DISCLAIMER: The story, and characters and anything and everything else concerning SG: SG1 belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions etc, they are so not mine and no money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Set after Resurrection. The events of Heroes happened as we saw on screen. AU after and in later chapters an x-over with Stargate Atlantis.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Celievamp


Part 1

"I promised her forever - it was the only promise I did not keep." Sam Carter typed the sentence into her journal and then paused, her hands resting on the keyboard. This was the first time she had been able to write down what had happened on P3X-666. The first time that she had been able to say that Janet Fraiser died, that her lover was dead. Previously the words had not come. It was not avoidance, nor denial. It was as if her whole being had been cast into a great void and only now was there a sign she might escape from it. This was the first time she had written in her journal since it had happened. And it would be the last.

She did not spare herself. She wrote down everything, working well into the night. If anyone did read this – and someone surely would – then they would be left in no doubt as to her state of mind. Everything was laid bare, each action, each response dissected. And there was much to explain. If only, in some cases, to herself.

Three weeks after Janet Fraiser died, Samantha Carter let Jack O'Neill fuck her for the first and the last time. He did not know about the 'last' part, of course. He did not know that this was but the first of many bridges that Sam Carter would burn.

This was the last day. The next day she was due to ship out in command of the rest of SG1 and SG12 on a three day reconnaissance. In truth she knew she was never coming home again.

Everything was taken care of. Cassie was staying with Jack O'Neill, had been since he was released from the Infirmary to recuperate at home. Cassie was barely talking to her; Sam had held her at arms length since Janet's death. Part of her knew she was behaving just as her father had when his wife died. The only person who had been able to reach her in any meaningful way was Teal'c when he had helped her to write Janet's eulogy. All the things she said all the things she had been unable to say. She had allowed Jack O'Neill to hug her, to see her cry for Janet for the last time. Since the memorial she had closed herself off completely from all of that. There had been no more tears, no outward sign at all that she had just lost the love of her life. She had commanded the mission to Los Angeles to close down the Trust's experiment with the Goa'uld Sekhmet, she had performed her duties to the best of her abilities.

But she was dead inside.

And no one knew no one could see they all thought the same thing: that Sam Carter see she was an ice queen stone cold bitch after all. The medic that died – she was one of her best friends. Everyone had heard the rumours about their relationship – not that anyone could say anything officially of course. Even so. You would expect her at least to cry.

No one knew she was dead inside.

They had never been able to announce or even portray their relationship officially. Close friends, sisters in arms, co-mothers to Cassie, They had more or less lived together for five years although Sam did keep her house for appearances sake. Appearances. They truly did not matter anymore.

Dead things didn't care how they looked.

It had been ridiculously easy to switch blood samples for those held in storage for Janet. She had hair from Janet's comb, complete with follicle. She even managed to obtain a bone fragment from the tissue samples taken during the autopsy on Janet's body. With any luck somewhere in these items would be the DNA that the Asgard could use to clone Janet. They would do this for her. They owed her. And if they didn't, well then there was plan B to consider.

It would not be the same, Sam knew that. This Janet would have no memory of her previous life. No memory of her. But something would survive, Sam was certain of that. Their reaction to each other from the first moment had been so visceral so deepseated. More like meeting again after a long time apart than meeting for the first time. But if it worked, at least they would be able to make new memories. Together.

She had not intended to fuck Jack. Her relationship with her Commanding Officer had skated the edge of mutual attraction several times over the years. It was ironic though that the fraternization regulation was the only one that Jack O'Neill had ever really kept to. Through all the alternative realities, memory stamps, alien viruses, time loops, hallucinatory episodes (that whole Grace fiasco), her own lifestyle before Janet Fraiser came into her life told her that if things had been different she and Jack O'Neill would probably be together.

It was a long time since she'd been with a man but she welcomed the pain. It had been quick, without ceremony foreplay or even much emotion before, during or afterwards. She wondered if it was anything like he had expected it to be. She wondered if he had ever fantasised this scenario. Up against the side wall of Jack's house, out of sight of the open windows, the sound of Daniel, Cassie and Teal'c talking about Cassie's college plans clearly audible as they rutted both of them fully clothed and just about silent. It just confirmed to her that this part of her life was over. With this act she had killed the part of her that had loved and lost Janet Fraiser. That had been a good Airforce officer. He nuzzled at her throat and she closed her eyes. All she could see was P3X-666. She relived seeing him go down, running to his side, saving his life. Being the good soldier and saving the life of her commanding officer. Saving his life whilst a couple of hundred yards away her lover lay dying. Saving him and losing everything that made her life worthwhile.

Sam could not blame him for that but she could and did blame herself. She had let her love down when it mattered the most. How was it possible that she had not felt Janet die, had not felt it as a part of her soul was torn from her? She had always suspected that there was a lack in her, a void where some element of empathy should be and now she knew it for the truth.

Janet had died and someone had had to tell her the news.

Sam did not fight the emotional paralysis that had come over her. She welcomed the clarity it gave her, the will to see this through whatever the consequences, to see the absolutes of what had to be done and not get lost in the morass of greys. Janet's death was unjust, a cosmic joke. One that deserved a better punchline.

Jack's breath had been so hot on the side of her neck, strongly scented with beer and whisky. His unshaven skin rough against hers, scratching her. More pain. Another reminder, if any were necessary, that for some unfathomable reason she was still alive. And Janet was not.

The items were securely stowed in her ALICE vest. They would be gating to M9C-417 in a few minutes. From what they had seen from the UAV it was a large moon orbiting a gas giant, the Gate set in a temple like complex, very overgrown and partially collapsed. More substantial ruins were detected some 8 klicks SSW from the Gate, the atmosphere was clean, breathable the conditions temperate. Even though she intended to be there for a few hours at most before she abandoned the mission and decamped to Cimmeria, Sam had prepared for the mission as meticulously as she always did. Regardless of her own intentions she did not want to be responsible for bringing anyone else to harm.

The sex... her mind kept returning to it, picking over it - it hadn't been angry or desperate or a celebration of being alive. There hadn't been anything remotely celebratory about it. It had just been... sad. She hadn't come but on the other hand she hadn't thought of Janet once. What O'Neill's motives had been in participating in such a passionless coupling she was not sure. Perhaps he sensed that this, however unsatisfactory, was his one chance to have her.

How long can you last when your whole life is a secret, your day to day living, your every move, every thought? How long can you last when your home life becomes just another secret? How long can you last when the secret lives are incompatible when they act to destroy each other and your existence becomes an exercise in walking the precipice between?

Sam was aware that there might be consequences leading from her liaison with O'Neill. She was not using birth control. The sex had been unprotected. To fall pregnant from such an act would be the ultimate irony but life seemed full of those lately.

She paired herself up with Lieutenant Mitchell to walk the ridge whilst Teal'c, Daniel and the rest of SG12 walked up the valley below them. They had seen no sign of life, no evidence of recent Goa'uld occupation. She noted a cairn of rocks on the horizon about a mile to their left and told Mitchell she would investigate them and that he should angle down off the ridge to meet up with the main party. She would join them in a little while. He looked doubtful of the strategy so she made it an order.

She kept to her path until he was out of sight and then she turned and double timed it back to the Gate. She dialled Cimmeria and activated the Gate. She was running up the steps to the Gate when she heard her name called. It was Teal'c.

She stood in front of the open Gate and drew her gun on him.

"Major Carter... Samantha... she would not want you to do this," he said.

"I know, Teal'c," Sam said, not lowering her gun. "But I have to do it. I can't go on like this - not without her. I have to do this. Please, don't try to stop me."

He took a step back. "I can see that you are set on this path. I wish you good fortune, Samantha Carter and hope that we meet again one day."

Sam managed a smile. "So do I, Teal'c. So do I." She turned and stepped through the Gate.

She knew that she could trust Tealc's word of honour that he would not follow her. But he would tell the SGC where she had gone. She did not have much time.

The Gate area was deserted. Now that Thor's Hammer was working again the Cimmerians did not need to maintain a guard on the Gate. They had better things to do. She wished she had time to visit with Gairwyn but it was not possible. She had no way of knowing how soon the SGC would figure out her movements and come after her.

Sam remembered the route up to the monolith on the hillside where the Asgard could be contacted. She kept her gun at hand. Thor's Hammer was working again and she did not know if any other unexpected guests had arrived recently.

She still had not reached the pillar by the time darkness fell and bivouacked under the trees. Her dreams were troubled visited by shrouded figures who reached out to touch her but when she woke there was no one there. She slept fitfully until a pale and sickly sun broke through the cloud cover. Sam wondered how long summer lasted in Cimmeria - whenever she came here it always seemed to be on the edge of winter.

Another two hours walking and she reached the pillar, activating the transporter to take her into the cavern. The by now familiar challenges were completed almost on automatic pilot and at last she got to the point where she could actually open communications with the Asgard.

"This is Samantha Carter of the Tauri. I wish to speak to Commander Thor," she said.

The imposing figure of the Viking warrior shimmered to be replaced by the slightly less menacing figure of an Asgard. Sam watched him closely. She was pretty certain that it was Thor but the Asgard were notoriously difficult to tell apart. Jack O'Neill always claimed that he could but that was probably bullshit. Probably.

The scent of stale beer and whiskey, the rasp of his beard abrading her skin, his hands holding her, fingers biting into her hard enough to leave bruises as he pressed her against the wall. The burning rub of him inside her. 'Why did I do that? Why?' She shook her head, bringing her mind back to the present. Thor was watching her closely.

"Major Samantha Carter it is good to see you," Thor said. "You are alone." It was a statement not a question.

"Yes," Sam said. "I am not here on SGC business. I am acting alone in this. Outside of any treaty or official agreement that we have with you. I have come here to ask for your help in a personal matter."

"I see," Thor blinked slowly. "The SGC has not authorised your contact with us."

"No. They do not know that I am here," Sam said. "As I said I have come to ask you a personal favour. As you may know, a month ago we… we lost Dr Janet Fraiser. She was killed in action when one of our offworld teams was ambushed by Anubis's Jaffa. She…" Sam stopped, unable to articulate the word.

"She died," Thor said. The breath slammed out of her at the bald statement. She died. Janet died. A truth but truth was infinitely mutable and death was just another state of being. One that could be reversed. She had died and Daniel had died and O'Neill had died and they were all still here living and breathing so why not Janet. Thor was still speaking. "News of this had come to us. I believe the appropriate thing to say is – we are sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Sam said shakily. She steeled herself again. No more tears, she had sworn it. "I have come to ask you to grant me a favour. I want you to make a clone of Dr Fraiser. I believe that her death at this time will not help the cause of the Tau'ri or the Asgard. And I… I want her back. I miss her… I miss her so much."

"You believe that you cannot function without her," Thor said. "I understand, Major Carter. The Asgard have suffered many thousands of such losses during our recent conflict with the Replicators. We grieve for them. For all that we owe you personally for your aid in that battle I wish we could grant your request. But we do not wish to set a precedent for such an action."

"You won't help me to bring her back," Sam said quietly.

"We truly regret the impossibility of such an action," Thor said. "If we can assist you in any other way."

Plan B it was then. "Then can I ask a second thing of you, Thor. Could you let me have the use of a shuttle or similar space vehicle for a while. Something capable of interplanetary travel."

"You do not intend to return to the SGC?" Thor asked.

Sam shook her head. "I no longer have a place there. What I've done… And I must do this. I owe it to her. The Asgard are not the only race with cloning technology."

Thor spent several hours trying to talk her out of it. A message came for him from the SGC, she was certain of it, but he ignored it for now. She persisted with her request. At last he relented. Thor allowed her the use of one of his personal shuttles and after a quick overview of its operation, Sam left.

