DISCLAIMER: I don't own the ladies and I'm making no money from them.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Doctor Janet Fraiser stared at the gaping wound in Colonel Jack O'Neill's right thigh.
'Wow,' she said.
'Yeah. Wow.' He sounded impressed.
The Chief Medical Officer looked up and her wide brown eyes made contact with his for a moment. He smiled at her. She bit her lower lip underneath her surgical mask.
'Tingles?' she asked, incredulous.
'That's right, Doc.'
Janet was silent for at least five seconds. 'It tingles?'
Janet blinked hard. This was one she could officially chalk up to weird. She did not normally think of the Colonel as the easiest of patients to grace her infirmary. He got impatient with tests, distracted her nurses - male and female - and teased her mercilessly about her alleged bad-ass power trip. One thing he wasn't known for, however, was unnecessary whimpering. His pain threshold was high for a man's and he was demonstrably proud of it. His gallant performance for this current injury really took the cake, though.
Janet's gloved fingers approached the hideous wound, exploring tentatively. Jack seized her wrist abruptly.
'Except,' he said, with slow deliberation, 'when someone touches it.' His warning gaze held her eyes.
Janet frowned. 'Touches it?'
'Yeah. Then it... stings a bit.'
Janet straightened and he released her. 'When you touch it, it just stings a bit?'
Jack sighed, apparently contented. 'You're repeating yourself a lot today, Doc.'
Janet spread her hands, lost for words. She looked at the injury again. It was easily the worst single trauma she had seen in the past four months, and possibly one of the worst non-fracture limb injuries she would have to deal with in her career. The hole in Jack O'Neill's thigh was over five inches long and had been open to the bone. Several hours without proper medical treatment in a dirty off-world environment should have been a huge concern, yet the wound was healing by itself. It needed closing but there was not a trace of infection. Granted, Major Carter had shot him full of antibiotics, but an SG team's standard field supplies were limited and Janet expected to see some serious problems with a trauma of this severity. Besides, the antibiotics did not explain his remarkable lack of pain.
She took a deep breath and exhaled. 'Okay...' The explanation had to be found on the alien world, she reasoned. 'This is beyond strange. It almost looks cauterized. When you did it, did you bleed much?'
'Oh yes.' Jack nodded proudly. 'Plenty of bleeding, for a while. Carter says I nicked my feminine artery or something.'
'The femoral artery?' Janet started in shock. She peered closely at his leg, looking for signs of imminent danger within the deep, ragged gash. She found nothing specific. 'So what happened? How much blood did you lose?'
'Well I don't really know, Doctor. I forgot to take my measuring jug. But it eased off pretty quick and stopped by itself after a couple of minutes.' He raised his eyebrows suddenly. 'Hey, maybe it couldn't get through the mud.'
'I fell in a lot of mud.' His mouth twitched and he clarified, 'Well, sort of mud. Lots of thick, minerally, smelly goo kinda stuff. There's a lot of that in the hot tubs.'
Janet blinked hard again, uncomprehending. Fortunately another voice cut in.
'He means the pools inside the caldera,' said Daniel Jackson. He was standing at the foot of the Colonel's bed, arms folded across his chest. His lips moved quickly beneath his surgical mask. 'The water's heated by the magma chamber deep under ground.'
'Uh-huh,' said Janet. Her brow creased. 'So, you fell in one of these pools, Colonel, and somehow injured your leg...'
'On a rock...'
'On a sharp rock.'
'Was the rock hot as well as sharp?'
'Nope. Just a little warm, and very sharp.'
Janet closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again. 'You injured yourself on a very sharp rock, and something in the pool got into the wound?'
Jack waved his hands around in a swift circling motion. 'The stuff was all churned up like thick mud.'
'He was covered in it,' said Daniel. 'Head to foot.'
'Inside my clothes...'
'We had to strip him naked.'
'Every damned orifice...'
'I get the picture,' said Janet. 'Then what?'
'Then we noticed that he was bleeding,' said Daniel, 'and Sam took one look at the huge hole in his leg and squeaked.'
Jack grinned suddenly. 'She did squeak, didn't she?'
'And he yelped.'
Jack's grin vanished. 'I did not yelp.'
'And she packed his leg with most of the kit, gave him a shot, and we headed back.'
Janet whistled softly. Daniel looked at her, quizzical. He didn't know Fraiser could whistle. It sounded vaguely suggestive.
'And this was six hours ago?' she checked.
'Give or take,' said Jack.
'It's a difficult trek,' said Daniel, 'and Sam wouldn't let him walk.'
'I kept telling her it didn't hurt.'
'We carried him.'
'It was relaxing. Very scenic.'
'And extremely hot.' A reminiscent scowl formed above Daniel's mask.
Janet shook her head, amazed. She shrugged. 'Well, my guess is that some compound in the pool is responsible for this, and whatever it is must be powerful. Certainly worth a return trip to investigate. I'll make an immediate report to the General while Doctor Warner closes you up.'
She pulled off her gloves and mask and started to leave. Jack held up one palm, his expression suddenly alert.
'Wait a sec! While Doctor Warner does what?'
Janet turned back and indicated his leg. 'It's still deep. You need some stitches in the muscles, Colonel. Nothing to worry about.'
Jack glared at her. 'Hey, it's fine right now. Tingly. It just hurts when you touch it, remember?'
'You'll get a local anaesthetic.'
'I don't need no stinking anaesthetic! Just let the goo do its work.'
Janet shoved both hands in her lab coat pockets. 'We don't have any goo here, Colonel, and we don't even know that the goo is responsible. It's just a guess. Even if it is, we don't know how long said goo's properties last.' She pointed a finger at his leg as she left. 'That needs closing.'
Jack flung his head back and glared at the ceiling. 'Any chance she gets, damn it.'
Major Sam Carter couldn't believe she'd heard right. She stared at the General at the head of the table. 'Going back?' she echoed.
General Hammond nodded, apparently not noticing her mildly panicked look or the tightness in her voice.
'That's right, Major. You're to take a multi-national science team back to the planet as soon as Doctor Fraiser's liaised with the volcanologists.'
Multi-national? Oh terrific. O'Neill got out of being on his best behaviour and she had to step up.
'And who are they, Sir?'
'A couple of officers from AIRCOM and the RAF, plus two of our specialists. You'll be responsible for their and Doctor Fraiser's safety.'
Sam felt a scowl threatening to gain foothold on her face. It hardly seemed five minutes since they'd returned from the unbearably hot, humid, sulphur-reeking world SG1 discovered on going through the stargate. It had been an especially uncomfortable mission from start to finish, and not without its natural dangers, as demonstrated by Colonel O'Neill's mishap and subsequent highly inconvenient incapacitation. One shower, a meal, a few hours sleep (not enough) and she had to go back?
Sam carefully composed her features into something that wouldn't get her hauled up on charges of insubordination. 'Sir, I'm not sure it's worth it. The planet's deserted. We found no evidence of technology and the ruins were very nondescript...'
'I wouldn't say that, exactly,' said Daniel.
Sam glared at him. 'That is pretty much what you said on the planet.'
Daniel spread his hands and opened his mouth to argue, but she didn't give him the chance.
'You said they were "devoid of linguistic significance" and the architecture "wouldn't look out of place in a Walmart parking lot".'
'I was hauling Jack over a rock at the time. I wasn't feeling generous.'
Sam's gaze swept the ceiling briefly. She really, really did not want to roast her butt again on that hot rock. Why SG1? Why her? She glanced across at Teal'c. He sat silent and impassive; no damn help.
'Perhaps another team would like their crack at it,' she said with meagre conviction. 'Isn't one of the CO's doing a masters in mineralogy?'
Hammond's face hardened. 'The other teams are busy with their scheduled missions. SG1 are going back to keep the team safe, minus Colonel O'Neill of course. I don't want anyone else injured and you know what dangers to look out for.'
'I'd like to take a closer look at the archaeology since we're going anyway,' said Daniel. 'We know it won't be long before everything's swallowed up by the rising magma, including the gate. It would be a shame to miss something.'
Sam tried another tack. 'Maybe that rising magma is something we should be more wary of.'
Hammond's tone grew a little impatient. Why was Carter resisting this command? 'This is a very experienced and competent team of volcanologists, Major. They will be monitoring the situation, and Squadron Leader Bonnet and Flight Lieutenant Bliss are eager for the opportunity to study this world's geology in action.'
Bet they are, thought Sam. And what the hell kind of name was Bliss? And as for Bonnet...
She continued her protest. 'Sir...'
'Major Carter!' Hammond decided enough was enough. 'The last time I checked SGC missions don't come sale or return. You're going back, with all the necessary equipment for study and samples, at 0800 hours. Clear?'
Sam sagged in defeat. 'Yes Sir.'
The three fit members of SG1 stood up as soon as he dismissed them. Sam allowed her shoulder to jostle Daniel's as they left the briefing room.
'Shol'va,' she said, under her breath.
