the question and asked, "How are you?"
Sam dropped her cheeseburger and groaned. "More blood tests?"
"No," Janet said quickly. "How are you feeling?"
It took Sam a moment to realize what the other woman was asking, and another to process an answer. Finally, she decided on the truth. "Badly," she said. "Why do you ask?"
Janet sighed and shook her head. "I have a... a daughter. I went home last night and saw her sitting on the sofa and I thought..." She shrugged. "I thought that you probably would like someone to talk to."
Sam took another bite of her burger. "Are... you offering? To chit-chat with the enemy?"
"General Hammond would probably kill me for saying this, but... I don't think you're the threat they're convinced you are."
She closed her eyes. "That's a relief."
"Don't prove me wrong," she added sternly.
"I'll do my best," Sam said and then, to her own surprise, smiled. "But do you mind if I make one request?"
"Can we talk about anything besides this whole..."
"Done." Janet pulled up a metal folding chair and sat, crossing her legs. After a long moment, Janet asked, "Seen any good movies lately?"
And for the first time in what felt like decades, Sam laughed.
After the incident at the stream, Bra'tac led Sam through the woods in silence. Her mind reeled at where her life was; alone, on an alien world, following one of the enemy to God-knows-what. Relying on the enemy because she'd been left behind. It was a terrifying thought, one she didn't want to think too heavily on. Her nose had started bleeding again, and her headache had returned in force (had it ever gone away? She thought about when she had passed out in the stream, the blissful pain-free world she'd found herself in. A place of death that seemed far too inviting now).
In the back of her mind, some desperate voice was trying to convince her she wouldn't be on this world very long. Somehow, someone would come rescue her. Kawalsky had seemed rather loyal to O'Neill, right? Any minute now - well, probably in the morning - SG-2 would come charging over the hill in the distance and she'd rush to their side. Kawalsky and his team would take her back to Earth and she'd have a hell of a story to tell the grandkids.
Yeah. Any second now.
They finally reached a large gravel pit filled with tents and flickering torches. A bonfire stood at either end of the oblong pit, casting light and shadows on the wan figures wandering from spot to spot. Everyone she saw seemed hopeless, as if waiting only for death to claim them. Bra'tac paused next to a sloping access road that led into the pit. He leaned on his staff weapon, watching for a few moments before he began to speak. "They are exiles," he explained. "Those who turn against Apophis, and their families. They are brought here, to the outskirts, to live out the rest of their days in shame."
"They're forgotten?" Sam asked.
"No. Never forgotten. Apophis makes sure of it. He keeps the exiles close, so that the loyal can remember the consequences of questioning their god."
"Why are we here?"
Bra'tac swept his staff weapon across the air, indicating the pit. "This is your new home."
Sam couldn't believe her ears. "What? W-why are you dumping me here?"
"If it becomes known a human survived the massacre in the cell, you will be hunted down. You will suffer atrocities you do not even want to contemplate. It is far safer for you here, among the outcasts."
"You're leaving me here?"
"For the moment." He sighed heavily. "Your friends did not succeed this day. However, they did manage to ruin many schemes."
"What do you mean?"
He turned. "The lead Jaffa, Apophis' First Prime Teal'c... your commanding officer killed him. Teal'c was my protege. While bearing the scar of Apophis, he still received training from me in other paths... we dreamed of a day when the Jaffa would be freed from the rule of the Goa'uld. I am too old to do it alone, and your leader killed my last hope." He looked down into the exile camp. "I pray that I can find another young and foolish enough to do the right thing."
The Jaffa began to walk off, using his staff as a cane. Sam called out to him, "Wait! How am I supposed to do this?! Just walk in there and set up camp?"
"If I escort you, human, you will have nothing to your own name. Walk in on your own two feet, show your strength. I will return once you have made this place your home... once my influence is no longer required. Then, we shall begin training." He bowed slightly and disappeared into the thick trees.
Alone again on the alien cliff, she hugged herself and walked down the steep road into the camp.
"How long did you live in the camp?" Major Davis asked, not looking at her but at the contents of her folder.
"The camp was my home from that night until I was rescued."
Kinsey frowned. "You were the trusted First Prime of Apophis and he made you live with exiles?"
Sam turned to him. "For the last two years or so, I was the human First Prime of Apophis. I was tainted, no matter what I had to offer him. The only humans allowed quarters in the palace were his lo'tars. I suffered abuse from him, both mental and physical, every moment I was near him."
"He raped you," Davis asked, point-blank.
Sam blinked. "No."
"Evidence of rape appeared in your physical examination, I only assumed--"
Sam pressed her lips together. For a moment, she felt a seething anger towards Janet Fraiser. It felt as though the brunette had betrayed her confidence. However, she knew the physical was required information. Janet had no choice but to turn over her findings. Sam cleared her throat and replied, "Yes. I was... attacked... several times by several Jaffa males. Never Apophis."
"Why did they rape you?"
"I was a human vying for their most honored position. It infuriated them." She felt furious at the prim and proper Pentagon prick... but kept it at bay. Bra'tac had taught her that reckless emotion could end any battle before it began. This interrogation was as much a battle as any she'd fought in Apophis' service. "It was common knowledge I was living with the exiles. The Jaffa would break away from their own camp, come find me... and leave at dawn."
"You didn't try to stop them?" Kinsey asked.
"What the hell kind of question is that?" Hammond barked. "Don't answer that, Captain." To Kinsey, he expanded, "That is a wholly unnecessary line of questioning. Continue and I'll see you out of here myself, Senator."
Kinsey shut up.
Davis asked, "You've been gone nearly five years. Why did you never attempt to contact Earth? Why did you simply remain where you were?"
"I thought Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson had died. I was unconscious past the deadline and could only assume the Stargate had been sealed. Because of my 'embarrassing' situation as a human, Apophis often kept me off the front lines. That's why I never encountered SGC officers in battle."
Hammond asked, "He never mentioned doing battle with human forces? Or members of the SGC?"
"In retrospect, I knew about such battles taking place. However, Apophis only referred to the SG teams as 'green-coats.' I just never put it together that they may have been human soldiers he was talking about. The only reason I encounted Colonel Makepeace's team was because I was caught off-guard, in the middle of a routine practice run when the Stargate activated. Had I been a little less lucky, I would still be on Chulak, pretending to serve Apophis."
Maybourne finally spoke. "Did you develop any romantic ties while First Prime?"
Sam bristled. "I don't see the relevance of that question."
Maybourne held his hands out, palm up. "We know you were raped." He consulted his notes, "Multiple healed vaginal lacerations and evidence of frequent forced sodomy." At the sound of those words - read aloud in a room filled with Air Force superiors and gossiping airmen, while a tape recorder spun in the center of the table - Sam felt a violation worse than any those Jaffa had visited upon her during those dark nights in her tent. She felt like tearing Maybourne's throat out. "All I wish to know is if you became attached to anyone of your own free will."
"It would be a conflict of interest if there's someone you love out there, Captain," Kinsey added, looking pleased to see someone was on his side.
Sam swallowed and said, "There was one instance. However, it's no longer a problem."
"How can you be certain?"
"The person I was involved with... is dead." She glanced at Hammond. "Can we end it at that?"
Hammond nodded. "There's no need to continue this line of questioning. According to your report, Apophis considered information you possessed to be valuable. What information?"
Sam cleared her throat and took a sip of water. "I told him of several Gate addresses on the Abydos cartouche."
O'Neill straightened in his chair. "You what?!"
Sam ignored the outburst. "I also... gave him the benefit of my military knowledge."
O'Neill was out of his seat. "That's treason, Carter!"
"Colonel, sit down!" Hammond barked.
Jack turned to his CO, his face red. "General... she told him about the cartouche. The cartouche we used to pick the Alpha Site! And the..." He looked at Sam, realization dawning on his face. "'The benefit of your military knowledge'? Like sneak attacks? Like guerilla warfare?" He came around the table until he was face-to-face with the blonde. "Did you tell that fucking snakehead how to kill our men?!"
Sam glanced at Hammond, but it was Davis who replied.
"Approximately two years after your... disappearance, capture, whatever... the Jaffa we were encountering seemed to become craftier. They eluded us much easier and were harder to stop. We lost several soldiers due to the refined fighting technique."
Sam couldn't believe her ears. She'd told the Jaffa how to be more effective in attack. For one, she'd single-handedly done away with the clarion horn, which had inadvertantly alerted enemies to their whereabouts. "Oh, my God," she gasped.
"Why did you do it?" Jack demanded.
"To carry on the work of the man you killed," she said, regaining her composure. "His name was Teal'c, the leader of the Jaffa troops in that cell. He was a double-agent, working for Apophis while working to free his people from the Goa'uld. Teal'c was a warrior, a hero to his people. He was risking everything for a better future. The kind of things Americans get medals for." She looked at the gathered men, who would decide her fate. "Because Teal'c was dead, the Jaffa were in danger of losing hope. They wanted freedom, but they were scared. Imagine being faced with a seemingly all-powerful god, then being told to turn your back on him.
"The Jaffa waiting for me on that other world? They desire freedom, nothing more. They're willing to pledge allegiance to Earth and join our fight."
Jack muttered, "Right."
Kinsey shook his head. "You turned, joining the enemy. And now you claim you did it for the sole purpose of recruiting these 'Jaffer' to join us? Really, Captain, that is a stretch."
"I asked you to call me Samantha or Carter," she hissed. "I am no longer a Captain in the Air Force."
Kinsey slapped the table and said, "I've had enough of this."
"You haven't heard the whole story!" Sam protested.
"I've heard enough," Kinsey said, puffing his chest out. "You turned against the United States Air Force and our president. But worse than that, you allowed a false god to etch his symbol in your flesh. You've turned away from God Himself, Captain Carter. No matter how you justify things in your mind, that is the truth here. While, sadly, we cannot prosecute for that, we'll have to settle for the charge of treason."
Davis cleared his throat. "I'm not sure we're ready to jump to that conclusion just yet, Senator."
"Oh, I am," he said, shaking a thin finger at the other men in the room. "It's my final decision. Nothing I hear can change my recommendation." He gathered his things and tucked them under one arm. He turned on his heel and stormed out of the room.
Hammond sighed. "I suppose that ends this session. Airmen, please escort the prisoner back to her cell."
"Are you telling them anything?"
Janet looked up, head tilted to one side. "What do you mean?"
Sam was on the opposite side of the bars, hugging her knees to her chest. She was sitting on the bed, far against the back wall and mostly hidden in shadows. "About what... we talk about. What's the information exchange?"
The doctor put down her spoon. Sam had refrained from eating, but had told the doctor to go ahead. "Well... I receive reports concerning your interrogations. And, yes, in some situations I'm obliged to report what I'm told."
"Does that mean you're betraying my confidence? Telling them what we talk about here?"
"We haven't talked about anything I've felt the need to tell them about," Janet assured her. "However... if you said 'I'm lying about everything' or invited me to get a skull tattoo of my very own, then I would report it at once. Otherwise, it falls under the category of doctor-patient confidentiality."
Sam wiped her face and said, "In that case, I want to tell you about Anabree."
"What is that?"
"Anabree," Sam repeated. "The lo'tar of Apophis was called Anabree. I don't want to tell those... those people. But I have to tell someone. I feel I owe it to her." Sam pulled her legs onto the bed, hugging them to her chest.
"Okay," Janet nodded. "Tell me about her."
"She was nineteen, black. Beautiful. Before I was assigned First Prime, I was one of Apophis' foot soldiers. To prove my worth as a warrior, I suppose. We only went into battle with other Jaffa, which is why I never saw any SG teams out there. God, if I'd only gone on the right missions..." She shook her head and went back to the topic at hand. "Unlike most lo'tars, she had no interest whatsoever in being blended. She had taken over the position from her father when he died, but she didn't believe the same things he did. Anabree approached me because I was human. Because I wasn't like 'Them.' We spoke whenever I was in the palace. I grew to love her. Do you know what it's like? To be in hell, to be cursing every day and wishing everyone around you to hell, and to find love in such a place? I didn't think it was possible."
Sam dropped the chest piece of her armor and fell forward, her muscles screaming out in agony. She was bleeding from a cut under her hairline, bruises lined her ribcage and she had a split lip. She forced herself to her feet and fell against the wall, her face flattened against it. She coughed, her ribs crying out in pain at the motion. A soft hand touched her back and she jumped, spinning to face her attacker.
"Anabree," she breathed.
The girl looked at Sam with wide, pained eyes. "Come with me," she said, looping Sam's arm over her shoulder and supporting her as they walked down the corridor. Sam shuffled her feet, lacking the strength to pick them up. She abandoned the ruined chest of her armor and let Anabree escort her to the lo'tar's quarters.
Anabree carefully laid Sam on the bed and began the arduous process of removing the battered blonde's armor. She left the chain mail shirt for last, eyeing the addition to the armor. A jagged piece of glass jutted from Sam's right shoulder. Anabree touched the large shrapnel, wincing when Sam cried out. "How do I--"
"Rip it out," Sam struggled.
"Rip it out!" Sam insisted.
Anabree closed her eyes and pulled. Sam bellowed in pain and blood gushed down the front of her tunic. Anabree picked up the silk blanket from her bed, pressing it against the wound and hoping she was stopping the blood loss. She laid the injured blonde on the mattress, stroking Sam's hair and waiting for the tears to stop. Finally, she asked, "Who did this? Heru'ur's Jaffa?"
Sam shook her head. "We were in battle." She sniffed and coughed, wincing in pain. "We were behind an outcropping, holding our fire so the front line could situate themselves. One of the Jaffa behind me - I don't know who it was - struck me with a zat'nik'atel. I was stunned, unable to move, and they swarmed me. Kicking, punching, jabbing... they used debris from the wreckage of Heru'ur's cargo ship as weapons," she said, indicating the bloody glass. "They were trying to kill me so they could blame Heru'ur's forces."
Anabree muttered a word in her own language and removed the blood-soaked blanket. The bleeding had slowed, so she helped Sam remove the tunic.
"I was certain I was going to die, but they got distracted soon enough... Heru'ur attacked in force then. They left me and started using my own techniques to win the fight. I lay there, bleeding, knowing they'd finish the job when the battle was over. So I walked away. I retreated." She lowered her head.
Anabree wet a sponge and lightly touched it to Sam's bloody shoulder. They fell into a comfortable silence as she cleaned the wound, wrapping the shoulder tightly with a length of her skirt when she was done. She cleaned the sponge of blood, then began to apply it to the dirt and blood on Sam's face. "No," Sam said, pulling away.
"You're beautiful," Anabree whispered. "Let it show."
Sam turned her face away from the young girl. "That's the last thing I need," she hissed. "These motherfuckers are already raping me. I don't want anyone else to get ideas." She took the sponge from Anabree and tossed it. "No. If anything, I wish they had broken my jaw. Broken my nose. Done something to make me uglier." She closed her eyes and turned away from Anabree. The young girl embraced Sam and the blonde was very aware of her nudity. "Anabree..."
"Shh," the lo'tar whispered.
Sam finally just let herself be hugged.
"Did you ever..." Janet tried to think of a polite way to ask the question. "Were the two of you intimate?"
Sam shook her head slowly. "We kissed. Once. We slept together a few times, chastely, when I couldn't face returning to the exile camp for another session of pass-the-Carter. But I never told her I loved her."
"Apophis found out. Several guards reported to him I was spending evenings in the castle with his lo'tar. He spied on us, watched us together, and grew jealous. One day he called me to his throne room and Anabree was there. She was feeding him oranges. We looked at each other... and Apophis grabbed her shoulders. He pulled her back. He brought a knife out from his wrist-guard and slit her throat right in front of me."
Janet gasped in horror.
Sam's hands trembled as she touched the perforated throat of the young, black girl. Her fingers became sodden paintbrushes as she looked up at Apophis with tear-filled eyes. "Why?" she asked.
"Did you love her?"
She closed her eyes.
He knelt and touched the top of her head. "I am your lord. You will give your heart, your body, to none but me. Do you understand?"
"Remove your armor."
Janet, who had been briefed about the day's earlier interrogation, said, "I thought you said Apophis never raped you."
"He didn't." Sam said softly.
"But... why did he tell you to get undressed?"
Sam didn't reply. After a long while, it became painfully obvious to Janet and she turned away ashamed of her own idiocy.
"He made me walk the halls nude, to his bedchamber. Amaunet joined us." She shuddered. "At least he let me clean Anabree's blood off my hands before we--" She looked at her fingers, as if she could still see the scarlet stains all this time later.
Apophis thrust madly within her. Sam stared at the ceiling.
When he was finished, he pushed off of her and stood, allowing Amaunet to place his cloak over his shoulders. The Queen looked at Sam's nude body with undisguised jealousy. Apophis touched the cheek of his Queen's host. "A pity..." To Sam, he said, "Had I only seen you first, my dear."
Amaunet turned and left the room, obviously unphased by the slight to her host. Apophis turned and said, "You may go."
Sam turned, eyeing the sumptuous meal laid out on Apophis' table. Her stomach roared and she turned to face him, holding the sheets in front of herself as he finished dressing. "Actually... if I may, I'd like to eat."
He glanced at the table. "Would you?"
He thought, obviously making her wait. Finally, he waved a hand dismissively as he headed for the door. "If you must."