She had no clear destination in mind. For the moment the most important thing was that the SGC not find her. There were a few places she could think of that might have medical technology advanced to produce a viable clone. Thor had had the shuttle stocked with food supplies that should be compatible with human physiology. She just hoped that they did not taste as bad as the food cubes he had offered her once. Not that she was hungry but she needed to eat. Janet would want her to eat. So she ate.

The bout of nausea was bad enough that she checked herself out with the small medical unit on board the ship. She could not lie to herself indefinitely. Its diagnosis was not a complete surprise.

She was still assimilating that a few hours later she received a transmission from Thor. It was a set of co-ordinates and one word. Loki.


Part 2

Loki. Renegade Asgard scientist. The creator of Jack O'Neill's 'mini-me'. Instigator of 'unsanctioned' experiments on human subjects (they never did find out exactly what the 'sanctioned' ones were about). And hopefully the answer to Samantha Carter's prayers.

Thor had refused official help. But he had done this much for her at least. So it was down to Plan B. And maybe knowing what she now did, she had another bargaining chip to use with Loki.

She had had two weeks to think about it. That was how long it had taken the shuttle Thor had lent to her to get to the co-ordinates he had provided. Somehow she had not gone insane. At least… well, she was pretty sure she hadn't gone insane. She had studied every system on board the shuttle, played around in the computer system, learnt a little conversational Asgard and grown quite fond of Asgard opera. It sounded like whale music.

In the long hours that it took the Asgard craft to travel to the co-ordinates Thor had sent her, Sam admitted to a few qualms about that part of Plan B. She had never thought of herself as a callous person. Her recent experiences with Kephler sat uneasily with the decision she had made. Her justification – it wasn't alive, not really, not yet. It was just an embryo. A collection of cells. But those cells contained some very specific DNA. DNA that Loki would be very interested in getting his hands on. And her price for that would be Janet.

One set of DNA for another. A simple transaction. If he brought Janet back to her then she would let him harvest the embryo from her body.

Sam could rationalise it. If she had still had that other life, the life before Janet died and this had somehow happened she would have had an abortion without a second thought. She did not want a child. She had no desire to be a mother. She certainly had no wish for the father of that child to be one Jack O'Neill. She had no desire to complicate her life in that fashion. She had her family - Janet and Cassie. That was all she wanted. All she needed. And a stray blast from a Jaffa staff weapon had taken it all away in an instant.

But one day she would have it all back again. That was her hope. And if sacrifices had to be made along the way, so be it.

She had the feeling that Loki would have no problem in accepting what she was offering. She remembered calling into question his sense of morality when they had first cornered him about the cloning of Jack O'Neill. He believed that the Colonel's DNA contained the key to saving the Asgard from genetic oblivion. He did not regret his actions: he was trying to save his people. Similarly she did not regret her actions: she was trying to save her lover.

She estimated it would take her another day at least to reach Loki's base. She gathered that he was under some sort of house arrest, that his activities were monitored and he was not allowed to leave Asgard space. Her own presence there had so far gone unchallenged: she detected Thor's hand in this. There was no Replicator activity in the immediate area and this far inside Asgard space no chance that she would come across the Goa'uld. And no way that her own people would be able to track her this far – unless of course Thor was playing a double game.

Jack O'Neill as the next step in human evolution. It was hard to believe. Her mind went back to that moment. As always he had been confusing, gentle and yet rough at the same time, concerned that this was what she wanted but not astute enough to realise that she was saying what he wanted to hear. Anyone with half a brain would have realised that she was out of her mind with grief when it happened. If Janet was alive she would have forgiven her, she would have understood the depth of misery that held her fast. Then again, if Janet was alive it would never have happened.

She really did not want to think that she had done it deliberately. That some part of her brain had already figured this out, thought so far ahead that if she seduced O'Neill, got pregnant by him she could use the embryo as a bargaining tool. If that was truly the case, if she had been that calculating, that callous then…

Nausea soured her stomach and she went across to the small bunk and laid down for a while, closing her eyes. She did not want to think about that any more. She did not want to think about where she was going, why she was going there. The ship was just about flying itself anyway. Sam did not need to monitor it. She was just resting her eyes. She would not sleep. She had not slept, not really, since it had happened. Janet would forgive her fucking Jack but would she be so forgiving about what she was about to do to the product of that act? Somehow, Sam doubted it. Janet firmly believed in the sanctity of life. She was a healer. She would regard what Sam was doing as nothing short of murder. Therefore the only practical solution was that Janet would never find out what she had done.

And if Jack O'Neill ever found out what she had done he would want her dead. She had no doubts at all about that. He had already lost one child in tragic circumstances. If he ever discovered that she had been pregnant with his child and what her actions had been… He would show her no mercy.

So this was between Loki and herself. No one else would ever – could ever - know. In fact if she could find a way to wipe her own memory of the incident she would. She would terminate the pregnancy and he could have the remains for study. She would get Janet back and then…

The 'and then' she was a little shaky on. Happily ever after would be nice. Safe. Together.

With that thought she slept.

"Where have you been?" Janet asked. "I've been looking for you everywhere." Sam looked up from her workbench. Janet was breathing hard as if she had been running, her tie was undone and the top two buttons of her shirt were open. Her hair was rumpled as if she had been asleep or someone had been running their fingers through it. Or she had just been fucked. Sam was familiar with that look, she loved to see Janet look like that, loved to know that she was the one who had caused it.

"You can't have looked very hard then. I've been here all the time. She cast a puzzled look at her lover's dishevelled state. "What's going on?"

"You have to come with me, Sam. Right now. I can't explain. You have to come and see for yourself." She held out her hand.

Sam took it, allowing the smaller woman to pull her to her feet and lead her out. It soon became obvious that they were heading towards the Gateroom. She hadn't heard the Gate alarm go off but she had got used to the sound all the years she had worked here. Perhaps she had been so caught up in her work that she hadn't heard it. It would not have been the first time. Janet was still holding her hand. There was something strange about that. They were on the Base, after all. Normally Janet was so careful about showing any undue affection or attention towards her in case someone got the wrong (or in this case right) idea about their relationship.

"Janet, what's going on?" she asked again as the doors to the Gateroom opened.

She blinked. Everything seemed to shift around her for an instant. The Gate was active, shimmering light reflecting off the walls. Suddenly, Janet stood at the foot of the ramp holding a young child in her arms.

"You have to let me go, Sam," she said softly. "I can't let you do this. I don't want you to do this. You have to say goodbye."

"No!" she remembered everything, from that long frozen second of agony when Daniel told her what had happened on that cursed planet. "No." Every moment, every decision replaying in her mind with perfect burning clarity. "No!"

She forced herself to wake up, only to find large dark eyes regarding her with interest from only a few inches away. She scrambled backwards falling off the bed and ending up in the corner of the room, her back pressed to the wall.

The grey alien tilted its head, regarded her in silence, blinking slowly.

"You are Major Carter. I remember you."

"Loki," she choked out. "How did you get on my ship?"

"Your craft docked automatically with my station. When you did not respond to my hails I overrode the locking mechanism and came on board. I was afraid that you had been incapacitated in some way. You were dreaming."

"Yes," she whispered, reaching up to push her bangs out of her eyes, realising how terrible she must look. "It's been a long trip. I haven't been sleeping very well." She was babbling. She took a deep breath, bringing herself back under a semblance of control.

"Why are you here? Do the humans require my assistance? The Asgard High Council would not permit me to interact with your species again. I have been refused permission to continue with my experiments. It is a very short sighted decision on their part."

"I may be able to help you with that," Sam said. "I have a proposition for you. I want you to produce a clone for me, from a sample of DNA I will give you. In return… I am pregnant with O'Neill's child. You may harvest the embryo from me."

"O'Neill's child! It is likely that the safeguarding of his genetic code would extend to that of his offspring but…" The Asgard scientist was very still for a moment, not even blinking.

"How did you find me? Is this a test by the High Council, an attempt to trick me?"

Suddenly he held something in his hand. She had no idea where he had produced it from. It didn't look like a weapon but she knew enough to know that appearances could be highly deceptive. Before she could react, a bright light shot from it, hitting her in the face. Something changed inside her. Everything seemed a little greyer, a little duller. She had no desire beyond what Loki directed for her.

"Tell me why you are here."

She heard her voice tell Loki in a subdued monotone the events leading from Janet's death, her sexual encounter with O'Neill. The theft of the biological material containing Janet's DNA. Going AWOL. Her encounter with Thor. The transmission with the co-ordinates for this location. "And now I am here."

"Come with me," Loki said. She followed him out of her ship into the laboratory cum prison. "Lie on the couch." Again she obeyed him without hesitation. She stared up at the ceiling. She could hear him moving about, talking quietly to himself. It did not occur to her to turn her head to watch him. Something materialised in the air above her. It was some sort of projection field. She saw herself. She had been correct. She did look dreadful. She was thinner, dirty, unkempt. Far from Major Carter indeed. Her skin was so pale it seemed almost translucent, her eyes hollow and dark shadowed. Her hair was longer, lank and lifeless. She could not remember the last time she had changed her clothes. It could not be that this was the same as she had been wearing when she left everything behind on M9C-417. Could it?

The projection focused in on her abdomen. Her clothes, her skin seemed to dissolve. She saw the tiny foetus in her womb, saw the heart beat. She could see its limbs, its head, the eyes still fused shut, fingers just beginning to form. It was female. A daughter.

She felt nothing. The projection field snapped off. Loki looked down on her. "Where are the DNA samples you wish me to use to produce this clone?"

She told him. He left the room. She felt no desire to move from the couch. She continued to stare upwards at the ceiling. Time passed, how long she could not have said. She felt nothing.

He was back. He appeared to have forgotten about her. She could hear him moving about the lab, murmuring to himself as he recorded notes. He seemed to be excited about something – she presumed it was because his tests had confirmed her story. The embryonic lifeform she carried contained Jack O'Neill's DNA. It did not matter. She felt nothing.

Cool fingers touched the skin of her throat. "It appears you were telling the truth, Major Carter. The embryo you carry is as you described. And the DNA samples for Dr Fraiser are also quite fascinating. She also carried the Ancients gene. Her genetic traits are indeed worthy of preservation." He paused, as if expecting her to say something then remembered what he had done to her. "I must consider the best way to proceed," he said. "My facilities are not as advanced as they once were. It will take time. And I do not have the facilities to accommodate humans. "The most practical solution would be to put you in stasis until I am ready to proceed."

The child growing inside her. Would it continue to grow whilst she was in stasis? She wanted it gone now, whilst it wasn't quite real to her. She fought to overcome the lassitude that held her fast but it was too difficult. Something pinched at her neck, a coolness spreading through her body. The air around her changed again, seeming to solidify, the light golden, somehow soothing. She was a fly in amber, preserved against the centuries. Time slowed, her thoughts smoothed, flattened… stopped.


Part 3

Sam opened her eyes. She felt like crap. Her stomach cramped and she realised she had a serious need to pee. She tried to sit up and failed. Alarmed by her weakness, she took more notice of her surroundings. Not home… wherever that was. It looked… Asgard. Then she remembered. Everything.

At the third attempt she managed to lever herself up onto her elbows and look around a bit more. There was no sign of Loki. She looked down at herself. She looked pretty much as she remembered. Except…

Her t-shirt had ridden up exposing the pale globe of her belly. There was no mistaking that she was pregnant. "Bastard!" she muttered, struggling into a sitting position and swinging her legs over the side of the couch. The manoeuvre was enough to set her head pounding and her stomach churning. "Loki!"

She stood up carefully but her legs buckled under her anyway. How long had he kept her in stasis? She remembered everything that had happened before that, the awful sensation of bleakness that had come over her as he had stolen her will. She would have to be careful in confronting him or he would just do it to her again. She pulled herself to her feet. The change in her centre of balance was disorientating.