'Not my fault,' said Daniel out of the side of his mouth. 'You want to blame someone for this? See Janet.'
When Sam did see Janet the doctor was already in the gate-room, supervising the securing of one of three large loads of equipment. Like the four team scientists assembled around their various packs and cases, Janet was dressed in fatigues and a vest which seemed overly stuffed with gadgets.
Ha, thought Sam, that'll come off as soon as she gets there!
SG1 had all wound up devoid of vests, jackets and t-shirts within an hour of arriving on the hot oppressive planet. She wasn't bothering with her own jacket this time and she doubted her new charges would last half as long in their kit.
Come to think of it, would that be so bad? Janet with her kit off? Sam's eyes appraised the neat woman working in front of her and she couldn't help visualising her stripped to her underwear; or even less. Sam's gaze dropped and focused on Janet's hips as the doctor stepped onto the ramp that led to the gate. The dark fatigues tightened around Janet's curves as she bent over some equipment to double-check its fastenings. Sam's mouth watered a little.
Oh great. As if the planet wasn't going to be enough to get her all warm and distracted.
Sam wrenched her gaze away from Janet's alluring form and rolled her shoulders to adjust her own vest, which suddenly seemed to chafe her bare neck a little. She checked the sling for her weapon, and nearly fell over when something hard bumped painfully into the backs of her legs.
Sam looked round and recognised Flight Lieutenant Bliss - an energetic Canadian woman with long black hair tied up in an incongruously fierce little bun. The young officer had the gall to smile at her sweetly.
'This extra one is just our supplies of water,' said Bliss over the top of a pile of gallon canteens, as though that justified a CO's bruises.
Sam rubbed her sore thighs and frowned at the shiny black mountain between them. This was ridiculous. They had already established that there were adequate fresh water supplies on the planet suitable for filtering and purification. 'There's H2O already there, Lieutenant.'
'Oh it's not for drinking, Ma'am. These supplies are sterile.'
Sam turned around again as Janet's voice piped up from the ramp.
'It's going to be a busy schedule,' said Janet, a little breathless, 'but Bonnet and Lilith here have come up with some ideas to help me get the most out of it.'
'Lilith?' Sam raised her eyebrows and glanced at Bliss. Neither the doctor nor the Canadian appeared to notice.
'Are you happy with the new seals on these, Ma'am?' Bliss asked brightly.
'Perfect, Lieutenant.' Janet waved an airman over and indicated yet another case that was still on the floor. 'Here, load this on top, please, and make sure it's secure; there's half a million's worth of precision and tinsel inside.'
It did not escape Sam's notice that both Janet and Bliss were very keen for this mission to begin. In fact if they were any more pumped they would be bouncing like balloons on helium.
She jumped as a loud clap sounded right beside her ear, and looked round yet again.
'Are we ready, then?' asked an excited voice. This time it was a tall man with a blonde crew cut and an impossibly bright white smile: Squadron Leader Bonnet, some earth sciences golden boy on loan from the Royal Air Force. His palms were still pressed together in the vicinity of Sam's eardrum.
Sam decided it was time to stamp her authority on her annoyingly good-natured team. 'Right!' she announced to the gate-room in general. 'If anyone's not ready, they get left behind or vaporized. Dial it up!'
The milling officers and gate crew collided a few times as they rushed to clear the ramp before the imminent wormhole. Sam caught sight of Daniel and Teal'c waiting to one side, geared up ready. Teal'c was staring at her. Daniel was smirking. She scowled and mouthed 'what?' at them. Teal'c granted her a nonchalant eyebrow and Daniel just grinned.
'Gosh,' said Bliss. 'It's hot, isn't it?'
Sam resisted the urge to roll her eyes across the thunderous looking sky above them. 'Yes,' she said, in a tone which wobbled on the line between "duh" and "no shit, Sherlock".
Janet gave Sam a glance of disapproval as the wormhole dissipated in their wake. Eight figures paused in front of the gate, surrounded by four creaking loads of equipment. Within seconds of arriving they all un-shouldered and dropped their backpacks, eager to be relieved of them in the sweltering heat.
Sam surveyed the terrain which she had hoped she wouldn't have to look at again. It wasn't that it was ugly - in fact it was quite inspiring, if you liked jagged edges, brimstone yellow, sandy greys and tonnes of rock. Somewhere behind the thick cloud cover there was a sun, its heavily obscured rays bestowing the landscape with a sultry quality. This world's stargate was located near the foot of a slope which formed the eastern rim of the ancient and vast volcano - a ridge overlooking a wide expanse of milky pools and crusted rocks, devoid of vegetation. Warm vapour rose up to greet them like a dense mist from the underworld. Far to the west Sam could see the low mountain range which marked the other edge of the caldera, dark and rendered featureless by the distance. To the south the sky was a permanent orange, its oppressive clouds reflecting back the ground's hot turbulence.
'Wow,' said Bonnet, clearly delighted with the view. 'Excellent.'
Daniel pointed towards the orange horizon. 'We figure the fissure's that way, Tom.'
Oh, aren't we all on perky first-name terms, thought Sam.
'Wow,' Bonnet repeated, his blue eyes enormous. 'Impressive.'
Sam blinked a few times. This threatened to be riveting. Well, the sooner they got started...
During their previous mission SG1 had located some small caves with narrow tunnels below the ridge on which the stargate perched. They contained steamy pools within their rocky hollows, but otherwise provided reasonably dry shelter. The planet's heat kept the hard ground inside dry enough to store equipment safely, so Sam directed the science team to make their base of operations in and around the caves.
They complied enthusiastically. Bonnet identified various items of equipment and assigned the immediate tasks to Bliss and the two specialists. That duly done, the blonde squadron leader turned back to Sam and clapped his hands together in satisfaction.
'And sleeping arrangements?' he asked, his wide smile glittering.
Sam winced. She jabbed a finger towards the mouth of a cave, then at another next to it. 'Girls. Boys.'
'Jolly dee.' Bonnet turned and jaunted off.
Sam headed for the girls' quarters and dumped her pack, erecting a flood-light and staking a claim on the smoothest patch of warm ground at the back. Their mission was due to last thirty-six hours and she wanted to get at least a few hours reasonable sleep in that time. Her pitch secured, she wandered out again with her P-90 slung and her canteen. Teal'c was waiting outside.
'The perimeter is secure, Major Carter. Do you wish me to assist the volcanologists?'
'No, Teal'c, let them get on with it. They're not lacking enthusiasm and we're hot enough.' She took a swig from the canteen.
'And Doctor Fraiser?'
Oh she's hot enough. Sam swallowed the water quickly, trying to shake that sudden thought off. She cast around for the doctor's position and found her perched on a rocky outcrop. Janet was dragging a large case towards a folding table already erected next to her portable lab equipment.
'I'll give her a hand,' said Sam.
Sam crossed the uneven distance and Janet smiled when she saw the major approach.
'Here, let me,' said Sam, taking one handle of the case and helping her to lift it.
'Thanks, Sam.' Janet paused as soon as the crate was positioned under the table and peeled off her jacket, letting it drop to the ground. She straightened and pressed her palms into her lower back, exhaling noisily. 'It's not just hot. The air's humid.'
Sam's eyes were drawn immediately to the doctor's black t-shirt where her breasts stretched the soft fabric. Her lips parted slightly, before she could scrape together an answer. 'Yeah, it's, uh... debilitating. The sweat pours off you but it hardly evaporates. You just get hotter and wetter.'
Janet glanced at her, amusement tugging at the corner of her mouth. Sam blushed when she realised that Janet was commenting silently on her inadvertent double entendre. Then she realised that Janet had also noticed where her gaze was drawn. She looked away quickly.
The doctor's smile widened at Sam's awkwardness. 'We'll just have to pace ourselves,' she said, her tone a little more intimate. 'Can you help me with this equipment?'
Sam inhaled sharply. Oh, that wasn't a come on, was it? Was she seeing things? She coughed and nodded, grateful for something to do anyway. 'Sure.' She glanced at the grim clouds above them. 'We'd better get it under cover first, Janet, in case that sky decides to open up.'
They spent the next few minutes bringing Janet's gear just inside the entrance of the largest cave and unpacking small containers and devices. Janet set up her equipment while Sam double-checked through the supply of batteries. The cells and power-packs had already been checked pre-mission, but Sam liked the excuse to hover around the doctor.
'I'm going to start by taking some samples from the pools in the immediate area,' said Janet. 'If something in them is responsible for mitigating Colonel O'Neill's injury, it could be invaluable.'
Sam grimaced at the recent memory of their cumbersome trek back to the gate with the injured Colonel. Janet spotted it.
'What is it?'
Janet frowned at her as she calibrated some equipment. 'You're... spiky.'
'You've been prickly since the gate-room. What's up?'
'Nothing's up,' said Sam, defensive.
'Good,' said Janet mildly.