Once she was alone, Sam gathered the bedsheets around herself and stumbled from the bed. She sat at the large oak table at one end of Apophis' bedchambers and began to eat. This was the sole reason she tolerated his violations; it was the only time she ate actual, untainted, unbegged-for food. She ate as if it were her last meal, a phrase that in recent years had become all too possible. He'd stopped sending fresh vegetables to the exile camp. The only meat came from hunters, who portioned her at the very last.
It had been weeks since she had an actual meal. Withstanding a little passionless sex was nothing compared to the joy of a full stomach...
As she ate, she thought nothing of Anabree's corpse, presumably still laying in the throne room spilling blood from the tear in her throat. Sam didn't allow herself to cry. Anabree was gone. Move on. Forget. She ate.
Janet stood and rested her hand on the bars. "Sam, I... I don't know what to say."
Sam shook her head. "Sorry doesn't work. And, what, you want to tell me about the time you got raped so we can bond?"
"I've never been raped," Janet admitted. "Thank God for that. But I am a doctor. I've seen the aftermath. I've seen husbands rape their wives, I've seen such utter abuse and hatred associated with a beautiful, sacred act that it makes me wonder why the hell we bother thrusting at the opposite sex in the darkness. And I've seen women just after giving birth, with such joy and wonder in their eyes... it just makes sense in that instant."
"The Ups and Downs of Sex, huh?" Sam said.
"No, Sam, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that... I don't know what I'm saying. I just want you to know that good and bad, happy and sad, I've seen it. I've dealt with the aftershocks before. I held the hand of a six-year-old girl raped by a family friend. My shoulders are slender, but they're waterproof."
Sam laughed again. "You're inviting me to cry on your shoulder when we can't get within fifteen feet of each other?"
Janet shrugged. "It's a start. You've spent the last, what, five years of your life in hell with very few people who gave a damn about you. I just want you to know you have a friend."
Sam looked at her hands, then softly said, "Thank you."
General Hammond entered the office, closing the door and smiling at the doctor. "I understand you wanted to see me?"
"Yes, Sir," she said. "As you know, I've been visiting our... friend... in the holding cell regularly for lunch."
Hammond nodded. "I'm aware. I can't say it's adviseable, but I have nothing against it."
"We talk during these visits, rather extensively. She tells me things that I doubt she tells you in your little inquisitions with Maybourne and Kinsey." She held up a slender hand. "Don't ask me for details, I won't divulge them unless it's urgently necessary. However... during the course of these exchanges, I've developed a feeling for this woman's character that I wanted to share."
Janet went through her prepared speech in her mind, picking and choosing the correct order for her words. "Samantha Carter is a soldier, like me and like you. A soldier who found herself in a hell of a bind and forced to make some terrible choices, granted, but a soldier nonetheless. I think if we're going to get anywhere with her, we're going to have to give her reasons to trust us. Show her that we're still the Air Force she joined."
"What do you suggest, Doctor?"
"I want to take her off-base, General."
Another day, another inquisition.
Janet had surprised Sam by leaving a change of outfit with the guard. The orange prison jumpsuit would be replaced by a standard blue jumpsuit, used by most off-duty base personnel. She would no longer stick out like a sore thumb while being escorted to the briefing room. Sam changed, hoping to see Janet to thank the doctor for her thoughtfulness, but the brunette never came by. The guards unlocked her cell, taking her to the briefing room for yet another round of question-and-answer.
Or so she thought.
She sat at the head of the table, her usual spot, and faced the gathered men at the opposite end. Kinsey was notably absent. Contrary to the past meetings, they were already arguing amongst themselves when she arrived and didn't take notice of her.
"It's inarguably insane!" Davis hissed. "There is no chance in hell this is getting approved."
"I trust her judgement," Hammond insisted.
O'Neill spoke up, looking at Sam. He was the first to acknowledge her presence. "Based on what? Their secret little talks, where God knows what is going on? How do we know she hasn't been brainwashed?"
"May I ask what you're talking about?" Sam asked, raising her voice to be heard over the din of their arguments.
The men stopped, then Maybourne barked, "Get her out of here."
Hammond nodded and motioned to an airman in the back of the room.
The same guard who had brought her to the room lifted her from the chair by her elbow. As she was moved towards the stairs, she saw a harried-looking Janet Fraiser enter from the other stairs. The men turned their attention to the new arrival. Before Sam could see any more, or determine what was going on, the guard led her down the stairs.
After dismissing the meeting, Hammond went back into his office and closed the door against interruption. In the silence, he steepled his fingers and took a deep breath to calm himself. There was a knock on the door and he tensed, afraid that Maybourne or O'Neill would enter for another sparring session. "Come in," he called.
Fortunately, it was only Sergeant Davis. "General? Just need you to sign these."
"Gladly," he sighed. He took the pen and scribbled his signature on the appropriate lines. Momentarily caught up in the every-dayness of the situation, he asked, "Any word from SG-7?"
"None yet, Sir. Colonel Dever radioed to say that they may be a few days late with their reports."
"Keep me apprised, Sergeant." Davis nodded and headed for the door. "Sergeant? How do you feel about Samantha Carter's presence here?"
He paused, blinking behind his glasses. "Sir?"
"Off the record."
Davis looked uncomfortable, then sighed. "My job is to keep Jaffa out of this command. And now we're housing one. To be perfectly frank, I'll be happy when she's gone from this mountain, Sir."
"Thank you, Sergeant. That's all."
Sam knelt by the stream and cupped her hands into the cool water. She was about to sip when Bra'tac tapped her back with his staff weapon. "No. We keep walking."
Sam frowned and stood. Their training had been cut short for the day. She assumed their early trip to the stream to wash off was a reward for besting him the past three days. She stood, wiping her hands on her pants and following him without question. "Where are we going?"
"Far," Bra'tac said, cryptically.
She glanced longingly at the roaring stream, wishing she had the opportunity to wash a bit before going on a hike. But she'd learned to follow Bra'tac's advice unquestioningly.
They hiked. Through forests, past villages, taking the long way around a gravel pit, eventually pausing at another stream for a rest. Bra'tac indicated the stream and Sam greedily drank from her cupped hands. She barely swallowed twice before Bra'tac was walking again. She flicked her hands dry and hurried after her master, cursing the stamina the symbiote gave him. Sometimes she envied the extra boost of energy it gave the host. But the price...
Across a barrier of rocky hills, sounds began to echo over the valley. A battle was raging near the Stargate. The soldier in her, long replaced by the warrior she was training to be, itched for a gun. She heard shouts of pain, cries of anger and repeated staff weapons exploding. The sun was beginning to set and in the pre-twilight dimness she could see the flashing fires beyond the next hill. Jaffa were shouting in their native language; Sam could tell they were being defeated. "Do we wait?" she asked.
Bra'tac shook his head. "We have arrived at our destination. Word reached me early this morning of this battle. Apophis' forces are holding back an invasion of Heru'ur's forces. It has been a harrowing battle; Apophis was alerting me to prepare the Jaffa exiles to join the battle."
"Exiles," Sam whispered. That meant he wanted only to show force. He didn't expect to win. Anyone Bra'tac sent to this battle would be slaughtered. She turned to him. "Why am I here?"
Sam almost laughed. She stepped forward, trying to make sense of her Master's face in the waning sunlight. "You're joking, right?"
"I do not joke." He handed her his staff weapon. "Do well, Samantha."
She took the weapon, but did not move. "I can't join that fight, Master. I'll be killed."
"You may. Or you may prove yourself worthy." He put a hand on her shoulder. "This is what you have been training for. A student cannot spend forever in practice. The time has come for you to put your newfound skills to use. However, do not rely solely upon what I have taught you. You were a soldier on Earth, yes?"
"Air Force," Sam said, staring at the weapon in her hands. Another Jaffa cried out in pain over the knoll.
"Use what they taught you. Tactics these Jaffa have never seen will turn the tide."
Sam looked at him, suddenly angry. "And if I fail? What then? I die?"
"You have been training long. If you cannot prove yourself now, you will inevitably be a failure in future battles. In the past three days, I have defeated you in battle not once. I believe you are ready."
She gripped the staff weapon and looked at the hill. "Now or never, huh, Master Bra'tac?"
"What is it you always say before a battle? 'We die free,' right?"
Bra'tac smiled. "Give them hell," he said, quoting one of Sam's battle cries.
She smiled and started for the hill, her staff weapon in hand.
(Illustration: The Fight)
They were retreating. Sam dropped to one knee and looked at the corpses littering the ground around her feet. She ran a hand through her hair, laying the staff weapon across her leg and finally allowing herself to breathe. She was bleeding... everywhere. She hadn't had the luxury of armor, like the other warriors present. She'd been wearing a sleeveless brown tunic and baggy slacks. Her feet had been bare. A flap of skin hung loosely on her upper arm, pouring blood that dripped from her elbow. A blade had cut her stomach open, but the cut was shallow and already clotting.
When she had rushed onto the battle field, Jaffa on both sides had stared in shock at the dirty, disheveled exile woman rushing them. The enemy's surprise had been to her advantage. Four had fallen before Heru'ur's forces realized what was happening. She broke through the line, stepping on those already dead, and felt the press of muscle from all sides. She fired once, twice, three times in close quarters, setting fire to the cloth below their armor.
Jaffa burned. She stole their knives and slashed them, making them bleed. Apophis' forces, their shock dissipating, took the miracle of Sam's interjection at face value and strengthened their attack.
After another hour of fighting, Heru'ur's First Prime called the retreat. Apophis' forces gave chase, but Sam collapsed on the field of battle.
She finally stood. She was bleeding from her hairline, her arms were cut in numerous places in addition to the flap she was holding in place, her entire body ached... but she'd won. She turned, preparing for the long hike back to the exile camp where she assumed Bra'tac would be meeting her. She stopped when she saw him on the slope of the hill, marching towards her with another Jaffa. She frowned and changed direction to intercept them.
Before she could call out to him, Bra'tac called, "You! Exile! To your knees!"
Panic struck her as she did as he instructed. Her hands instinctively came up, her eyes wide with panic and confusion. "What--"
The Jaffa with Bra'tac was close enough to strike her skull with the butt of his staff. Sam crumpled, blackness closing in on her vision. As she passed out, she heard Master Bra'tac say, "A human... take her to Apophis before her execution."
She wasn't conscious long enough to feel betrayed.
After washing and resting, the Jaffa brought Sam from her cell and deposited her before Apophis' throne. Bra'tac stood beside her, but she ignored him. If she survived, she'd find the aging Jaffa and murder him. Apophis stared down at her, idly fingering the hem of his golden robe. "You are the one who turned the tide of battle."
"Yes," she said, not hesitating. Despite his betrayal, Bra'tac had taught her all she needed to know about dealing with false gods.
He smiled slightly. "What insanity gripped you so? To believe you, a human, an... exile... could do battle with Jaffa and win?"
"I did win," she stated. "Is it still insanity?"
Apophis chuckled and stood. "Where are you from, human female? I do not recognize you."
"She was one brought for the choosing," Bra'tac said. "When the humans escaped, she did not follow and wandered a great while."
"You know of her?" Apophis asked.
"I encountered her several times in the exile camp."
"She fights well, I am told. Like... a Jaffa." He turned and faced his former First Prime. "You would have had nothing to do with that, did you, Master Bra'tac?"
"She observed me without my knowledge. She observed others who passed through the exile camp. I had no idea she was absorbing our battle techniques. I am as surprised at this turn as you are." He sighed. "However, she is headstrong. Impetuous. She will be dealt with at once." He put a hand on Sam's shoulder. Before she could jerk away from him, Apophis interrupted.
"On the contrary. I believe she could be useful."
"How so?" Bra'tac asked, smiling ruefully. "She is human. Worthless."
Apophis' cruel smile spread. "Agreed. However, she is - as you say - headstrong. Impetuous. Perhaps we could use this to our advantage. Allow her to enter battle, allow her to bear arms against the opposing forces of my enemies. If she fails, the problem will have corrected itself in a most painful manner. The other Jaffa would not be kind in disposing of her. However, if she succeeds... I will be lauded for my brilliance. I will be honored for the ability to see a diamond in the rough."
"Diamond in the rough," Bra'tac scoffed. "She is hardly a lump of coal."
"A lump of coal which won this day in my name." He turned to her. "Your name?"
Apophis stood. "Do you believe the fates smiled upon you this day?"
Sam stood firm. "What I did today, I could do again in a heartbeat."
"Very well. Bra'tac, bring me Shak'l."
The former First Prime paled. "Shak'l?" The sound of his voice told Sam, without a doubt, this wasn't part of his plan. "My lord, I do not believe--"
"Bring him," Apophis growled, eyes flashing. Bra'tac bowed quickly, casting an apologetic glance at Sam before leaving the throne room.
Apophis glanced at Sam and grinned. "We shall see how well you do in battle."
Alone with the self-appointed god, Sam wished for any kind of weapon. She could throttle him with her bare hands, but had no idea how strong his will was. Perhaps Bra'tac and Shak'l would arrive before he expired... She held her arms at her side, waiting in silence for her master to return. Apophis, meanwhile, slowly circled her. When he was behind her, he put a hand on the small of her back, sliding it down to cup her buttocks. Sam kept herself from gasping, barely.
His golden-ringed hands slid under her arms, cupping her breasts. She could feel him pressing against her, but did nothing. He was examining her like a piece of meat. She withheld her frustrations until she heard the throne doors open. Bra'tac moved gracefully in, sweeping his cape around his legs. Apophis stepped back, not because he'd been caught groping but because he preferred to do it in private.
Sam turned fully and faced the man who would be her opponent. Shak'l was a brute of a man; his bald head covered by a skull cap. He looked gigantic in his armor, his mark of First Prime glittering in the dim light of the throne room. Sam tensed and glanced at Bra'tac. In keeping with the ruse, he said nothing. Shak'l barely glanced at Sam or Bra'tac, his gaze locked lovingly on his lord. "Yes, my lord?"
"Kill her," Apophis said casually, waving a hand towards Sam.
Shak'l bowed. "As you wish, master."
Apophis returned to his throne; best seat in the house. Bra'tac turned and receded to the far corner of the room. Shak'l carried a staff weapon at ready, a zat'nik'atel was fastened to his thigh. There was a knife on his belt. Sam was unarmed and dropped into a crouch. Shak'l smiled at his easy prey and advanced on her, sliding his left foot forward. His grip on his staff weapon tightened and he raised the end of it.
In a move that shocked even Bra'tac, Sam let her feet drop out from underneath her. She hit the floor - hard- and shot her legs forward. Using her hands for balance, she thrust her body forward. Her feet, the head in her body's arrow, sliced between his parted legs. She spread her legs and hooked her feet behind his ankles. In the time it took Shak'l to realize what she was doing, she'd pulled her feet back and bent her knees.
Shak'l fell with an 'oomf,' hands going for his zat as Sam clambered onto his chest. She pinned his arms down with her legs, squeezing him tightly as her hands found his throat. His eyes widened as he fought against her, his hips bucking wildly to get her off of him. To an outside observer, it seemed a highly obscene display. She squeezed his windpipe, turning to Apophis. "Is this good enough for you?"
"Hardly," the Goa'uld replied, sneering.
She realized the intent. The battle was to the death. She looked down into Shak'l's hateful eyes and knew if she released him out of mercy, she'd have a knife in her back before she left the room. She twisted. Shak'l's body tensed. She tightened her grip, watching the skin of his throat whiten around her fingertips. She grit her teeth, raising her hips and resting all of her weight on her hands. "Die!" she hissed.
Shak'l's wide eyes shot hatred into her. She retained her hold on him until finally she realized he was no longer struggling against her. She released him, falling back and off his corpse. Apophis rose from his throne and stared at the body of his First Prime. He glared at Sam, then told Bra'tac, "Take her to the armory. Have her fitted."
"Shall I prepare a room for her with the other warriors?"
"No!" Apophis barked. "She is unworthy of the honor. Where does she live now?"
"With the exiles."
"Then there she shall remain. I will have no human scum within my walls. Take her from my sight." As Bra'tac led Sam out, Apophis called for two Jaffa to remove to waste from his throne room.
Once they were alone, Bra'tac turned to Sam. "You did well," he smiled.
She pulled the knife she'd stolen from Shak'l's body and slashed him across the cheek. He barely reacting, merely turning his head with the movement of the blade. "Go to hell," she hissed.
"You welcomed our training."
"That wasn't training, it was a trial by fire, you asshole. In the most extreme sense of the word. I could have been killed."
"Indeed. However, you proved yourself worthy." Blood trailed his wrinkled face, matting in one corner of his beard before dripping to the floor. He explained, "You are now in a position to become First Prime. To take Teal'c's place as a savior to his people. Which is what we have been working for all this time, is it not?"
Sam looked at the bloody knife in her hands and dropped it. "Teal'c was a martyr for his people. I'll be damned if I'll be one, too." She turned to stalk off.
He called after her, "You would rather hide? Live your days in fear until one day some merciful fool takes your sorry life? That is what you prefer?"
Sam stopped, hanging her head. "I'm no Jaffa," she whispered.
"No," Bra'tac admitted, putting a hand on her shoulder. "But with time... patience... and strength... perhaps you will become a hero to them."
Sam waited, but Janet never arrived for dinner. The guard brought a tray, but Sam refused to eat alone. When the night shift of guards arrived, Sam placed the tray in her lap and stared at the cold food. Finally, she put it down and laid on her side, pulling the blankets over her shoulder as she stared silently at the wall.