"Good, you are awake," a voice said.

Sam looked up. "I thought we had a deal, you bastard!"

"That pejorative is quite unnecessary," Loki said. "Asgard mating and reproduction do not require the maintenance of what you would term a family unit. As for the 'deal' you speak of, I have not broken its terms."

"There should not be a child. You were supposed to take it out of me before things got this far," Sam said through gritted teeth. "That was the whole point… the only way…"

"Given the facilities at my disposal this was the easiest way to observe the foetus, to make sure that it had the genetic traits I require," Loki said. "Your own DNA is actually quite unremarkable, when one untangles it from the Goa'uld contamination. Though the child is healthy and strong."

"Why did you take me out of stasis?" Sam asked.

"I became concerned that it was hindering the child's development. The child also required more nutrients than you were taking in – it was beginning to consume your body's resources," Loki said. "That is why you feel so weak. I brought you out of stasis for your own wellbeing as well as that of the child. My analyses showed…"

"Your analyses… are you saying that you experimented on it… while it was inside me!" Sam asked, her voice thick with loathing. Images of Adrian Conrad, Nirrti, Anise welled up inside her and she fought to hold back her nausea. Not again. Never again.

"I observed its development, nothing more. Neither you nor the child were harmed."

Sam struggled to comprehend it and then in the end gave it up as irrelevant. There was only one thing she wanted from this. "So, have you done anything at all about producing a clone of Janet Fraiser as I asked?" Sam asked.

"One thing at a time, Major Carter," Loki said, somewhat smugly.

"No. This is the one thing, the only thing I asked of you," Sam said sharply. "We had an agreement…"

"You are as renegade from your own people as I am from mine," Loki said. "There is a human saying: honour among thieves. I do not ascribe to it. You effectively stole Colonel O'Neill's genetic material. You are hardly in a bargaining position. You are alone."

"Thor knows that I am here."

"Commander Thor is playing his own game, now as always," Loki said with what could have been described as a sneer. "You Tauri are children indeed if you trust him. He has not maintained his status for almost five thousand of your years through luck and natural charm you know. And if I did not have his tacit approval for everything I had done – do you think I would have got this far? Commander Thor may well know where you are. And perhaps it is exactly where he wants you to be, given what you have brought to us."

"You're lying," Sam growled, advancing on the alien.

"The DNA sample that you brought me opens several intriguing possibilities. I have your child to study. I think next a merging of O'Neill and Dr Fraiser. If I can make the Ancient gene dominant rather than latent… the Council may well approve that line of research… with you to provide a host environment…" He held up the device he had used earlier on her: the one that had subverted her will. Obviously he intended to keep her under control for the duration.

It was too much. She could barely process what he intended but it was enough to know that it could not be borne. She knocked the device out of his hand and with the last of her strength she picked up a heavy canister off of one of the tables and brought it crashing against Loki's head.

The alien fell bonelessly to the floor. Unable to stay upright any longer, Sam crashed to her knees, breathing heavily, a film of cold sweat covering her skin. The child moved sharply within her, her mouth flooding with bile. Loki's eyes were open, already filmed with white. A pale green fluid leaked from his skull and in the gaping wound she had made she could see something dark grey/green pulsing. As she watching it pulsed once, twice more and then was still. As far as she could tell, Loki was dead.

She felt no remorse. He had planned worse for her.

How long she sat there with Loki's body she was never quite sure. Long enough for her to figure out Plan C.

It would take her six weeks to get to Hala. That was if the Asgard let her get that far. It would also mean that she would be close to term with the child. The thought of giving birth terrified her enough without the added complication of being on her own and in what was likely to be a hostile situation.

She retrieved Janet's genetic samples and the work that Loki had done on them, reviewing his notes on the planned experimentation on herself, her child and Janet's samples. It made her sick to her stomach.

She worked out that he had kept her in stasis for close to five months. And that he had lied to her about something else. Although he could have produced a clone, he did not have access to the technology to force-mature it. Janet's clone would have been a baby, not an adult. It would have been something at least but so far short of what she had wanted, what she had dreamed of that perhaps it was for the best that Loki had not got round to making it happen.

She found out some other things as well. The games the Asgard had been playing with the Replicators. Whilst Reese had indeed created the first Replicators it was the Asgard who had inadvertently turned them loose on the universe, created their voracious desire to consume and grow. They had seen in the Replicators the perfect self-maintaining weapon to use against their enemies wherever they might rise. Only they had lost control of them. And this new development – the human form. The Asgard had been looking into the potential to make Replicator bodies to house their consciousnesses should their attempts to improve and revitalise their cloning procedures fail. They had thought that the hive mind mentality of the Replicators would have been easy to circumvent. However the human forms were individuals, conforming to a hierarchy certainly but capable of individual thought and decision. Much more difficult to control. As the Asgard had again discovered.

For a highly intelligent race they seemed to have little capacity for foresight. Regarding the rest of 'creation' as children, they tended to underestimate their enemy. It was a mistake Samantha Carter would not make.

When she was sure there was nothing else for her to find she contacted Thor.

"Samantha Carter," Thor said. "You have been missing for some time. We were concerned. Are you well?"

"Loki is dead," she said harshly. "He kept me imprisoned for several months. He experimented on me, on my unborn child. He lied to me. I killed him."

"We detected that Loki was dead. Another clone body is being prepared."

"Then you better arrange it that I never meet up with him again because I will kill him. And don't try to stop me or come after me or I'll make sure you regret it. My understanding of the Asgard language has come a long way in recent months and Loki kept very detailed files."

"What are your intentions, Samantha Carter?"

"You'll find out soon enough." She ended the transmission.

She had ransacked Loki's lab for equipment. Even though he was a geneticist and not an engineer there was a lot of stuff there she could salvage. A lot of stuff she could use. She had managed to study the time dilation device before she installed it on Hala. She had a pretty fair idea how to put together something that would cut through it. It only needed to be big enough to encompass the ship and a second portable version that she could use to move around outside the ship. Herself and perhaps one other. Plan C.

If she thought she was going insane on the two-week journey to Loki's laboratory, the six week journey to Hala was excruciating. She hated being pregnant, hated the changes it had made to her body. She had not had time to get used to her changed gravitational centre and it made her clumsy. She had a headache and felt tired all the time. She figured that all was not well with the pregnancy but was hardly in a position to consult with a gynaecologist. The onboard diagnostic showed her that her blood pressure was higher than it should be and that her body was deficient in several key nutrients, including calcium and iron. This was a parasitic relationship after all.

Sam was lucky in that the ship had an efficient recycling system that produced potable water and emergency rations that seemed to come in two forms – the hard almost chalky blocks that she was familiar with from her previous stays on Asgard ships and a watery gruel that looked like wallpaper paste and tasted… well, she was just rather glad that her taste buds seemed to have gone on strike after a couple of meals. The diet would supply her basic nutritional requirements, keep her and her child alive, but that was about it. And she would never ever complain about the blandness of MRE's again. Not even the mac and cheese.

She slept a great deal and otherwise kept herself busy building the field generator. She did not allow herself to speculate on the future, of how she was going to bring this child into the world. Fifth and his brethren might just kill her on sight. The shield could fail, trapping her with them. The Asgard could capture and detain her before she ever got that far.

Janet's apparition first appeared to her about two weeks after she left Loki's base. Sam had become convinced that the device Loki had used to subvert her will had done something to her ability to dream. She had always enjoyed an active and vivid dreamlife, all singing, all dancing, full colour surround sound. Now there was nothing. She slept relatively well but woke feeling almost as unrefreshed as she had before she went to sleep. She found herself zoning out every now and then, just staring into the distance. Or at least as far into the distance as one could on a shuttle craft. It was when she came 'back' from one of these trips that she saw Janet sitting on the edge of her bunk watching her.

"You look awful, Sam. What the hell have you been doing to yourself?"

"Janet…" Sam closed her eyes, willed the apparition away. She was pretty certain that she wasn't going insane but something like this gave her pause. She remembered her solo trip on the Prometheus a few months previously. Anyone who meant anything to her had appeared on that occasion. Except Janet. She had not understood that at the time. When Janet died she theorised that somehow she had known… but if so then why had she not taken better care of her lover, protected her. She shuddered as a sense of failure soured her already tender stomach. "So you finally caught up with me, huh."

"You should be taking better care of yourself you know. Especially given your condition. And about that… what were you thinking!"

Sam felt the hot tears slide down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry I've proven such a fuck-up. I'm sorry that I just couldn't… deal with what happened that I've made things a million times worse for myself." She opened her eyes, stared at the image of her lover. "But I couldn't leave it… leave you. I had to do something. I had to try…" She reached out to touch the other woman and her image dissolved. She was alone again.

Every couple of days after that she saw Janet or heard her voice, sometimes just telling her to rest or reminding her to eat. She almost preferred that to when Janet told her that she loved her. That just made her want to cry. They talked about what had happened, about the likely success of Sam's plan. About the fact that she was being seven kinds of idiot and had obviously sat at the feet of Jack O'Neill for far too long.

They were three hours from the Hala system. Sam lay curled up on her bunk. Janet was sitting with her back to the wall, her chin resting on her knees somewhere above and slightly behind Sam's head.

"Why did you do it, Sam? Why did you have sex with him?"

"I don't know," Sam said slowly. "As a way to bring that life to an end I suppose. I knew that if I did this there could be no going back. Things would never be the same. I… I couldn't take it that life went on without you. They appointed someone in your place, life went on. The wound that was your death just healed over. It was as if you had never been there. And on the outside I was the same… I adapted. I was the perfect soldier. On the inside I was slowly dying, bleeding to death because everything that mattered, everything that made sense in my life had been ripped from me. You were gone."

"And so you fucked Jack O'Neill. Three weeks later. Gee, thanks."

"It wasn't like that…" Sam said. But it was. She knew it was. As on the Prometheus this was herself she was talking to. "I wasn't thinking… anything when it happened. I just wanted everything to end."

"Committing professional suicide by screwing your commanding officer. That would do it," Janet nodded sagely. "Committing psychological suicide by destroying all the trust we built up between us over the years. I doubt if Jack O'Neill made any move to turn you down."

"Don't… it wasn't his fault, Janet. None of this is his fault. It's me… all me…" She curled up as tightly as the hated bulk of her pregnancy allowed. She hated it, hated its presence to the point where she would not touch herself if she could help it. Her mind balked at the thought of what the hell she was going to do when she went into labour, how she hoped to care for a new born child when she could not even take care of herself.

The ship's systems alerted her that they were entering the Hala system. They detected the energy barrier that marked the edge of the temporal field. She saw on the long range scans that there were several other Asgard ships patrolling the area beyond the time dilation zone but none of them hailed her or tried to stop her going into the zone. Janet had disappeared. She switched on the field generator. Outwardly there was no sign that anything was different.

It was another eighteen hours before she landed on Hala. She hadn't seen Janet again in that time. She had done the math (the results were scrawled all over one wall of the ship) and had figured it would be for the best if she normalised the two time streams before trying to land the ship on the surface. With the differential in inertia the result would not be pretty otherwise. Once she landed and had exited the ship she would activate the personal shield and go find Fifth.

The place hadn't changed that much. The same storm seemed to be raging in the upper atmosphere. The only visible structure was still the edifice where they had all been tortured, mind raped for the information they carried. She really really didn't want to be back here but she had no choice.

The baby kicked hard in protest as she eased herself down the ladder to stand on the barren surface. Knowing what it was made of gave her the creeps. Thousands upon millions of Replicator blocks. Dormant now as they conserved energy. She switched on the shield, feeling it prickle over her skin. It made her feel more than a little light headed. Thankfully she was only a couple of hundred metres from the edifice.