Sam re-packed the last of the spare batteries and scratched the back of her neck, for want of anything better to do with her hands. 'I'll, er, go make sure the others are okay,' she said.
'Fine,' said Janet, without looking up.
Sam left. Damn, she thought. She must have pissed off Janet with her little show of temper in the gate-room. She didn't want to do that; and it didn't help that Janet was the last person to let her get away with it without a mention. Sam felt foolish suddenly, like a child who had been admonished for sulking. It wasn't Janet's or the science team's fault that she was back on the surface of this giant oven after too little down-time. Her orders came from Hammond.
Well it was Janet's fault, come to think of it. Janet had asked for the mission. But if Sam backed that train of thought up far enough, it was also O'Neill's fault for falling over in the first place.
Stupid Major, Sam chided herself. Why did she feel like blaming someone anyway? The return mission was more than worthwhile in the circumstances.
Sam wandered down towards the figures gathered on the ground below. Bonnet, Bliss and the specialists were talking animatedly, pointing in all directions. Daniel was with them, listening and twiddling a pencil.
'There's no resurgent dome due to the magma escaping through the southern fissure,' said Bonnet.
'And no indication of CO2 emissions so far,' said Bliss.
'No limestone contributing, of course, but there may be degassing of intruded magma.'
'I'll do regular sweeps near any hollows with a flowmeter, Sir,' said a specialist.
'Maybe leave a couple on automatic?' suggested Bliss.
'So how are you guys doing?' called Sam.
They all turned towards her.
'Getting there, Major,' said Bonnet happily. 'We're going to split up and do some exploring first. Find the most likely spots for study.'
'Stay in teams of at least two,' said Sam.
Bonnet frowned slightly. 'Is that necessary?'
Sam looked at him squarely. She spoke after a beat, with emphasis. 'Yes.'
Bonnet's eyebrows went back up again, a little higher than their previous position. 'Oh. In that case...' he raised a finger, apparently recalculating, 'everyone forget what I said two minutes ago.' He indicated the two specialists. 'You chaps are stuck with me then while Bliss helps Doctor Fraiser.'
The four scientists headed off immediately, each sparing Sam an extremely brief glance as they got under way. Sam was left standing in their place, staring at their retreating backs. Daniel stepped closer to her.
'Sam, Tom Bonnet doesn't out-rank you, does he?' he asked, apparently puzzled.
Sam looked at him in surprise. 'No. We're equivalent.'
'Thought so.' Daniel eyed her cautiously along the rim of his glasses, but didn't say more.
'Why?' she asked suspiciously.
'Daniel...' Sam's tone grew a little dangerous.
'It's just that you seem a little keen to, you know, remind us all that you're the CO.'
Sam's jaw fell open. 'What? I am not!'
'Okay, okay, forget I said anything!' He scuttled away. 'I'm heading for the ruins.'
'I will, I will!'
Sam stood alone, perspiration beading on her brow. She wiped it hard with the back of her wrist. Damn, did she just do it again?
Sam wondered if she was coming down with something. She felt her forehead with her sweaty palm: hot, just like the rest of her. She shook her head. Not a fever. No unusual aches in her joints, no swollen glands. She was just cranky. Perhaps she needed to eat. Breakfast had been a hurried affair grabbed after the briefing and consumed on foot, half in the locker room and the rest along the corridor. At least she didn't have indigestion.
She opened one of the supply crates and picked through the ration packets: beef, turkey... she pouted at the usual uninspired selection. Something other than the familiar brown packages caught her eye and she picked it out to read the label: chicken tikka masala. She glanced over at Bonnet in the distance. His influence? She ripped the paper off the foil tray and dipped a finger in the red concoction for a taste: weird, but it would make a change. She found a spoon and sat on a rock, more than happy to eat it cold.
Janet was standing a few feet away, looking straight up at the sky.
'There's something heading our way, I think.'
Sam looked up too. As before the sky seemed oppressively low, the clouds so solid-looking and pendulous they appeared about to fall and crush them under their weight.
Sam squinted. Something was different. The clouds weren't as dark as before. Or were they? Something slightly opaque was blocking the view. Something greyish - no, something watery...
Sam's eyes widened suddenly and she leapt to her feet. 'Janet! Get to the cave!'
Just as the last word escaped Sam's lips the wall of water hit them. A sheet of huge, impenetrable raindrops slammed into them and into the ground. It was phenomenal in its speed and intensity. Hard, heavy splats thudded into Sam's food tray, spattering her face with pinkish chicken and blinding her for a few seconds. She dropped the tray and ran, grabbing Janet by the hand as the fierce rainstorm pelted their heads and shoulders painfully, threatening to hammer them into the ground like tent-pegs under a mallet.
In the few seconds it took them to reach shelter they were drenched. Sam and Janet staggered into the largest cave mouth, water pouring off their sodden clothes and pooling around their boots. They stood with their arms out to the sides, dripping from their hair and eyelashes, and watched the ground outside dancing wildly under the countless fierce impacts.
'That hurt!' said Janet.
Three minutes later it was over. The ground was awash with receding flood water cascading into every hollow and channel. White vapour rose up from the soaked terrain, filling the air with even greater humidity and obscuring the view. Bonnet splashed out of the warm fog and entered the cave.
'Quite a shower,' he said.
Sam noticed that his clothes were dry. Somehow he had found shelter in time.
'Did any equipment get damaged, Sir?' asked Bliss. She had been in the cave when the rain hit and was also dry.
'That roll of seismograph paper you left out drowned, but other than that I think everything's survived.'
'I'm sorry, Sir.'
Bonnet waved away her apology. 'No need, Bliss. No one could have anticipated such a fast downpour. Stair-rods, eh?' He clapped for emphasis.
Sam sighed and ran her fingers through her wet hair, combing it back from her face. She discovered traces of fragrant chicken and smeared them away with an expression of distaste. 'Are the other two okay, Bonnet?'
Bonnet nodded. 'I left them wringing out their gradiometer. They're both fine.'
Sam scanned the terrain in the direction that Daniel and Teal'c had taken. She couldn't see much through the thick vapour and decided she had better check that they hadn't been washed into some sink-hole. 'We're not likely to get another one of those storms for a while,' she said. 'I'll head for the ruins to make sure Teal'c and Daniel are okay.' She stepped out of the cave and sloshed away. 'Keep working.'
'You want me to come with you?' Bonnet called after her.
'No thanks,' said Sam without looking round.
Bliss scratched her head as Sam left. 'Didn't she order us to keep in pairs for safety, Sir?'
Bonnet shrugged. 'I assumed so.'
Janet frowned. Bliss looked her up and down.
'Shall I dig you out some dry kit, Doctor Fraiser?' Bliss noticed that the doctor's gaze was firmly on the retreating major.
'That's very solicitous of you, Lilith,' said Janet, only half paying attention.
The surface water drained away fast, leaving the southerly route to the ruins clear if rather damp. Sam walked quickly through the swirling mist, hoping the heat and effort would dry out her shirt and pants. She checked her radio, weapon and magazines as she went and was pleased to find everything in working order. Good old polymer; it took everything they threw at it.
After about an hour she spotted the ruins in the distance. Daniel had been right the first time; they weren't particularly impressive. Unremarkable stonework nestled in a wide, flat hollow - a series of single-story buildings that had never been any higher in the past. They were composed of grey-white pillars and plain arches, with few examples of adornment. Sam wondered what had been the point of placing a stargate on this planet. Who would want to live on a world so geologically unstable that flora and fauna couldn't find a grip, and any settlements would always be under threat of destruction? Even the stargate wasn't safe. Given what earth sciences already believed about this planet's rapid geology, it was a wonder the gate had survived to date.
She was still some distance off when she saw Daniel emerge from between two pillars. He waved at her, apparently excited, and Teal'c's large form appeared behind him. At least they hadn't suffered any mishap.
'Sam!' Daniel shouted across the rocks. 'Over here!'
'What's the rush?' she shouted back.
'I've figured out what it is!'
Sam was sure it was hotter here than in the vicinity of the stargate. Perhaps it was a result of being closer to the fissure. Whatever the reason, her sweat glands were on over-time.
She and her companions stood between two plain pillars under a precarious roof. There were plenty of gaps between the uprights and Sam had already reasoned that the structure couldn't have provided much accommodation even when complete. Nor did it contain evidence of ritual use, artistic expression or scientific curiosity. No exotic statues of false gods to worship. No wall-carvings which Daniel could spend hours studying and finally translate into something of great pertinence when it was too late anyway. No perplexing items of advanced alien technology which Sam could take back to her lab and subject the base to before she worked out how dangerous it was.
Sam wasn't keen to venture any further inside the dull building, given the untrustworthy appearance of the masonry. Teal'c clearly concurred because he was hanging back beside her, occasionally glancing up with a warily raised eyebrow. Daniel, more blase about the likely strengths and weaknesses of standing archaeology, didn't seem to notice as he elaborated on his discovery. He kept taking off his glasses and wiping the mist away on his damp shirt.