"Where were you last night?" Sam asked, trying not to let her hurt show. She was eating a large breakfast; pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy and orange juice. Missing dinner had taken it's toll on her. Three years of starving and a few weeks on Earth had already gotten her used to three square meals a day.
Janet sighed. "I'm in a lot of trouble."
"I suggested something that everyone apparently thinks is ludicrous."
"I can't tell you what it is. According to General Hammond, the idea has been scrapped and I'm no longer supposed to discuss it. End of story." She sipped her coffee, looking at Sam over the rim of her cup. She sat the cup down on the floor next to her chair, using the motion as an excuse to check the position of the guard. He was outside, ignoring them. She picked the coffee back up and held it in both hands, as if pondering whether or not to tell Sam the truth. She fiddled with the lid of her coffee cup, crossed her legs and then looked into Sam's eyes and broke the rules. "I wanted to take you out of here."
"I wanted to show you the world you'd been missing. Your world. I also wanted to show you we could be trusted. And, if you didn't run, it would go a long way to proving you can be trusted."
Sam assured her, "I wouldn't have run."
Janet shook her head. "I know you wouldn't. But Davis and Maybourne and O'Neill aren't about to let you out of their sight. Not on my recommendation, not on anyone's."
"Should I take this as a sign? That I'm never going to see the outside of this base?" She looked down at her tray. "Am I going to be a prisoner forever?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Janet said. "Problem is... I have very little say in it. The people upstairs are more than a little nervous about you."
Sam scoffed. "Just because I committed a little treason?"
Janet looked down at her hands. "The least I can do is try. And I will keep trying. You have my word on that."
"The least you can do is nothing," Sam countered. "This means a lot to me, Janet. Your companionship has made this imprisonment tolerable."
Janet bid her farewell, feeling guilty for walking off and leaving someone she now considered a friend locked in a cage. But she could do nothing to fix that. She'd have to settle for doing her best to keep Sam Carter company. She thanked the guard and started down the hall, only to be intercepted halfway by Colonel O'Neill. "Little powwow?" he asked, deep frownlines marking his face. He carried a thick folder in one of his scarred hands.
"What do you need, Colonel?" she asked, sick of his tirade.
He handed her the folder. "Read." She opened to the first page and he read along with her. "Major Christopher Rouner, SG-4. Captain Robert Holt, SG-4. Civilian, Dr. Leanne Jerome, SG-4." She looked up. "Recognize those names, Doc? Those are just a few of the people killed by Jaffa loyal to Apophis. Jaffa that were trained by your new friend in there." He snatched the file back. "She trained them and set them loose. Rouner, Holt, Jerome, and 21 others in the past year alone, Doctor. How many of those did you patch up?"
"Stop it," she said weakly, refusing to meet his gaze.
"How many of them did you lose? How many times did you have to notify the family because of what that woman did?"
Janet couldn't - wouldn't - cry. But he was right. She distinctly remembered Holt's heart stopping, declaring time of death... and hearing about the birth of his daughter precisely 54 hours later. She didn't remember every face; no one could. But O'Neill had struck a cord with her. "Is that all, Sir?"
He nodded curtly and walked past her. Janet continued to the elevator, still feeling guilty but for entirely different reasons.
They stood before her and she swore she could feel their hatred burning through her armor. She'd survived the 'etching' of First Prime and wore the armor. Her speed, agility and expertise in battle had won their allegiance, if not entirely their respect. They knew she was an excellent fighter. They knew she would lead them to greater victory. But they also knew she was female and human, occupying a position that any one of them deserved a hundred times more. She held the scorched chest plate of a Jaffa warrior and dropped it on the ground.
"That is the armor of one of your comrades," she said, lifting her voice to be heard at the back of the crowd. "He was killed, like 322 of your fellow warriors, on the field of battle with Zipacna's Jaffa. You weren't defeated because of superior numbers, or due to a better fighting technique. You were defeated because you fight like idiots." A few of the Jaffa looked ready to storm the platform. She picked up a clarion horn. "You run into battle like you're ready to die. As well you should be. But there's no reason to let the enemy know that."
She dropped the clarion, cracking it along the center. "We do away with this. It's insanity to let your enemy know where you are, what you're doing and when you're calling for reinforcements."
"How would you have us do battle?" a Jaffa in the front row sneered. "Like dogs too afraid to show their faces? Like cowards?"
"No. I expect you to fight smart. Get the upper hand early. I've been given a week to prepare you before we're sent through the chappa'ai to do battle with Lord Yu. I only hope it'll be enough time to get you sorry excuses for warriors ready." She turned, sweeping her cape as she'd seen Bra'tac do so many times. As she walked away, she listened for the sound of a staff blast aimed at her back.
Instead, she heard the slow shuffled of armor as the Jaffa decided to follow her to their training grounds. She resisted a smile and continued forward, not looking back. With luck, the refined fighting techniques would allow Apophis' Jaffa to become unstoppable, leading to mass casualties of other Jaffa. With her on the inside of his Jaffa, and with others at the mercy of sneak attacks, the Goa'uld may one day be facing a severe lack of incubators for their larvae.
Step one underway.
Janet changed into her night clothes, pinning her hair up and making a final circuit downstairs to make sure everything was locked and all appliances (except the dishwasher and fridge) were off. She went upstairs, yawning loudly and tapping on her daughter's open door. "Cassandra? Can I come in?" she whispered.
"Yeah, Mom. I have a little homework to get done, but..."
Janet entered and sat on the girl's bed. Cassie was in her pajamas, sitting at her desk and filling in a worksheet. Janet brushed her daughter's hair and smiled. "How was school?"
"It was okay," Cassandra said, not looking up. "Had a surprise test today, but it was in algebra, so..."
As the girl described her day, Janet subtly checked the teenager's flesh. No bruises had appeared on her arms or neck. No cuts on her upper arms, either... the short sleeves of the girl's sleeping shirt would have revealed any that were there. After a moment or two, she realized Cassie was no longer speaking and had turned to stare at her. "I'm sorry, sweety, what was that?"
"I said I didn't cut myself today," the girl said softly.
Janet pressed her lips together and looked at her own hands. "I know."
"Because you looked." She turned back to her work.
"I told Dr. Jarvis I would stop."
"But you didn't," Janet said, looking up once more.
"But I will."
Janet left it alone. They were as close as an adoptive mother and daughter could be, but this was a no-breach topic. Five years prior, just after Cassandra's arrival on Earth, they discovered a massively powerful bomb ticked within her chest. They had been under the impression it was unstoppable. Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson had taken her to a missile silo and abandoned her deep underground. Alone. For thirteen minutes. Ever since her return from that dark hellhole, Cassandra had been noticeably different. She hated being alone. She hated doors to be locked. She refused to stay home alone, so she had a baby-sitter at an age most girls were becoming baby-sitters.
And she abused herself.
Janet didn't know what catharsis this provided, but she dreaded hearing a loudthump or seeing blood on the bathroom counter. There'd been several times the girl had cut too deep, prompting midnight trips to the emergency room. One of her colleagues had reported Janet for child abuse, leading to a long, horrible and seemingly endless year in hell. Unknown nutrients found in Cassandra's blood, which Janet couldn't tell them was naquadah, caused the social workers to believe she was poisoning her daughter. In the end, it had only been Hammond and O'Neill's intervention that prevented Cassie from being removed to a foster home.
Though it ended peacefully, The Year From Hell, as it had been dubbed, had left it's wounds on Janet as well. She'd started drinking, at first just to get through the nights when she otherwise would've cried herself to sleep. But soon, it became more. A crutch. She stocked the fridge with at least four six-packs a week, when before she'd have been lucky to drink six beers a month. She'd been trying to get it under control before it went too far - no one on the base knew - but the pull was proving too strong.
She hugged her daughter, wishing her a good-night (and warning her not to stay up too late) and went to the hall. She left Cassie's door open an inch and turned on the hallway light. In her bedroom, she opened the mini-fridge under her nightstand and opened the beer bottle... a can pop-top would have alerted Cassie, who was under the impression Janet had quit drinking. She sat on the edge of the bed and downed the beer in a matter of minutes, reluctantly taking a second one from the fridge.
Sam woke as soon as the door beeped with the card-swipe. She sat up, knowing it was far too early for breakfast. She tensed when she saw Maybourne enter the room. Hammond followed, as well as two men dressed completely in black. The hair on the back of her neck stiffened and she stepped away from the bars. "What's going on?" she asked. The doors were unlocked without a word, the black-clad men entering and closing in on her. "Where are you taking me?"
Maybourne said nothing. Hammond explained, "Area 51. Just for a brief stay."
"We want to be certain it's safe to have you out of quarantine," Maybourne said. He sneered at her as cuffs were locked around her wrists.
Hammond looked sick to his stomach.
Another black bag was fitted over Sam's head, cinched loosely around her neck as she was roughly shoved from her cell. She was manhandled by two men down the corridor, constantly tripping over her feet and being half-carried to their destination. Finally, she was tossed into the back of what she assumed to be a van, her shackles attached to loops in the wall. The doors slammed and locked.
As the truck roared to life, she felt panic grip her.
She knew for certain she'd never see Janet Fraiser or the Cheyenne Mountain facility again.
The van left Cheyenne Mountain, twin headlights cutting through the total darkness for the lone traveller on Colorado's midnight highways.
"Yes, this is Dr. Janet Fraiser, calling in reference to a patient of mine that I believe you have in custody... No. No, I don't have that number. Well, do you know where I cou-- yes, I'll hold."
"This is Dr. Janet Fraiser at the Cheyenne Mountain Facility. I believe you have a-- No, I don't have the authorization code."
"No, I don't have authorization. Can you tell me anything at all? I'm her doctor, I deserve to... No, I will not hold." Janet hung up on them, for a change.
"When did she get back?"
"This afternoon," Hammond replied, following Janet Fraiser down the corridor. "She's in bad shape, Doctor."
Janet quickened her pace. She'd been horrified a week and a half before when she'd arrived to discover Maybourne had moved Sam in the dead of night. She'd felt betrayed when she learned General Hammond had been present at the transfer. All attempts to find out what had happened - what was happening - to Sam had hit brick walls. Ten days without word, without report on Sam's condition or what they were doing to her... it made her half crazy with worry. She motioned to the guard as they approached the holding cell, so they didn't have to wait for the door to be unlocked. She slipped into the room and couldn't hold back her gasp.
Sam was prone on the bed, eyes staring at the ceiling. She had two black eyes. Her lip was split. Two vertical cuts had appeared on either side of her golden emblem; an obvious attempt to remove it. "Sam? Are you all right?" Janet asked. No reply. "Open the doors."
"I can't allow that, Doctor."
"She have fallen into a comatose state. If she has, I need to see to it. General, I will not let this woman die while she's my responsibility."
Hammond looked at Carter, looked at the guard, then finally nodded. The door was unlocked and Janet slipped inside as quickly as possible. She knelt next to the bed and immediately took Sam's wrist, feeling for the pulse. Weak. Shockingly weak. But not fatal. She smoothed her hand up Sam's arm, raising the sleeve and eyeing the inner elbow. At least a dozen track marks dotted the pale flesh. "My God... is there anything they didn't hook her up to?"
She pulled a pen light from her pocket and shone it into Sam's eyes. Normal response, which relieved her. She slid her hand back down Sam's arm and inadvertantly cupped her hand into the blonde's. Before she could remove it, Sam tightened her grip. Holding tight, Sam squeezed. Hard. Janet felt the pressure in each bone of her hand, but didn't dare pull away. She squeezed back. "You're safe. It's okay to wake up."
A long moment of pressure, then release. Sam's hand went slack and Janet was free. She stood slowly, watching Sam's eyes for any sign of recognition. "She's drugged beyond comprehension. I need to run some tests to figure out what the hell they did to her." She turned to Hammond. "Permission to move her to the infirmary."
"Denied," Hammond said. "However, you can set up whatever you need down here."
"That's final, Doctor. I'm not endangering the people of this base--"
"She's harmless, Sir!"
"At the moment," Hammond said, his tone marking that as the final word. "Report your findings to me as soon as possible."
(Illustration: Damaged Return)
For the first few years at the mountain, Janet had considered General George Hammond as a father figure. Now she could barely stand the thought of entering his office. After setting up the mobile infirmary station in the holding cell, she'd run tests on Sam's blood. The preliminary reports were disturbing, to say the least. She knocked on Hammond's door and stepped inside at his command. "I have the report, General."
"Go on," Hammond said, steepling his fingers.
"They pumped her full of an amobarbital, her blood is rife with it. She has a multitude of bruises, a hairline fracture on her right ulna." She closed the folder. "Permission to be frank, Sir?" He nodded. "The only difference between what the Jaffa did to her and what Maybourne did is that she wasn't physically raped at Area 51. Did you have any contact with Maybourne while he had Sam in his custody?"
"How could you let that man take her?" she snapped, forgetting military etiquette for the moment.
"The President decided that her incarceration here at the SGC was leading nowhere."
"We were learning what happened to her during those five years!" Janet countered. "Without the use of mind-numbing drugs or torture. These wounds...! Those bastards could have beat dozens of confessions out of her!"
"Watch your step, Doctor."
Janet paused and remembered her place. She thought out her next words very carefully. "Samantha Carter is not a threat to this country, Sir."
"That's not your decision to make."
Janet chewed her lip, turning slightly. "Again, Sir, may I be frank?"
"Carefully," he warned.
"Captain Samantha Carter, an Air Force officer, went through that Stargate five years ago on a mission. That mission was to find technology and allies to help in our fight against the Goa'uld. She was left behind on that mission, alone and scared. Between then and now, she was beaten and abused in every possible sense of the word. She was broken down to the very core, her humanity in danger of collapsing every second. In the face of all that, she joined the ranks of the Jaffa in order to turn them against their gods. According to Makepeace, she recruited almost thirty Jaffa to leave Apophis. Thirty Jaffa who are waiting on a neutral world waiting to hear from her. She's fulfilled her mission, Sir, and we are condemning her for the way she went about it."
"Are you implying the ends justify the means, Doctor? That since she recruited thirty enemy turncoats, we should overlook that she pledged allegiance to an enemy power?"
"Doctor," he said, holding up a hand. "You didn't know Samantha Carter before she disappeared, did you?" Janet shook her head. "I've known her since she was a little girl. I was friends with her father. I watched Sam Carter grow into a beautiful woman. I watched her go through that Stargate for the first time and felt like I'd lost a daughter when she didn't come back. And now... to see her with that gold emblem in her forehead..." He turned away, then sighed. "To see her return like this... it's like loosing her all over again."
Janet looked down. "Permission to be excused, Sir?"
Janet looked up and touched Sam's shoulder. "Sam? Can you hear me?"
The blonde opened her eyes, searching the ceiling until she found Janet. "Janet?" she whispered.
"It's okay. You're back at the SGC."
Janet smoothed Sam's hair, blinking back tears. "You've still got drugs in your system. Rest a little while longer."
"Will you be here when I wake up?"
Janet smiled and promised, "I'll stay right here."
Sam's blue eyes drifted shut and Janet held her hand. Glancing back to make sure the guard was still outside, Janet softly began to sing: "Do you dream about music or mathematics or planets too far for the eye? Do you dream about Jesus or quantum mechanics or angels who sing lullabies?" It was the song she sang to Cassie when the girl was too haunted to sleep. Sam murmured in her sleep and Janet continued to sing.
"When you dream, what do you dream about? When you dream, what do you dream about? Are they color or black and white, Yiddish or English or languages not yet conceived? Are they silent or boisterous? Do you hear noises just loud enough to be perceived?"
Major Davis and Senator Kinsey had returned to Washington, while Maybourne had remained at Area 51. Jack O'Neill and General Hammond, the last two of Sam's inquisitors remaining at the base, met in the briefing room. "Why did they bring her back?" Jack growled. "If the incarceration here wasn't leading anywhere..."
Hammond held up a hand. "Take a deep breath, Colonel. Carter was brought back here because the higher-ups heard some damned awful things about what was happening at Area 51. They decided it would be best if we continued what we'd been doing; getting information out of her willingly, at her own speed."
"So she can make it up?"
"They had her doped, Sir. No way she could have lied or set a trap."
"Sodium amytal isn't foolproof, Jack. And you know it."
Jack stepped forward. "They had other methods."
"Those other methods," Hammond said, setting his jaw, "included torture. They beat that woman, Jack, and didn't bother to try and hide what they were doing. Are you telling me you condone that activity?"
"They did whatever was necessary to get information vital to the safety of this command out of that traitor. I have no problem with that."
Hammond looked into O'Neill's eyes and knew without a doubt the man meant what he said. He firmly said, "You are to have no further contact with the prisoner."
"Any necessary contact will be monitored by at least two airmen, and myself when possible. If you come in contact with her without an escort, you will be escorted to a cell of your own."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jack snapped.
"What the hell are you talking about, Sir?"
Hammond didn't stand down. "You're in dangerous territory, Colonel. I'm worried about what you may do."
Jack chewed the inside of his cheek, then finally straightened his spine. "Permission to leave, Sir?"
"Granted," Hammond sighed.
"You were singing."
Janet looked up. "Yes, I was."
"She sang too..."
