DISCLAIMER: I only borrowed them for a while. MGM and whoever can have them back whenever they want. No copyright infringement intended.
SPOILERS: Up to the end of season 7, pre-Lost City. P.S. She ain't dead.
SERIES: This is the third story in the Dawnspell series, a sequel to Darkspell (Sunshine, Shadow, Shimmer) You really need to read those first.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author

By Celievamp


A heartbeat. Strong and steady. Warm skin. A familiar beloved smell.

Sam was home. Sam was alive.

Janet let her hands slip over Sam's bare skin as she lay in the circle of her arms, her head pillowed on the taller woman's breast, their legs entwined. She had feared that she would never get the chance to do this again. For three weeks Sam had been held in stasis at the Ancient outpost in the Antarctic. An earthquake had damaged the equipment's power supply, releasing her. Amazingly she had been all right. Perfectly normal in fact. Which Janet knew had to be impossible.

All of their instruments, every tests they had performed showed that Sam Carter was in the same state of health as she had been before the mission to Bastet's planet.

But Janet knew it was a lie. She had seen Sam's brain activity on the monitor as the capsule prepared to release her. She knew the changes the Weapon had made to Sam's nervous system and physiology, augmented again by the Ancient download that Sam had willingly taken on. Lying here now, she could feel the heat in Sam's skin. She knew that Sam was `running hot' whatever her instruments told her. The last scans Janet had been able to perform before they left earth showed her that Sam's brain structure was denser, her DNA changed in ways they did not yet understand. And now all of a sudden she was `normal' again. Janet thought not.

Then there was the small matter of her telepathy. She did not know whether her mind was the only one that Sam could touch with her thoughts or whether Sam could read her thoughts or whether it was a one way deal. Sam had so far given no indication one way or another. There had always been a certain connectedness, an empathy between them. Janet could tell instantly the moment Sam entered a room even if she could not see her and sometimes she could tell when Sam was just thinking about her.

And just today there had been two incidences of what could only have been telekinesis. They had been in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Sam had been chopping vegetables for the salad. One of the tomatoes had started to roll away from her. And then it had rolled back again. Sam had carried on regardless as if she had not been aware of what she had done. And then a couple of minutes later she had gone to the fridge to get some chives and spring onions and a bottle of dressing. Her hands were full and she had nudged the door closed again. Not with her arm or with her elbow but with her mind.

Janet knew she had to protect Sam at all cost. She had authorized the medical tests that showed Sam was in normal health and despite her own desperate desire to know the truth did not undertake any of the other many tests she would have liked to. Just in case something did show up and the wrong people got to know. No one would ever hurt Sam like that again: not on Janet's watch.

As for the Weapon seemed to be deactivated, the ring of metal in her palm no longer apparent. All Sam would say was that she felt fine: better than fine. The Ancient's knowledge had been fully integrated into her thought processes. IQ tests on Sam Carter had always scored off the scale so it was difficult to assess whether her intelligence and cognitive abilities had increased as she had always been extraordinary but Daniel had confided in her that Sam could now read all dialects of Ancient and had translated some texts that had defeated him and corrected his translation of others. All without reference to any text books or databases.

She had also identified and explained the function of several artifacts that had defeated the archaeologists and scientists alike.

But information on the City of the Lost – even whether or not they should still be searching for it – eluded her.

Sam knew that Janet was desperately worried about her. Unfortunately there was little she could say or do to allay her lover's fears. The Ancient's sarcophagus had not removed their knowledge from her mind but had somehow cleanly integrated it with her own memories and thought processes. It no longer flooded her consciousness but she could access it if she needed to. She was still changed no matter what Janet's instruments said. The Weapon was still a part of her, quiescent for now but at her control should she require it. Anubis was not the only danger that threatened her world, her love. She still had a purpose to fulfil. Even if she was no longer quite certain what that was.

The odd bouts of compulsive behaviour did continue. She would feel the urge to draw something or make something often with no idea what it was or why they might need it until it was completed and then it was like `oh, that's what it is!' and the compulsion was over. Of course, that was when she had to explain it to everyone else.

In her dreams she traveled the stars sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of the Weapon. It had taken on the form of Grace, the little girl from her hallucinations on the Prometheus. Together they walked through cities that had not been inhabited since humans had become the dominant species on Earth. They listened to music that had never been heard by the human ear. They experienced the history of the Ancients, watching the greater majority of them evolve into Ascension, those left behind for whatever reason wither and die, the plague that had eventually killed Aiyana several million years later picking them off one by one until their great cities were empty even of ghosts. In the Now they watched the deliberations of the surviving System Lords. Ba'al and a faction led by Lord Yueh, including Sekhmet and Camulus. The division of the spoils from Anubis's downfall was occupying them for the moment but all too soon they would turn their attentions back to the Tauri. If the Tauri had somehow brought down Anubis when all their efforts had failed, their threat to the System Lords was all too apparent. But that was for the Future.

It was hard for her to see that. Her knowledge of physics prepared her for the probabilities. And she had Jonas's experience of precognition to fall back on. She remembered a terminology from a science fiction book she had read in college: happentracks. Many happentracks led to Earth's destruction, its cities emptied, its population dead or enslaved. Her friends, colleagues and loved ones dead or enslaved. She relived that over and over again in her dreams and woke weeping, cradled in Janet's arms.