'I didn't realise the last time we were here because the ground was dry,' he said, 'but as soon as that rain hit and I saw where it was going, it was obvious. This is a bath house.'
Sam looked down at the milky water in the wide hollow of the building. It was draining away, leaving soft grey sediment. 'Someone's pulled the plug out.'
Daniel gestured quickly with a sweep of his arm. 'This whole building is essentially a tub. Communal, presumably. So are the others. When it was built the water coming into it via all these channels would have been conserved for a much longer period.' He spun round in a circle, indicating the rivulets of water still entering the building from the area in all directions. 'It's simply lost its integrity.'
Sam acknowledged his observations with a slow nod. 'I see. Good.' She raised her eyebrows. 'So someone came all this way to take the waters.'
Daniel's animation dwindled. 'Hmm.'
'Doctor Fraiser's hypothesis may be correct,' said Teal'c. 'Perhaps the water on this planet has unusual properties.'
'A health spa,' said Sam. 'A genuinely powerful one, if the Colonel's injury is indicative. But they built it quite some distance from the stargate.'
'They did.' Daniel nodded. 'That is puzzling.'
Teal'c peered out of the building, in the direction of one of the watercourses. 'Major Carter, is that not the same pool into which Colonel O'Neill stumbled?'
They abandoned the ruin, to Sam's quiet relief, and followed a channel up a gentle slope to the source Teal'c indicated. They stood at the edge of the misty pool, gauging its familiarity. It was deeper than Sam remembered and overflowing. She noticed some scuff marks in the sand at one side, disappearing into the water. She pointed.
'You're right, Teal'c. That's where his boot skidded.' She thought for a moment. 'Perhaps only some of the pools contain the healing compound, and the baths are built here to take advantage of them.' She pondered that possibility for a few moments. Damn. If Janet was taking samples from the wrong pools, she was not going to be pleased to hear it. 'We'd better get back.'
'You didn't think to mention this before?' asked Janet, gesturing with both palms outwards.
'We hadn't figured out the possibility,' said Sam.
Janet let her hands drop against her legs. She sighed dramatically. 'Well it could explain why I haven't discovered anything so far.' She looked rather deflated. 'At least my total lack of progress supports your hypothesis.'
Sam smiled weakly. 'Silver lining?'
Janet met her gaze head on. 'At a push.' The doctor's dark hair was plastered to her forehead and she swiped at it in frustration. 'God, my pores think they've been judged and sent to purgatory. I need a break before you take me to those ruins to check that water out.'
Sam groaned to herself. That would be her third trip. She felt like a tennis ball batted back and forth across hot concrete.
Janet noticed her wilting and gestured wearily. 'You need one too.'
'We should all take a break,' said Sam. She called time-out and ordered them all to eat.
The full team assembled around the supplies and Janet gave each member a pulse-check and made sure they topped up their fluid intake. Sam assessed her charges. They had been on the planet just a few hours but already everyone looked like they'd been dragged multiple times through something extremely warm and wet. The specialists had gained Bonnet's permission to take their shirts off and were displaying matted chest hairs and oily muscles. Teal'c looked like rich chocolate close to melting-point and Daniel was just a soggy misted up mess. Bliss was best described as bedraggled, with the tight bun on the top of her head losing damp wispy bits. Sam's and Bonnet's condition was most notable; the two fair-skinned blondes were flushed a permanent Barbie-box pink.
Sam thought that Janet was bearing up best in the visual department. She was positively shiny, her olive skin adapting beautifully to the full-blown perspiring look. It wasn't fair, Sam decided, but it was rather appealing.
They sat around on crates and rocks and tried to expend as little energy as possible. Except for Bliss, who leapt to the role of distributor and made sure everyone got the packets of sauce they wanted.
Daniel spoke up with his mouth full, pointing to a distant spot. 'Teal'c, does that sky seem more orange to you?'
Teal'c and the others followed Daniel's gaze to the southern sky. It was magnificent, with thick rolling clouds of various shades from brimstone yellow through bright oranges to deep reds.
'It does appear more intense,' said Teal'c, enunciating perfectly around half a ration pack.
Bonnet looked up from where he was rummaging through the food crate. He peered up into the distance. 'Probably due to an increase in activity at the fissure.'
'Could that be a problem for us?' asked Sam.
Bonnet turned back and delved deeper into the rations. 'It would be if we were here for any length of time. The magma's definitely rising and its spill may pick up any day now. But we'll have enough warning if it does.'
'Nothing explosive, then?'
'Not explosive enough to kill us. There's a constant release going on over there so no extreme pressure build-up. We just have to leave before it erupts into a flood basalt.' He went still suddenly and frowned into the crate. 'Has anyone seen my CTM?'
'What's a CTM?' asked Daniel.
'My tikka masala. I packed it specially.'
Sam tensed. 'You did?'
'Yes.' Bonnet looked at her. 'You didn't eat it, did you?'
Janet caught Sam's eye.
'Well, not technically,' Sam added.
Teal'c leaned over to sniff Sam's hair. 'Major Carter, I believe you are indeed responsible for the theft of Squadron Leader Bonnet's tiffin.'
Sam jerked away to escape Teal'c's nose. 'His what-in?'
'Teal'c and Tom have been swapping lingo,' said Daniel proudly.
'Let me guess. Your idea?'
Daniel smiled slightly and bowed his head, Teal'c-like.
Bonnet was still staring at Sam. 'Major Carter?'
Sam sighed. This one wasn't going away, apparently. 'Look, sorry, Bonnet. It got diluted in the rainstorm.'
'How did it manage that?' Bonnet was clearly bewildered, unwilling to believe that a fellow NATO officer and decorated combatant would act with such duplicity.
Daniel smelled an international incident simmering and moved smoothly to turn the gas off. 'We'll send back for some more in time for supper, Tom.' He fished out a US Air Force ration and passed it to the forlorn squadron leader as though it were a priceless peace pipe. 'Here, this is meant to taste like beef pot roast.'
Bonnet accepted the offering, resigned to his loss. He opened the packet cautiously as he wandered back to his experiment, muttering something about American cattle pumped with steroids and antibiotics, not quite under his breath.
The others drifted off too with their remaining rations, leaving Sam and Janet sitting side by side. Sam tried her turkey. It tasted... dessicated.
'That was mean,' said Janet.
'What was mean?'
'Stealing Bonnet's lunch.'
'I didn't know it was the only one!'
'Are you sure you didn't?'
'Of course I'm sure! Janet, what do you take me for?'
'I believe you,' said Janet, dead-pan.
Sam crumpled. 'Janet, please...'
'I do!' Janet smiled at her and Sam felt the hook she was dangling on release its tease a little. Janet peeled back a silver wrapper with a delicate finger and thumb. 'It's just that you don't seem to like him much.'
'Hey, I like him. He's... likeable. What's not to like?'
Sam grimaced and took another bite of her lunch. She munched in silence for a few moments. 'Anyway, why are you taking his side? He was insulting your Texan steers a minute ago.'
'Oh, with those lovely looks I'll forgive him even that.'
A piece of dry turkey caught in Sam's throat. She swallowed it down with difficulty.
'You think he's good-looking?'
Janet's eyes widened in surprise. 'Are you really asking? Of course he's gorgeous.'
'Well, I suppose...' Sam bit her lip. Beyond the man's bright teeth and inopportune clapping which threatened a migraine with equal measure, she hadn't really noticed. But then she had been preoccupied with noticing someone else lately.
'I wouldn't kick him out of bed,' said Janet.
Sam coughed, hard.
'And he wears it so well.' Janet folded her empty wrapper with precision and slipped it back into the crate, where it got mixed up immediately with the unopened ones. 'He's pleasant to be with.'
Sam's heart began to wilt. 'Well, yeah, there is that old world courtesy thing.'
'Oh not that.' Janet popped something sweet and sticky into her mouth. 'I mean, he's delightfully oblivious to how attractive he is. He's beautiful and charming without knowing it.'
'You think so?' Sam wondered if her turkey would taste any better on the way back up.
'Sure. He's tall, blonde, sweet, stunning, and so unaware of it.' Janet licked her lips. 'You know what, Sam?' She patted the major's thigh as she stood up. 'He's a male version of you.'
Sam nearly choked. She figured it was fortunate that she wrenched back control of her windpipe without the aid of the Heimlich manoeuvre, because Janet was walking away with her back to her and Sam would have had to launch herself and wrap around the doctor's dainty knees to get her attention. Which was something she didn't think she dare do at that moment. Dying in the sultry dust might have been her only option in the circumstances.
Janet thought she was beautiful?
And had the hand that just patted her thigh lingered a little longer than a platonic touch could justify?
Sam took a deep breath. Calm down, Carter... think rationally. Janet had just told her she found Bonnet attractive. Bonnet. Maybe that was the point.
Yet she'd detailed, quite methodically, those very attractive qualities she thought he shared with Sam.
... a male version of you.