Anabree swept the sponge across Sam's bare back, her other hand massaging the muscles of Sam's shoulder. "You shouldn't do this," Sam whispered. "Apophis..."
"Is not here. You fought for three days. You are in pain."
"My life is pain," Sam whispered, lowering her head.
"Life is not one or the other, never. Beauty follows pain, as surely as pain follows heartache. Keep the balance."
Sam closed her eyes. "All I know is pain."
Anabree whispered, "Shh." She wet the sponge again and softly began to sing:
"Eu nunca eskecer-me-ei da primeira
Vez onde eu me ouvi que a boca
Diz essa palavra suja eu não recerda
Mesmo agora o que suportou meu caminhão
Mas a cara coberta da boca começou
Vermelho que eu não
Poderia mesmo agir
Como eu era laco..."
Sam fell asleep in the tub. When the bath was finished, Anabree lifted the warrior from the water, rousing her slightly. Sam was awake just enough to get herself to the bed with Anabree's help. She dropped onto the mattress and immediately passed out once more. Pulling a sheet over Sam, Anabree took a seat on the floor next to the bed, holding Sam's hand and humming the song as she watched over her.
Janet smiled and said, "Did she ever tell you what the words meant?"
Sam shook her head. "No." She frowned and said, "You're inside the bars."
"Yeah. They're letting me in to attend to you."
"No guard watching?"
"I insisted. It was a compassionate request and I mentioned doctor-patient confidentiality. They can't come inside without violating your rights."
Sam closed her eyes. "What rights?"
"You have rights," Janet insisted. "As long as I'm here, they won't be violated."
Sam closed her eyes. "I was so scared... so scared when I was at-- at that other place."
"I know, sweety."
"Not just because of what they were doing to me. Because you weren't there. For the first time in this whole damn ordeal, I was alone. And... I couldn't handle that. The last time I was alone..." Her voice trailed off.
Janet frowned. "When were you alone, Sam? When you were with the Jaffa exiles?"
Sam closed her eyes.
The forest was sweltering. The sweat formed a disgusting sheen between Sam's flesh and her armor as she watched the opposing forces gather in the darkness. Behind her, she could hear her own forces making their way through the brush. They were making too much damn noise, but she couldn't scold them for ignoring their training sessions. Let their deaths serve as their punishment. She snuck forward, using a fallen tree as cover.
In the eight days they had been laying in wait, she hadn't eaten a thing. To move would have alerted the enemy Jaffa if they'd been in the area. Then the entire ambush would have been for naught. Apophis had despised the idea of having a troop of his warriors spending an unspecified amount of time laying in the mud doing nothing, but Sam had insisted that it was the only way to find out who had been raiding the settlement on Jema'an. Previous attempts to stop the thieving by posting guards had only led to a brief halt in the activity.
Sam had insisted that a covert operation, hidden from view, would catch the perpetrator in the act rather than just scare them away. It had been hell trying to get the other Jaffa to sit quietly and just stare at each other for over a week. But she'd finally managed. Now, her plan was coming to fruition. She raised her hand and heard all movement behind her cease. Waiting until the last thieving Jaffa was inside the high stone walls of the settlement, Sam cried, "KREE!"
Waves of Apophis' Jaffa rose, the mud they'd used to conceal themselves dripping off their armor. They rushed the wooden footbridge that separated the forest from the stronghold, firing their weapons blindly. Sam dropped into a crouch and fired her staff weapon into the shadowy enemy Jaffa. Caught entirely by surprise, the thieves were all on the ground in a matter of seconds. Sam rose and crossed the footbridge, keeping her staff at ready as she approached. She rolled one of the corpses onto his back and eyed the symbol on his forehead.
Over her shoulder, she called, "Return to Apophis and tell him that Ba'al is the one to blame."
A Jaffa in the back of the group rushed away to follow her order. Sam let the corpse fall, then settled her staff weapon across her shoulders and behind her neck. She arched her spine, relieved at the pop that sounded. One of her warriors approached and she straightened her back, ready to argue her position yet again. He scanned the ground, apparently counting the corpses. He extended his hand to her and grasped her arm just above the wrist. She repeated the gesture and he said, "Kel shak, Carter."
Sam had been training in the Goa'uld language with Bra'tac enough to know he had just sworn to follow her. She looked at their clasped hands in shock, then released him.
Another warrior stepped up to her. "Kel shak, Carter," he said, grasping her wrist as well.
Beaming with pride, Sam accepted the loyalty of each and every Jaffa she had led to victory that day.
After being lauded by Apophis for their victory, Sam hurried back to the exile camp. She felt like a teenager, running home with a good grade on her report card to show her father. But she didn't care how she looked... she'd gotten their respect, their loyalty. For the first time, she saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The trip from Apophis' palace to the camp, even running, was lengthy. It took her almost twenty minutes before she made it to the pit. As she made her way to her tent, she paused to greet some of the exiles. In her time there, they'd grown protective of her and loved to hear tales of her service to their lord. It sickened her putting on the 'Apophis is god' face, but she did it for the time being.
Now, perhaps she could begin her true mission; turning the Jaffa away from their false god, sowing the seeds of freedom. She approached the tent where Bra'tac stayed from time to time and swept aside the curtain. "Master? Master Bra'tac?"
"He is not here, child," a woman named Feemi said. She had been passing, carrying a wicker basket of laundry to the stream. "He has not been here since you left."
"Oh. Thank you, Feemi. Do you know where he has been?"
"I do not." Feemi patted Sam's shoulder and moved on. Sam closed the tent and scanned the lip of the pit. Perhaps he was training another young warrior. Sam left the tent and headed for Bra'tac's favorite training spot.
Sam wearily looked out the window of Apophis' throne room. "You are troubled," the Goa'uld lord said.
She turned. "I'm worried about my Master. He has been missing since my return from the Jema'an settlement nine days ago."
"I am sure he is near." He paused. "Have you searched the palace?"
Sam frowned. She had no reason to search the palace for Bra'tac. Since leaving the post of First Prime, he'd had no quarters there. "I have not."
"Perhaps... in one of the lower levels."
A creeping finger of dread traced down her spine and she glanced at the throne room entrance. "My lord..."
"You may go."
Sam hurried from the room.
The catacombs below the palace were accessed by a narrow stone staircase, hidden from sight by a heavy wooden door. Sam slowly descended the steps, using a torch to light her way down. Three pathways presented themselves to her and she chose one at random, extending the torch in front of herself in order to keep back the darkness that seemed to reach for her. A handful of lit torches lined the walls, revealing the dark rectangles of doorways while leaving the floor and most of the walls bathed in shadow. She swept her own torch into the empty chambers, searching for signs that something living had recently resided anywhere within.
A corpse hung from a wall in one chamber, it's skin a pallid gray. The man was nude, his stomach pouch raw and bloody. He dangled from one arm, the bony limb looking seconds away from snapping away from the torso. Just before she turned away, the 'corpse' weakly turned it's head towards her and rasped, "Help me."
Sam stepped back quickly and moved on, the encounter adding to her already-lingering fear of boogeymen in the shadows.
Her boots made the only noise in the dark walkway, hollow thuds that echoed over the stone that pressed against her from all sides. At the end of the corridor, she discovered a large room with a curved ceiling. Pushing the heavy steel door completely open, she stepped inside. A furnace burned brightly in one corner, the light from the flames obscured by a stone wall in front of the door. Sam stepped around the wall, into the room.
Several beds were set up - six rows, four to a row - with bodies covered with sheets on each one. Sam gasped, knowing she'd never find Bra'tac here. She turned... and fell back several steps. Apophis loomed behind her, his cape held against his chest to keep it from sweeping the floor. She put a hand to her own chest and hissed, "Jesus!"
"Did you find your Master?"
Sam shook her head. "Not yet, my lord."
"You did not look there," he said, indicating the beds.
Sam turned, shivering. She walked to the beds, turning down the first sheet in the row. A face she recognized as one of Apophis' warriors. She went to the next bed. Another nameless warrior. She went through four beds, none of them hosting her Master. She pulled back the fourth sheet and saw his face.
Sam backpedaled, unable to even gasp in shock at the sight. His skin was ghastly pale, his eyes open. His right eye was filled with blood. Apophis stepped forward and swept the blanket all the way off. The former First Prime's chest was a horror story. It looked as if he had been completely gutted. The stench was unbearable, but not as strong as it should have been.
Bra'tac had not been dead for nine days. Sam doubted he'd been dead for one day. He'd been alive almost the entire time she'd been searching for him... Apophis only told her where to find him once he had been disposed of. Sam turned away from the sight, moving towards the door, but Apophis grabbed her by the shoulderpads of her armor. He lifted her off the ground, tossing her to the stone floor.
Before she could scramble to her feet, he kicked her in the side. Sam folded, but managed to get into a crouch. Grabbing a handful of her blonde hair, he pushed her back, against the side of the furnace.
The heat burnt through the metal of her armor and she attempted to stand. Apophis rested his foot against her cheek, pressing the opposite side of her face against the furnace. She cried out in pain as he hissed, "These men were students under Bra'tac's tutelage. They thought they could keep secrets from their god. Are you that foolish?"
"N-no, my lord."
"They planned a rebellion. They planned to turn against me. Do you believe I am a false god?"
The heat against her skin was unbearable. "No, my lord!"
"Who is your god?!"
"I worship only you, My God!"
Apophis pulled his foot away and Sam slumped against the cool stone floor. She turned and, to her utter disgust, huddled at his feet. She kissed the very shoe that had pressed her face to the furnace. "I worship you, my lord. You are my god."
He stepped back and eyed the bodies. "Burn these corpses. You will remain here until I release you." He walked to the door, slamming it closed behind himself. After a few minutes of silence, Sam stood and tested the handle. Locked. She turned and looked at the corpses of her Master and his other students. She slid down the wall, too hurt and shocked and surprised to move.
"How long did you stay there?" Janet asked, her voice quiet.
Sam stared ahead. "Eighteen days. The heat from the furnace was... was unbearable. I wasn't strong enough to dispose of all the bodies at once. It took me days to move them all into the fire. The smell..." She closed her eyes and turned away from Janet. "No one can ever, ever know what that was like."
Janet looked down at her hands. "Did you-- Did you burn Bra'tac?"
"I saved him for last. I alternated between apologizing to him for my weakness and cursing him for being killed. There was nothing to eat. The only water I could get was from a drainage pipe running down one wall that I managed to crack open. After a week with no food... I was too weak to move. I could barely do what I had to do."
"Rats. They came at night, I guess drawn by the smell of the corpses or the warmth of the fire. I managed to capture some myself, others I had to draw out with... I used the bodies as bait."
Janet looked down. "Oh, Sam."
"Don't judge me," Sam hissed. "You have no idea what it was like!"
"I'm not judging you!" Janet insisted.
Janet's rebuttal went unheard. Sam sat up in the bed, hampered by the wires running to the monitors. "I did what I had to do to survive! Just like everything else I did! Every goddamn nauseating thing that I did, I did to survive! And I'm here. I'm back on Earth, where I belong. No matter what I did, I won't apologize for it. And I won't be made to feel guilty for it."
"Sam, stop. I'm not judging you. Would you like to talk about it?"
Sam laid her head down, staring blankly at the ceiling.
"Sam? You know I'm here if you need to unload."
"You've lived hell for the past five years. And you're going to need to talk about it if you're ever going to have a normal life again. You have to accept what happened is in the past and move on."
"Move on?" Sam asked quietly. "Why don't you tell me how the hell I move on from this."
Janet looked down at Sam's heart monitor, then brushed the blonde's hair. "I don't know. But I will tell you that I'll stay here to be sure you make it."
Sam turned her head towards the wall.
Janet stood and called the guard from just inside the cell door. He stepped inside, unlocking the cell door to release her. As soon as the door opened, the base klaxons began to howl. Everyone froze. Sam looked at the open door, then asked, "What did you do?"
"Nothing," the guard and Janet said simultaneously. Janet continued, "Did you leave the sensor on?"
"It wouldn't cause this kind of alarm." He turned to the door. "Something else is going on."
General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill stepped into the command center at the same time, from different access points. The klaxon continued to blare. "What is it, Sergeant?" Hammond asked.
"Unauthorized gate activation," Davis replied. "We didn't have time to announce the situation before--"
There was a thud against the protective iris.
"That's three!" a tech in the back called out.
"Three iris impacts in the past minute, Sir."
Hammond frowned at the screen, then heard a burst of static. "Someone's trying to contact us, Sir... on one of our radios."
A deep, resonating voice broke through the static. "Attention humans of Earth."
Jack tensed. "Apophis. Great. Wonder how he got one of our radios," he growled, glanced at Hammond.
"It has been brought to my attention that you are granting sanctuary to something that belongs to me. As I do not believe you would hand the shol'va over willingly, I am willing to grant a trade." There was a pause and then Apophis ordered, "Speak."
A filtered male's voice said, "Fuck you, snakehead." This was followed by a howl of inhuman pain.
Hammond tried to hide his anger and failed. His face was blanched as he identified the speaker. "Colonel Dever."
"SG-7," Jack said. "They've been MIA for over a week."
The voice continued, a bit weaker. "General... this is Colonel Marcus Dever of SG-7. Do not - I repeat - do not make deals with this son of a bitch. He's already killed and sarc'ed Lucas and Jameson. He's..." The Colonel screamed again and Apophis came back over the mic.
"Hand over the shol'va within twelve hours or your men will be sacrificed."
The Stargate shut down.
Jack glanced at Hammond. "Shol'va?"
The two men turned to see Daniel Jackson near the stairs. He slowly entered the command center. "Shol'va means traitor. He wants you to hand over Samantha Carter."
"In exchange for SG-7?" Jack asked. He shrugged and started for the stairs. "Done."
Daniel grabbed Jack's arm, stopping him. "I don't think you understand. Even if he kills her - which he probably will - he'll just bring her back to life again and again with the sarcophagus to torture her some more. If we turn her over, it will be sending her to a literal hell that none of us can ever begin to imagine."
Jack pulled his arm away and glanced at Hammond. "Let me know when you think up a good planet for the trade to take place. Clock's ticking, gentlemen."
"We can't let her know about it."
O'Neill arched an eyebrow, but Hammond was the one who asked, "Why not?"
Janet glanced at the gathered men. Daniel Jackson, Jack O'Neill, Maybourne and Makepeace circled the table, their purpose to determine a course of action in response to Apophis' ultimatum. Janet had been allowed to argue on Sam's behalf. "If we tell her, she'll demand to be turned over."
"Great," O'Neill said, slapping the table with both hands. "Problem solved."
"No!" Janet and Daniel said in unison. Janet glanced at the man, surprised to have someone in her corner, before she continued. "It would be murder, Colonel. As surely as if you pulled the trigger yourself. Except that would be a kindness compared to what Apophis is going to do to her."
"Janet's right," Daniel stepped in. "The American military does not negotiate with terrorists and they do not condone torture. Turning Sam over would be both."
"Oh, it's 'Sam' now," Jack muttered.
"Playing devil's advocate," Janet said, ignoring O'Neill's outburst, "Let's say you've been right this entire time, Colonel. That Sam is an enemy of this world, planning to betray us at a moment's notice. Wouldn't turning her over to Apophis be playing right into his hands? This entire thing could have been a ruse to get an inside look at our operation, figure out our weaknesses, then report back. She knows too much to be turned over now."
Jack turned away, sighing heavily.
"She's right, Jack," Hammond said softly.
"I know she's right," the Colonel groused. "So what are we going to do?"
Hammond sighed. "At the moment, we can do nothing. The President has been contacted and we're contemplating every possible course of action. Including giving in to Apophis' demands in return for our people."
Janet looked down at her hands. Daniel dropped his pencil onto the table and sagged against the back of his chair.
"I agree with your recommendation that we keep this development from Carter for the time being. I have no doubt she'd sacrifice herself in an instant and we need more time to process the demands before we make any kind of decision. Dismissed."
Janet, O'Neill, Makepeace and Maybourne all stood at attention as Hammond left the room. Jack glanced harshly at Janet as he passed her, but she was too busy thinking. Thinking about a plan she'd almost put into action the day Sam had been abducted and taken to Area 51. 'No time like the present to implement it,' she thought. Literally, no time but the present...
Sam looked up as Janet entered. "What happened? What was the klaxon?"
"Nothing important," Janet lied, laying the large gray shopping bag on her metal folding chair. "A team came through the Gate early. Under fire. Minor injuries."
Sam looked dubious, but accepted the fabrication for the time being. "What's in the bag?"
As an answer, Janet withdrew a small boombox and set it on the floor in front of the bars. The airman assisted her with finding a plug and the brunette pressed play. At once, soft music began to flow from the speakers.
"It used to seem to me
That my life ran on to fast
And I had to take it slowly
Just to make the good parts last..."
Sam sat up. "What is that?"
"Warren Zevon," Janet explained. "I didn't know who you liked, but I happened to have this CD up in my car."
Sam moved to the bars, detaching the medical equipment hooked to her body as she was drawn to the music. The heart monitor went flatline as the wire was tugged away from her skin. She stopped just inside of the bars, careful to stay clear of the laser grid, and stared in wonder at the stereo. "Music," she smiled. "I'd almost forgotten what it was like."
"No music on Chulak, huh?"
"They had something," she grimaced. "It wasn't music." She closed her eyes and smiled, whispering, "Not like this..."