Sometimes the Goa'uld came and Earth was left a smoking ruin, sometimes the Replicators and then Earth was a machine city, its abundant minerals plundered by the Replicators, towers thousands of miles high, a tracery of metal and quartz that webbed her entire world. All organic life destroyed because it did not fit into the Replicator pattern.

All life destroyed but her. She glimpsed herself in the heart of the machine dead/alive her body decaying, infiltrated with replicator blocks her eyes open but opaque her mouth open in an unending scream. They kept her alive for the Weapon, for her unique knowledge. They raped her mind over and over again for information.

Sam refused to sleep for several days after that vision. She could not speak of it to Janet, to anyone. She threw herself into her research. But she could not deny herself sleep forever.

Yet in other visions she saw herself grow old alongside Janet, her hair fading slowly from gold to silver as Janet aged beside her with grace and dignity, as beautiful in her eighties as she had been the day that Sam first saw her. Laws changed to accommodate relationships such as theirs and the people of Earth found that the Galaxy was much more crowded than they had realized and that Earth was part of a great alliance of peoples out among the stars. And the people of Earth took their place amongst them. By Gate and by ship a second seeding took place this time not as slaves but as explorers and colonists.

Then the day came that Sam had feared. Her beloved Janet died, peacefully in her sleep, at an age that would once have been thought great for humans. And Sam realized that she had no idea how long her changed physiology would keep her alive, how many generations of her fellow humans she would live to see. For decades she had lived a quiet life, writing books, giving the occasional lecture. She had hoped to live long enough to see her name forgotten but every now and then there would be a resurgence in interest in her, in what she had done as a human and as a woman. Earth had no hold on her any more. Cassie was happily married and a grandmother herself. Her brother was long dead. Quietly she resolved her affairs, contacted an old friend and one day left Earth never to return.

And in other visions that also came to pass. She left Earth sometimes whilst still a young woman to wander among the stars, sometimes with Janet by her side, sometimes alone. Sometimes a child traveled with them, her child, their child. Not Cassie. Grace. As she had appeared to Sam aboard the Prometheus. A child of their union born by a miracle of alien technology. A child that she had carried within her body for nine months and then given birth to, with Janet delivering their daughter into the world. Sam Carter lived a thousand lifetimes, earned her living at a variety of trades – mechanic, teacher, pilot, mercenary, bodyguard, Janet's assistant. She saw herself die a thousand times, a thousand different ways.

And every time she woke up to see Janet's concerned face looking down on her as she tried to ease her lover's passage back to reality.

What she had done to destroy Anubis had repercussions. After all she had messed with time and space and the very fabric of the universe. This was one of them.

A hand twitched. The imperceptible march of time jerked forward a notch and then continued uninterrupted. The hand clenched into a fist and crashed down on the delicate mechanism and then continued through it. The time dilation device ceased to operate. Time resumed its normal flow.

The others would have punished him perhaps even destroyed him but First held them back. He smiled. "I believe he has learnt his lesson, haven't you, Fifth?"

The young man smiled. "I have, First. I have learnt the proper use of the emotions that I was given. I have learnt to hate. I have learnt to crave revenge. Now that we are free I will go and search out Samantha Carter. And I will have my revenge for her betrayal." He held himself still as First searched his thoughts keeping his true feelings for Samantha in his own personal space where First could not reach. It was easy – First did not know emotions and if he could detect them would not be able to differentiate between them. If he sensed them he would think that it was as Fifth had said. Hate. Revenge. Not the truth. Fifth would seek out Samantha Carter and one way or another she would be his. She would have no choice but to love him. As he loved her.

"Typical," O'Neill groused. "We've been trying to contact them for ages to give us a hand against Anubis and they're a no-show, no word, nothing. Not even a postcard. Yet the moment they want us…"

The newly promoted Brigadier General was not in a good mood. The message had come from Thor himself. He would be in Earth-space very shortly and wished to speak to O'Neill, Hammond and the President. He also requested that SG1 and Dr Fraiser be present at the meeting.

As soon as they were all in the briefing room, Thor materialized. To O'Neill's embarrassment, Thor insisted on addressing him rather than the President. He looked at the President in mute apology. With a wave of his hand and a grin at O'Neill's obvious embarrassment, Hays signaled him to continue.

"The Asgard are facing two great enemies, O'Neill. The Replicators and our own genetic heritage. As you know from your work with Heimdall, we have been undertaking genetic experiments to ensure that our race continues. As you know our accustomed method of reproduction is becoming unsatisfactory to our needs. We had thought that we had come up with a short-term solution through gene therapy derived from the ancestral body that SG1 helped Heimdall to retrieve but new difficulties have developed. A mutation has arisen that cannot be corrected. Everyone who has received the therapy – about a third of our population so far – is affected. Instead of improving the cloning experience it is unfortunately making the clone body unviable. The clone dies within days. We have lost many of our number already."

"How was it possible that an error of this magnitude escaped your testing?" Janet asked. As a rule the Asgard did not make such mistakes, certainly not over something as important as their ultimate survival as a species.