Damn, that was so ambiguous.
Sam's hand fell to her thigh where Janet had touched her. She pressed her palm against her dark pants, revisiting the warm sensation. Her skin tingled with the wonderful, recent memory: the inside of her thigh, she realised. Oh, had that been deliberate? Her eyelids fluttered as her heartbeat picked up its pace.
But the beautiful doctor had wandered off back to her work, casual and seemingly unaware of the effect she'd just had on the major. Sam groaned. Perhaps she just wanted to see something in it.
She grabbed her canteen and drained it, not caring that some of the tepid water spilled around the sides and ran down her chin and over her breasts. She let the empty flask fall and land with a thud between her boots. She had too many more hours to go on this primordial heat ball.
'How the hell am I gonna last?'
Teal'c and Daniel volunteered to accompany Sam and Janet to the ruined bath houses. It was easier to distribute Janet's carefully selected equipment between the four of them. She had chosen as little as she needed, but in such high temperatures and humidity the SG1 members could not carry half of what they were used to hauling on their backs.
Teal'c took point - not that they were expecting any threat - and Sam brought up the rear. Janet's rear, to be precise. After a while Sam decided that she liked walking on Janet's six very much. She could admire the doctor's lithe, energetic movements with impunity. Janet's stride was shorter than the others' and she leapt across puddles and skipped over rocks with the grace of a dancer to match their pace. Sam realised she wasn't doing anything to dampen her own lustful thoughts by watching but she couldn't help herself.
Teal'c took some temperature readings when they arrived, first of the air and then of the ground. He showed Sam the results.
'Major Carter, the ground is warmer here than in the vicinity of the stargate.'
'It must be because we're nearer to the fissure,' said Sam. 'The magma here is closer to the surface.'
'That could be affecting the water composition,' said Janet. 'Let's check out the Colonel's puddle.'
Sam and Teal'c moved out to look for other likely sources while Janet settled at the water's edge to take some samples. Daniel crouched beside her, a pencil ready to write up the labels for each vial according to her instructions. He dipped a finger in the warm water.
'Do you think it's a chemical secreted from the rocks?' he asked, lifting his finger and peering at the off-white residue left on his skin.
'I really have no idea.' Janet put on gloves and took a sample from the surface, where the water was clearest. She pressed down the seal and held it up to the light briefly, peering into the contents. 'I'm hoping we can work out what it is and duplicate it back on Earth.' She handed him the vial and told him what to write on it before selecting another one.
'So you could make both an anaesthetic and an antibiotic aid?'
'If the Colonel's experience is typical.'
Janet fitted her second vial onto a long handle and lowered it about a foot down into the pool for her next sample. The liquid she lifted out was murkier than the first.
'Maybe a poultice of some kind?' asked Daniel.
'Or a locally administered drug we can synthesise as an injection.' Janet collected a third empty vial. 'Now, for this one I need plenty of that "goo" stuff that got into the Colonel's nooks and crannies.'
Daniel grinned at the memory. 'Oh yeah, that was funny. Here, let me.' He plunged his arm straight down into the water, immersing it beyond the elbow, and began swirling it around.
'Daniel, careful!' Janet sounded urgent as the deposits from the bed of the pool churned up to the surface.
'Ow!' Daniel pulled his arm out suddenly and stared at his hand. Blood spurted from his thumb.
Janet seized his wrist, grimacing. 'Daniel...' She shook her head, sighing, and inspected the wound. It was just a nick on the fleshy part of his thumb, but thumbs were bleeders. 'Hold still.' She put down her vial and retrieved a pack of swabs. 'Damn, something in the water is also making these rocks brittle and sharp.' She ripped open the pack and was about to pull out the contents to staunch the blood when Daniel spoke up.
'Hey Doctor, look!'
Janet looked. The cut wasn't bleeding any more. She looked harder, and her mouth opened in surprise. The edges of the small wound were drawing together, apparently healing before her eyes. It didn't quite disappear - a thin line of broken skin remained with a dark clot down the middle, sealing the injury from the air. Within seconds Daniel's thumb looked as though he'd cut it yesterday.
Janet let out the breath she had been holding as she watched. 'That's incredible.' Her glance jumped from Daniel's thumb to the water. 'It is the pool.' She frowned. 'Or more specifically, the sediments from the bottom perhaps?'
Janet pulled the glove from her left hand quickly, then opened one of her med-kits and took out a scalpel. She held her hand out over the water and placed the sharp edge against her skin.
Daniel looked worried suddenly. 'Er, Doctor, should you be doing... oh!' He winced and looked away briefly as the shiny blade flicked down. Nothing appeared to happen for several moments as Janet slipped the scalpel away again. Then a long dark red line emerged on her outstretched hand, widening and flushing brighter as the blood began to flow from the perfect incision.
'Janet!' Sam's shout made them both jump. 'What the hell are you doing?'
They both looked up. Sam was approaching at a near-run, her expression horrified.
Janet held up her other palm to deflect the major's concern. 'It's okay, Sam. Just give me a few seconds.'
'It is not okay!' Sam skidded to a halt at the water's edge, her wide eyes on the now considerable flow of fresh blood draining from Janet's hand into the pool. 'Shit, Janet!'
Janet ignored her and used her other hand to scoop up some sediments that were still swirling near the surface. She lifted the pale muddy concoction out and let it drain for a few moments, then smeared some onto the bleeding cut.
No one said anything as they watched to see what would happen. Teal'c arrived behind Sam and regarded the experiment with curiosity. Daniel's gaze flickered warily between the doctor and the major. Janet was concentrating but Sam looked like she was about to hyperventilate.
As they waited in silence the flow of blood slowed, and after a few seconds it reduced to a steady drip that barely seeped through the sediments in Janet's open palm. The drops sounded loud and poignant as they hit the surface of the pool, the spots of red mingling with the water's milkiness and tainting it pink. Soon afterwards the bleeding stopped altogether. Janet wiped the reddish sludge from her hand and inspected the cut carefully. It was still visible, but clean and almost closed.
'It's not even going to need a dressing,' said Janet softly, marvelling.
Sam nearly exploded. 'What were you thinking?' she demanded, too loud.
Janet looked up at the woman standing over her. 'I knew what I was doing. It was a calculated experiment.'
'You cut yourself deliberately!'
'It was a stupid risk. You could have sliced through a tendon!'
Janet's tone cooled several degrees. 'I'm a doctor, Sam. I know where I can use a scalpel safely without doing real damage.'
Sam wasn't having any of it. The moment she had seen the blood coming from Janet's hand her intestines had knotted up. She had been frightened for her, and now that the perceived danger was past that fear was mutating into anger. Her jaw clenched and she inhaled harshly through her nose.
'Pull a stunt like that again, Doctor, and I'll strap you to one of your gurneys and mail you back through the gate. Understand?'
Janet's expression hardened. Her eyes flashed for the briefest moment, before she gave a reply that could have been chiselled from granite.
'Yes, Major. I do.'
The hike back to the camp was a sullen affair, and consequently seemed to take far longer than the trip out. Sam took point this time, clearly unwilling to engage anyone in conversation if she could avoid it. Janet followed, deliberately at least a dozen paces behind. Teal'c and Daniel kept their distance at the rear.
'Do you think it's the heat?' Daniel asked softly.
Teal'c murmured beside him. 'I have observed that many Tau'ri are more prone to agitation in higher temperatures. Some worse than others.'
'Does the same thing happen to Jaffa?'
Daniel frowned. 'I was surprised that the Doc did it, too.'
'It was an opportunistic experiment, but it proved successful.'
'Yeah. She's not usually so impetuous.'
'Rash decisions and angry outbursts are indicative of tension.'
'Must be the heat,' said Daniel, shaking his head.
Teal'c blinked once. 'We too are experiencing the same temperatures, Daniel Jackson. As are the others in the team. We have all refrained from argument.'
'I suppose that's true.'
'Indeed it is. Flight Lieutenant Bliss is perpetually helpful, and Squadron Leader Bonnet showed much restraint despite the loss of his chicken curry.'
'You think it's just Sam and Janet?'
'There appears to be unresolved tension between them.'
'Hmm.' Daniel nodded thoughtfully. It was starting to look that way. Sam's reaction to Janet's unauthorised experiment had been, well, an over-reaction. And Janet's response had been pretty scary in a chilly kind of way. He wouldn't have wanted to be on the receiving end of the glare the doctor had given the major after their exchange of words.
'But what could they have to argue about?' he asked in a whisper.
'I do not know.' Teal'c was puzzled too. 'I can think of no issue that could come between them.'
'There isn't anything, unresolved or otherwise.'
Daniel pondered Teal'c's assessment as he walked beside the big man, his eyes on the two women striding ahead of them. He mouthed Teal'c's words to himself: Unresolved. Tension. Yes, they looked tense all right. Sam's fists were clenched and Janet was pouncing over rocks like a rabbit on acid. Unresolved...