The song was simple; just the singer, a guitar and an occasional tambourine. "I'm not allowed to bring you movies," Janet said. "Or TV shows. But any music you want--"
"Johnny Cash," Sam said. "My Dad and I always listened to Johnny Cash together."
"I'm sure that can be arranged," Janet smiled.
Jack O'Neill kicked shut the door of his quarters and stood in the silence for a moment. He squeezed the bridge of his nose, a statue of stillness in the hectic world his life had become. After a moment, he walked across the room and opened a drawer. He'd brought the cigar box from his home during the first few days of Carter's imprisonment here; it was a quiet reminder of why he couldn't feel any sympathy for her. Withdrawing the small brown braid, he turned it over in his hands and wrapped it around his fingers. Slowly, the past rushed back to him in waves.
"O'Neer, help me!"
He snapped out of his reverie before it began. That day was too painful to relive. Ska'ara had survived the 'choosing of the Children of the Gods' just to become a host mere days later. Amaunet had provided valuable information of the Abydos cartouche to her 'husband,' leading them to the catacombs of the desert planet's pyramid. In order to protect his world, his people and his family, Ska'ara had given his body to Apophis' son.
In the heat of battle, O'Neill had hesitated because the snake had used Ska'ara's voice. It had thrown him and Klorel had used the distraction to get the upper hand. When the tides turned again, Jack had rushed the throne and sliced the boy's throat.
In that instant, he learned that the Goa'uld could change a host's voice, they could affect personality and one specialist had postulated that they desecrated the soul... but one thing they could not change were the eyes. At the moment of death, Jack held the bloody corpse of his friend.
All that remained of the innocent child now was the braid Jack held. He dropped it back into the cigar box and slammed the dresser drawer shut.
The Goa'uld not only coveted everything they saw, they destroyed it, soiled it and reworked it in their own image. Whatever had happened to his second-in-command on that second mission, there was no way she had survived her five solitary years unscathed. He had only two options at present. Confront her, or carry on with the mission that would get her out of their hair for good. He stared at the door... then headed for the locker room to get changed.
The red phone rang. Hammond picked it up and spoke immediately. "Yes, Sir?" The response was long. Compassionate words, wrapped in political jargon, a prepared speech designed to transfer the thoughts of a committee through their mouthpiece. Hammond lowered his head. "I understand, Sir. Yes, Sir. Immediately. And what of my compassionate request to allow Samantha to attend her-- I see. No, Sir, I understand completely. It would be unwise. Yes, Sir. Good day to you, too, Sir." He hung up the phone and steepled his fingers.
"So the kid caught the ball?"
Janet nodded. She and Sam were sitting cross-legged on the floor, a few feet away from each other, as the music continued to play. After a while, the bars and lasers faded away and they were just two women chatting. Janet mimicked Moises Alou's stretch. "Reached right out over the fence. The Cubs went on to lose the game, lost the next game, lost their chance at the title all because this idiot grabs the ball. I wanted to murder the guy," she shook her head and sipped her drink.
"That's a little unreasonable," Sam said. "I mean, was he the only person in the stands reaching?"
"No," Janet said, after picturing the newspaper photo again.
"So it wasn't totally his fault. If you blame him, you have to blame all those other people who almost caught the ball. Cubs fans just want someone to blame, be it another fan or a goat."
Janet held up a finger. "Now, the curse of the goat has credence!"
"Only if you're five years old," Sam muttered.
Janet sighed and shook her head. The CD had cycled twice already. Janet tried not to think of how close they were to the deadline and just tried to make Sam's imprisonment more enjoyable. Especially if it was her last handful of hours before death. "All right. So we've established that you have no sports knowledge whatsoever..."
"...let's talk movies. Who do you like?"
Sam leaned her head against the stone wall. "Meg Ryan."
"Oh. I, uh," Janet chuckled. "I meant as a crush. The person who makes you swoon when you see them up on screen."
Sam looked down at her hands, then looked at Janet. "Meg Ryan," she repeated, a little quieter than before. At Janet's surprised look, Sam smiled. "What? You've never met a lesbian before?" She sipped her own drink. "Well, you still haven't. I'm bisexual. Equal opportunity slut, an ex-girlfriend once said."
Janet shook her head. "I just, ah... I mean, I can't say I'm surprised. Not with the story about Anabree. But it's still a little shocking to hear someone in the military - even ex-military - say it so bluntly."
She was cut off by an intercom buzz. Janet struggled to her feet and picked up the receiver. "Fraiser." Her smile faded as she listened. "Yes, Sir. I'm on my way, Sir." She hung up and glanced back at Sam. "I have to go. A... patient took a turn."
"Go, don't worry. I'll be fine." As Janet knocked for the guard, Sam said, "Janet?" The doctor turned. "Thank you for making me feel like... well, thank you for..." She tapped the bars. "I didn't see these for a little while. So thank you."
Janet smiled. "It was my pleasure."
Colonel O'Neill looked up as his superior officer entered the briefing room. "General?" Jack asked.
"Is Dr. Fraiser nearby?"
"Yes, Sir," Janet said, entering from the far stairs. "I just came from the holding cells. Has there been word?"
Hammond nodded. "The President feels we've learned all we can from Samantha Carter. Her information, while valuable, is not worth the lives of four soldiers."
"Oh, God," Janet whispered, dropping into the first available chair.
"It is his unfortunate duty to request we concede to Apophis' demands and prepare a trade of prisoners."
"Sir, NO!" Janet gasped.
"It is his decision, and it is final, Doctor. I apologize. I wish there were some other way... but I cannot justify keeping her here at such a high cost." To O'Neill, he said, "Find Colonel Makepeace. You're to accompany SG-3 to the rendezvous point, once one is established, to oversee the exchange."
Jack nodded and headed for the stairs. As Janet forced herself to her feet, she said, "I'm going, too."
"I can't allow it."
"You're the Chief Medical Officer at this base, Doctor. I can't justify your presence on such a highly dangerous mission."
"SG-7 may have injuries that need immediate attention. In addition to that, I'm probably the only person Sam would feel comfortable with. She... she'll fight less if I go with them."
Hammond looked down and finally said, "I'll tell Colonel O'Neill you'll be joining the team for this mission."
Janet pressed her lips together. "Thank you, Sir."
"In the meantime, prepare Samantha for transfer."
Janet looked down. "I assume it's time to tell her what we're doing, Sir?"
Hammond turned away. Janet nodded and left the briefing room. She waited until she got to the elevator to cry. She cried for Cassandra, for Sam, for the whole screwed-up situation... she knew Samantha Carter. She'd glimpsed the old Sam underneath the hardened shell, saw the heart that beat in her chest. This Sam deserved better than to be bartered for someone else. She deserved more than to be handed over as some plaything for a wannabe god.
She managed to gather herself by the time the doors opened. She adjusted her lab coat, cleared her throat and started for the holding cells. The guard allowed her access and she stepped inside. "Sam."
The blonde looked up, already anticipating bad news. Her eyes were wide. "You can tell me," Sam said. "I won't kill the messenger."
That only set Janet off again.
Hammond stood at the place of honor when Jacob was lowered into the ground. Surrounding him were the remnants of Jacob's family; his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He had requested clearance to bring Sam, under heavy guard, however it had been summarily turned down by the President and Joint Chiefs.
As the priest read, Hammond remembered.
The General, now on what would most likely be his final command, remembered the best friends Major George Hammond and Major Jacob Carter. He remembered arriving at his friend's cabin and walking to the front door, stricken by the beauty of the surrounding forest. He sported a bottle of wine under one arm and his wife on the other. As he approached the door, it swung open and a five-year-old blonde girl marched out to meet them.
She stood at the top of the stairs, chest puffing out the white-and-pink shirt she wore, her threadbare overalls more impressive than any dress blues. She brought one arm stiffly up and barked, "Major George Hammond, SIR!"
Hammond glanced at his wife, smiled and said, "At ease, soldier." She relaxed. "State your name, soldier."
"Samantha Grace Carter, SIR."
"Well, Samantha Grace," Hammond said, "As your superior officer, I recommend you show me immediately to the barbeque area."
"Yes, SIR!" Sam said, turning on her heel and marching back into the house.
His cell phone brought him back to the present. Hammond turned away from the gravesite, away from his reverie, and and listened for a moment. He hung up and stepped away from the crowd, walking back to the car. He was needed at the base. He paused before getting into the car, looking back at the Carters and Jacob's final resting place. "Thank God you're not here to see me doing this, Jacob. I'm truly sorry, my friend."
The Stargate was reactivated when the twelve-hour limit had expired. Hammond spoke through the radio, hoping that Apophis was monitoring. After a long pause, the Goa'uld's voice returned with a set of coordinates and a time. Sergeant Davis and Daniel Jackson immediately set to work on translating. After a few seconds, Daniel turned. "PR3-919, the ruins. Two hours."
Hammond nodded. "Relay the information to Colonel O'Neill and Colonel Makepeace. Make sure the prisoner is ready for transfer."
One hour and twenty-eight minutes later, the four-man team of SG-3 stood beyond the yellow caution line surrounding the ramp. Jack O'Neill stood near the large blast doors. Between them was Doctor Janet Fraiser, in the standard off-world green and cap, her hand on Samantha Carter's shoulder. The prisoner was clad in the blue jumpsuit Janet had provided, her wrists and ankles joined by a chain and shackles. Three large rings connected her belt to the loops.
"Doc, you sure you can handle her if she tries to make a break for it?"
"I won't run," Sam interjected. "I'll gladly give myself over for your men."
Janet looked at the dialing Stargate to keep from meeting Sam's eyes. She could barely stand the forgiveness she found in them. The Stargate connected to the other world and burst out at them, a vengeful fist of blue that quickly receded back into a shimmering vertical pool of light. Makepeace pressed his helmet down further onto his head and turned to his team. "Let's go, team."
They started up the ramp.
Apophis had not sent the exact coordinates for the rendezvous point he had chosen. The overgrown dirt path, however, no doubt led to the ruins he spoke of in his message. Two members of SG-3 led the way, flanking the path and scanning the foliage with their weapons. When they moved forward, Makepeace followed. Janet led Sam behind the Colonel, with the last member of SG-3 and Colonel O'Neill following. They moved slowly, making sure no nasty surprises lay in wait for them.
As the entourage proceeded through the trees, Janet kept stealing glances at Sam. The one-time First Prime and one-time Air Force captain stared forward, her head held high. She faced her fate with steely-jawed strength that Janet doubted she could ever find. She released the chain and let her hand slip up to the blonde's forearm. She squeezed reassuringly and Sam turned, looking down before meeting Janet's eyes. She offered a weak smile, then looked forward again.
Janet returned her hand to the chain, leading Sam like a dog, and glanced over her shoulder. Jack was glaring at her.
In the past, her relationship with the Colonel had been friendly. They'd joked, enjoyed each other's company, teased... but that was all gone now. By taking a stance against him in something this important, she'd forever erected a wall between the two of them. She smiled weakly, then turned away.
The path cut sharply to the left, the ground falling away into darkness below. Makepeace kicked a few loose pebbles over the edge and warned, "Stay away from the edge. It's a good twenty foot drop here."
Janet peered over, staying away from the edge as instructed, and hurried past the curve.
Daniel Jackson had been asked to join them as well. He'd refused without hesitation, stating the utter wrongness of handing Sam over. Janet applauded his morality and wished she'd stood up half as well as him. But Sam needed her. And SG-7 might need her. So here she stood, walking through a forest that may be teeming with the enemy, on her way to hand over a prisoner of war.
How had it all gone so wrong?
The final leg of the hike included an obstacle course of sorts. The trail dropped suddenly, a near-vertical incline that required more than a little planning before the first team member scurried down into the valley. One by one, the group descended to the green cup of ground that included the rendezvous point.
A ragged path cut through the tall grass, leading to the abandoned temple in the center. Blades of grass poked through the wide spaces between the cobblestones. The ancient pathway crumbled under the weight of the team's boots. Animals and insects that had long called the dark, dirty shadows under the stones their home scurried out from underfoot, chittering at the intruders. Makepeace took the lead, scanning the marble statues and pillars that surrounded them. Wide stone floors were still largely intact in what had once been a grand hall. The team spanned out, guns at the ready and eyes locked on every possible duck blind in the distance.
No sign of Jaffa so far.
The soldiers formed a protective circle around Sam and Janet, Jack turning his back on the women and walking backwards to cover their six. Makepeace entered the remnants of the hall. He kicked a loose pebble and watched it bounce down the corridor. "Well, gentlemen..." He glanced at the female member of his team, then at Sam and Janet, "and ladies... looks like we're the first to arrive. How long you think we have to wait for ol' Pops?"
"He will arrive at the designated time," Sam informed him. "He is never late."
"We have twelve minutes, Makepeace," Jack announced. "We're in for a little wait."
Makepeace sighed and leaned against a pillar. "Super."
Thirteen minutes later, there was activity at the edge of the clearing. "We have movement!" the female member of SG-3 called. "Six o'clock!"
Jack O'Neill brought his weapon up. "And three o'clock."
Makepeace straightened. "Eight o'clock... these fellas came meaning business."
The humans closed in around Sam as the Jaffa filled the field. There were at least two for every one human. Finally, Apophis appeared. He was clad in golden robes that swept around his feet, his gleaming gold skull cap capturing the sunlight and tossing it towards the humans. He beckoned with one ringed finger and four more Jaffa appeared, each of them carrying a limp body in an SGC uniform.
"Show me the shol'va!" Apophis barked.
Makepeace frowned. "Show us that our people are still alive!"
Apophis half-turned. The bodies didn't move.
"Goddamn it," Makepeace hissed, glancing over his shoulder. "They set us up, Jack. And we're surrounded."
Jack nodded. "Yep."
"No way out from this position. They have us over a barrel."
"That's how it looks, Steven," Jack agreed.
"Good thing you had a back-up plan." He thumbed his radio. He lifted his voice so the Jaffa could hear. "Makepeace to SG units 4, 5 and 9, close in on this location. Heavy chatter."
At this command, the hills around them came to life with the clattering of rapid-fire machine guns releasing hell into the skies. The chatter died - to save ammo - but the message was sent. Apophis swung his hand downward and the Jaffa dropped the bodies of SG-7. All four bodies hit the ground without a groan of pain. They were all dead.
"Shit," Makepeace hissed.
Two staff weapon blasts marked yellow streaks in an "X" among the gathered humans. Those blasts were the first in the ensuing firestorm. The repeated 'shoosh' and 'chak-chak-chak' of exchanged fire filled the air, terrifying the native creatures who were used to the loudest sound of the day being a geretil mating call in the winter. Janet pulled Sam down, and Jack quickly descended upon the two women. He pulled Janet to one side, eyeing the closest targets. His breath hot against her ear, he ordered her, "I'm going to draw their fire away from here. When you see an opening, get to the Stargate and tell Hammond what happened."
"What about Sam?"
"Leave her for all I care," Jack snapped, standing and using a column for cover as he fielded fire from a cluster of three Jaffa.
Janet turned to Sam, who was holding her shackled wrists up. Janet looked at the locks, then met Sam's eyes. "I'm a lump of uselessness like this," Sam hissed. "Unlock these. I can help them win."
"Help who win?" Janet asked, regretting it immediately.
Sam's shoulder sagged wearily. "Janet."
The doctor glanced at Makepeace, then ducked towards the man as dozens of staff weapons tore at the columns protecting them. Plumes of plaster dust rose around them like a fog. She slammed into Makepeace, throwing off his aim and making him curse her. "Doctor, stand back!"
She unhooked his keys and slipped away. He didn't even notice, turning back to the Jaffa. He had little time to worry about a doctor getting in his way. He squeezed the trigger, barking at the approaching enemy. He missed more times than he hit, but the majority of his hits were fatal.
Janet knelt next to Sam, fumbling with the keys before slipping them into place. She turned the key and the steel binding the blonde prisoner's wrists fell away. Before Sam could move, Janet grabbed the other woman's lapel. "Do not make me regret this," she warned.
"Never," Sam swore.
Janet had to shout to be heard over the battle. "Even if you turn yourself over to Apophis, you know he won't turn back. He will not let us out of this valley alive unless we kill him and his warriors."
"He would retreat before that ever happened, but I understand. I'm not going to sacrifice myself to end this. I'm going to help Colonel O'Neill and Colonel Makepeace." She glanced over her shoulder and said, "Your clearing just opened up. Go and follow your orders."
Janet put a hand on Sam's shoulder and said, "Good luck."
Sam nodded, offering the brunette a reassuring smile. As Janet charged towards the clearing, Sam released the shackles on her ankles and belt. Tossing aside the chains, free again, she scanned the field. She needed a weapon if she'd be of any use in this fight. A treasure trove of armaments lay a few feet north; the fallen Jaffa would not fight to keep their weapons. She scrambled to her feet and hurried forward in a crouch to one of the corpses.
On the other side of the ruins, Jack risked a glance over his shoulder. He was horrified at what he saw; Samantha Carter, free, and making a break for Apophis. He didn't know how she'd gotten rid of her chains, but he wouldn't let her cut and run. Jack grit his teeth and spun, taking the time to sight the wrinkled blue of the freed prisoner's jumpsuit. He squeezed off one shot, ensuring the blue was marred by red before turning back to the advancing enemy.