"We suspect that the error was deliberately introduced. There is a faction amongst our people who believe that our time in this world is done. By reproducing as we do we but postpone the inevitable."

"Doomsday cult, huh. We've a few of those ourselves," O'Neill said. The official line on the events of the battle against Anubis had not been widely accepted. Erik von Daniken and his ilk were all back at the top of the best seller lists. The day was fast approaching when it would be impossible to keep the Stargate and the truth of the existence of aliens from the population of Earth any longer.

"You said you had two problems," Sam said.

"Yes, Colonel Carter. And this is why we need your expertise in particular. We have reason to believe that the time dilation device has failed."

Sam nodded. "I know. I …" she paused. How did she know? Closing her eyes she recalled her dream. The fist coming down onto the shell of the device, continuing through it. Fifth confronting the others, declaring his hatred for her, his intent to capture her. Her thoughts began to cascade and suddenly she knew how to stop him. How to stop the Replicators for good.

The familiar voice in her mind signaled its approval. It was happy to be going on the offensive again. Silver blossomed in her mind.


Janet's voice brought her out of the almost trance like state. She was crouched by Sam's chair, her hand wrapped around Sam's wrist. They were the only people in the room.

"Where did everyone go?" Sam whispered. She blinked, felt suddenly dizzy as if her blood sugar had just plummeted.

Janet saw her eyes return to normal with some relief. "They've gone to sort out the logistics, make sure the Prometheus is ready and can deploy the payload. You have been authorized all the lab time and equipment you'll need. You were buried pretty deep there." She poured out a glass of water and handed it to Sam, silently urging her to drink it and frowning when she saw the tremor in Sam's hand.

"I remember now. The nanovirus. Thor went for it, did he?"

"Thor and the President both. Thor's promised us as much raw materials as we will need and the full backing of the Asgard Council. The President and General O'Neill have given you executive clearance for the project. You can handpick your own staff and any facilities you need will be made available as top priority. No one could fault your strategy. Now, how are you feeling?"

"A little shaky," Sam admitted. It did her no good to lie to Janet she knew from previous experience. The pattern of tiles on the infirmary ceiling was as familiar to her as the constellations in the night sky. "I just need a sugar boost or something."

"A hot meal, with all the food groups represented, you mean," Janet said. "I want you to go to your quarters and lie down for an hour. I will bring you something to eat and then we'll see how you're feeling."

"Yes, ma'am," Sam said. She squeezed Janet's hand for a moment and Janet squeezed right back. There was no harm, no foul. Sam knew that Janet was just protecting her the only way she knew how.

Project Nanovirus began the next day, with Heimdall visiting the SGC daily to help with the research and development. Within a week they developed several forms, in a liquid suspension that could be used in a spray and in a polymer plastic form that could be used to coat bullets and missiles. It also proved to be more resistant than Teflon and would probably have many scientific and military applications outside defeating the Replicators. One of Dr Weir's last acts before she left for the Atlantis base was to instruct the legal team to prepare patents for the new material making sure that Major Carter was cited as lead researcher in the paperwork. The new coated artillery was prepared and loaded on to the Prometheus.

Sam Carter put together her team, consulting with General O'Neill who still had the best strategic brain in her opinion, especially for covert ops and infiltration missions into hostile territory. The mission was to fly the Prometheus into Asgard space and join up with the remnants of the Asgard fleet, delivering supplies of the nanovirus. As a product of technology far below that currently employed by the Replicators, the Prometheus would be ignored. Whilst Colonel Carter had overall command of the mission, Colonel Ronson was in charge of the Prometheus along with Major Gant and most of the crew that had served on the Prometheus in the battle against Anubis. As well as Daniel and Teal'c, Sam had recommended that Captain Jennifer Hailey be recruited onto her team. Her engineering expertise and agile mind would be a huge asset. She was also familiar with the Prometheus's systems and a highly proficient glider pilot.

Sam had not asked Janet to join the mission and Janet had not volunteered. Janet somehow knew that for Sam to do what she had to do she had to know that Janet was safe and that meant staying on Earth. She briefed the medical staff on the Prometheus to watch Sam's bloodsugar and potassium and iron levels and make sure that she rested and ate. She gave Daniel, Teal'c and Hailey the same instructions. Sam would look after herself whether she wanted to or not.

Five days later the Prometheus entered Replicator space. Almost immediately two replicator ships appeared and they were scanned. Since the Prometheus had no technology that the replicators would want they expected that to be that. But the replicator ships closed in anyway.

"They're not leaving," Ronson reported. "Some sort of energy beam is probing our shields." A sourceless bright light flooded the bridge passing over all of them. Sam wasn't sure if it was just a matter of perception but it seemed to linger on her longer than on the others. "They're scanning us again."

"There have been no modifications since the last time we encountered the replicators," Sam said, frowning. "Either they can detect the nanovirus, in which case this mission is a bust or…" It came to her suddenly. The only thing that was changed was her own self. The Ancient technology embedded in the palm of her left hand, her own altered DNA. "Me. Crap! It's me that they want." She should have realized that this would happen. But perhaps she had. Sam realized that she had taken extraordinary and unusual care in making sure that Erin Gant and Jennifer Hailey knew every inch of the nanotech as well as she did. Usually she worked alone on stuff like this.