Here the replicator bugs were active, beginning to swarm as they sought out their enemy. She passed within a few inches of one and it briefly whirred into life, moving into attack stance before freezing again as she moved away. She surmised that it must be some kind of bleed effect from the field and reminded herself not to get too close to any of the human forms. Except her target of course.

The main room was just as she remembered it. First standing flanked by Second and Third. Fourth and Sixth hanging back a little. And Fifth standing in front of the field generator as if trying to protect it. He looked so scared, so alone. He knew that he had been betrayed.

She had to pass close to Second. The woman's hand twitched, her head turning a little towards Sam even though there was no way the Replicator could see her. Then she was standing close to Fifth. Close enough for the blurring effect of her field to 'reanimate' him. He was still moving incredibly slowly from her point of view, but he was at least moving.

She reached out to touch him and the field expanded to enclose them both. "You need to stay close to me," she told him. "If you want to get out of here."

"What about the others?" he asked.

"Sorry, private party. They're not invited."

Keeping hold of his arm they walked out together. As they passed Second, she moved again, managing to reach out to grab Fifth's arm. He cried out in alarm and they both felt the disorientating effects as her field generator began to overload. Sam took out the laser knife she had brought with her as a 'just in case' and activated it. Without hesitation she severed Second's hand just below the wrist, jerking Fifth forward as she did so. The stump of Second's wrist was leaking a pale silver fluid, the drops slowing, stopping, hanging in the air as the Asgard time dilation field reasserted itself around her. The fingers of the severed hand spasmed, losing their grip on Fifth's arm. Sam kicked the foul thing away.

"What happened to you? How long?" he asked.

"Let's just concentrate on getting back to the ship first," she said. "And then I'll try to explain everything." The lightheadedness was getting worse, the child in her belly a stone weighing her down. The hundred yards to the ship suddenly seemed more like a hundred miles. She had to keep going. She leant on Fifth, trusting him not to let her fall.

The walk back to her ship seemed to take forever. He helped her up the ladder, careful to maintain contact with her so that the field still covered him. As they entered the airlock she switched off the portable field generator. Its job was done. The ship's generator would have to take them the rest of the way, once they got off the planet.

Fifth looked around him in fascination. "It is not what I expected," he said.

Sam looked around. The word she would use to describe it was squalid. She was really getting very sick of this little ship but at the moment it was the safest place to be. "We need to get out of here. There are Asgard ships patrolling the edge of the field. They did not stop me going in but they might have a problem with me bringing you out with me."

"Why did you come back?" he asked.

"I promised," she lied.

"You abandoned me," he sulked. "Why do that and then come back… what two years later? You want something from me. It's the only reason you would risk coming back here."

"Was First the only one of you who could create new Replicators like yourself?" Sam asked.

"No we are all capable of doing so, but resources were low on Hala hence our slow rate of reproduction."

"What do you need to reproduce?" Sam asked.

"A source of neutronium," Fifth said. "Why do you want to know this? I thought you wanted to destroy us, not make more of us."

Sam decided not to pursue her real reasons for the moment. "I came back for you as soon as I could," she said. "And I'm sorry, truly sorry for what happened. It's not much of an excuse I know but I was following orders. And we could not risk letting the others out."

"It won't hold them for ever – another year or two at most," Fifth said. "Putting the controls inside the timebubble was a serious flaw."

"I know. I thought so at the time. It was almost as if the Asgard merely wanted to postpone this encounter for a few years."

"They have been around at least as long as those you call the Ancients. And their cloning technology makes them quasi-immortal. Has it never occurred to you that even though they take a keen interest in your race, in its development, they intervene on your behalf only when it suits their purpose?"

"I've learnt a lot about the Asgard this past few months, believe me," Sam said harshly. "And I know that they are capable of just about anything." She set the ship to take them on an oblique course away from Hala. The field generator seemed to be holding up, hopefully long enough to get them clear of the time dilation field. She didn't think they'd be able to warp until they were clear of the field – attempting to do so whilst they were still within it could have interesting consequences, catastrophic space-time fluctuations being the least of it.

"Okay, this could get… intense," she warned him. The Asgard ships were moving in on an intercept vector. They had not been hailed as yet, knowing the Asgard's direct approach to confrontation, they probably would not even bother.

"If you reverse the field around the ship it should give us greater acceleration," Fifth said.

Sam considered his suggestion. The fields would act against each other like repelling magnets, flinging the ship away at great velocity – and probably uncontrolled. What the effects would be on the time dilation field around Hala she did not know. With any luck it would be enough to distract their Asgard pursuers. Of course, the ship might just blow up. It was a chance. But there was no way she was going to be back under Asgard control again. "Okay, we'll try it," she said. "I'd brace myself if I was you…" She accessed the temporal field generator, paused for a moment, then entered the command to reverse the field.

For a moment nothing happened. It was as if everything had stopped. Then multiple gravities fell on her, pressing her into her seat as the ship leapt forward, repelled by the time distortion field. Sam had no idea how fast they were going. The last time she had felt anything like this had been when their ship had been caught in the energy wave when she had exploded Vorash's sun. Of course then they had ended up millions of lightyears away from anywhere.

Baby did not like this treatment and kicked hard somewhere under her ribs. The ship's engines whined, resonating higher and higher until they passed beyond her hearing. The gravitational forces were shifting faster than the inertial dampeners could cope with. She could not move. She could taste blood and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Then Fifth appeared in her range of vision. It did not seem as if he was as incapacitated as she was. "We must slow down," he said. "We must turn off the field."

He surveyed the control panels. Her vision was beginning to darken as the oxygen was squeezed from her lungs. She could not help him. It had all been for nothing.

She woke to a whirring, clicking noise and opened her eyes to see a Replicator bug skitter across the wall. It chirruped and then Fifth was sitting beside her holding a cup of water to her lips.

"You have been unconscious for several hours. I was concerned. Many of the ships systems were damaged. I have endeavoured to repair them. But if you were damaged, Samantha, there would be nothing I could do." He smiled at her, tentatively reached out to touch her.

Instinctively she drew away from him. He looked hurt.

"I would not hurt you, Samantha. When I read you, I was as gentle as I could be. I am not like the others. I could never be like them. I am like you."

She nodded. "I know," she said. "I know you are like me, that the others called this a 'flaw'." She tried to sit up, managing not to flinch away this time as he helped her. She wondered in passing if anyone had got the number of the truck that had hit her. Every part of her felt stressed, twisted slightly out of alignment. She could still taste blood at the back of her throat.

"We are many light years from our original position," Fifth said. "The navigation computer says we are still in Asgard space. The nearest group of planets contains one of their colony worlds, Orilla. There are rich veins of neutronium there."

"Well, if we can get there without being detected…"

"My brothers are already making the necessary adjustments to the systems." He stared at her in silence for a long moment. "Samantha, why did you come back for me?"

"I need you to do something for me… a favour," Sam said. "When you read me, two years ago, you saw Janet in my thoughts, my memories."

"Your lover, yes. I remember," Fifth said. He looked uncomfortable. "I was… jealous."

"I know," Sam said softly. "In the two years since I saw you… since you read me, many things have happened. Some terrible things. Janet… Janet died. It was a horrible senseless accident. An ambush. I should have been…" She bit her lip, turned her head aside. If she started to cry now she would never stop.

"Then you are alone," Fifth said. "I wish I could believe that you rescued me because you did not want to be alone, but that would not be true." She shook her head. "That is why you asked me about the neutronium. You wish me to make more human form replicators. You wish me to make Janet for you based on your memories of her and with the same 'flaw' that I have."

"Yes," Sam whispered. She did not dare to meet his gaze. He reached out, touched her face, lifting her eyes up to meet his. His understanding of human emotional states was still very limited but even he could appreciate the depth of sheer misery in her gaze.

"I will have to read you first," Fifth said. "Probably more than once. You will have to relive every moment that you spent with Janet, every thing you know about her, every thought you ever had about her. Can you do that, Samantha?"

"I don't know," Sam said softly turning away from him. "To relive everything… oh god… I don't know if I can."

"You have a little time to decide," he said. "We need to get to Orilla first and collect the neutronium. Then my brethren have to prepare a place for her to be born into the world. If you still want to make a Janet. If not, I will make a mate for myself, someone who…" he could not finish the sentence.

"Someone who will love you like I cannot," Sam said almost gently. She wanted to say more, to tell him that it was all right but she was so tired. Her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

Fifth sat by her for a while, stroking her hair. She did not know that he had already read her. That he knew all about the child she carried, the plot her fevered mind had come up with. That he was not her first, nor even her second choice. That she could never, would never love him. At least she had the grace not to lie to him about that.

His brothers had already recycled as much of the ship as they safely could to build themselves. They needed new resources soon. Orilla represented their best hope for survival, despite being an Asgard colony.

Things were happening on Hala. His brothers and sisters were seeking their freedom. What they had done with the ship's shields had put the time dilation device under too much strain and it had failed. The Asgard had been prepared for their escape and collapsed Hala's sun, creating a black hole and destroying the planetary system, hoping to trap the Replicators again but it had not been completely successful. Many had died but many had survived and using the modified time dilation device to counteract the gravitational effects, were even now making their way to Orilla.

Their window of opportunity was small before the rest of the surviving Replicators arrived here attracting all the attention and force of the Asgard. They would have to create the new human form before then and make their escape.

He stroked her hair again and she whimpered under his touch. He remembered from the memories they had shared from the others of SG1 that humans had a strong belief in an afterlife. A place after death where loved ones waited to be reunited. He wondered if Sam Carter shared this belief and if so why she fought so hard to stay in a life that was so obviously painful to her. He decided that he really did not understand humans.

They landed on Orilla, well away from the Asgard colony but close to a rich vein of neutrinium. His brothers left the ship to go and collect the mineral. Samantha was still asleep. Fifth also left the ship. He found a tree nearby which bore fruit he believed were called apples and picked several of them, intending to offer them to Samantha. She would need all her strength for what was to come. He knew that reading her for her memories of Janet would be both painful and exhausting.

Gently he woke Samantha. She smiled at his offering of apples and took one, taking a few careful bites before putting it aside.

"Have you considered?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "I don't have a choice, really. If this is the only way I can have her back…"

"Then we will start," he said, sitting down on the bunk facing her. "I will be as gentle as I can."

She nodded but still looked sick and apprehensive. "I know… and thank you."

He touched her temple and she closed her eyes. He let his hand go between, immersing himself in her thoughts, her memories…

They were standing in an expanse of green grass, small stones at regular intervals almost as far as the eye could see. The one closest to them looked new, the grass barely grown over the shallow mound. "Her grave," Samantha chokes out. "God… I don't want to be here. This is the end of it. This is the bit I never want to remember."

"Then take us to the beginning," Fifth said softly. "Take us to the first time you ever saw her…"

It was a nightmare and a catharsis at the same time as she relived every memory she had of Janet Fraiser with Fifth by her side: the good and the bad, the moments of joy, pleasure, anger, irritation, fear, sorrow. And the best days of all, the days of simple contentment when the world did not need saving and no one's life was in her hands.

Afterwards she could not recall how long it had taken – hours, days, weeks. Long enough for the replicators to mine the neutrinium and begin the process of 'birthing' a human form replicator.

It… she… was in a cocoon like creation of replicator blocks at one end of the shuttle. Replicator bugs crawled over the surface constantly, tending to it. A clear gel like fluid oozed from it at intervals. Sam was both fascinated and repelled. Fifth also spent long hours 'communing' with it, presumably imprinting the information he had gleaned from her.

"How long?" she asked. "How much longer before she's… ready."

"A day, as you understand it," Fifth said.