Sam fell to one knee before lurching forward and locking her fingers around the thin staff weapon. Something was burning her shoulder, something wet was inside of her jumpsuit. She lifted the staff, the pain in her shoulder screaming louder at the movement. She managed to get off two shots before turning to retreat back to the hall, but her feet failed her. The plain white sneakers issued to her in the holding cell at the SGC caught beneath her and tripped her up. Sam cried out as she fell, hitting the mud face-first. The fire near her increased in intensity and she crab-crawled towards the brush.
It took her another minute to realize the burning in her back was a gunshot wound.
Janet fell several times in her attempts to crest the hill. Her pants were covered with mud and her face sported three scratches from impacting pebbles. She finally made it back to the trail they'd used to journey to the ruins and began to run, praying she remembered the correct path back to the Stargate. As she stumbled and fumbled forward, she continued to look back and to either side for approaching pursuers.
She came to the bend in the path Makepeace had warned her of earlier, the ground to her left falling sharply away. She glanced back for pursuers as she made the turn, her boot impacting a patch of loose sand and collapsing from beneath her. Janet fell forward, hitting the ground and knocking another mass of dirt loose. She rolled in the wrong direction and found herself tumbling down the steep rock face. She cried out wordlessly as she tumbled, battering her body against the hard rocks and exposed roots in the darkness from the overhead tree canopy. Swallowed by the overgrowth of trees and vines, she felt the furry bodies of native mammals as they narrowly avoided being crushed by the plummeting human.
Landing flat on her back hard enough to feel it in every bone of her body, Janet felt the ground rise up around her. She was laying in mud, her body screaming in agony as she tried to move. She looked down at herself, deciding to make notes of the parts that didn't hurt. It was a far shorter list. She tenderly probed her lower leg and hissed. Something was definitely broken there. Her leg looked as if it had acquired a third hinge point. She laid back, breathing heavily as she tried to think of a way back up the cliff.
Nothing came to her. She would have to wait for someone, eventually, to come and rescue her. Janet laid back, whimpering and trying to find a spot of sunlight through the canopy of trees. The battle would be over soon. O'Neill or Makepeace would come looking for her, would find her, would rescue her.
She prayed none of the local animals were carnivorous, drawn by the alluring smells of blood and the sweat of easy prey.
Sam lay on her back and held the staff weapon across her body. Holding the staff with one hand, she pressed her hand tightly against the bullet's exit wound in her upper chest to stop the bleeding. Her feet spread, the bell of the staff between them, she used her free hand to fire from a completely ground-level position at the Jaffa. She scorched a few boots, recalling the immature prank 'hot foot,' and allowed enough of a distraction to slow down their advance. From her lowered position, she could see that O'Neill and SG-3 were turning the tide. Apophis roared, then called an order to his troops. Apparently, he had yet to assign a new First Prime. Sam smiled and flipped her former boss the finger.
"SG-4, report!" Makepeace ordered.
Jack leaned back against a column, watching the Jaffa scramble away.
"SG-4!" Makepeace continued. "Loads of Jaffa, heading your way! Do you copy?!"
There was a burst of static, then, "We're bogged down, Colonel! They're overrunning us like goddamn cockroaches!"
"Damn," Makepeace hissed. To his team, he ordered, "SG-5 and SG-9 are due west. Give them cover fire." He glanced at O'Neill. "We have to help SG-4, Jack."
"Right," Jack said, eyeing the prone form of Samantha Carter across the field. "Let's move it." He stood and let Makepeace lead the way into the woods.
The firing stopped. Left behind in the field of battle, Sam dropped her head to the ground. The bleeding wasn't stopped, but it had slowed considerably. Her hand was slick with blood. She remained still for a moment, then rolled onto her side and forced herself to her feet. The Jaffa would be back soon, she was certain. If not, the SG teams would be back. She wasn't about to be caught laying down by either one of them.
The firing stopped. Janet had found a comfortable, albeit unconventional, way to lay so she wasn't in total pain. Her leg throbbed with agonizing waves, but she pushed that out of her mind. Any minute now, O'Neill or Makepeace would make their way down this path and see the crumbled cliff. They'd investigate and see her at the bottom of the incline whether she called to them or not. That knowledge firmly in her mind, she saw nothing inherently dangerous about napping a bit.
After all, the pain was so unbearable... sleep would help take her mind off of it.
She closed her eyes and, after a few minutes, felt no pain whatsoever.
The rational side of Janet's brain jerked her back to consciousness long enough for her to recognize the danger she was in. Blood loss, shock, concussion... Falling asleep was an excellent way to die. She opened her eyes and took stock, realizing only at that moment how much pain she was in. Her arms ached. Her spine was in agony. And what truly terrified her was that she couldn't feel either of her feet. She weakly brought a hand up to her shoulder, finding and thumbing the radio. "Colonel O'Neill?" she rasped.
Nothing but static.
She laid back, her hair sticky with the mud already. High above her, a monkey skirted a thin branch, circling the outcropping before using his tail to extend down towards her. He was twenty, thirty feet up staring at her with oblong eyes. After a long moment of examination, he opened his mouth and a tongue drooped forward. It was just barely too short to reach her face. Before the obscenely gifted mammal could adjust his stance to lick her, Janet cried out.
The monkey was startled and returned to it's acrobatics high in the foliage. At the top of the cliff, a pebble fell towards her and bounced off her chest. Someone was up there... they'd heard her. She tensed, praying it was one of the right someones.
Sam hurried through the trees, the top half of her jumpsuit folded down around her waist to free her movements. She wore a white tank top underneath, the left side of which had been stained with the blood trailing from her bullet wound. Only Makepeace or O'Neill would have shot her, and she knew only one of them had the balls to do it. But that wasn't important at the moment. The important thing was getting to the Stargate. The Jaffa loyal to her cause would still be waiting for her on the neutral planet. She was certain of it. All she had to do was get to the Stargate unhindered and--
A cry rose from the ravine next to the trail. She froze mid-step, ears immediately attuned to the sounds of the forest. That hadn't been a bird, or any kind of four-legged animal. It had been a human. Sam did a slow circle and saw the ragged edge of the path. Testing the dirt near the edge with her toe, she discovered just how weak the dirt was. She stepped forward, knocking loose a pebble and sending it plummeting. Movement below.
She took a breath and stepped back. Only one team member had come this way. Only one person could have fallen. She glanced down the path, towards freedom. Towards escape. She stepped forward and began to descent towards her newfound friend.
Janet breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Sam making her way steadily down the sheer rock face. "Janet," Sam said, kneeling in the mud by the doctor's legs. Her eyes locked onto the unnatural bend below Janet's knee. "I'm here."
Janet blinked back tears. "Good. I'm... hurt."
"I can see that," Sam whispered.
"You're hurt, too." Sam nodded. "Better take care of you... I am a doctor, after all." Janet laughed at her own joke, too long and too hard.
Sam pushed down on the other woman's shoulder. "Janet? Janet, I want to help you, but I'm not sure how."
"It's going to hurt," Janet said, closing her eyes. "I have to have broken the bone. It needs to be set."
"Sam, if you don't set the bone, it won't heal correctly. And I'd rather not go through life with my leg stuck this way, so get ready to hear some goddamned loud screams." She quickly explained what had to be done, then added, "Hurry, before I decide I'd rather lose the leg."
"Okay," the blonde whispered. She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead and gripped Janet's leg on either side of the break. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and set the bone back into place.
Jack O'Neill spun quickly, scanning the forest behind him. Makepeace turned as well. "What is it?" he asked.
"You didn't hear that?" Jack whispered. "Sounded like a howl..."
Makepeace shrugged. "Probably some animal."
Jack nodded, but didn't look particularly convinced. He turned forward and continued to stalk the Jaffa that had cornered SG-4.
"...Janet... an you hear m..."
Hazy shadows, passing in and out of her vision. Soft voice. Quiet. Movement. Rain.
She woke when she felt the water coursing down her face. She gasped, then felt a hand covering her mouth. "Shh."
"Sam," she whispered, her voice cracking. She looked down, seeing the ragged cut where her pants leg ended just above her knee. Two long, all-but-straight sticks were on either side of her lower leg, held in place by thickly-wrapped gauze from her med-kit. Her lower leg felt completely enveloped, but at least it didn't scream in pain anymore. "How long was I--"
"A couple of hours," the blonde whispered, moving back to her sitting position. "Had me worried for a while."
"Where are we?"
They were almost on top of each other, surrounded on all sides by thick branches and other scraps of wood, the entire works all held together by tightly-packed mud. "Welcome to our lean-to," Sam smiled.
"More of Bra'tac's Jaffa training?" Janet asked.
"No, Earth. My father. Camping."
Sam added, "I took off your jacket, by the way... made it into a pallet with some pine needles."
Janet realized that she was no longer laying in the cold mud. "Thank you," she said, reaching up and touching her hair. She was surprised to find the strands wet, but not clumped together. "Did you clean me off, too?"
Turning away, Sam said, "There's a stream right outside... I figured--"
"Thank you," Janet said.
"You took care of me at the SGC," Sam said softly. "And as you said to me earlier, this is the least I can do."
Janet sat up a little, reaching down and touching her leg with a wince. "Colonel O'Neill," she asked. "The rest of the teams?"
"Still out there somewhere, I assume. I haven't heard any movement lately." She looked down at Janet's leg. "I was going to see if the Stargate was clear, but I didn't want you to wake up alone."
"Thank you. I appreciate it."
"If you're okay to be left alone for a few minutes..."
Sam looked at the splint on Janet's leg. "Are you certain?"
"Positive." She paused, then added, "You'll come back, right?"
"Count on it."
Janet nodded. "Then go."
"Stay awake while I'm gone," Sam made her promise. Janet nodded and Sam slipped back through the roots. "I'll be back in twenty minutes." With that, she turned and darted away from the tree.
Outside of Sam's lean-to, a small stream worked valiantly to defend it's position in the forest. A trio of monkeys saw Sam and hurried for cover. One spit in her direction, but she ignored it's rudeness and ran, following the base of the cliff as far as she could. When the ground sloped and came together once more, she scanned the forest ahead for enemy forces (be they alien or human). When nothing presented itself, she ran forward.
She recalled their trip here enough to know the general direction and location of the Stargate. When she was close, she clambered up a tree, using loose bark and other unconveniental footholds to make it high enough to see. Pushing aside a clump of branches, she spotted the Stargate in the clearing.
Four Jaffa milled near the dialer. They seemed bored, aloof. Easy prey. In fact, she recognized the fat one even from a distance. He would pose no trouble whatsoever. Make it three Jaffa then, all of them bored and none of them expecting much of a fight. It would take her a grand total of eight, maybe ten seconds to get rid of them.
Briefly she contemplated doing just that. Taking out the Jaffa and leaving. No one would know, and Colonel O'Neill probably expected her to bolt at her first possible chance anyway. Her body tensed, ready for action just waiting for her mind to give the command. "No," came the final decision. "You didn't abandon me, I'll be damned if I'll turn my back on you now." She climbed back down the tree, trying to make as little noise as possible, and hurried back to the place where she'd left Janet. Her twenty minutes were almost up.
When Sam returned, crawling into the shelter and taking up her position at Janet's feet, the brunette was quietly relieved to see the blonde. Despite her promise, Janet hadn't expected her to return. "Well?" she asked.
"Jaffa at the Gate. The two of us could never get by them before they called for reinforcements."
"The two of us?" Janet echoed. "Could you have done it alone?"
Sam looked back. "Could I have done what alone? Made it past them and gotten through the Gate safely?" She paused, then shook her head. "No. I couldn't have."
Janet looked down at her bandaged leg. "So what're we going to do?"
"Sit. Wait. Apophis is an impatient son-of-a-bitch. He'll give up." She looked back out of the entrance and silently added, 'Unless he picked up some of my tricks over the years...' She hugged her knees and leaned back, watching for movement in the brush.
"Damn monkeys," Sam muttered.
"What?" Janet asked, groggy. She had almost been asleep.
Sam motioned out the entrance. "I've counted eighteen of those damn monkey things running around. I'm starting to think they're the only sentient life on this rock."
Janet chuckled and laid her head back down.
"Are you in any pain?"
"Immense pain," Janet said. "But you've done all you can for the moment. Thank you."
Sam nodded. "Do you mind if I step out for a few minutes? Blood has dried on my shirt and--"
"Yes, of course."
Sam slipped out of the tree and hurried to the stream. Janet sat up, meaning only to adjust her position on the 'mattress.' She stopped when she realized that she could see Sam outside by the water. The entire time she'd known Sam - from the moment they met in the quarantine area to now, the blonde had always been under scrutiny. Her every move videotaped, analyzed, studied, reported on... this was the first time Sam was actually herself since giving herself up.
Janet almost turned away when Sam peeled off the blood-caked tank top, but found that she couldn't. She was drawn to the sight.
Only the side swell of Sam's right breast was visible, her back mostly turned to the shelter. What drew Janet's attention was the beauty of the blonde's form. Sinewy muscles that could only have been formed out of necessity and back-breaking labor strained beneath the taut, tanned skin. A myriad of scars, rolled across her back, cutting across her spine and down to the dimples just above the folded top of her jumpsuit.
As Sam splashed water onto her chest, carefully drying the caked blood from her exit wound, Janet watched. As Sam dipped her head under the water, wetting her hair and face, Janet fixated on the crossed shoes under Sam's rear end. When the show was finally done, Sam pulled up her jumpsuit and buttoned it to a decent height. She went back to the shelter and retrieved the canteen from Janet's pack, going to the stream and filling it.
When she handed the canteen to Janet, she said, "It tastes terrible, but it's still water."
"Thank you," Janet said, realizing only then how thirsty she was. She tilted the canteen, getting her lips wet and grimacing at the taste of the acrid water. Two more sips, then she downed a mouthful. She grimaced and wiped her mouth on her sleeve before handing the container back to Sam. The blonde downed the rest without hesitation. She capped the container and slid into a seated position, staring out of their hiding place.
Silence reigned. Janet dozed as Sam kept watch. Sam returned to the river to gather more water, making certain there were no Jaffa lurking about. When dusk had fallen, Sam seemed to relax slightly. "The Jaffa most likely will wait until morning to continue their search. We should be safe for now." After a moment without a reply, she asked, "Are you asleep?"
"No," Janet whispered. "Thinking."
"Your bullet wound." She sighed, "Occupational hazard, sorry."
"It's healing," Sam said. "I learned a long time ago to ignore pain. The lesson has proven extremely helpful."
"Also, earlier... when you had your shirt off. I couldn't help but notice... the scars." She indicated Sam's torso. "I also noticed them during my initial exam. I just... assumed that those injuries would have been completely healed by the sarcophagus."
Sam shuddered visibly and turned away.
"Didn't Apophis let you use his sarcophagus when you were injured?"
For a long moment, Sam said nothing. Finally, she said, "Once. He let me use it once."
"What happened?" Janet asked.
Sam chuckled, but there was no humor whatsoever in the sound. She looked at Janet and, to the brunette's surprise, there were tears in her eyes. "All this time telling you about the past five years... all this time revealing one horror after another. And I hadn't even scratched the surface of the worst days." She turned back and whispered, "The worst days of my entire life."
Word had reached Apophis that Ba'al was planning an overtaking of several naquadah mines on a world called Sho-te-ke. He sent his advanced guard and, at the last moment, added Samantha Carter to the warriors. Sam was jostled as the Stargate was dialed, several armored Jaffa shoving her out of the way. The large men, imposing enough in chain mail, now wore ornate headdresses that were designed to invoke terror in lesser beings. Hundreds of staff weapons had been distributed, though Sam hadn't received one. Her arms consisted of a blade and a zat'nika'tel.
They charged through the Stargate to find the battle already in progress. Poorly aimed staff blasts peppered the Stargate platform. Sam hit the stone stairs, rolling and knocking several other Jaffa down in the process. One grabbed a handful of her hair and sneered, "You will not get me murdered this day, human!"
Sam pulled free of his grasp and scrambled behind the DHD. The clarion horn sounded; the First Prime of Ba'al signalling for more troops. Soon the valley would be teeming with reinforcements. Sam closed her eyes, calling to mind her initial assessment of the landscape upon exiting the Stargate.
A handful of trees to her left, evergreens. To the right, a sharp slope that led to a ravine. Ahead, the plain stretched out as far as the eye could see, Jaffa bearing Ba'al's symbol covering every square inch of land. Behind the Stargate, a hill gently rolled against the horizon, a crown of evergreens lining the top. No fire came from that direction, but it didn't mean it was safe. Sam glanced over her shoulder and saw a legion of Apophis' Jaffa scream into battle, staff weapons blazing. Of the ten that attacked, eight fell.
Crouching near the Stargate pedestal, Sam caught the eye of another Jaffa. He was young, his face slender and his eyes kind. He set his jaw when he saw her, but she held up a hand. Using hand motions she and Bra'tac had worked out, she indicated he should take three Jaffa and circle the pedestal, taking point from behind. The stone would provide ample cover for them. Meanwhile, Sam would lead four Jaffa up the hill to recon the tree line; make sure there were no nasty surprises laying in wait for them up there.
The slender Jaffa pursed his lips, then turned his neck. "Kree! Jekae! Desa't!" The two Jaffa he'd named turned and followed his direction to circle the stone base of the chappa'ai. Sam held her zat'nika'tel in one hand, knife in the other and called, "Jaffa! Kree! Take the hill!" She charged the hill, not waiting to see if anyone followed her. More often than not, none did. She ascended the gentle slope, dropping to her stomach halfway up and crawling the rest of the way.