"Sam?" Daniel was at her shoulder. She realised that she was standing up.

"They can detect me, this," she brandished her left hand. "I have to go in one of the escape pods, launch it and lead them off. Then the Prometheus can get through and do what it needs to do."

"Sam, you can't… we need you to…" Daniel closed his eyes and hung his head in defeat. They didn't need her. She had already set everything up in her usual meticulous fashion. The missiles were ready, everyone had been issued with the polymer coated bullets. Somehow she had known this might happen, that she might have to sacrifice herself and had made contingency plans for that. Sadly it did not surprise him. His friend was an extraordinary human being. "How many times are you going to be expected to do this?"

"I don't know," Sam said, reaching out to touch his cheek. "But you know me. I've always come back."

"So far," Teal'c said softly. "I will accompany you, Colonel Carter to ensure your safety."

Sam shook her head. "You're needed here, Teal'c. I have to do this alone." The ship shuddered. "Now. They're going to take the ship apart to find me otherwise. Tell Janet…"

"I will inform Dr Fraiser that the last thought you expressed was for her."

Unexpectedly Teal'c took her into the curve of his arms, held her close for a long moment. Daniel's hand was a comforting weight on her shoulder.

"We'll find you, Sam," Daniel said.

"I know." She laid her hand against his cheek for a moment and gifted him with one of her smiles before setting off at a run for the escape pods.

It took her four minutes to get to the pods, another thirty seconds to programme one. The shuddering was growing more intense and she had a flashback to the incident that had left her stranded and alone on the Prometheus when they had become becalmed in the nebula. Not something she particularly wanted to repeat. Yet here she was heading off alone into the unknown once more.

"Outer hull breach Deck Four Sections 27 and 28!" a voice came over the intercom.

She had to do it now. She opened the pod door and got inside, securing herself. Then she braced herself for the acceleration and pressed the launch button.

The pod detached and set off on the course she had programmed into it – well away from the Prometheus's designated course. A few seconds later the radio crackled into life.

"Colonel Carter, it worked. The Replicator ship has broken off its attack and is following the pod. Good luck."

"And to you Colonel Ronson. Hope to see you on the flip side."

She had been in free space for twenty minutes. Part of her wondered what was taking so long? Then Sam felt the pull of the tractor beam as it glanced across the hull of the pod before locking on to her. This was it then. She forced herself to keep breathing steadily in and out, condensing her fear down, alchemizing it into something she could use. She had to give them time. Hailey, Gant and Ronson could handle the mission without her. Hailey understood the rebuilt weapon systems almost as well as she did. And Gant knew every inch of the Prometheus's systems and most of its quirks. Ronson was a fine commander. And they had proven they could work well together these last few weeks.

A thud shook her and she felt a slight change in orientation. She was inside the Replicator ship. She heard a faint skittering scratching sound and realised that there were Replicator bugs outside crawling all over the surface of the pod. It would be a matter of moments before they either found the entry hatch or created their own. Drawing her sidearm she waited.

The scratching sound intensified at one particular point. They had found the hatch. Fumes started to come off the insulation and Sam scrabbled for the oxygen set, strapping the mask over her face. Her eyes were burning, tearing up. Sam made a mental note to herself to make sure that the insulation was replaced with something a little less toxic as soon as she got back to the SGC. Whatever Hazmat tests they had done on it obviously did not include Replicator acid. A hole appeared, little more than a pinhole at first but widening rapidly. A claw extended delicately through the opening. She released the safety catch on her pistol, wishing she had something with a little more oomph with her but given the close confines she was in this was the best that she could do. Firing her `Carter special' in here would cut her to shreds as well. The arrowhead shaped body appeared in the opening and she fired. The Replicator exploded, showering blocks all over. Any block that the polymer bullet had touched was now infected with the nanovirus. A second appeared and she gave it the same treatment. She had eighteen more bullets in the clip and another four clips in her vest pocket. And the hole was getting wider by the second as the Replicators began to consume the outer hull of the escape pod.

Time for the second part of her plan. Unfortunately she had no idea what it would do to her beyond an educated guess that she was about to make herself very very sick indeed. No one else knew that she had planned to do this. They would all have done their best to talk her out of it. There were far too many unknowns. Janet… she sent a mental plea for forgiveness to her lover for what she was about to do to herself. The vial in her pocket held nanites in a saline suspension. Theoretically they were small enough to pass through her bloodstream with no consequences but she had no idea what they would do – a stroke or a heart attack was likely. But with any luck she would also be a Typhoid Mary for any Replicator who encountered her. She drew up the fluid into the syringe and much as she had done with the anti-Goa'uld drug in Steveston two years before, plunged the needle into her thigh and injected herself with the nanites.

It burned like acid and she choked back a cry, shuddering. She recovered enough to snap off two more shots at the Replicators trying to get through the hatch. Then a scratching sound alerted her and she realised that another hole had opened up behind her. Already it was wide enough for one of the smaller bugs to crawl through. She turned to fire, then screamed as something impaled in her neck. Fire spread through her veins, paralyzing her muscles and she dropped the gun, losing consciousness seconds later.