"And she will be an adult, not… not a child, a baby," she asked. He had answered these questions more than once already but he answered them again.

"She will appear at the age she was in your last memory of her. She will remember everything that you remember of her."

Sam moved restlessly. Her back was aching. "That's going to be strange for her, having memories but not her memories. I mean, when you remember something you're usually the 'camera' you're seeing what's going on. You don't appear as a character in your own memories, you don't…" She took a deep breath as pain speared her. "Oh shit…"

"You are unwell?" Fifth asked.

"The baby… it's coming…" She felt something come loose inside her, a heaviness descending, warm wetness splattering over the floor. Fifth helped her back to the bunk and she lay there rocking and sobbing waiting for the next contraction… and the next… and the next. Any thoughts of what she had to do had completely deserted her. Samantha Carter was in a flat panic.

The day passed with agonizing slowness. Contractions hit her about every ten minutes but did not seem to be getting any closer together than that. She could not sleep, she could not relax. She had a bad feeling about this. Fifth was with her for a time, and then he went away again, presumably to attend to the cocoon.

Then the contractions sharpened in intensity and she felt the urge to push. She screamed for Fifth to help her and he came, and there was a second figure behind him, small, delicate, dark hair and a heart shaped face. "It's okay, Sam." The voice penetrated her pain. She knew it, she had missed hearing it so much. "It's okay, Sam. Let's get this baby born, shall we?"

Stricken into silence, Sam could only stare as Janet Fraiser moved past Fifth to gently but forefully get her to lay down so that she could examine her, help her to bring her child into the world. Janet was here. Everything was going to be all right.

In between agonizing contractions Sam found herself wondering how Janet was managing to translate second hand memories of medical skills and knowledge into action. However she was doing it, it was working. A little over four hours later and Janet's sure hands eased the child from her, laid her on Sam's belly. "A girl," she pronounced. Sam was too exhausted to care.

Fifth appeared at the doorway. "We have to move. With the help of the Tauri the Asgard have created a weapon that is effective against us. They are destroying our brethren by the thousand. This place is no longer safe."

"Leave me," Sam said. "Go, get out of here."

"I won't leave you," Janet said. "Not after everything…" Her dark eyes were eloquent. Somehow this really was her Janet.

"Please. I could not bear to see you destroyed a second time. Go!" She looked beyond her lover towards Fifth. He nodded, accepting the charge. He would make sure that Janet was safe because she asked it of him.

Janet's dark eyes studied Sam for a long moment. Sam could almost believe that she was real. Fifth's hand closed on Janet's shoulder and she nodded, "Let me finish up here, make you comfortable, check if there are any complications from the birth. It'll only take a couple of minutes. We have that long." Efficiently, she helped Sam expel the afterbirth then tied off and cut the umbilicus. Fifth handed her a towel and she wiped off the baby before handing her back to Sam.

"She is beautiful, Sam. Have you thought of a name for her."

Sam hadn't. She really looked at her daughter for the first time and it came to her. "She's called Rose."

Janet dropped a soft kiss on the child's brow, then reached out to touch Sam's cheek. "I will find you," she promised softly.

"I know." Sam clutched at Janet's hand for a moment and then reluctantly let it go.

"I believe it is SG1 who are with the Asgard. You will be safe with them."

Sam wished she could believe that. Fifth ushered Janet out of the door leaving Sam and her newborn daughter lying on the bunk.

Her former team mates found her. "Sam… my god, we never expected to see you again - are you okay?" Daniel asked, moving towards her before halting for a moment as Rose let out a snuffling cry. "Oh!"

"I'm okay," Sam lied. "A little beat up and I haven't had a hot meal in longer than I care to think about. And yes, it is a baby. My daughter."

"She looks newborn," the Colonel observed.

"She is," Sam said. "A few hours ago. I…" she hesitated as Daniel moved to take the child from her as Teal'c helped her to stand. She still felt incredibly shaky, literally weak at the knees.

"Where are they, Major?"

"I don't know who you mean, Sir," Sam lied.

"The human-form Replicators. We know at least two escaped just before we arrived. We tried tracking them but they went to warp."

'They got away, thank god, they got away', was all Sam could think.

"You were with them, you helped them escape from Halla," O'Neill said. "You stole an Asgard ship and went there. And then you aided them when they got here and threatened to destroy the Asgard Colony."

"Thor told you this did he?" Sam asked, surprised at the level of cynicism in her voice. "I bet he didn't tell you everything. And I'm sorry but I was too busy giving birth to try to take over anything."

"He told me enough that you're going to be facing some serious charges over and above going AWOL when we get back to Earth."

"Jack… I don't think this is the time…" Daniel began before O'Neill cut him short.

"This is a military matter Dr Jackson. Major Carter must answer for what she did. Let's get her back to the ship. The Asgard medics can check her over and get her cleaned up. We'll take her back Earth and then she'll have to answer for what she's done."

The Asgard medic had not spoken to her at all but from the lack of medical attention she received, she presumed she must be doing okay. She was left alone with Rose. She did not mind. It gave her time to try to sort out her feelings. Janet's reappearance had an almost dreamlike quality to it. She was almost afraid that she had hallucinated the whole thing, that Fifth had tricked her somehow.

She realised dimly that O'Neill was watching her, that he had been for some time. "She's mine," he said. It wasn't a question.


"I just want to know one thing – did you know before you went AWOL?"

"No," Sam said. She could have given him some explanation of how she was so mixed up and hurting at that time that she barely knew her own name but it wasn't anything he was likely to understand or want to hear.

"I will be applying for custody you realise."

"Take her," Sam said softly. "I'm not… not what she needs in her life."

He nodded. For a moment she thought he was going to say something more, but he just turned on his heel and left.

Rose was six days old. They would be back on Earth in a matter of hours. Sam nursed her daughter. Daniel rapped on the door, came in. "How are you doing?"

"Okay… considering," Sam said softly. "Is there any sign of them?"

"No, we lost the trail after they went to warp. The Asgard are continuing to search for them. We'll be back on Earth in a couple of hours. Thor is beaming us direct to the SGC."

"Great," Sam said. "Do they have baby changing facilities in the brig?"

"It won't come to that," Daniel said. "I'm sure. There's been a lot of changes since you left."

"Such as?" He took it as an invitation to talk, sat down beside her, holding out his finger for Rose to grab at it.

"Oh, you know, the usual for SG1. We found another Ancient repository. Jack let the information download into his brain again. We used it to find a weapon to destroy Anubis. Just in the nick of time as it turned out. Oh, and we have a new President. Kinsey of all people was Vice President until recently, but he's gone now. In disgrace. Hammond was replaced as head of the SGC by a civilian, a Dr Elizabeth Weir. You'll like her, I think…"

"General Hammond was replaced…" Sam stared at him stricken with guilt. "Because of what I did…"

"I won't lie to you Sam, it didn't help matters," Daniel said, almost gently. "There was a lot of flak about what happened on P3X-666. There was an investigation into Janet's death, NID were all over it. General Hammond told the investigation that you had been suffering from PTSD – which I don't think is too far from the truth to be honest. I just wish you'd talked to me Sam, about what you were feeling, to any of us."

"Life went on, you know," Sam said softly. "She'd been dead two weeks and they were interviewing for her replacement. If you hadn't known… there was no sign of her left anywhere. It was as if she had been airbrushed out. I couldn't… I couldn't do that."

"I know… I understand, Sam. We all lost her. I know it was different for you. We've all lost people we were close to in devastating circumstances and at the time it always feels like its you alone against the world that no one else has experienced what you are experiencing that no one could ever comprehend the depth of your pain and to try to empathise with you is pretty much an insult but… at the end of the day we're not that special, not that unique. Pain is pain. Loss is a universal experience. We've all been there. We could have helped, if you'd let us. Janet would have…" he paused. "I'm sorry…"

"No, please… tell me. Tell me about her. I've lost her. I might never get her back. She exists in my head. And sometimes it feels as if that's the only place. Tell me about her, Daniel, please. Tell me what you remember…"

They did not know that there was another Janet out there. A Replicator with all Sam's memories of Janet locked in her head. And much more besides. They could not know. For their first instincts would be to destroy her.

And Sam Carter could not let that happen again.


Part 4

The air was warm, heavy, scented with vanilla, jasmine and beeswax. Sam lay on her front, her upper body propped up on her elbows. Janet was straddling her hips. They were both naked. Sam shivered at the sensation of the cool wet calligraphy brush as it passed over her skin just below her left shoulderblade.

"Sa-am, stay still!" Janet admonished her. "One brushstroke in the wrong place and it could change the whole meaning!"

"Tell me again," Sam begged. "Why are we doing this? What does it mean?"

"You know what it means, Sam." Janet dipped the brush into the ink again, carefully squeezing out the excess on the edge of the cup before leaning forward slightly to draw another koan just below the first by the feel of it. "Goddess, I forget sometimes how beautiful you are."

Sam lowered her head, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. She heard Janet's soft laugh, felt her lover's fingers gently scrat through the short hair at the nape of her neck. "I'm sorry love. I also forget how easy it is to embarrass you sometimes." Sam leant back into the touch for a moment, basking in the other woman's easy affection. Janet stilled her touch, Sam felt the calligraphy brush swirl across her back again, adding another symbol, this time just below her hairline, over the scar that the Steveston goa'uld had left her with.

And you're trying your damnedest to distract me from what you're doing, Sam thought. "Tell me again, please, love. This is important. I don't want to forget or get it wrong one day."

"Well, on one hand it is a depiction of your soul, a map of you. On the other hand it is a guide to bring you home again for when you are lost in dark places. And it will also protect you from those who seek to do you harm and identify you to those who can aid you on your journey."

The room glowed with candlelight, bright but not enough to elaborate the shadows that surrounded them. The air was heavy and rich with incense, sandalwood and jasmine. The colours of the bedding on which she lay, the hangings that surrounded the bed, were rich, old gold, blood red and midnight blue, the design almost middle eastern, complex and abstract drawing the eye. The damask silk felt wonderful against her skin, the whole threatening to overwhelm her senses, to distract her from what was most important: the presence of her lover.

"Will it bring me back to you?"

"I hope so," Janet said softly. What felt like a spiral symbol was added low down at the base of her spine. "I hope so, my love. But you have to be strong, you understand, baby? You have to keep trying."

Sam felt Janet's breath warm against her skin for a moment, a soft kiss on her shoulder, her cheek as she turned her head. Then the slight weight of her love across her hips was gone. She was alone again.

Samantha Carter opened her eyes. That was the third night in a row that she had had the same dream. Janet… she buried her face in her pillow to muffle her tears. In a few weeks it would be the second anniversary of her death. In many ways it felt as if it had happened yesterday; her grief was just as sharp, just as poignant.

General Jack O'Neill had made it quite clear that her days at the SGC were most definitely numbered if he had any say in the matter. It was obvious that he now regarded her with the same animosity he had once reserved for Frank Cromwell.

Fitting back into what had once passed for a personal life was also difficult. General Jack O'Neill had petitioned for and been granted sole custody of his daughter within days of their return to Earth. Sam had not contested the claim and by her own request had no access to the child. Rose now lived with her father and was happy and thriving, according to Daniel. It was for the best, Sam had no problem convincing herself of that. To that end she did not even have a picture of her daughter.

On her return, Sam had been diagnosed with PTSD, a severe hormonal imbalance exacerbated by malnutrition, mild diabetes and hypertension, and post-natal depression. She had spent a week in isolation at the Academy Hospital whilst she was checked over and received treatment before being released on medical leave. Quietly she had been offered the opportunity to resign her commission on medical grounds and avoid the pending enquiry, the implication being that they fully expected her to be dishonourably discharged anyway. Sam just couldn't understand why it was taking them so long. That was the trouble with having both powerful friends and powerful enemies: the behind the scenes powerbroking just got that much more Machiavellian.