Another Jaffa appeared to her right, his staff trained on the trees. "Quietly," she whispered.
When nothing moved, she rose to a crouch and duck-walked towards the trees. Scanning both directions, she saw nothing. They had the higher ground.
Below, the other Jaffa were failing to hold back Ba'al's forces. Sam grabbed the armored collar of the Jaffa with her and said, "Fire on those sons-of-bitches."
He did as she commanded, yet managed to hit only a handful of the advancing enemy. Sam recalled her first day on the hellhole of Chulak and snatched the weapon from him. "Let's hope this doesn't blow up in my face," she whispered. "Literally." Taking grip of the weapon like a bat, she smacked the belled end of it against a tree three times. When the casing was sufficiently fused, Sam thumbed the charge and hurled the staff like a javelin.
It impacted a few feet away from one of Ba'al's forces. For one terrifying moment, Sam wondered if she had helped arm the enemy. He extended his hand... only to have it disconnected from his body in the ensuing overload. Sam backpedalled a few steps, blinking at the brightness of the explosion.
Apophis' warriors surged forward, taking advantage of the confusion. Sam dropped to her butt and slid down the hill, rushing to join in the battle. As she entered the fray, a warrior snatched her collar and swung her off her feet. Holding her airborne like a rag doll, Kerr'el - Apophis' First Prime - glared at her. "I command these men," he hissed. "I am their leader, not you!"
Sam fought her way from the man's grip and fell to the ground. "You lead these men to their deaths. I lead them to victory. Should we make them choose?"
Kerr'el seethed. "You have made an enemy this day, human."
"Stand in line," Sam muttered, turning and picking up a dead warrior's staff weapon. His blood slickened the surface of the staff, so she had to grip it tighter than usual to keep it from slipping. She thumbed the charge and fired once, twice, again into the mass of violence before her. She cried out, a ferocious war cry that sounded primal even to her ears. She felt the sting of staff blasts, narrowly missing her. Jaffa rammed into her, knocking her back with the force of a car crash, but she fought her way back to her feet every time.
Spitting blood, not bothering to wipe the stinging sweat from her eyes, Sam found the strength to charge forward once more.
She turned and saw Kerr'el locked in arms with another Jaffa. Both men were equally matched, neither seemed willing to give in. Sweat glistened on Kerr'el's brow, his teeth grit so that the veins in his neck stood out as far as they could. Blood poured from below Kerr'el's armor, wounds from earlier in the battle.
Sam stood in a sea of tranquility, surrounded by the battle cries and death knells of soldiers falling. Blood flowed across the jade Earth, bathing it in crimson dew. Sam raised the staff weapon, charged it, and let loose a ball of judgement. It struck Ba'al's Jaffa in the small of the back and he sagged forward, into Kerr'el's arms.
Kerr'el dropped the corpse, raising his eyes to Sam's. She bowed in the manner taught to her by Master Bra'tac, then resumed her portion of the battle. The momentary peace and silence she had found only a moment ago ceased as the war closed in around her. A stray hand slapped her shoulder. She felt fingers crush below her boots as she advanced. Collapsing Jaffa fell into her, threatening to knock her down. She stayed upright, forging on.
Blood - some, but not all of it, her own - flowed over her armor as the hand closed on her shoulder from behind. Like a runner with the finish line in sight, Sam tried to shake them but found it impossible. All she needed was a second wind, one more burst of energy before...
A knife found a seam in her armor, tearing through the protective material, slicing into the pale skin of her lower back, past the well-toned muscle and stopping deep inside the upper wall of her kidney. She felt the hilt of the blade next to her spine, her face contorting in a silent scream as she spun. She brought up her staff weapon even as she fell, the bell hooking under her attacker's jaw. Unable to free the weapon from the soft skin of his throat, she charged and fired.
Her last view before slamming into the ground was of Ba'al's First Prime, his head exploding from his neck, falling backwards.
She hit the ground, the impact shoving the knife deeper into her back. The pool of blood beneath her growing, the blade pressing ever-deeper inside of her and tearing her kidney, Samantha Carter stared into the blue sky. Clouds formed rabbits, bunnies and B-52 Bombers. Blue sky. Occasionally, the sky was marked by the glow of staff weapon fire... easily mistaken for daylight meteors. She blinked at the flawless orb of blue, stared at what lay beyond. She imagined that up there, just a few centimenters to the west, was Earth. Her home.
It seemed like a myth now.
Contemplating myths and realities and clouds that looked like bunnies, Samantha Carter died.
"Do you believe in the soul?" Sam asked suddenly.
Janet looked at the canopy above their heads. "There's an indefinable change when a person succumbs. The body instantly loses twenty-one grams, which some say is the weight of the soul. Other than that... when death strikes, a body is instantly... different. I know it's more a matter of synapses and body function and--" She cut herself off, then looked at Sam. "Short answer? Yes, I believe in the soul."
"I was dead... completely dead... for seventeen hours."
Janet gasped. "Sam, th-that's not possible. Even with a sarcophagus."
"I know it's true."
"Because Apophis told you?"
Sam looked at Janet with tears flowing down her face. "Because I remember."
"No," Janet whispered, her voice tiny.
"Don't ask me what I remember," Sam said. "Don't ask me what I remember... But I have those memories and will never be free from them."
"What happened when you woke?"
Sam put her head on her knees.
Black faded, white spread. The edges of darkness fluttered, bringing to mind doves or butterflies. Slowly, consciousness returned. Sam felt like she'd aged a thousand years, but couldn't recall precisely who she was or what she'd been before her ordeal. Awakening from her slumber like a newborn opening her eyes for the first time, Sam looked out upon the world.
"You are well?"
She sat up slowly, expecting pain but unaware of what precisely was supposed to hurt. "I am," she said.
Apophis stepped forward, extending a hand to help her from the sarcophagus. She allowed him to assist her, because there was one thing she was absolutely certain of; this was her god. He stroked her hair, his other hand moving to her hip. She realized only then that - just as a newborn - she had emerged from her man-made womb nude. "I died," she whispered.
"Yes. Do you recall how you returned to me, my child?"
She shook her head.
"My First Prime, Kerr'el, brought you here. He owed you his life, he claimed. He requested use of the sarcophagus in order to revive you."
"Thank you for granting his request, my lord, for allowing me to continue to serve you."
The Goa'uld lord stepped back, indicating the corner of his throne room. Kerr'el's lifeless body was crumpled in the corner. "He gave his own life in return for yours. He attempted to dictate his god's mercy."
Sam blinked at the corpse, then looked up at Apophis. "Then he deserves his death."
Apophis stroked her cheek. "Are you ready to serve your god?"
She looked down at his hand on her hip, then asked, "Always, my Lord."
"You will do anything I wish?"
"If it brings you pleasure, it shall bring me pleasure."
A serpentine grin slid across the Goa'uld's face as he leaned in and kissed his conquest. Sam's heart soared.
She was serving the lord, her god.
Sam sniffled and turned away. Janet remained silent, just watching the other woman. "I don't know," Sam whispered. "I don't know if it was the sarcophagus, if it was a drug he pumped into me, or whether he just messed with my mind. All I know is that I was everything I had been pretending to be. Loyal to a false god. I believed he was God." She closed her eyes. "I worshipped him in and out of his bed chamber."
"How did you overcome it?" Janet asked softly.
"Bra'tac came looking for my corpse. No one told him I'd been revived. When he found me and I attempted to turn him over as a traitor, he knew what had happened. He abducted me and took me back to the exile's camp. Withheld food, kept me from sleeping... basically tortured me. If I'd been Jaffa, he'd have removed my prim'ta and forced me to the edge of death." She shuddered. "But I held strong. I was stubborn and Apophis had done a good job on me. Finally, he brought me a scrap of cloth. Anabree's cloak. I was able to ignore it...
"Then he brought in Anabree. She held my hand, sang to me, washed me... she reminded me of who I was. Of what I was fighting for. After a few days with her, I returned to my senses."
"So you managed to overcome the brainwashing?"
Sam nodded. "But we kept up the ruse. I continued sleeping with Apophis, as I already told you. I pretended to worship him as fully as I had before. It was the perfect cover for working within his ranks, letting him think he'd successfully brainwashed me."
"How long did it work?"
"About a week," Sam sighed. "He never confronted me, just continued to--" She turned her head away.
"You don't have to say it."
Sam sighed and leaned her head against the mud-and-stick wall, hoping the moonlight wasn't bright enough to show her expression. Janet adjusted herself in the mud, trying to find a comfortable position. "I suppose I should try to sleep."
"Go ahead," Sam said. "I'll keep watch."
"I've done it before." She paused, then said, "Your leg--"
"Feels like hell. But there's very little we can do with the supplies on hand. Are you sure you can stay up all night?"
"Master Bra'tac taught me how to withstand a lot of things. Holding my breath underwater, staying awake for days at a time, running for miles without a break... he molded me into a Jaffa warrior."
"It must've been hard going on without him."
"I thought you were going to sleep," Sam snapped.
Janet blinked, shocked at the outburst. "I-I'm sorry. I just thought--"
"Well, don't. That part of my life isn't up for discussion."
Janet laid down, letting that sink in. Sex with a Goa'uld System Lord, being dead, the hell she went through at the hands of the other Jaffa... what could be worse than that? What could be so bad Sam refused to even talk about it? Compelled to press on by curiosity, she instead listened to her heart and closed the subject. Sam would reveal what had happened when and if she was ready.
Sam, meanwhile, couldn't stop thinking about those dark days and weeks after burning her Master's body. Unbidden, the memories flooded back.
The doors slid open and Sam pushed aside the carcasses of her past three meals. The rats no longer ventured out of the shadows; the ones she hadn't managed to catch apparently warning the others to keep their distance. She didn't look up as Apophis entered, stepping over the skeletal remains of her food to where she sat. "You survived."
She said nothing, refused to raise her eyes to his.
"Your Master Bra'tac... his students, the shol'vas. They have all been dealt with. Your resolve is admirable, Carter. Stand and face your god."
She slowly complied, rising to look into his face. "You are my First Prime. I expect utter loyalty from you. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, my lord," she said quietly.
"Whatever Bra'tac taught you... it is gone. You will obey my orders without question. You have seen the consequences that malfeasance brings." He stepped back, looked her up and down, then said, "Several of my allies will be meeting upstairs shortly. You will accompany me as security. Be presentable." He turned and headed for the door.
"My lord," Sam whispered. He turned. Sam closed her eyes for a moment, then looked up at him. She couldn't believe what she was about to ask, but she'd had a lot of time in the darkness to think about it. "I was wondering if you would grant me a kindness?"
He thought for a moment, then faced her fully. "Your victory at my stronghold was laudable. What do you wish?"
She swallowed. "A prim'ta."
Apophis smirked. "You wish to host a god?"
"Or a larvae. Master Bra'tac told me adults could become Jaffa with the assistance of a Queen, like Amaunet."
"What prompts this request?"
"I wish only to serve you better, my lord."
Apophis stepped forward, pondering her request. He stepped closer to her. "Give me your dominant hand." She placed her hand in his. He caressed her fingers, then turned her hand palm-up. Smiling, he snapped her fingers back. She cried out, falling to her knees as the bones snapped. Apophis wrapped his hand around hers and squeezed. She sagged forward and he released her hand, grabbing her hair to wrench her head back. "The true reason!"
"It's becoming... harder... for me to function," she panted, admitting her shortcomings. "A Jaffa would... have managed the isolation in this room far easier than I did. My stamina would be greatly improved. M-my ability to serve you would be magnified as well."
Apophis pondered this. "In essence, you wish to make your life easier?"
"Yes, my lord."
He released her hair and shoved her backwards. She sprawled before him on the ground and he spit on her. "You shall not be blessed with a prim'ta. Something as frail, as weak, as you does not deserve the honor. You believe you have suffered? You believe you know pain? You will know pain that would make even the staunchest Jaffa cringe. You will pray for the ease you knew in the past."
He released her and let her fall to the floor. "You will know pain, Samantha Carter. This I vow." He turned and exited the room.
"Cassie! Oh, my God!"
Sam was shaken from her reverie by the shouts, immediately ready for battle. "Janet?" she hissed, turning to the prone woman. "What is it? Who is Cassie?"
Janet was trying to get to her feet. "My daughter! Oh, no, Cassandra is all alone!" Sam put her hands on Janet's shoulders and held her down, straddling the doctor's lower body and being careful of the bandaged leg. "Let me go! We have to get back to Earth now, Sam! I can't leave her all by herself!"
"Why? What's wrong with her?"
"She--" Janet stopped herself, unsure whether to share this or not. She'd never told another soul - other than professionals - about Cassie. Finally, she exhaled and sagged against the ground. "She cuts herself. She has abandonment issues... and for good reason. If I'm not home, she'll... I'm afraid..." She closed her eyes and looked away. "I have to get back."
"We can't," Sam said softly. "I'm sorry. I have no doubt Apophis' Jaffa are still stationed at the Stargate."
Janet began to sob quietly. She grabbed handfuls of Sam's jumpsuit, holding tight to the other woman. "No," she whispered. "No, I can't be off-world. I can't... not overnight. Cassandra..."
"Hey," Sam whispered. "You have friends on Earth. Daniel Jackson will see that she is safe. General Hammond will as well, I believe."
"They're not me!" Janet argued. "They don't know how to deal with her cutting!"
"They don't have to. They are your friends, and if there's one thing I've learned about you, it's that you inspire loyalty."
Janet sniffled and brought her head up, burying it against Sam's shoulder. Sam held the brunette, letting her cry out her frustration. "I shouldn't be here," the doctor whispered. "I shouldn't be off-world."
"I needed you here."
Janet whimpered and pulled back a few inches to look into Sam's eyes. "If it weren't for me, you'd be long gone by now. You'd be safe."
Sam blinked, looking into Janet's eyes. In the dim light, Sam could make out the sparkling tears in them. The stars and the full moons increased visibility, even inside of the shelter. Sam was hypnotized by Janet's eyes. So close... so deep and brown... Sam whispered, "I'm glad you're here."
"Shh," Sam whispered. She parted her lips and leaned in, letting a puff of warm air prepare Janet's lips for their joining. It was a brief contact; a slow, soft exchange that ended far too quickly. Janet took a shuddering breath, her fists relaxing and spreading across Sam's shoulders. They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment, contemplating what to do next. Finally, Sam reached up, squeezing Janet's hand as she removed it from her shoulder. She rose from Janet's hips and returned to her perch by the entrance.
Janet laid back, her lips still tingling. "Thank you," she said.
"You should sleep," Sam whispered, her voice rough. She was staring out into the dark forest. "Morning will come soon. You must be alert while I am gone, checking to see if the Stargate is clear."
"Right," Janet nodded. She closed her eyes and laid back down, her mind unable to stop focusing on the kiss. After a long time, she feigned sleep, knowing true rest would not come that evening.
Night crept past as neither woman slept, both on high alert for different reasons. Sam kept a watch, cursing the monkeys that continued to shake bushes and snap branches. Janet was still in shock from the brief intimacy the two had shared. She lay on her back, keeping warm by wrapping her jacket-turned-pallet around herself. The pine needles within pricked her flesh, but it was a small price to pay for heat.
With deeper night came lower temperatures. Sam's breath plumed in front of her face, obscuring her behind a veil of smoke for a few seconds at each exhale. "Sam?" Janet whispered.
"You're supposed to be sleeping," Sam said.
"You kissed me."
"I kissed you good-night. That's all."
Janet turned away. "I--"
"Shh," Sam hissed. For a moment, Janet thought she simply didn't want to discuss it any further. Then, she heard the furtive movements beyond the shelter. Someone - definitely bigger than a monkey - was trying very hard to be silent. Sam's entire body tensed in anticipation of a fight, coiled like a spring ready to explode forward. Sam locked eyes with the brunette and nodded once. Then, she was gone.
Janet resisted the urge to cry out after her. Seconds after Sam disappeared, she heard something crash into a tree. A string of curses filled the night air, frightening the nocturnal music-makers into silence. A staff roared and someone heavy fell to the ground. One more staff blast, and then there was a clatter of leaves and twigs as someone fled, the chaos of pursuit close behind.
Sam recognized the creeper as Pacal. He'd been extremely inept when Sam had first encountered him in Apophis' ranks. She didn't take his lack of experience for granted, however. Underestimating the enemy led to quick death. Sam waited until his back was completely to her before she slipped from between the two thick trees that had hidden her. Pacal turned in time to see the movement, but not fast enough to react.
She grabbed his staff weapon and wrenched it upward, hitting him in the face with it. His grip weakened and she pulled the weapon from him. She turned the weapon and fired into his gut. Pacal fell and Sam looked up, seeing his reinforcements scrambling down the same cliff she had used earlier to get to Janet. She fired into the air to get their attention and turned, running away from the shelter that hid Janet.
The two Jaffa made it to the bottom of the incline in time to see Sam disappear between a wide spattering of brush. The lead Jaffa, a warrior named Ra'has, sneered at the female's cowardice. He turned to the other warrior, Jar'ha, and pointed to the west. They would flank the shol'va, close in around her and squeeze the life from her. Ra'has marched forward, moving quietly... far more quietly than Pacal, the fool. He had deserved his death.
