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 6

Samantha Carter had been marooned with the rest of the Atlantis Expedition in the Pegasus Galaxy for three months now and had just to say got used to the idea that death might not be imminent. Of course, this base kept trying to kill them and the Wraith were just waiting to suck the life out of them. And everyone they met seemed to have their own agenda. Whilst most were not enemies, they weren't exactly friends either. Yeah, things were so quiet around here that she almost missed the old days with SG1.

Sam had discovered that she preferred working on her own. She carried communication equipment with her and made sure she checked in at regular intervals and she knew that they could track her position if they really wanted or needed to. Bates didn't trust her but then Bates didn't trust anyone. Weir seemed content to let her work on her own, let her go out on these technology hunts in the outer reaches of the city. Bates had voiced his concerns to Weir on several occasions about the 'freedom' Sam was given. After one particularly acrimonious meeting Sam had confronted him directly.

"I am here to do a job, Bates, the same as you. I chose to do that outside the military. It was a personal decision."

"That's my problem, Doctor Carter. You're outside the command structure, you think yourself too good to follow standard protocols. I am in charge of the security of this base and it is my duty…"

"Do not quote duty to me…," She could hear the iron in her voice and Bates took a step back. "I served at the SGC for eight years. I did my duty every day. And I still serve here. I am not the threat you perceive me to be. I am just doing my job to the best of my ability in my own way. Now, if you will excuse me. I have work to do."

Dr Beckett had hesitated over giving her the injection that would activate any latent Ancient genes in her body enabling Sam to utilize Ancient technology. She could already activate Goa'uld technology of course, but other than the few items they had brought with them there was none of that here. Sam had argued fiercely about how useful it could be to her – to the expedition – if she could activate the technology she had been brought all this way to study. Bates was against it, reiterating once more his security concerns about her but Weir and Sheppard thought it was a good idea. Sheppard in particular was all for it. The more the merrier as far as he was concerned.

Carson Beckett had seen her medical history, had read Janet Fraiser's old reports. He knew that the changes to Sam's body that Jolinar's brief tenancy had wrought made her sensitive to the presence of naquada and Goa'uld symbiotes, and mild to severely intolerant of a number of foodstuffs and medications. He read about the sleep disturbances and nightmares she had suffered after her mind had been taken over by the Entity. He read about the nishta, the Blood of Sokar, the mind stamping, the repeated torture with a hand-device. He read about Urgo, Nem's brainwashing, the Caretaker's machine, the concussions, the radiation poisoning. He marveled at her endurance, her tenacity, her sheer spirit. And he had to question whether he was doing the right thing. He was not keen on making Samantha Carter's life any more difficult than it already was.

"Knowing you, I'm not surprised that you volunteered for this, Sam, but are you sure you've thought this through."

"Carson, you've explained it to me what… three, four times now. I've read your research papers… hell, I've even met the mouse whose DNA I'm getting!" She smiled up at him. "I couldn't be better informed. And I want to do this."

"You do realize that you are the first human trial."

"Yes," she said patiently, "and you also explained to me that this wasn't exactly an FDA approved procedure. I want to do this Dr Beckett. I need to do it." Huge blue eyes turned on him and he knew he was a goner. She had to know what effect that look had on people. The SGC had been divided on the issue. Some saw Sam Carter as an arch manipulator of people, particularly men, to get where she was and exactly what she wanted. But most saw her for what she was: a dedicated scientist and military officer who just happened to be a very beautiful and charismatic woman. The same mindsets were becoming apparent in Atlantis. Bates in particular had been vocal in his objections to Sam's role and 'freedoms' in research and development and to her participation in the genetic trials given her somewhat ambiguous status and suspected loyalties.

"… and the whole concept of gene therapy itself is still highly contentious. ATA is… experimental, revolutionary… I'm instructing various cells in your body to produce a series of proteins and enzymes that interact with your skin, your nervous system, your brain… I mean, I am manipulating your actual DNA, Sam… giving you DNA derived from a wee mouse of all things… making permanent changes here…"

"Carson… will you please calm down - especially when you're holding very large needles. I am okay with this… and its not like it's the first time my DNA's been messed with. At least this time it's my choice. And if I start to develop any side effects… like sudden cravings for cheese," she grinned at the doctor. "I'm sure you'll be the first to know."