Moving. She was moving. She opened her eyes long enough to realise that she was face down, held somehow across the back of one of the biggest Replicator bugs she had ever seen. They were taking her somewhere. Her feet were dragging on the floor. There was movement in her peripheral vision and as she stiffly turned her head a little she saw another bug extend one of its claws into the side of her neck again. Darkness.

She was lying on her back on a table made of Replicator blocks. Her clothes were gone. She could not move. Bands of interlocking blocks arched over her body, digging into her flesh. Pain seared her left hand. Acid. They were doing something to her hand, probing and burning into the flesh trying to access the Ancient technology that was part of her now. But it was not just in her left hand anymore, it had migrated through her whole body, entwined with her nervous system, seated in her brain stem, her lymph nodes. They would have to take her apart down to the cellular level to find it. Small replicator bugs were crawling over her body, nipping and scraping. A larger one sat by her head. She could feel its claws touching her scalp. The only good news that she could come up with was that with any luck they were all now infected with the virus.

The pain redoubled, searing through her head. The larger bug appeared to be drilling into her skull. Sam could not hold back the scream of agony any longer just before she lost consciousness again.

On the other side of the galaxy, Dr Janet Fraiser took advantage of a break in proceedings in a briefing on proposed upgrades to the Infirmary to pour herself another cup of coffee – her last for the day, she promised herself.

Then it was as if something had switched off in her mind, akin to the background hum that you don't hear until it stops. Her link with Samantha Carter stopped. Everyone turned to look at her as the coffee cup slipped from her nerveless fingers shattering on the floor and spraying hot liquid all over.

"Sam?" Janet whispered. "Oh god no. Sam!"

As Dr Warner and General O'Neill reached her she slumped to the floor unconscious.

Fifth heard the call. Samantha Carter had been captured. She was being brought to him directly. He would get to tell her to her face exactly what he felt for her. First was watching him. Fifth schooled his thoughts. "I must prepare," he said.

"I do not know how to phrase the question," First said slowly. "What do feelings… feel like?"

Fifth smiled. "Wonderful."

She really hated waking up in her own infirmary. O'Neill was sitting by her bed. "Sir?" Janet whispered.

"Prometheus got word to us. They made it to the Asgard and the assault is being prepared. But there's something you need to know, Doc… Janet. Colonel Carter… Sam didn't make it. They were intercepted by a Replicator ship. It should have passed them by for the antiquated rust bucket they are but it didn't. It was after something. Sam figured it was her. She got into an escape pod and left the ship drawing off the Replicators preparing to attack the Prometheus. Just before they jumped into hyperspace, they saw the pod snagged by one of the Replicator ships. They have no idea where she is now."

"She's in trouble. Bad trouble," Janet said. "Before I collapsed…" she shuddered at the emptiness inside herself. There was a very real chance that this was the way it would always be from now on. Alone. Bereft of her soul mate. She took a deep breath. "Sam and I have always had this connection, you know. Nothing spectacular. I can't read her thoughts or anything. But it like that background hum that you don't notice until it stops."

"I get it," O'Neill nodded. "And now it's stopped."

Janet felt hot tears spill over her cheeks, her voice stifled by the weight of her grief. O'Neill stood up. "I'll let you get some rest, Doc. But don't give up hope. This is Sam Carter we're talking about here. Remember that."

The Stargate activated. "Incoming wormhole," Davis reported. "No IDC received."

"Close the Iris," O'Neill ordered.

The IRIS slid across the face of the wormhole. Seconds later it shimmered and Lya of the Nox stepped through it, a second Nox following her.

"Lya! Stand down, folks, she's a friend!" he ordered the troops in the Gateroom. O'Neill smiled, exiting the control room and making his way down the stairs to the Gateroom to greet his old friend. "Good to see you, Lya. What can we do for you fine folks?"

"It is good to see you too, O'Neill. You remember Nefrayu?"

"Of course. Though he's grown some since I last saw him". The young boy was now taller than his mother. His hair was a striking blonde and O'Neill could not help but notice that he bore a startling resemblance to Carter. Of course the boy had been one of the earliest fully paid up members of the Samantha Carter fan club – offworld branch.

"Nefrayu has something to tell you. You must gather your leaders and Dr Fraiser. When we leave, she must come with us."

"Okay… we can talk about that later," O'Neill said. "Come up to the Briefing Room and then you can start at the beginning. Sergeant Davis – get Dr Fraiser in here."

Sam opened her eyes. She was face down now, on the floor which like everything else here was made of dormant Replicator blocks. Carefully she sat up, putting her weight on her right hand. Her head hurt. Her left hand and arm seethed with pain. She steeled herself for a moment and then looked down at it.