The gentle murmur of the stream masked most of their movements; unfortunately, it also masked the movements of their prey. Ra'has stepped through the foliage onto the muddy banks of the stream, scanning for movement. A few monkeys, little more than shadowy blobs in the darkness, skittered up thin tree trunks to avoid being trampled. Some hundred yards downstream, Jar'ha stepped from the trees as well. Suddenly, a dart of blue appeared on the opposite side of the stream. The shol'va side-stepped towards the water, slipped in the mud, and immediately dove back into her hiding place.
Jar'ha rushed into the stream in pursuit. He slipped in the mud, his feet flying from beneath him and he submerged with a gurgled scream. Ra'has took a step back, bent down, and ran to the stream. With a mighty cry, he leapt. He landed with a bone-shattering thud, his legs weak but his resolve strong. He rose immediately and headed for the trees where the shol'va had disappeared.
He could hear furtive movement ahead; leaves being pushed aside, shoes crushing leaves and branches... he smiled and stepped forward, his staff weapon at ready. He brought the staff up and lurched through the brush... to find himself face-to-face with Jar'ha. Ra'has growled and turned away from the clumsy, now muddy, warrior.
It was only sheer luck that he spotted Sam make a break for it. She was hunched over, running along the edge of the stream, trying to make herself as small as possible. Ra'has shoved Jar'ha out of the way and brought his staff up once more. "Shol'va!" he cried. Sam didn't turn, but - knowing she'd been seen - rose out of her crouch and leapt for the other side of the stream. Ra'has fired.
The flash obscured her for a moment. When she was visible again, they saw Sam's body twist in mid-jump, her arms and legs going limp as she plummeted gracelessly into the cold stream. She landed face-down, the right side of her body and her head completely covered by water. Jar'ha started forward, but Ra'has stopped him. "Apophis wishes the body of the shol'va to be returned to him," Jar'ha reminded his leader.
"We can return for her later," Ra'has said. "She was drawing us away from something. Come. We will discover what she was protecting, then return for the corpse." He turned and stalked back through the forest. Jar'ha reluctantly eyed Sam's limp body, knowing it's recovery would bring high praise from Apophis for the Jaffa who presented it to him.
"Jar'ha! We may return for the body later!" Ra'has said from deeper in the forest.
"I will keep watch over her," Jar'ha called back, moving towards the body.
Ra'has sighed heavily and continued to retrace his steps to the point where they'd first taken up the chase. Jar'ha knelt next to the body, smiling. "Handing you over will ensure me the position of First Prime. I am far more deserving than Ra'has, of that I am cert--errrkk."
Jar'ha's boasting had been interrupted by the make-shift knife Sam had shoved through his windpipe. Warm blood flowed over her hand as Jar'ha twitched in the final throws of death. Sam finally brought her head out of the water, inhaling deeply. Three minutes... not even a personal best. Although twisting her body away from the staff blast had impressed even her.
She withdrew the sharp stone from the dead man's throat, pushing Jar'ha away and sitting up. Ra'has was headed back to the shelter. She had to see that he didn't make it alive.
The shelter blended so perfectly into the scenery, that Ra'has walked past it twice without noticing it's importance. The third pass had revealed the unnatural symmetry the structure possessed. He stood and smirked at the cruddy wooden shelter that the shol'va had built. Mud and sticks... this is what awaited a shol'va outside of their lord and master's grace. He lifted his staff weapon and fired three times, blowing the shelter into flaming pieces.
He stepped forward as someone behind him cried, "No!"
The shol'va was rushing him, wet but alive. He raised his weapon in shock, but the woman was moving too fast for him. She collided with her attacker, knocking him to the ground and causing him to lose his weapon. Her right hand was wrapped around a stone and she brought it down on his forehead. Ra'has howled with pain as warm blood flowed into his eyes. "You son of a bitch!" Sam cried, repeatedly smashing the stone into the Jaffa's forehead. Ra'has' face had turned red, his limbs went slack, his struggling ceased. "You son of a bitch!" she repeated.
Sam continued to assault him, until her hand began to grow bloody as well. She knew she was penetrating the man's skull with each down-strike, but she didn't care. She lost the rock and, growling in frustration and pain, grabbed him by the neck of his armor. She slammed his body against the ground as hard as she could, wanting this bastard to know the pain he'd caused. She cried, she cursed, she planned to make even his corpse pay for what he'd done.
Eventually, reason began to erode her fury. She removed herself from Ra'has' mutilated body and turned, weeping as she looked at the shattered ruins of her shelter. The battle had reopened her through-and-through bullet wound and fresh blood poured down her chest. New wounds from her battle with Ra'has also spilled blood, but she didn't notice them. She was numb. All she could feel was the pain in her chest at the thought of losing her only friend. She grabbed a burnt branch from the shelter, ignoring the pain, and tossed it aside.
Kindling flew, smoke filled her eyes, tears rolled down her cheeks, her fingers burnt, her tears and blood continued to flow as she searched the wreckage for the corpse she knew she'd find. On her knees, her hands burnt and shaking, she hit ground, her fingernails digging into the mud before she realized she'd gone as far as she could. She brushed her face and searched the surrounding ruins, knowing there was very little room to miss a body.
She blinked, cleared her mind as much as she could, and looked to the left and right. The shelter had been cleared... the fires were out. Where was Janet's body? Picking up a long branch, she pressed it against the still-burning sections until it had lit into a torch. She held it aloft, searching the surrounding woods for signs of a body other than Ra'has. A few steps to the north and she spotted Janet's boot. She rushed to the other woman's aid.
Janet lay beyond a thick tree trunk, her arms stretched out in front of her. Mud had caked under all of her fingernails and the entire front of her body. Sam cautiously patted Janet's cheek. "Janet?"
The brunette's eyes fluttered open; the most beautiful sight Sam had ever seen. She cupped Janet's cheek and said, "How--"
"I heard them chase you," Janet said weakly. "I figured they might... come back if they'd seen the shelter. I tried to get far enough away... but I was too weak."
Sam smiled. "You were strong," she assured her. "So strong." She lowered her head and again kissed Janet's lips. The brunette curled her fingers in Sam's hair, drawing the other woman closer and deepening their kiss.
Using the sleeves from her jumpsuit, Sam bandaged her bullet wound once again. She made pressure pads to staunch the various bleeding wounds, products of her dash through the forest, which Janet helped her with. Once the bleeding had been stopped to Janet's satisfaction, Sam lifted the petite woman and carried her away from Ra'has' final resting place. With the brunette's broken leg, their options for safety were severely limited.
Eventually, they returned to the ruins where the battle had begun. Sam climbed down first, then Janet sat down and slid into the blonde's waiting arms before her leg could impact the ground. Sam hoisted Janet back into her arms and followed the ancient hall to the throne room, seeing in her mind's eye the splendor the palace had once possessed in it's glory days. Janet rested her head against Sam's collar and imagined they must look like a groom carrying his bride across a threshold. The image was surprisingly comforting to the brunette. After a bit of searching, Sam discovered a hidden pathway behind the throne; a narrow stone corridor that led nowhere (at least, now it lead nowhere. When a king had sat upon the throne, it had probably led to some sort of panic room or quick exit).
Sam laid Janet down and closed the door, sealing them into the darkness. The moonlight shining through the cracks in the ceiling was barely bright enough to see anything. Janet lay on the floor, with Sam perched by the door in her position of guardian. "No one will find us here," Janet whispered.
"It's unlikely," Sam said.
"Come over here. You need rest too, Sam."
Sam hesitated, staring out for another moment, then pushed the door closed. She left enough room to slip her fingers through, to open the door in the morning, then lay next to Janet. She tentatively rested her hand on the brunette's stomach and Janet rolled onto her side to face the blonde. They embraced, holding each other until they both fell asleep. Janet's sleep was dream free. But Sam's was restless...
She knelt as in prayer, reading the simple words carved onto the wooden face.
"Did you know him?"
She turned, not expecting company. A woman stood a few yards away, her hands on the shoulders of a small boy. Sam stood, brushing off her knees. "I didn't," she admitted. "But now, I wish I had."
"He was powerful," the woman said, smiling ruefully. "A bastion of strength... there were days I believe even Apophis feared him."
Sam smiled. "He sounds like a great warrior."
The woman nodded. "I am Drey'auc, his wife. This is his son, Ry'ac."
"I'm..." She looked at the grave of her predecessor. "I'm Samantha Carter."
"The new First Prime," Drey'auc said, impressed. She indicated the golden emblem on Sam's forehead, which was mostly covered by Sam's overgrown hair. "I heard rumors you were female. I didn't believe Apophis was so..."
"That will do." She extended a hand and said, "Do well, Samantha."
"Do well, Drey'auc." She looked at the boy and knelt down on one knee. "Ry'ac... I look forward to the day when you become a warrior." She mentally added, 'So I can teach you what your father so deeply believed in.'
Ry'ac glared at her. "I will never fight for Apophis!"
Sam was shocked by this, however Drey'auc seemed embarrassed. "Ry'ac..."
"The Goa'uld are false gods!"
The boy spit in Sam's face and wriggled from his mother's grasp. The two women watched him hurry down the hill. Drey'auc turned to Sam, terrified. "I... he is but a child and--"
Sam wiped her face with the back of one hand, then put the other hand on Drey'auc's shoulder. "Your husband's death left a void, which I wish to fill in more ways than one." Drey'auc frowned, so Sam added, "I am going to pick up where your husband left off."
Drey'auc eyed Sam suspiciously. Only a fool would overtly admit to being against Apophis. She simply set her lips, nodded once and turned, following her son down the hill. Alone again, Sam turned and looked at the grave. "I'll fulfill your promise to your people, Teal'c. I vow to you."
The sun rose about three hours after Sam and Janet took refuge in the ruins. Sam waited until Janet woke to leave. "I have to make certain the area is clear. Are you safe to stay here by yourself?"
Janet nodded and patted the black vest she wore. "SGC keeps us nice and stocked." She withdrew a freeze-dried packet of food and said, "Breakfast of champions."
Sam smiled. "I'll be back as soon as I can." She pushed open the door a crack, looking for signs of enemy activity, then slipped out. She waved once more to Janet before sealing the brunette in.
Sitting in the narrow, cramped walkway, Janet opened her breakfast and said, "Good thing I'm not claustrophobic... yet."
Jack hadn't slept at all. SG-4 had been rescued and all that remained now was to escape through the Stargate and get home. He tugged his cap lower over his eyes and glanced at Makepeace. Four Jaffa were standing guard at the Stargate. The combined human forces totalled eight people. Jack nodded once and he stood, followed by Makepeace. They rushed the Stargate platform.
Staff fire filled the air.
Sam dropped into a crouch and moved into the shade of a nearby tree, waiting for the commotion to die down. The battle was in the distance... She tried to pin down the direction and determined that the battle was raging near the Stargate.
She stood and ran, carefully avoiding the weak spot where Janet had fallen the day before, and found the tree she had used as a perch before. She scrambled back to the top and spotted the Stargate in the distance.
The SG teams, led by Colonel O'Neill, were charging fearlessly down the hill. The Jaffa at the Stargate held their ground, but two were already down. The humans were winning. Makepeace took down the Jaffa guarding the dialer and began inputting Earth's address. Sam watched as the wormhole established, severing the remaining Jaffa warrior at the waist. Sam winced and looked away, immediately climbing down the tree.
The Stargate was free... the time to make their escape was now.
Jack O'Neill exhaled as he stepped onto the ramp, glad to be home after a hellish day behind enemy lines. At the bottom of the ramp, Hammond waited. "Colonel," he said, official yet sympathetic. "What happened?"
"Ambush, Sir. SG-7 was dead. We had to make a break for it."
Scanning the people on the ramp, Hammond asked, "Where is Dr. Fraiser?"
Jack froze. "I sent her back, Sir. Yesterday."
"She never showed up, Jack."
The Colonel muttered a curse, then said, "Dial it up. We're going back for her."
Makepeace put a hand up, halting the technician behind the glass. "With all due respect, Colonel O'Neill... if Dr. Fraiser didn't make it back to the Stargate, there's little to no chance she's still alive to be rescued."
Major Pierce, of SG-4, spoke up. "Sir, that place was crawling with Jaffa. We could barely protect ourselves and there were eight of us, fully armed."
"Colonel, I'm sorry," Hammond said, "but I cannot justify a rescue mission at this time."
Jack looked ready to punch something, anything, but he simply pushed past Hammond and stormed from the room.
Janet jumped when the heavy stone door was pushed open, but relaxed when she saw Sam's blonde hair. "Well?" she asked.
"The Jaffa at the Stargate have been dispatched." She presented a stick that could serve as a crutch, one leg of her jumpsuit wound tightly around the head so it could rest under Janet's arm without much discomfort. "Can you walk with this?" she asked.
Janet nodded. "I think so." She extended her arms and Sam helped her stand. Leaning against Sam, Janet wrapped her arm around the crutch and tested it. She took a few tentative steps, then fell forward. Sam caught her and righted her. "It may take a little bit of practice," Janet admitted sheepishly.
"It's okay. I'll be there to catch you," Sam promised.
Holding the door open, the two women left their hiding place. "How will I get up these hills?" Janet asked.
"I'll help you there, too. We have to hurry... Apophis could be sending reinforcements right now."
At the steep hill that surrounded the valley, Janet released her crutch and leaned against Sam. Sam bent her knee and Janet used it as a step for her uninjured leg. Sam straightened, her hands on Janet's hips to guide her, and leaned forward. Janet grabbed onto a hand-hold, pulling herself up without the help of her legs (with a few gentle pushes from Sam). Once she was at the top, she laid on her stomach and turned, reaching down. Sam clasped her hands onto Janet's forearms and the doctor pulled Sam up quickly.
Sam reached down to retrieve the crutch, helped Janet stand once more, and continued their slow, hurried progress towards the Stargate. The sounds of battle no longer filled the forest. Sam entered the Stargate clearing first, to draw any enemy fire, but the scene was eerily still. It could have been untouched for thousands of years, if not for the four Jaffa corpses still laying about, left behind by the fleeing SG teams. Sam approached the dialer and waited for Janet to catch up to her. "Dial Earth. Hurry."
Janet looked at the symbols, then looked up at Sam. "You're not going back." It wasn't a question; a mere statement of fact.
"Would you?" Sam asked softly. "I spent five years trying to get back home... surviving to make it back. And from the second I got there, I was treated like a Judas. I never believed I belonged with the Jaffa, but now I know I don't belong on Earth anymore." She closed her eyes. "I have to go back to the rebel Jaffa. They need their leader, which I suppose I must admit that I am now."
Janet looked up at Sam and then grabbed her vest, pulling the radio from it. She pressed the black box into Sam's hand, closing the blonde's fingers around it. "Take this."
"Because you'll need it if you don't want to slam into the iris... when you do come back."
The brunette held up both hands to stop her. "Wait. Hear me out. Your return did open up a lot of scars, old and new. A lot of hard-headed people made a lot of decisions based on their feelings. But give them time to adjust, to accept what has happened, and I promise you they'll welcome what you and the other rebel Jaffa have to offer. I promise you."
Sam looked at the radio in her hands, weighing it before meeting Janet's eyes. "Thank you."
"I don't need it," Janet shrugged. "I have a GDO."
Sam smiled. "Not for this. For... everything. For being a friend, for believing in me, for..." She pointed at the emblem on her forehead. "For looking below this and into my eyes. You were the only person at that base who saw me for who I was. Everyone else saw me as the person I used to be, or the person I should've been or what I may have one day turned into. You looked at me as... me. Nothing more and nothing less."
Janet smiled and shrugged.
"Maybe if I hadn't been left behind on that mission... maybe we'd..."
"Let's not play 'what if,' Sam. Please."
Sam nodded and extended her hand. Janet clutched Sam's forearm and the blonde pulled her into an embrace. They held each other for a long time, maybe longer than necessary, then separated. Janet slowly dialed the address for home and watched the Stargate come to life. She punched in the GDO code, then turned to Sam. "I'll miss you."
"We'll see each other again," Sam promised. She motioned at the Stargate. "Go on... They're waiting for you at home."
Janet stretched up, cupped Sam's face, and lightly brushed their lips together. Sam leaned into the kiss, then cupped Janet's face. "I'll help you," she said softly. Arms linked, Janet hobbled up the steps of the Stargate. Sam released her and stepped back, blinking rapidly. Janet paused before stepping through, turning to watch Sam's slow backwards retreat to the DHD. The blonde raised one hand in farewell and Janet returned it. Leaning heavily on her crutch, trying not to cry, Janet turned her back to Sam and stepped through the Stargate.
Seconds later, the event horizon collapsed. Sam traced the glyphs carved into the dialer, running her fingers over the runes, gathering the courage to press them. Finally, she dialed the neutral world where she had sent her followers so long ago. The Stargate came to life again and she looked out over the clearing.
She was no longer Apophis' First Prime, nor was she likely to be welcomed on Chulak any time soon. Earth was little more than a waiting prison cell with only one kind face. All that remained for her was one final unburned bridge. In retrospect, maybe it was what she had been meant to do the entire time, she just needed to get shoved out of the nest in order to fly the right way. Straightening her bloody jumpsuit, she strode up the stone stairs and stepped through the event horizon to her waiting destiny.
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