"Okay, I just wanted to make absolutely certain you had all the facts." Quickly and efficiently he prepared her for the injection. "Here we go…"

She didn't feel different. Her knowledge of Ancient hadn't suddenly improved, she still could not leap tall buildings in a single bound. There was none of the seductive sense of invulnerability that had come with the Atoniek armbands. Yet within an hour Sam found she could activate and operate Ancient technology. There seemed to be no side effects worth mentioning. Her fellow scientists were soon badgering Dr Beckett to let them have the injection as well. As it turned out, the gene therapy only took in about 48% of cases. Dr Beckett was still trying to identify exactly why.

Elizabeth Weir was still annoyed with herself for allowing Bates's paranoia to influence her dealings with the Athosians and make her question her belief in Dr Carter.

But the safety of the base and its personnel was her immediate concern and she could not allow her personal feelings for either woman get in the way of that. Major Sheppard was very vocal in his complaints about the treatment of 'his' team members and in his support for and belief in both women.

"We're talking about Teyla and Sam here…"

"I don't like it either," Elizabeth pressed her palms to the briefing notes on the table in front of her. "but the undeniable fact of the matter is that the Wraith have shown up on the last five of the nine planets your team has visited and given the fact that two of those worlds were unpopulated we can pretty much assume that they have been alerted to your missions by someone on this base."

"If someone on this base was communicating with the Wraith… then why hasn't Atlantis been attacked?" Sheppard asked.

"The distances involved… perhaps they just haven't got here yet. And they know the City is protected which is why they haven't just Gated here," Bates said. Weir nodded. It was the most reasonable explanation.

They were still digesting this when Bates suggested "Maybe we should just stop using the Stargate indefinitely."

"We can't do that…," Sheppard protested. "We need to find the ZPMs to power this place."

"Things seem to be running fine right now," Bates countered.

Sheppard smirked. "Okay… when the Wraith do show up – and they will – how do we defend ourselves?"

"Or for that matter, how do we get back to Earth?" Weir said. "This is the only Stargate in the Pegasus Galaxy that can even reach earth… and if it comes to that we're going to have to use the self destruct before the Wraith take the city."

"Bottom line – we need to use the Gate," Sheppard said.

"Then we've got to find out who's responsible ASAP. I suggest we start by confining all non-base personnel to the south side of the complex."

Sheppard snorted in disbelief. "Are you kidding?"

"That's the absolute minimum we should do," Bates said. "If Colonel Sumner was still here…"

"He's not," Sheppard said sharply. "I am."

Bates stiffened, sharp dislike plain in his eyes. "Yes sir."

"We're not going to start treating anyone like prisoners…" Elizabeth said.

"Well, that's good." Sheppard watched her keenly. She would not meet his gaze.

"That said, steps should be taken to safeguard the more sensitive areas of this facility. It's only reasonable."

"I recommend that no go zones start with Stargate Operations, the labs, power generation and the Jumper Bay…" Bates began. He had obviously prepared in advance for this.

"You're going to ban Dr Carter from the areas that are basically only running because of her expertise!" Sheppard exploded. "Just how stu-"

"I'd like to meet with every Athosian on this base. I mean they've been here three months… I only know a handful of them by name," Weir said, ignoring Sheppard's statement for the moment.

"I could start setting up interviews as soon as we're done here…" Bates said. "And Dr Carter…"

"As far as I'm concerned Dr Carter hasn't done or said anything that warrants any suspicion being placed on her," Weir said. "And Major Sheppard is right, banning her from those areas that are largely only running due to her expertise does seem a little… extreme at this time." Sheppard grinned at that, his grin fading a little as Elizabeth held up her hand in warning. "However, I do appreciate your concerns, and I would be willing to authorize discreet monitoring of Dr Carter's activities. Discreet monitoring." She glared at Bates who nodded.

"Yes, Dr Weir. Reports will be for your eyes only."

"And in the mean time…all gate travel is suspended. Until further notice."

Sheppard waited until Bates had left the room. "I can't believe you're doing this. Sam Carter is no spy. And you know it."

"Of course I know it. And when his surveillance shows that, then so will Bates. It's the only way to solve this without a direct confrontation that could split this base wide open," Elizabeth said. "I just hope Sam understands why I had to do this."

As soon as she heard what had happened with the Athosians, Sam went to see Teyla.  The Athosian leader surprised her by saying that in Weir's place she would have undertaken exactly the same precautions – though she refused to believe that any Athosian could possibly be spying for the Wraith.