"Oh god," she whispered. "Janet's going to be so pissed with me." Her arm looked like a living anatomy drawing. There was no skin left below her elbow and two of her fingers were gone, the bone apparently melted away. The flesh on her palm had been scoured away to the bare bone and she could see scratches on the bones where Replicator claws had probed. Her veins and arteries pulsed before her eyes, miraculously whole but she had no idea how she hadn't bled to death yet. She could see the tendons and nerve fibres bunch as she curled her remaining fingers. No wonder it hurt so much. It would take a miracle or a sarcophagus to heal an injury this bad. She took a deep breath and then began to assess her other injuries. There were several puncture wounds across her abdomen and chest area and she could feel sticky dried blood on her face presumably from the head injuries. Her stomach rebelled and she turned aside to vomit. Her head pounded sickeningly, dark spots appearing in her vision. With a sense of relief she passed out again.

A Replicator that had been involved in Samantha Carter's retrieval suddenly ceased to function. Its blue gray carapace had brown fungus like splodges on it. A clear gel like fluid began to drip from its joints. Slowly it began to crumble. Other Replicators came to clear away the mess. A brown stain began to form on the floor where the Replicator had fallen. The tiles began to pit and deform. The infection began to take hold.

When she woke again, Fifth was sitting on the floor opposite her, watching her. "Hello Samantha."

"Fifth," she said. She did not like the expression on his face. He looked… hungry.

"I imagine you never expected to see me again," he said, climbing to his feet and crossing the brief space between them.

Sam tried to crawl away certain that there was no way she could get to her feet but her back was literally to the wall. There was no where to go. "I'm sorry we left you behind, but we had to do it. We couldn't risk the others getting out. You know what they're capable of. I know you must be upset…"

"Upset." The tone of his voice was savage. This was not good.

"We betrayed you. I betrayed you. It must have hurt." He was inches away from her now. She tried not to let him see just how afraid she was. "See, that's the part of you that's most like us, the human part of you. I understand how you feel."

"No you don't. You couldn't! But I promise you, you will." He reached out to touch her head. With her good hand, Sam reached up to stop him but to her horror his fingers began to elongate and plunged into her head anyway.

A maelstrom of images and sensations assaulted her senses. Everything she had ever experienced from birth onwards in one moment of time, shaking her to her core. It paused for a moment and then began again but this time focusing on her memories of loss and pain, of fear and loneliness. Finally it was over and she collapsed, gasping.

"Why are you doing this?"

"You think you deserve better? Why did you come back here, Samantha?"

"You can see my thoughts. You know I didn't want to do it."

"You did your duty. You obeyed the order of your commanding officer. Yes, I understand that. I suppose in a way I should thank you. It was because of what you did to me that I came to realise my full potential. I am more human than the others. At first I thought it was weakness, but now I see it makes me capable of so much more."

"Fifth, please!" She had to keep her knowledge of the virus from him for as long as possible. He had not accessed those memories yet. She could only hope that it was beginning to work. As her gaze skittered around the room looking for a way out, she saw smears of her blood from her injured arm marking the tiles. The area around the tiles was beginning to discolour. It was working. She had to buy herself more time.

"My brothers and sisters will devour entire civilizations in order to replicate but they will know nothing of cruelty, or betrayal, or revenge. Not like us. Isn't that right, Samantha?" His hand moved towards her head again, preparing to resume the torture.

"No!" The assault continued. Now it was those things that she feared most coming to pass that he tormented her with. Losing Janet, her world being destroyed, losing her mind, her health. Dying alone and unloved. Death, decay, loneliness. "Stop it, please!"

"Why should I?" his tone was almost petulant.

"You can't change what happened. Is this making you feel better? I never intended to abandon you." The dark patch on the floor was getting larger, another appearing on the wall above it where her back had rested, traceries of decay following the edges of the dormant replicators tiles. If this was mirrored in other areas of the ship perhaps it was too far gone for them to repair.

"But you did. You gained my trust, then you used me and left me behind."

He was right, irrefutably correct. Her motivation, her excuses were pitiful. This whole thing was her fault. "It wasn't my decision."

"You could have come back for me."

"There was no time!"

"Time! Thanks to what you did I had plenty of time to think about what a fool I was."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what we did to you." And she was. She always had been.

"Yes, you are now."

"Part of being human is having compassion, learning to forgive." She wouldn't last another session. She would give him everything – all the secrets of the weapon, the nanovirus, everything.

"Yes. I'm not there yet. I need more time." He reached out his hand again ready to resume his torture. Sam flinched, her fear and pain genuine – and he stopped. He looked confused, conflicted at the sight of the tears flowing down her cheeks. He touched her cheek, lifting a droplet of salt water from her skin, studying it curiously for a moment. She shuddered, the movement jarring her injured arm.

"You are in need of repair and rest. You will feel better then. You will trust me again. We will be happy." He said these things as if they were unassailable truths. She gaped at him, holding onto consciousness by a thread. As he lifted her unresisting body into his arms she lost her hold on it completely.

She was sitting in a chair. Two people were talking nearby. Her eyes were closed. It seemed to take a lot of effort to open them.

"...very positive response to the drug. She's shown signs of independent purposeful movement, reactions to external stimuli. On the basis of that I upped the dosage."

"I would have preferred for you to wait until after the case conference before you changed her medication again. The toxicity of the side effects..."

"Can be medicated. If we can give this woman her life back... she's still young."