Daniel's jaw dropped suddenly. No. It couldn't be.
Teal'c detected the sudden accompanying jerkiness in Daniel's pace and turned to look down at him. He noticed Daniel's slack mouth.
'What is it, Daniel Jackson?'
Daniel croaked. 'Unresolved tension?'
Teal'c frowned at the constricted tone in his companion's voice. He eyed Daniel carefully, reading the strangled expression with sudden accuracy.
'You believe this tension is of a sexual nature?'
Daniel spluttered. He nearly fell over in his efforts to jab Teal'c hard in the ribs. 'Keep your voice down, Teal'c!' he hissed.
They said no more, tacitly agreeing that it was not worth the risk. But Daniel's mind was calculating how much longer they were due to remain on the planet, during which Sam would be in charge while Janet was alternately floating and rocking her boat. Thirty more hours to go. Yikes!
Eventually he found his voice again and whispered his fears.
'God, Teal'c, I hope we're wrong. This could get rough.'
Lilith Bliss was deeply perplexed. SG1 and Doctor Fraiser had returned from what was on the face of it a worthwhile and successful expedition. They had arrived back in advance of their ETA with a promising theory and some suitable samples for study. She had since gleaned that no one had broken any valuable equipment, fallen over or got lost. Yet the nice doctor was stony-faced, the CO was irritable, the archaeologist was trying to hide in plain sight, and the big Jaffa hadn't raised an eyebrow in the last ten minutes.
The close-knit camaraderie of the SGC, and of these members in particular, was legendary in those military circles which had been granted disclosure of the Stargate programme. Therefore Bliss was pretty sure their odd behaviour couldn't be the result of a personnel clash. Having mulled over the mystery for a while she decided that she would take Bonnet's advice (he'd noticed it too, of course) and pretend she wasn't seeing it. So she approached the doctor with her usual beam of promising assistance and spoke as though nothing were amiss.
'We've been in contact with the SGC by radio while you were gone, Doctor Fraiser. They had a message for you. Colonel O'Neill has been asking for painkillers. Whatever helped him is wearing off.'
Janet made sure she returned the young officer's smile, though she couldn't match it. 'Thank you, Lilith. That doesn't surprise me.'
'Would you like me to send him some fresh sludge through the gate?'
Janet's smile quirked into something more genuine. 'I think we'll leave him to conventional medicine while we investigate further.'
Sam approached. Her fingers drummed against her slung weapon and she spoke awkwardly. 'It's going to be dark soon. We should pack up for the night.'
Janet nodded silently and accepted the lieutenant's spontaneous help. Sam wandered off again.
Sam felt as awkward as she sounded. She knew she'd let her emotions get the better of her earlier and it bothered her. She believed she'd had good reason to take issue with Janet over her spontaneous experiment with the scalpel, but she felt she'd handled it badly. It was just that the sudden, unexpected sight of Janet's blood spilling into an alien pool had wrecked her sense of perspective. For that gut-wrenching instant when she thought Janet was seriously injured, her composure fractured. It only got worse when she discovered that Janet had done it to herself deliberately.
Sam rubbed her temples. She had lost her control back at the ruins and Janet was entitled to be annoyed at that. She was sure no one else could have done that to her. No one else could have cost her even a moment of professionalism.
She'd better not let it happen again, she decided.
Sam did a sweep of the perimeter. It was little more than a formality. The planet had no signs of current settlement and supported no large carnivorous creatures for them to worry about. In fact it didn't appear to support anything at all, except a sky which was growing denser by the minute. Nightfall was less than an hour away so Sam decided to call it a day.
She found Janet and Bliss already settled in the girls' cave. They had taken their boots off, rolled up their pants and were sitting on opposite sides of a steamy pool near the rear wall, soaking their feet in the opaque water.
'Try it, Ma'am,' said Bliss, the expression on her face mimicking her name. 'It takes the edge off.'
Sam did so and breathed a long, deep sigh as her toes entered the water. It felt strangely soft and somehow seemed to penetrate her skin. As her feet relaxed she felt the stresses ease throughout her over-heated body. 'Mmm,' she murmured, closing her eyes, 'that is good.'
'Calming, isn't it?' said Janet.
Sam opened her eyes again. Janet was looking at her, her features unreadable. Sam attempted a smile. 'Yeah.'
'A bit warm,' said Bliss, 'but we can't have everything.' She splashed her toes around. 'I took some readings earlier. These pools here are half a degree hotter than they were when we arrived this morning.'
'That must mean something,' said Sam.
'It means there's increasing activity. We've detected no significant seismic variations, but something's happening to the fissure.'
'I think that's why they placed the stargate so far from their spa,' said Sam. 'They could rebuild the baths easily, but if the fissure fluctuates this may be the closest they dared position the gate.'
'Makes sense, Ma'am.'
They sat in silence for a while. Janet spoke eventually.
'If these pools are warming up it will be worth my while to do some more experiments on them tomorrow. Their chemistry might be changing.'
Sam regarded her steadily. 'What kind of experiments, Janet?'
Janet sighed. 'I'll run them past you first, Sam.'
Bliss only stayed about ten minutes. She dried her feet, made an excuse and left. Janet took the opportunity to move round closer to Sam's position. The gesture was enough to make Sam feel guilty enough to speak.
'Janet, about what I said at the ruins...' She swallowed, finding her throat tight for some reason she couldn't quite grasp. 'I'm sorry I shouted.'
'You had a point.'
'But I shouldn't have yelled at you. It wasn't professional.'
Janet reached out and patted Sam's hand. 'Sam, you don't have to be professional all the time. I like knowing that you're concerned for my health.'
Sam stiffened. Then relaxed. Then stiffened again. Damn, that lot didn't have more than one meaning, did it?
Bliss found Bonnet sitting on a rocky outcrop enjoying the view. She sauntered over and sat down next to him. The SGC specialists were busy directly below, making safe the experiments for the night. Their glistening backs rippled as they carried the gear under shelter. Bliss observed their sweat-coated pectorals and shiny biceps in the fading light. They were quite muscle-bound for specialists, she decided. Not quite her type. Bonnet was closer to her ideal - he reminded her of a Mounty she'd had a crush on when she was fourteen. But Bonnet was out of the question, unfortunately. Oh well.
'Good idea, Bliss,' said Bonnet, without looking at her.
'Getting out of their way.' He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the girls' cave.
'Oh. Yes, I thought so.'
'We should re-think our plan to visit the fissure, too.' He narrowed his eyes at the southern horizon, where the clouds appeared to boil red against the blackening night above them. 'It's definitely upped the ante. The ground temperature is rising even here.'
'There are plenty of experiments to keep us busy this side tomorrow, Sir.'
'Yes. We should increase the frequency of our CO2 readings while we're working. We don't want anyone suddenly suffocating, and anything we do detect will serve as advance warning.'
'Do you think a molten flood is imminent, Sir?'
Bonnet nodded. He looked over his shoulder, glancing back towards the girls' cave. 'One or two.'
Bliss blinked rapidly, assessing his meaning. That was a plausible hypothesis.
'Is your antenna twitching, Sir?'
'Spinning so fast it could propel me into orbit, Bliss.'
The next day was as hot and humid as the one before, if not more so. Sam realised that the temperature did not alter much with nightfall or daybreak. The primary arbiter of this world's climate seemed to be the planet itself; the hidden sun was secondary.
To describe the night just past as hot and sticky didn't really do it justice. Sam emerged from the cave feeling as though her fatigues had been glued onto her skin. She wondered whether the SGC had a suitable solvent for their removal.
She heard a loud clap next to her and she cringed.
'We're all staying here today, Major,' said Bonnet cheerily.
Sam massaged the back of her ear with one finger. 'That's your decision, is it, Bonnet?'
Bonnet didn't flinch. 'My recommendation.' He pointed south. 'It's getting toasty over there.'
Sam wasn't about to argue with his rejection of a hike to the sweltering firmament. There were limits to scientific curiosity, and given Janet's behaviour yesterday she felt she'd let her team teeter rather close to that liminal space already. 'You will warn me if the toast's about to pop up, won't you, Squadron Leader?'
'Have no fear.'
Sam wasn't entirely comfortable with the "fear" part of his assurance but she let it drop. Only twelve more hours to go. She could handle it.
The officers and specialists attended to their tasks with the efficiency prompted by an approaching deadline. They scattered around the rocks and pools in front of the caves, scraping up bits of sand to analyse, capturing gases in oddly shaped tubes, squinting at flimsy graph paper and tinkering with laptops. As the day wore on Sam assigned Teal'c and Daniel to distribute regular water supplies to the scientists and keep a general watch on them. She didn't want anyone fainting in their efforts to complete their experiments on time.
She was just about to snag some lunch when she heard a loud, insistent beeping noise coming from some distance away.
Bliss jogged towards her. 'That's one of the auto-flowmeters,' she said breathlessly. 'It's detected an increase in carbon dioxide.'