As a result of the uncertainty about her status, her opportunities were decidedly limited. She was not cleared for Gate travel. Mackay had more or less taken over her job outside of her duties with SG1 whilst she was AWOL and in the months afterwards whilst she was on medical leave. He showed no inclination to step aside. And nobody was asking him to. Her lab had been reorganized, a lot of her researchers had been reassigned – mostly, she noted, by their own request. He had even taken the liberty of redesigned her naquada reactor and most of her dialing programmes. Bastard. It was some small relief to her that everyone else seemed to dislike him almost as much as she did.

There was an offer on the table to transfer to Area 51 but something in the way the proposal was couched made her think of Adrian Conrad and Loki and a off-the-record request to her NID buddy Agent Neil Barrett threw up some less than savoury information so she put off making a decision until she saw what other opportunities became available: preferably ones that might not involve becoming a lab rat.

Daniel was bouncing unhappily between her lab and Jack's office, torn between his two friends, not wanting to lose or choose either of them. Resolutely, he kept her informed of Rose's progress even though she had repeatedly asked him not to and she professed no outward interest in the child. To see two of his greatest friends at such odds with one another was obviously hurting him deeply. Teal'c was offworld a great deal, busy with the Free Jaffa but whenever he was earthside he made a point of seeking her out. She discussed her unease at the Area 51 offer with both men and they agreed with her assessment. One or both of them must have mentioned it to Dr Weir because a day or so later she had come to see Sam in her lab.

It wasn't the first time the former diplomat had sought her out. The woman seemed determined to be friendly. Both Daniel and Teal'c spoke highly of her. And she even seemed to have charmed both General Hammond and General O'Neill. But Sam held herself back. Somehow, it would be too easy.

Weir's invitation to join the expedition had come as something of a relief. Which in itself was a surprise to her. "Major Carter… I have a proposition for you. I'd like to offer you a place on the science team for the Atlantis expedition. Well, actually, we'd like you to head up the team."

"I… I'm flattered, but I thought Dr Mackay had already taken that position."

"After some discussions, it has been decided that perhaps Rodney… Dr Mackay isn't temperamentally suited to the kind of long term expedition we are proposing. He will be remaining with the SGC."

"And you think I am… ma'am, may I speak frankly?"

"Of course, Major."

"You have to have seen my psych record. You know that I was effectively AWOL for almost a year and I'm facing a disciplinary hearing that will probably lead to a courts martial and dismissal from the service."

"And it is my understanding that if you take this position all pending charges against you will be dropped."

Sam stared at her. "Excuse me…!"

The dark haired woman smiled. "The position as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Atlantis expedition is yours if you want it, Major Carter – with or without your military rank. And frankly I think we would be lucky to have you."

"Erm… thank you… can I think about it? I… er, need to talk to erm… someone first."

"Sure," Weir smiled. "We're still putting the team together, though I would value your input on that regardless of your decision. I can wait a couple of days, Major."

"Okay… thank you."

The sense of relief she felt troubled her. Being apparently without purpose had only fed her insecurities. Now she had some place to be, something to do. And she would be out there, amongst the stars once more.

She had sought her counsel in dreams but the ghost of her lover was evading giving her any answers – or at least any that she could understand. Other than vague references to journeying and dark places, and she had had enough of those this last year. Perhaps she was being too literal minded. She had been accused of that before.

The gravestone still had a shiny newness to it. It had only been a little under two years after all. The grave itself seemed well cared for. Someone came here regularly. The flowers at the base of the stone were a day or two old at most. She guessed at Cassie. The pain of their estrangement would have been overwhelming if it were not for the greater grief that she carried with her always. It was her secret hope that one day things would be well between them again. She did miss the young woman who ironically was probably more of a mother-figure to Sam's own daughter than Sam ever could be. Strange the loops the universe took every now and then.

The letters and numbers making up the fateful hateful legend on the grey/pink granite slab were sharp, clean cut. Sam reached out to trace them but couldn't quite make herself do so. "Hey," she said softly. "Hey… love… Janet… ohmigod, Janet I'm sorry, I've not been here before to see you… it's been difficult… too much of a fucking coward… and, well, I was away for a long time and since I came back… It's like… if I came here, if I saw the stone, it would be real. It would be real and you would be dead. And I couldn't handle that, not for the longest time."

"So many things have happened, since… I did some really stupid things. Really stupid. And I killed something… someone… an Asgard. And I made a Replicator double of you. At least I think I did. Oh, and I had a baby…" She giggled, wiped the tears from her cheeks. "That last bit I'm sure about. And yeah, I know how stupid, how totally fucking insane that sounds." Her breath hiccupped as she fought to regain control. "And you probably know anyway but Jack O'Neill was the father. It didn't mean anything. She's… my daughter, she's with him. She's doing well. I don't… I'm not part of her life. It's for the best." She ran out of words and fiddled instead with the bouquet of long stemmed roses she had brought to place on the grave. The flowers were just coming out of bud, apricot and cinnamon. She ran her finger along the edge of a petal recalling the feel of Janet's skin beneath her fingers.

"I'm not asking you to understand or forgive me, Janet. I lost you and I lost all sense of who I was. I ran away with this half-baked idea that I was going to bring you back, to correct some huge cosmic injustice that took you away from me… but I couldn't do it. I think I just made things worse. The Asgard… the Replicators. There might be another you out there now, a humanform Replicator. She's you… but the you from my memories. My perfect Janet. Except that she isn't. You were my perfect Janet. You. Always and only you. I let Fifth read me, read all my memories of you. She knows everything I know. I don't know for certain what I've done, whether it really even happened. Fifth could have tricked me. And to be honest I was so far gone at the time I doubt whether I would be able to tell. But I think it… she… was real. Whether your legacy will make a difference. Or whether I've just given the Replicators one huge advantage in any future conflict between us."

"All I know for sure is that I still miss you. I think I always will. I miss you so much my sweet girl that it hurts. It feels like someone is tearing my heart out over and over again and I don't know… I don't know how long I can stand it."

"So why today? What made me drag up all my courage and come to this place I've avoided so long? Well, love, the truth is I've been offered a job. There's an expedition going through the Gate, a longterm mission going out further than we've ever gone before. We're still trying to find the Lost City of the Ancients would you believe it. We need to use something called a ZPM to power the gate to get that far – kind of like that generator that the Colonel built when he had the Ancients download the first time, only much more powerful. Trouble is we're not sure if these things are one time use only so when we get there there's the distinct possibility we won't get back, not unless we can find another of these ZPMs or build something else to do the job. I'm going, well, I've been asked to go to head up their science division. It's very tempting. Very tempting. And I think you want me to go."

She sighed. "I keep seeing you in my dreams. The same weird dream. You're painting something on my back, something to protect me, a map to my soul, a guide through dark places. Which pretty much sums me up these days. All I know, all I think I know, is that you're still with me, protecting me. And that's the only way I can go on. I…"


She turned swiftly at the sound of the familiar voice, almost losing her balance on the short turf. It was Cassie. "God, you scared me!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" the young woman fell silent, just staring at Sam. Tears welled in her eyes. "It's been so long since I've seen you, Sam. It felt… it feels like when Mom died, you died too. I lost you both."

"You don't know how sorry I am that I wasn't there for you," Sam said softly. "I was such a mess, still am. Not much of an excuse I know." She placed the bouquet on Janet's grave and stood up, at last reaching out to touch the stone just for a moment before snatching her hand away and walking towards the younger woman. They were almost exactly the same height now, she noted. Janet used to joke about the two 'gazelles' in her life and how they gave her a permanent crick in the neck. She looked older. Janet's death had hit her hard, reawakening old sorrows. Sam knew from Daniel that she was doing well in her first year at college, having decided to follow her foster mother into medicine.

They just stood looking at each other for a long moment and then with a muffled sob Cassie threw herself into Sam's arms. The older woman hugged her tightly.

There was a seat in the shade of a linden tree a few yards away. By common consent they moved there to continue their conversation.

"This is the first time I've seen her grave since the stone was erected," Sam said. "It'll probably be the last – for quite a while anyway." She had made up her mind. She was taking the job.

"Daniel said you might be traveling again," Cassie said.

"Yes, I've been offered a chance at a long-term expedition. Completely new territory."

"It's a chance for you to make a new start," Cassie said softly.

"Yes." Sam could not meet the young woman's earnest gaze.

"You have to do it, Sam. Mom would want you to do it, she'd hate to see you so unhappy."

"And what about how I've treated you this last year, what would she say to that do you think?" Sam asked, sadly.

"She'd kick your ass, for sure," Cassie managed a weak smile. "I miss her, I miss her every day, but she taught me right – you both did – and I'm dealing. I've got my college work and I get back here most weekends. I either stay with Jack and Rose or with Daniel and they both spoil me rotten in their own different ways and Rose, oh god, Sam, Rose is just the best kid and Jack is so good with her you wouldn't believe…" her voice tailed off. "Sorry… that was unfair. I know you have your reasons, Sam, good reasons, but…"

"I made my mind up on that one, Cassie, and I'm not changing it. Rose will do much better without me in her life. No one knows… no one knows all the things that happened to me whilst I was away, the things I did, the things I was prepared to do. The Colonel can be a much better parent to her than I could ever be." There was more she could say about her relationship with Jack O'Neill but Cassie was not the right person to talk to about that. She may have discovered the hard way that her heroes were all too frail but the girl still idolized Jack.

"She deserves to know you, Sam. And you deserve to know her. She's a sweet kid, and so bright…" Something beeped in her pocket and she glanced at her watch. "I have to run… Sam, will I see you again before you go?"

"It won't be for a month or so yet. And I'd like to see you again, maybe we could go have a meal or take in a movie like we used to do," Sam smiled. She took her foster daughter into her arms again and held her close before reaching to gently wipe the tears from the younger woman's cheeks with her thumbs. "Thank you," she said softly.

"For what?" Cassie asked.

"For making the first move. For doing what I was too big a coward to do and reaching out. I never stopped loving you, Cassie. You have to believe that."

"I do," Cassie smiled. "And I never stopped loving you either." They hugged again and then Cassie reluctantly pulled away. "I have to go." She stepped over to the grave and laid her hand on the top of the stone for a moment, her eyes closed, a soft smile on her face. She looked back over her shoulder at Sam. "I think she'd be happy about this you know."

"I know she would be," Sam smiled. Cassie started to walk away then turned back and kissed Sam on the cheek.


Part 5

"I'm gonna miss you," Daniel hugged her hard.  When she could breathe again Sam smiled shakily. 

"I'm gonna miss you too," she brushed her fingers across his cheek.  "Try not to die again, okay."

"You too."

She turned to Teal'c who also engulfed her in his broad arms.  "You will be missed, Samantha.  I will miss you."

"I'll miss you too, Teal'c. Take care… take care of everyone, will you."

"Of course."  He reached out, touched her hair, cupped her cheek in his broad hand.  "And you, Samantha.  I am trusting you to take care of yourself." 

She laid her hand over his, smiled up at her friend.  "I will.  I'll be okay, don't worry." 

The space where the third, their third should have been was achingly empty.  Jack O'Neill still had not forgiven her.  Though he had not blocked her transfer she could tell he just thought she was running away again.  Cassie had tried to talk to him about it several times, or so she had tearfully informed Sam, but he had just shut her down.  It was as if Sam no longer existed to him.

The Atlantis expedition team was massed in the Gate Room.  This was it.  Either the Gate would lock or it would not.  All of Mackay's tests said that it would and she agreed with him, having hastily checked his figures over when he was busy somewhere else.  He would never have shown them to her and she would never have asked him, but she wasn't about to take anything he put together on blind trust.  Her fingers tingled in remembrance of the EMP generator that had almost electrocuted her. 