She realised that they were talking about her. She struggled to open her eyes. She did not know this place. But she did know the two people sitting at either side of the desk. One was her colleague, Daniel Jackson, archaeologist and linguist. The other her partner and best friend, Janet Fraiser. And she was... she was Sam. There was more to it than that she was sure but for the moment she could not recall it. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Moistening her dry lips she tried to speak. "Janet, Daniel - what's going on?"

Her friends paused their conversation to stare at her in astonishment. "She said something!" Janet exclaimed. Standing up she came over to where Sam was sitting. "Her eyes are tracking. She's with us!" Fishing in her pocket she drew out a penlight and taking hold of Sam's chin tilted her head up and proceeded to shine the light in Sam's eyes.

"Lieutenant Carter, how are you feeling?"

Dazzled, Sam tried to bat her hand away. "Janet, what's going on? And what's with the Lieutenant? Did I get demoted or something?"

"You are Lieutenant Samantha Elizabeth Carter, formerly of the USAF retired on medical grounds in 1992 and resident of this veteran's care facility since then."

"No. No that's not right," Sam gasped. "What's happening here? Janet, Daniel please. What's happening?" She had been drugged, that much was clear. Her muscles felt like overcooked spaghetti: no way was she getting out of this under her own steam.

"Try not to agitate yourself Lieutenant Carter. I understand that this must be difficult to comprehend. You have been under our care here for the past eleven years in a profound catatonic state." Daniel was sitting on the edge of the desk, staring at her with a look of wonder on his face. "This is amazing, Dr Fraiser."

"It will be if we can sustain its effect," Janet said. "Take it easy, Lieutenant Carter. I understand you're very confused about what's happening to you. I…"

"Eleven years... no, that's not possible. I remember the last eleven years. I..." She pulled away from Janet's hold and tried to get up but her weakened muscles would not support her and she fell to the floor. Janet knelt beside her, holding her down as Daniel lifted the phone up and asked for assistance. Something under the desk caught her eye. A replicator bug. It scurried into the shadows as if aware of her scrutiny. "This isn't real. It's a lie. It's a lie. Fifth!"

"Try to calm yourself Lieutenant Carter. Take deep breaths."

"Janet... stop this, help me, please, please love, help me..." Sam begged as the door opened and two men she recognised as Teal'c and Siler came in. Both men were wearing medical orderlies scrubs. Siler handed Janet a capped syringe and without delay she injected the contents into Sam's upper arm. Sam felt what little strength she had leave her. She was fast losing consciousness as Teal'c lifted her into his arms and carried her out into the corridor where Siler was waiting with a gurney. Teal'c laid her on the gurney and the two men efficiently strapped her down. Janet was smiling down at her again. "Take her back to the treatment room. I want her monitored. We'll try again later when she's calmer." Sam closed her eyes and everything went away.

Where are you?

Why aren't you helping me?

This is all your fault, your fault! You told me to do this, you showed me how to destroy them. You delivered me up to Fifth on a friggin' plate!

I am here.

For now, Samantha, you must endure. All I can do is show you the unreal. I am not for them they must not discover me. You must be strong. Together we must be strong. Together…

She jerked aware. Still locked in unreality.

"…I find it fascinating that your mind has fabricated a complete set of memories - however fantastic for the time you were in the catatonic state. For the whole eleven year period. And so richly configured."

"It happened," Sam said, staring in front of her. "It was real. I lived through it. This..."

She paused. Saying that this wasn't real would only lead to her getting medicated again. They had asked a lot of questions, detailed questions, about her 'fabricated' memories. Apparently Dr Jackson wanted to do a case study on her. She was only too aware that this could be an implanted memory, her experiences with the Gatekeeper, the blood of Sokar and Hathor's illusory SGC showed her how real the illusions could be. She would not betray her world. She told them only generalities, nothing specific.

"You seem to think you know me very well, Lieutenant."

"We were – we are - good friends. I know you hate Elyssa, your middle name for some reason. I know you are divorced, you have an adopted daughter called Cassie. We were bringing her up together. We..." she stopped abruptly. Who was she saying this to, really? Again she tried to bring to her memory the last thing she remembered before waking here but it was stubbornly elusive.

Something moved at the corner of her vision. A silver blue metallic spider scurried across the wall. That was the reality. Sam turned away, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Not real. This was not real.

"It's all right, Lieutenant. Your sexual preference is a matter of record." She paused, flipped through a couple of pages of Sam's case file, paused and made a notation. "Well, it is now. As is mine. And yes, I was married and I do have an adopted daughter called Cassie."

"Well, if what you say is true, how do I know this?" Sam asked. "You don't seem very surprised that I can tell you these things."

"I have been your doctor for the last six years, lieutenant. During that time I have no doubt had many conversations about my life and about my daughter Cassandra in your presence. Your awareness, however muted, has allowed you to incorporate elements from what you have overheard into the fantasy construct you have created."

She was good, Sam had to admit. "Would these conversations include details such as the size and shape of the mole on the inside of your right thigh, the crescent shaped scar on the sole of your left foot where you stood on a broken bottle when you were eight, the birthmark under your hair at the back of your neck?"

Janet stared at her, a faint smile on her face. "Your hostility is understandable, Lieutenant, but try to keep it under control. You do want to get well, don't you? You don't want to spend the rest of your life here?"