'Which one?' Sam asked urgently, searching the terrain.
Bliss scanned the pools and empty hollows, then pointed. 'There!' As she did so another machine started beeping off to their left, discordant.
Sam followed the lieutenant's pointing finger. Her eyes narrowed. She could see Janet in the distance, crouched over in a dry, rocky depression. Her heart skipped a beat.
'Janet!' she called out, breaking into a run.
The doctor didn't react. Sam's stomach twisted in on itself and she started to sprint. 'Janet! Get up!'
She tore across the ground, splashing through pools that were in her way, heedless of the warm water flooding her boots and the hot air hurting her lungs. Ahead Janet was absolutely still, unmoving, and Sam suddenly felt cold terror seeping through her chest.
Images of the doctor lying grey and blue-lipped in the dust reeled across her mind as she ran. The incessant noise of the flowmeters grew more shrill as she sped closer. 'Janet,' she screamed, 'get out of there!'
Janet's dark head bobbed up from her delicate readings just as Sam careered into the depression. Sand flew up from the major's toes and Janet ducked instinctively.
Sam seized her arm. 'Get out of here now, Janet!'
'What?' Janet winced at the grip, disoriented by the noise and the sand in her face.
'It's carbon dioxide! The gas is settling in the hollow!'
Janet pulled her arm out of Sam's grasp and wiped at her watering eyes, trying to clear them. She couldn't see properly and she staggered.
Shit, thought Sam. She's already woozy. 'We have to go, Janet!'
'Let me collect my...'
'No!' Sam yelled, making another grab for her. 'Move! Now!'
Janet reached down and fumbled for an electronic device and a test tube perched at her feet, but Sam swung her hip under the doctor and swiftly hoisted her up and across her shoulders.
'Sam!' Janet cried out in surprise and dismay. She kept her grip on the device but the glass tube spun out of her hand as Sam turned round. It shattered on a rock, spilling its contents. 'Put me down!' cried Janet.
Sam scrambled out of the hollow and simply ran, covering the potentially lethal terrain with rapid strides. She felt a thump in her back.
'I can run!' Janet yelled from somewhere near her waist.
Sam ignored the doctor's protests and kept going. Only when she reached the higher ground of the camp did she slow down and let the struggling doctor slip down to her feet. She straightened breathlessly and looked around, to find the entire team staring at her, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, their limbs sealed into position mid-activity like the ash-coated victims of a volcanic eruption.
Sam turned to ask Janet if she was all right but the doctor was already storming off. Janet flung the device she'd managed to rescue into a crate with an electronics-cracking smash and marched towards the girls' cave, obviously fuming.
Sam rolled her eyes. Now what?
Sam blinked away sweat. She peered round again. Everyone was still gaping at her as though she'd sprouted a Nox haircut.
'What the hell are you staring at?' she demanded, annoyed.
They flinched to a man and shuffled self-consciously. Even Teal'c averted his gaze.
The beeping machines didn't let up. Sam grimaced. 'Someone shut that noise off!' she ordered. 'And Bonnet?' She targeted the squadron leader with an impatient glare. 'If you clap near me one more time I will rip your ears off!'
As Sam hurried off in Janet's wake, Bonnet turned and whispered quietly to Teal'c.
'Still touchy, then, I take it?'
Sam arrived at the cave seconds later and rushed inside. As she turned the corner into the low tunnel she could see Janet's figure near the back wall, lit from one side by the flood-light. The doctor was pacing fast, twitching like an angst-ridden performer in an expressionist monologue. Sam hurried towards her and opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get a word out the doctor spun round on her, fists clenched at her hips.
'How dare you humiliate me?' she hissed, seething in the stark light.
Sam halted abruptly. 'What?'
'What the hell did you think you were doing?'
Sam hesitated for a beat. 'Getting you out of danger. You were going to suffocate.'
'I wasn't suffocating!'
'You were unresponsive!'
'I was measuring something at a crucial moment! Something you wrecked, in case you didn't notice!'
Sam couldn't believe what she was hearing. Janet was mad at her for saving her? Of all the stupid, irrational... She felt her frustration rising. 'I gave you an order,' she said with emphasis.
'I couldn't hear you with that thing shrieking next to me!'
'How could you not hear me? I was yelling loud enough!'
Janet stepped right up to her. The doctor's eyes were blazing now like two dark incendiaries. 'Oh yes,' she said through clenched teeth. 'Yelling at me seems to be your thing at the moment.'
Sam felt her own anger simmering to the surface. 'What's that supposed to mean?'
'Have you got heat-stroke?'
'Have I what?'
'You're getting more irrational by the hour.'
Sam spluttered indignantly. 'I am not irrational!'
Janet's small frame shook with barely contained rage. 'You haul me over your shoulders in front of six subordinates and you think that's not irrational?'
'You were in danger and you wouldn't fucking move!'
'Don't you fucking swear at me! I'll relieve you of command if I have to.'
Sam gaped, incredulous. What the hell? How dare Janet threaten her like that. 'You would, wouldn't you?' she said, her jaw painfully clenched. 'To get out of charges of insubordination.'
'What the..?' Janet's fiery eyes shot half way out of their sockets. 'You think that's what this is about?'
'I haven't lost it!' Sam insisted.
'Then let me look at you.' Janet reached out to touch Sam's forehead but the major batted her hand away angrily.
'There's nothing wrong with me!'
'That's just the kind of reaction I'm talking about,' said Janet in a warning tone. She reached for her again abruptly.
'Get off!' Sam snapped back, slapping the hand away again.
'Sam!' Janet moved in, determined.
Sam slapped at her again, connecting with Janet's cheek.
Janet stilled in shock.
Sam heard the sound of taut palm against skin echo briefly off the rockface. The planet wobbled. The universe tilted on its multi-faceted axis. She saw angry wide eyes widen further. She saw lips part in utter disbelief. Then she saw a volcanic heat building in front of her: ferocious, deadly. One which made all this world's molten geology seem about as dangerous as a tepid bubble bath.
And Sam Carter realised, to her horror, that she had just made the biggest, stupidest, goose-incinerated and utterly future-fucked blunder of her life.
Janet was incandescent. No words were coming out of her mouth but Sam could feel them anyway, smack bang in her guts with the merciless impact of a Goa'uld ribbon-device. A torrent of ire and profanity and apoplexy crackled behind the doctor's outraged speechlessness. Sam felt the rage-choked tirade of obscenities and hideous threats assault her and knock her back: vile promises of torture by blunt needle administered under restraint; spurious and painful rectal examinations conducted under unflattering lights.
Sam quaked, unable to move, unable to get the grovelling words of apology past her trembling lips. She was so utterly screwed. She had so blown it.
And just as Sam thought she would dissolve into a boneless, bubbling mess, Janet Fraiser grabbed her and kissed her hard on the mouth.
Sam solidified. The tilting universe gave up its struggle and collapsed in on itself. Janet was kissing her...
On the mouth.
Sam felt the ground beneath her shifting and her vision shimmered. The warm mouth pressed aggressively against her lips, crushing, bruising. A smooth tongue forced its way inside, demanding, invasive. Hot breath seared her skin, heady and intoxicating. Sam felt the world spinning towards a bright inferno, and realised that if this was what it meant to blow it she wished she'd fucked up long ago.
The feral kiss broke briefly, just in time for Sam to gulp in air, and Janet spoke huskily against her mouth.
'God, Sam, were you ever going to take the hint?'
Then the fierce lips were on her again and she couldn't speak and she couldn't breathe and she couldn't think because Janet was squeezing the life out of her so she could be born again. Her body responded instinctively, her hands finding their own way to Janet's back and shoulders, digging in and pulling her closer, expelling any air left between them. She felt herself slamming backwards into unyielding rock, which should have hurt but didn't because nothing could ever hurt again, because Janet had hold of her and was kissing her, still kissing her like there was no tomorrow and quite likely no tonight.
Sam broke away for oxygen this time and gasped. She opened her eyes - when had she closed them? - and found Janet's inches from her, smouldering, their passion burning into her.
Sam seized her and their mouths melded again like molten iron in a furnace. Janet's firm frame crushed against her, battling the rock at her back for dominance of Sam's body. The doctor's fingers delved impatiently to her waist and tugged her shirt free, thrusting up beneath the fabric to make urgent contact with the skin beneath. Sam bucked against the hands which suddenly stung her flesh.
Rough rock scraped her shoulders as Janet spun her down. Sam landed without warning on her back, the ground hard against her hips. Janet's hands forced their way under taut cloth to touch her breasts and Sam cried out incoherently into Janet's mouth.
Sam was reeling. Raw fire coursed through her and flames licked across her skin where Janet's fingers danced and stroked. Her lungs sucked in oxygen to fuel it, her chest heaving under Janet's feverish grasp. She tried to say something, anything, but Janet's tongue possessed her, claiming her speech. She felt her belt sprung and her pants tugged down to her shins. A knee thrust between her thighs, spreading them while her ankles remained trapped. She felt searing heat through thin cotton, suddenly hot and very damp.