A few more people were waiting to say goodbye to her – Dr Felger and Dr Lee.  Jay Felger had ummed and ahhed for weeks about joining the Atlantis expedition once he had heard Sam was going but had decided at almost the last minute to stay earthside.  Dr Zelenka, a recent recruit to the SGC and her second on the science team for Atlantis was talking to them at the moment.  He was a good man with some interesting ideas and she looked forward to working with him on Atlantis. 

Sam realized that she was looking for someone who was not there.  The medical team were in a huddle and she found herself searching for one small doctor.  But she was not here which is why Sam could not be here either. 

The room fell silent as Dr Weir moved to the front of the group standing at the foot of the ramp.

"Could I have everyone's attention please!"  She glanced up at the control room and got confirmation for what was about to happen.  "We are about to try and make a connection.  We have been unable to predict exactly how much power this is going to take and we may only get the one chance at this.  So, if we are able to achieve a stable wormhole, we're not going to risk shutting the gate down.  We'll send in the MALP robot probe, check for viability and go.  Everything in one shot."

There was a rise in the level of conversation around the room.  Weir waited until it settled down again.

"Every one of you volunteered for this mission and you represent over a dozen countries.  You are the world's best and brightest and in light of the adventure we are about to embark on, you are also the bravest.  I hope we all return one day having discovered a whole new realm for humanity to explore but as all of you know we may never be able to return home.  I'd like to offer you all one last chance to withdraw your participation."  Everyone stood quiet, very still.  Weir smiled, glanced up at the control room again.  "Begin the dialing sequence."  She walked down the ramp and came to stand beside Sam.

"I'm surprised you're not up there in the control room for this, Dr Carter."

"It's not my place any more," Sam said.  "And Mackay's got everything in hand, I'm sure.  Basically, this will either work first time or not at all.  My knowledge and expertise won't make a difference one way or another."

Weir nodded, her attention focused on the Gate as the first chevron locked.  Master Sergeant Harriman verbally confirmed.  Sam looked around.  Colonel Sumner was in Major Sheppard's face again.  The two men obviously had some kind of beef with each other.  Another couple of cases of testosterone poisoning to deal with. Sumner had made it clear that he had little time for her either. And that he didn't trust her as far as he could throw her. She had the feeling he could try to make her life interesting once they got to Atlantis but with any luck she would have relatively little to do with him. She wasn't military any more either.

Chevrons two and three were encoded.  Weir walked up to the control room in preparation for the MALP footage.  Adjusting her pack so it sat more comfortably across her shoulders, Sam went to stand with Dr Beckett and Dr Zelenka.  They would be in the second team through after Sumner and the security team. 

Beckett had been through the Gate before.  This would be Dr Zelenka's first trip.  Chevrons four, five and six were encoded.  Zelenka wiped his palms across his thighs.  "This is it then," he whispered.

Chevron seven encoded.  Sam realized that she wasn't breathing.  She had not thought she would be this excited about this.  It wasn't the first time she had gone intergalactic after all.  But that had been just her.  This was bigger than her.  This was mankind.

"Chevron Eight is Locked."

The universe seemed to pause and then the wormhole bellied into life.  There were cheers and applause from all around the Gateroom.

"Send the MALP," Weir ordered.  They all watched as the MALP trundled up the ramp and through the Gate.

Normally, well, in what passed for normal in that other life, Sam knew she would have been up there now, in the control room, poring over the data from the MALP, taking that first look at another planet.  She didn't have that privilege any more.  She would have to wait and find out with the rest of them whether their mission was a go or not.

The MALP showed evidence of a large room, structurally intact with oxygen and no measurable toxins.  They had a go.

Weir signaled to Sumner who got security teams one and two ready to go through the Gate and take up their positions on the other side.  Weir hurried down and picked up her pack, almost running towards the ramp to join Sumner.  She had decided that she was going to go through at the same time as the main team. 

"Hold on Colonel, we go through together."

"Fair enough," Sumner shrugged.  He nodded to his team and they disappeared through the Gate.  After pausing to glance up at O'Neill in the control room, Weir stepped through.

He was looking at her now.  Sam could feel it.  She wondered if she should have tried to talk to him again, but there was no time now.  As she moved to take her place on the ramp she allowed herself one quick glance up at the control room.  Yes, he was staring at her, his expression impenetrable.  Then he gave her one of his half-smiles and something in her leapt.  She realized how much she had missed him, how much Janet would have hated the barriers that had built up between the two old friends.  Zelenka and Beckett were moving towards the Gate.  For almost the first time since the mission to P3X-666 Sam let loose the full Carter smile and saw Jack O'Neill's expression soften in response. 

If she ever got back from this there would be a starting point between them.  One day they might even be friends again.  But that was for the future.

Sam turned back to face the open Gate and without any more hesitation walked through. 

Sumner and his team were already securing the area.  The atmosphere was a little stale and chill but breathable, the lights dim with what looked very like the emergency lighting they had at the SGC.  Instrument panels were shrouded in dust covers.  This had been an orderly withdrawal, not a panicked abandonment.  It looked as if one day they had hoped that they, or their descendents, would come home again. But still, Sam got the feeling that no one had been home for a very long time.  She started to consult her instruments, softly exclaiming in amazement as their surroundings seemed to react to their presence, particularly to those with the active Ancients gene like Major Sheppard and Dr Beckett, coming to life around them, light levels increasing, air purifiers swinging into action, instrument panels coming back online. 

They began to explore outward from the Gateroom, discovering that this was a city under the sea, protected by force fields that arced over the towers.  From her explorations with SG1 Sam could see that it was an Ancient structure in all senses of the word, the Antarctic site writ large. Very large. This could well be the fabled Atlantis.

New discoveries were being reported every couple of minutes. Room after room of technological wonders. A docking bay filled with spacecraft. A small hospital unit which just emphasized how physically alike humans and Ancients were. Living quarters that looked as if they could be made quite comfortable and were certainly larger than those 'enjoyed' by most of the expedition staff back at the SGC.

Six hours passed in a haze of scientific discovery. Sam had thought she was in heaven. Now… now she wasn't so sure. She was calculating power equations in her head and coming up with answers that sent a cold shiver down her spine.  Some of the instrumentation they could only hazard a guess at.  She had easily identified the Ancient version of a DHD and communications equipment and a computer interface which Major Sheppard had obligingly activated for her.  Another display showed the shields and power levels and it was these that concerned her.  Sam touched the panel, accessing the power sources and bit back a curse.

"Where's Dr Weir?" she asked.

"Dr Beckett found some kind of recorded message," Zelenka said.  "The room to your right."

"I don't have time to explain but you have to stop people from activating everything," Sam said.  "We're exceeding power capabilities."

"The shield…" Zelenka nodded grimly and went to corral his fellow scientists.

Sam went into the side room.  Weir and Sumner were with Beckett, listening to the hologram.  Dr Beckett, who like Major Sheppard possessed the Ancient gene had found and activated what appeared to be a Welcome message, in the form of a hologram of an Ancient female.

Sam remembered Janet's excitement at the existence of Ayana, the Ancient they had discovered frozen in the Antarctic and what she might represent for the truth of human development and tears pricked at her eyes. Her lover had been on fire with it all that day, so beautiful, so passionate.

"In the hope of spreading new life in a galaxy where there appeared to be none.  Soon the new life grew, prospered.  Here…"

"It's a hologram," Beckett explained, gazing up at the figure of the woman in awe.  "The recording loops.  This is my second time through."

"… exchange knowledge and friendship…" Above the hologram's head a map appeared.  "In time a thousand worlds bore the fruit of life in this form.  Then one day our people set foot on a dark world where a terrible enemy slept. Never before had we encountered beings with powers that rivaled our own. In our over confidence, we weren't prepared and were outnumbered. The enemy fed upon defenseless human worlds like a great Scourge until finally only Atlantis remained. This city's great shield was powerful enough to withstand their terrible weapons but here we were besieged for many years in an offer to save the last of our kind we submerged our great city into the ocean. The Atlantis Stargate was the one and only link back to Earth from this Galaxy, and those who remained used it to return to that world that was once home. There the last survivors of Atlantis lived out the remainder of their lives. This city was left to slumber, in the hope that our kind would one day return."

She had heard enough.  "We have to turn it off," she said.  "We have to turn everything off."

"Why?" Sumner asked.

"Because if we don't, we're dead," Sam said, indicating they should follow her.  She took them back to the power control console, told them what they were looking at.

"From what I've been able to ascertain the city is powered by three Zero Point Modules, two are entirely depleted and the third is reaching maximum entropy when it does, it will shut down and there will be nothing we can do."

"Just tell me the bottom line," Sumner said.

"The forcefield that's holding back the ocean has collapsed to its minimum sustainable levels.  It's already failed in several places in the outer areas…" she indicated the darkened areas on the screen, "and the city's flooded.  I've no idea when it happened, it could have been years ago, it could have been yesterday.  This section's likely more protected because of the presence of the Stargate."

"What if it fails completely?" Sheppard asked.

"It's a matter of when, not if," Sam sighed.  "Everything that we're doing here is depleting that last ZPM at an unsustainable rate.  We have to stop, pull back."

"Colonel Sumner, you need to order your security teams to stop searching the city immediately," Weir said.  She turned to Sam with a look that Sam was all too familiar with.  Her reputation as miracle worker, world-saver and supreme fix-it had preceded her into the Pegasus Galaxy.  "Dr Carter…"

Sumner was already radioing his teams to fall back to the Gateroom.  Zelenka and Beckett were reining in the scientific teams.  But Sam knew that it was not going to be enough. 

"How much time do we have?"  Weir asked.

"It's hard to say," Sam frowned.  "Hours, maybe days if we minimize power expenditure."

"What about our own power generators?" Weir turned to look at the series of long boxes still lying on the FREDs parked at the foot of the Gate.

"They'll help but even with the most advanced Naquada Power Generators we'd be fighting to stand still.  The forcefield will fail."

"So we need to find more ZPM's."  Sam could see that Weir was pondering the conundrum.  So was Sumner.

"Now how do we do that if we can't search the city?" the Colonel asked.

"If there were more here, we'd be able to detect them," Zelenka said quietly. 

As one they turned to look at the ring of exotic metal that commanded the far end of the room.  "Can we use the Stargate?" Sumner asked.

"Not for a return to Earth," Sam said.  "The power requirements are way beyond our capability.  But we may be able to connect to the local Gate network. We have what looks like a database of hopefully valid addresses."

"Travel somewhere in this Galaxy?" Sheppard grinned.  Sam could see why the young man had become something of a protégé to O'Neill in his relatively short time with the SGC. 

"We've been able to access the Gate Control's relatively easily," Sam said, moving to the relevant console. "And there is what appears to be a library of Stargate addresses."

"And this…" Zelenka reached over and pressed another button. A glittering veil of energy appeared across the face of the Gate.

"Just like the iris on the Earth Gate," Sumner marveled. Sam let them have a moment before reaching over to shut it off again.

"Energy drain," she explained, somewhat tight lipped. Zelenka had the grace to look shame-faced.

"At least we don't have to deal with any uninvited guests," Weir said. "Colonel – assemble a team. We need safe harbour, or better still another power source."

Sumner summoned Lieutenant Ford, got him to gather security teams 1 and 2 with their gear: they were going back through the Gate.

Weir turned back to Sam. "Alright, pick an address. Start dialing."

Sam nodded, scanned the list for a moment and then started to dial. It seemed strange not to have Sergeant Harriman tolling off the chevrons as they engaged. She wondered if she should say something but decided it would make her far too self-conscious.