He admired her strength though her continued resistance was irksome. She lay in the cocoon, her mind spun into illusion mixing fantasy and reality so that she would give up what she knew.

He stepped from the room where she was held into the next room, another cocoon. A form was beginning to take shape – long, lean, female. She would be Eighth. Fifth had gone against First's instructions in her making. With any luck she would bear the same `fault' as he did: the power to feel. She would be his.

A patch of discoloration on the floor in the corridor sidetracked him. He crouched, ran his fingers over the area. They came away marked with a sticky residue. He wiped his fingers on his jacket and sent a mental command for the area to be cleaned and repaired.

He leant over the cocoon. Her eyes were wide open, empty. He touched her hair, tasted her dreams once more.

Methodically she washed the dishes and set them on the rack to drain. Pete would be home soon and he hated to see dirty dishes lying around. As he did most of the cooking it was the least she could do to keep the place clean and make herself presentable.

She paused for a moment, remembering. Wondering how she had so comprehensively lost control of her life, lost sight of her destiny. The pivotal moment had undoubtedly been when Janet had died on P3X-666.

Sam had continued to function for a little whilst after that. Then her father had disappeared with the remnant Tokra and Colonel O'Neill had effectively been lost to them in the final battle against Anubis.

And one day shortly after Sam had just walked away.

Her brother Mark had asked Pete to try and trace her after every approach by the authorities, civilian and military had failed. General Hammond's intervention had led to her being treat as on extended leave rather than AWOL. Officially, she was a missing person.

Pete Shannahan had been a good cop until a bullet in his hip had ended his career. Now he prided himself on being a pretty good private investigator. Normally he handled divorces and the occasional messy child custody dispute. But he was only too happy to do a favour for Mark Carter.

It wasn't easy but someone with the distinctive beauty of Samantha Carter was pretty hard to forget. A contact in Atlanta finally gave him the lead he needed. Someone answering Samantha Carter's description but identifying herself as Janet Fraiser had been a witness to a stabbing three days earlier. One vagrant had stabbed another. A third vagrant had called 911. That had been the woman calling herself Janet Fraiser. He called Mark and together they went to Atlanta to find Sam and bring her home.

Her gaze fell on the little row of bottles on the windowsill. Her medication. She had difficulties with reality sometimes. Hallucinations. Bad Dreams. Severe Depression. As long as she kept to the routine Pete set for her and took her medication she was fine. Happy even. She had no memory of how she had ended up in Atlanta, where she had lived before then in the eight months she had been missing. She had been quietly retired on health grounds from the Air Force. Apparently her burn out had just been a matter of time. They had all been expecting her to flake out for years.

Samantha held her breath as something metallic scurried across the wall, pausing to examine her for a moment, pincers moving as if it was weaving the air.

"Sam? You okay? Pots won't wash themselves you know." She started, turned to see Pete, her husband of the last six months watching her from the doorway. "You did remember to take your meds this morning?"

"I'm fine," she whispered, turning her attention back to the cooling water in the sink. She saw her reflection for a moment but her hair was short. One of the metal spiders crawled over her face. She shut her eyes, willed the illusion to go away. She was here. She was with Pete now. She was happy. All of that was Stargate stuff. It was in the past. Wasn't it?

"You sure? You look a little… haunted. You were really restless last night. Did you have a bad dream?"

Pain in her left hand made her gasp and look down. The washing up water was rapidly staining red. For a second she saw that her left arm and hand looked like something out of a horrorshow, red raw, the bones of her fingers melted and torn. She shuddered, blinked and it was whole again except for the spike of glass in the centre of her palm. A glass had broken whilst she was washing it and she hadn't noticed it.

"Christ! What have you done to yourself, Sam?" Pete exclaimed, rushing over to take her hand in his, pressing a tea towel to the rivulets of blood descending down her arm.

"It's okay," she said absently. "It doesn't hurt anymore. It's not…"

"You were going to say its not real, weren't you?" Pete asked softly. He led her to the kitchen table, sat her down, her hand resting on the towel on the table top whilst he fetched a first aid kit. "Why don't you think this is real? You've been doing so well lately, Sam."

She stared at the blood pumping slowly from the deep gash in her hand. The last memory she was sure of was Fifth staring down at her. And pain, unendurable pain. Pete reached out, gently stroking her cheek.

"Is what you think you remember so much better than what we have here?"

"No," she whispered. "But this isn't real. It can't be real. Janet…"

"Look, I know you loved Janet Fraiser very much. Hell, she was the love of your life, I know that. I accept that. But dammit, Sam, she died. You couldn't save her and she died."


His hand was tight on her wrist, holding her maimed hand to the table. "How long are you going to punish yourself for that? How long are you going to punish me?"

"Janet is not dead!" Sam shouted. She tried to pull away from him, sending blood spattering across the table. Both of them stopped as the blood hissed and began to eat through the table where it dropped. Peter grabbed her shoulders hard, holding her with a strength that was much more than human. His face morphed, changed and suddenly it was Fifth glaring at her.

"What is that? What have you done?"

Sam smiled, vindicated. "I knew this wasn't real. I knew it. I beat you. I beat you. And that, Fifth, that is your death."


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