Sam reached out and tangled her fingers in thick dark hair, desperate for something to grasp onto in the fire-storm threatening to consume her. Strong hands seized her wrists in a passionate grip and slammed them down into the ground either side of her head. Janet's weight pinned her mercilessly as Sam's arousal soared against the relentless pressure between her legs. She felt the other woman's molten heat grinding against her hip and rocked spontaneously into the fierce friction at her core.
The women bucked against each other; their tongues warred and danced. Sam felt every tendon in her body stretch and twist, her trapped limbs taut and burning, ready to combust. She arched off the ground, suspended between fire and brimstone, and exploded into a thousand pyroclasts against Janet's heat.
An instant later the other woman's body went rigid, squeezing Sam like a hot vice. Janet quaked, contorted, and surged against her, crying out into Sam's mouth, then collapsing hard on top of her in the swirling dust.
The air was filled with the sound of fast and heavy breathing. The cave was dark. Sam realised that in their passion they must have knocked out the flood-light. She lay still, trying to recover some strength. Janet's weight was warm and sweaty against her exposed skin. She licked her lips, struggling to regain some equilibrium, and risked her voice.
'Janet, are we still fighting?'
'Hell yes!' The answer was hoarse against her neck.
Sam gulped. She was trembling with exhaustion. Or were those aftershocks?
'Er, about that heat-stroke...'
'Oh never mind,' said Janet quickly. 'I think I've just established that you're fighting fit.'
Sam swallowed hard in the darkness. 'God, Janet, you just ravished me!'
'I've been meaning to have you for some time.'
'You have?' Sam couldn't help sounding strangled.
'And you made me mad.'
Sam was stunned. Had she been that dense? 'I thought you found Bonnet attractive.'
'Do you want me to slap you back?'
A touch of guilt crept into Sam's voice. 'Uh, about that... I didn't delib...'
'Shh!' Janet's lips brushed against her mouth. 'I know, sweetheart.' The doctor kissed her tenderly, careful of her swollen flesh. Only later would Sam discover that she had a bust lip. Janet's fingers lowered to Sam's bared abdomen and gently caressed.
Sam's eyelids fluttered at the exquisite sensation and the soft endearment caught her breath. Sweetheart. Oh, that was so delicious. She accepted the now gentle tongue which teased the inside of her lip. When she raised her hands to stroke Janet's face they met no resistance.
'Did we break the lamp?' asked Janet.
Sam withdrew with reluctance. She put her palms on the ground and levered herself up gingerly, lifting Janet into a sitting position across her hips. She felt around blindly and located the power cable lying loose. She found the supply a few inches away and plugged them together again. The cave brightened in response.
They blinked in the sharply angled light and found each other face to face: tousled, sandy-coated, and glistening with perspiration.
'Wow,' said Sam.
Janet grinned. 'Yeah, the earth moved for me too, honey.'
Sam chuckled. Then she winced. 'My back's sore.'
'So are my shoulders. Who knew that Sam Carter digs her claws in when she gets excited?'
'Did I hurt you?'
'Why do you think I pinned you down?'
'Oh!' Sam blushed. 'And I thought it was just your kink.'
'There is that,' Janet conceded with a smirk.
Sam looked down at herself. Her pants were tangled around her ankles and although her underwear was still in place it was soaked way beyond decent. Janet was still fully dressed, she realised.
'We can't go outside yet,' said Janet, apparently reading her thoughts.
'I know. We were sweaty before. Now we must reek.'
'Hmm.' Janet's tone lowered seductively. 'Of sex.'
Sam's colour deepened. God, the way Janet said those words was so incredibly erotic. Bet she can talk dirty real good, Sam thought.
Sam glanced across to the back wall of what had become their lovers' grotto, pondering the pool's obvious invitation. 'Hot tub?'
Janet laughed. 'Convenient, huh?'
Five minutes later they were both in the water, devoid of clothing, and making love again.
Daniel drew the short straw; or more accurately, he drew the stone with the cross pencilled on it out of the ball-cap of otherwise plain ones, because they didn't have any straws to hand on the planet.
'You must honour our agreement, Daniel Jackson,' said Teal'c.
'Okay, okay, I'll do it.'
Teal'c placed the full canteen over Daniel's shoulder and Bliss handed him the remaining ration packs. It was a shame there was nothing more enticing left to choose from, he thought. Chocolate would have been a better bet. Armed with chocolate he might have a chance to escape with his life.
He paused outside the girls' cave, arms laden with the woefully inadequate offerings. It had been over three hours and Sam and Janet were obviously still arguing inside. The team had started to get worried. The major and the doctor had missed lunch and they needed fluids. Something had to be done about it.
Daniel felt someone poke him in the back.
'All right, I'm going!'
He entered the cave, feeling like a condemned man mounting a scaffold. His glasses misted up immediately. Crap. He didn't have his hands free to wipe them so he moved forward cautiously, feeling the ground with his boots, allowing the light that seeped round the bend in the tunnel to guide his general direction.
The cave was quiet. God, what if they'd knocked each other out? The flood-light flared through the thick moisture forming on his glasses, making them even more opaque. He stepped forward, knowing he was getting near the back.
'Sam?' he said softly, trying to sound as soothing as possible. 'Janet?'
He got no response so he stopped. He lowered his burdens to the ground on either side and straightened, grateful that he could now take off his glasses and clean them on his shirt. He put them back on again and looked about. Where were they? He looked down at his feet.
'Oh my god!'
Daniel jumped back from the prone women lying in each others arms on top of an open sleeping bag, just as they opened their eyes at his shout. Janet grabbed one edge and tugged it over quickly to hide their nudity, but he was already gone, scuttling away back down the tunnel.
'Oh thank god!' he gasped. 'Oh thank god thank god thank god thank god...'
'We have to go!' shouted Bonnet. 'It's a flood basalt!'
'But I've discovered life!' cried Janet. She was dressed and agitated. 'There are bacteria in the sediments. They're highly sensitive to temperature and dissolved gases. They're the magic ingredient!'
'And now the fissure's erupting,' said Bonnet. 'The tectonic plates don't know you took three hours to have a shag.'
Sam hurried out of the cave, also dressed. 'Is lava heading our way?'
'Does the pope shit in the woods? Is the bear a catholic?'
'You said it wouldn't be a danger, Bonnet.'
'I said we would have some warning. Now I'm giving it.'
They packed up, securing Janet's precious samples and hauling their equipment up to the stargate with some effort. Sam felt a tremor beneath her feet as she dialled the home address. She looked to the southern sky and saw the thick clouds sparkling with fiery ash. A shimmering film of red was just visible along the horizon.
'Wow,' she said. 'Impressive.'
Bonnet grinned at her.
The specialists went through first with the equipment. Sam turned to Daniel behind her and whispered.
'Why is Bonnet grinning at me like that?'
'Because he figured you got laid?'
Sam swung round again and scowled at the squadron leader, who paled slightly and hurried through the vertical puddle before she could take him up on it.
'He is cute, isn't he?' said Bliss, standing beside her.
'Who? Bonnet?' Sam grimaced at the thought of yet someone else extolling Bonnet's physical virtues as though she gave an Aschen's ass.
'Of course.' Bliss sighed wistfully. 'Such a pity.'
'What's a pity?'
'That he's exclusively gay.'
'He is? Exclusively?' Boy, exclusively was a bit much.
Bliss rolled her eyes like a teenager. 'Hello? Total queen!' She sighed again. 'But I shouldn't complain, given that's how the Brits coaxed him into their military in the first place.'
'They did?' Sam croaked.
'You know what they're like over there.' Bliss trotted up to the gate. 'A recruiting sergeant at every gay pride festival, flashing smiles and handing out glossies of boys and girls in uniform.' She shook her head as she stepped into the wormhole. 'Sluts.'
Janet took her place at the major's side. 'Sam, do you ever think of emigrating?'
'Yeah. To Earth.' Sam's shoulders sagged. 'I hear the weather's temperate.'
They headed into the shimmering portal. As they touched the event horizon Janet's hand slid across to squeeze Sam's buttock.
Teal'c and Daniel were last. Both of Teal'c's eyebrows were climbing up his forehead, about as high as they'd ever got. His tone was full of admiration when he spoke.
'I suspect that Doctor Fraiser is that which O'Neill refers to as a firecracker.'
Daniel coughed. He turned round to look at the glowing terrain behind them. A molten ocean was sliding slowly towards them from the south, very viscous.
'So that's a flood basalt,' he said, the wonder clear in his voice.
'It will consume the stargate,' said Teal'c, 'and eventually this continent.'
'Yes,' Daniel agreed. 'All consuming.'
They walked to the gate.
'Sam looks beat.'
'The mission was demanding,' said Teal'c. 'Her exhaustion is to be expected.'
'You don't think the Doc will break her, do you?'
'Major Carter is resilient.'
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