Zelenka and one of the technicians, Sergeant Peters got MALP 4 ready as the Stargate engaged with the familiar kawoosh. As the wormhole settled the MALP was sent through.

"Getting the telemetry now," Peters said softly.

"MALP reads full viability and no immediate signs of activity around the Stargate. But it's pitch black…" Sam was about to say more but Sumner just nodded impatiently and signaled his team forward, his mind already on what he was likely to find on the other side of the Gate. Everyone on his team, including Major Sheppard, snapped on night-vision goggles and walked through the Gate. Watching them go through, Sam felt a momentary pang of regret. In another life that would have been her. But she had left all of that behind. This was her life now. She had sworn there would be no regrets.

Sam had assigned Dr Peter Grodin to monitor the energy situation with regard to the forcefields whilst she concentrated on maintaining the delicate balance between energy conservation and keeping their critical systems going, diverting as many systems as possible to draw their power from the naquada generators they had brought with them through the Gate. Elizabeth Weir stayed close, watchful but silent. Unlike O'Neill she did not continually pester her science team for updates and Sam had the feeling that she actually understood more than one word in five of her scientific explanations and she also let Sam finish what she was saying. It was curiously affirming yet liberating and at the same time more than a little scary. People were actually listening to what she had to say for a change.

But the stark truth was that despite all of their energy conservation measures the forcefield was continuing to fail, section by section. It was possible to both hear and feel the shockwaves as sections of the city imploded under the tremendous pressure of water. It was not a comfortable experience.

"I don't think we have time," Grodin said softly. Weir had to agree with him.

"Lets just hope that Colonel Sumner's salvage mission comes up with a working ZPM – or a viable alternative site," she said. "If we could just buy ourselves another day…"

"The city is sacrificing parts of itself in order to maintain these main areas," Grodin told her. "But catastrophic failure is inevitable."

"Not in my wildest dreams would I hope to find the lost city of the Ancients so completely untouched, so pristine and we have no choice but to walk away from it," Weir mourned.

"In order to save it," Sam said softly from her place in the doorway. She handed Weir her report detailing the latest energy conservation measures. "We have shut down as much as we could and diverted several essential subsystems to work off naquada generators but it's still not enough. I…" There was the muffled sound of another explosion somewhere on the outer rim of the city.

"There. Another part of the forcefield just failed," Grodin pointed to the display where an area of the city flared and then went dark. "Gone, in a moment."

"Who are we saving it for?" Weir asked. "We don't have enough power to send a message. As far as Earth is concerned we're just going to be missing, presumed lost."

Sam privately acknowledged that the woman was right. But if having Jack O'Neill as her commanding officer for eight years had taught her anything it was never to give up. He had called her on her negativity in the past. "The SGC won't give up on us," she said. "They'll send the Prometheus or the new X-303 when its fitted out or get the Asgard to do a fly-by. And we've barely explored one world in this Gate network. Hell, we've even got a room full of spaceships to play with. We haven't lost yet."

"I don't know how much longer we can afford to wait," Weir said. "We have yet to hear from Colonel Sumner. We've got no idea what's out there. But I do hear – and appreciate – what you're saying, Dr Carter."

Sam knew that she would respect whatever decision Weir made. There was another muffled explosion and the base began to shake. However, unlike the previous occasions the shaking did not subside immediately but seemed to be getting progressively more violent and destructive. The lights dimmed alarmingly before brightening again. Weir activated her comms. "Attention all personnel. This is Weir. Stand by for immediate evacuation." She looked across at Sam. "Dial the Gate."

Sam nodded and clutching various terminals for support, lurched across the room towards the DHD console. She had managed to activate two chevrons before the Gate started dialing in. "We've got an incoming wormhole!" she shouted. "Security teams stand ready!" Inwardly wincing at the thought of the accelerated power drain she activated the shield over the Gate.

"I'm reading Lieutenant Ford's IDC," Grodin confirmed.

"Let him in," Weir ordered.

Sam hastily lowered the forcefield again, her mouth compressed into a thin line of worry at the way the energy levels dipped sharply and stayed depressed. Just powering the forcefield for that few minutes had knocked a couple of hours at least off the remaining lifespan of their ZPM. Lieutenant Ford ran through the Gate followed by the rest of the Marines and then a whole bunch of men, women and children whose dress-sense reminded Sam of the Tok'ra. The last man through was Major Sheppard. Weir was already heading towards them. "Major Sheppard, who are all these people?"

"Survivors from the settlement we found. Friends. We were attacked. Sumner and some of our men were taken along with people from the settlement." A particularly violent tremor got his attention. "What's going on?"

"As you may have noticed we are in no condition to help anyone right now," Weir said. "We are about to abandon the city."

Sheppard gestured back towards the Stargate. "Well going back there is a really bad idea."

"Major Sheppard, the shield is about to fail and the ocean is about to come crashing in on us. Do you have a better place for us to go?"

Sheppard turned to one of the natives, a boy who looked barely in his teens. "Jinto, do you have any other address we could gate to?"

"Yes. Many." Sheppard grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over to where Sam was standing by the DHD. Grodin's laptop started to sound an alarm. He had interfaced it with the control circuits for the shield. In glowing letters the message "Shield Failure Imminent" were flashing on the screen.

"The shield is collapsing!" Grodin confirmed. The rumbling got worse, there was a strange greenish flash of light and then a jolt that knocked everyone off their feet.

Following an old instinct Sam curled up, giving herself the smallest surface area she could. She felt almost weightless for a moment and then there was a sense of movement. If she didn't know better she would say that the city was rising up from the waters.

She wasn't the only one taken in by the illusion. "We're moving!" Sheppard shouted, as the young boy clutched at him, terrified.

"He's right!" Grodin shouted. Somehow he had remained on his feet and was still interfacing with the city's systems. Sam pulled herself towards him, anxious to see what was going on. It was getting steadily lighter as sunlight percolated through from the upper levels that were now above the water and then they were all shielding their eyes as sunlight poured into the control room itself. There was a final jolt as the city settled into its new position on the ocean surface. Everyone rushed to the nearest set of windows to look out over their new perspective. Still somewhat dazed, Sam joined them. The relief on everyone's faces and in their manner was almost too much to bear. She realized that she had come to terms with the idea of dying again. She was doing that far too often lately. Shakily she sat down on the steps, closing her eyes against the dizziness that assailed her.

A gentle hand rested on her shoulder. "It's a bit much to take in, isn't it?" Elizabeth Weir said. "But it looks like we're going to live to fight another day. But I supposed you would be used to this. Whilst you were part of SG1 you beat the odds pretty much on a weekly basis."

"I don't think its something you should necessarily ever get used to," Sam said. She looked around. Grodin and Zelenka were already bickering over the new readings they were getting on their panels. "I should…"

"Yes, we all should. Somehow we just got one hell of a reprieve. Let's not waste it."

Six hours later and the chaos was more or less reduced to manageable levels. The refugees who Sam learnt were called Athosians had been checked over by the medical team and given accommodation in one section of the city. Teams were still assessing damage to previously explored sections of the city and slowly but surely making their way into unexplored areas. Sam had collated her teams findings and was waiting to brief Weir on their power situation. Weir was currently having an intense discussion with Major Sheppard about the new threat they had encountered, the mysterious 'Wraith' and the likelihood of mounting an operation to find their missing people.

Under normal circumstances she'd have been up there with him, maybe in his place, Sam realized. The mantra of never leaving anyone behind was ingrained in everyone who had ever served at the SGC. But that was the past. She realized to her surprise that she had no problem leaving the military heroics to someone else. She had her own different kind of heroics to perform here, keeping them all alive.

Sam realized that she had almost drifted off when Weir called her name. By the grin on Sheppard's face, it wasn't the first time she had been called. She got up and followed them back into the area that she had commandeered as her control desk.

"So, how bad is it?" Weir asked. She looked tired. They all did.

"It could be a lot worse. The ZPM is almost out of power but for the moment is still functioning. And we still have a shield, though at vastly reduced power. I doubt it's going to be sufficient for defensive purposes, especially with what Major Shepard and Lieutenant Ford have been able to tell us about this new enemy. We're still working off the city's life support systems, but initial tests show that the planet's atmosphere is breathable. CO2 levels are slightly higher but there's almost no pollutants. I don't know about possible allergens yet but we don't see any problems with switching off life support and letting the external atmosphere in…" she paused for breath.

"Dr Carter… on the surface like this without a shield, we're… target practice," Sheppard frowned.

"I know," Sam said glumly. "But our naquada generators won't come close to providing the necessary power. Ideally we need another fully charged ZPM."

"How are we progressing with finding where the Wraith took Colonel Sumner and the others?" Sheppard asked.

"Even with the six symbols Lieutenant Ford provided there are still hundreds of permutations to work through," Sam began.

"Seven hundred and twenty," Sheppard said promptly.

Sam was impressed despite herself. Not that she'd ever let this flyboy see it. Despite his devil-may-care attitude this guy was no slouch. "Precisely. We're working our way through them, but the right address could be the next one we try or the last one, even weeding out impossible combinations. It's gonna take time."

He scowled at her. She accepted his anger. He wanted to go and rescue his people. If their positions were reversed, she'd want exactly the same thing and she'd be twice as hard on the scientist who couldn't give her the answers she wanted. She remembered how she had threatened Dr Lee when he could not get the portal working after Colonel O'Neill and Harry Maybourne had gone missing. You don't leave people in the hands of the enemy. It was as simple as that.

She knew that Weir would need convincing to okay a rescue mission. They weren't even sure if Sumner and the others were still alive. Separating truth from legend from the Athosian's accounts of the Wraith was also proving difficult. But if this was indeed the same enemy that had caused the Ancients to flee this area of space then they were all in big trouble. She also trusted Weir into not being browbeaten by Sheppard into authorizing some half-assed rescue mission. There were too many variables, too many unknowns. They could well just bring the Wraith right to their doorstep. And as had just been pointed out they currently didn't have a viable defence shield.

Weir was still assessing the possibilities of negotiating a peaceful settlement. Or that they had somehow been betrayed by the Athosian's.

"It's possible," Sheppard conceded. "But… they're not all bad people and, you know, if we're going to stick around here, we need friends."

"Okay, I see your point," Weir said. "Now you see mine: I will not authorize a rescue mission unless I am sure there is at least a remote chance of success. I'm not sending any more good people – including you – to their deaths."

"Okay," Sheppard. He nodded, walked back into the base past Sam.

"What would you have done?" Weir asked, still looking off at the distant horizon.

"He's very much like Colonel O'Neill," Sam said. "The same loyalties, the same fire. But he is right. Both of you are. I wouldn't have made any different argument if I had been asked to give my opinion."

"I'm asking," Weir said, staring across at her. "I'm civilian, a diplomat, a politician. I'm not military. If we do end up in a war here, I'm not sure how long I can continue to be leader."

"You think Sumner or Sheppard would take over? We'd have some sort of… coup?" Sam frowned. Sumner she could see doing something that half-assed, but not Sheppard. If only because he was too laid back. "Are you asking me what side I would be on?"

"I don't honestly know…" Weir turned to look out over the sea again. The breeze riffled through her dark hair. She really was a very lovely woman. Sam caught herself watching her, the same way she used to watch Janet. But that wasn't right. She loved Janet not this woman. She barely knew her… yet she had barely known Janet when she realized that she was in love with her. And their characters… intelligent, lively, committed, thoughtful, insightful… all things that drew Sam like a moth to a candle. No. This was wrong. She could never come to love anyone like she had loved Janet. But Janet was… Sam stood up suddenly. "I have to go, check on some things."

Weir gazed at her. "Of course." It seemed as if she was equally as uncomfortable with the turn of conversation. Sam realized that she would give over a great deal of money to know what the other woman was thinking.

Part 6

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