"I know each and every one of them.  I would stake my life on their innocence,"  Teyla said.  "Bates is the kind of man to fear what he does not understand, cannot control.  That makes him dangerous.  But as long as he is not in a position of power, then he is just a voice."  She reached out, took Sam's hand.  Sam was surprised at the physical contact but did not draw away as she might once have done.  "You need to be careful of him as well, Sam.  He neither likes you nor trusts you.  He wanted you placed under an even more restrictive curfew than we Athosians.  He is still watching you."

"Then he's going to be sorely disappointed and probably very bored," Sam smiled, trying to portray a confidence she did not entirely feel.  "I do my work, Teyla.  I try to figure out all this Ancient Technology enough to keep the station going and keep everyone safe.  I eat and I sleep – and not enough of either of the latter two to please Dr Beckett or Dr Weir. That's pretty much it. I don't have the time or to be honest the energy for anything else."

"Elizabeth trusts you… most everyone trusts you, Sam, knows we'd all be dead a couple of times already without you," Teyla said.  "But these are perilous times. And your people are very afraid of the Wraith. Promise me that you'll be careful, Sam."

Bates went to see Dr Cavanaugh.  He had confiscated Teyla's kit bag containing the few personal items she had been able to save from her homeworld. 

"You want me to go through her stuff," Cavanaugh looked with barely concealed contempt at the array of apparently primitive objects that had suddenly appeared on his workbench. 

"We're looking for weapons, transmitters, recording devices… anything that looks like its beyond the Athosian level of technology."

Cavanaugh nodded his understanding.  "You don't want me to tell Dr Carter or Dr Zelenka about this, I take it. And if I find anything I report directly to you?"

"That's right," Bates smiled.  "This is a security concern after all."

He went to leave then paused.  Cavanaugh looked at him expectantly.

"Is there any way to rig the internal sensors to keep tabs on one particular individual?"

"There should be, yes. We already know that the sensors can differentiate between those with the Ancient gene and those who don't have it." Cavanaugh was one of the few on the scientific team who had refused to even try Dr Beckett's gene therapy.

"If that person, say, had naquada in their system…" Bates said.

Cavanaugh's eyes gleamed. Once he heard Rodney McKay had rethought his participation in the expedition he had expected to be named overall head of the science team. It had come as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the disgraced former Major had been named head of the team in McKay's stead. He had had a few run-ins with the woman before at the SGC before her fall from favour. It had not escaped his notice that Bates had bypassed Dr Carter completely to come to him with this. It would be his pleasure to bring that arrogant bitch down a peg or two. "That would be very easy to rig," he said. "And to arrange that only your console would receive the data."

Bates smiled thinly. "Good. Let me know when it's done."

As it turned out, they had been compromised but not in the way that Bates had envisaged. Elizabeth Weir was also disconcerted to discover that Bates had bypassed both Dr Carter and herself and gone straight to Dr Cavanaugh when he was checking Teyla's belongings. She had had discipline problems with that particular scientist before now and she knew that Sam Carter had also had problems with him. Elizabeth tried to tell herself that it was paranoid to worry about an alliance between the two disaffected men.

Even though Teyla had apparently saved Lieutenant Ford's life on the last mission through the gate she was still treated with suspicion on their return. Cavanaugh had made his report to Bates. With the post-mission briefing underway, Bates made his move.

"I'd like to put Teyla in custody. I have proof that she is the one that has been informing the Wraith of our movements." He signaled the two officers stationed at the door who came forward and prepared to take Teyla into custody before Sheppard curtly told them to stand down. Sam had also stood up, ready to defend Teyla if necessary. Teyla's gentle touch on her arm conveyed her thanks for that and also let her know it was unnecessary. Sam nodded, took her seat again, her eyes not leaving Bates.

"What proof?" Dr Weir said, her dark eyes wide. She had just about convinced herself of Teyla's innocence.

"The pendant she wears contains a tracking device. As soon as she walks through the Gate the Wraith can pick up on her signal. They know exactly where we are."

"And just how did you work this out?" Sheppard asked.

"I ordered Dr Cavanaugh to check her belongings, looking for alien technology," Bates said. "And he found it, as I suspected he would."

"Dr Cavanaugh… I see. So this whole 'following protocol and chain of command' speech that you gave me only applies when its convenient," Sam said bitingly.

"You really are a piece of work," Sheppard snarled at Bates. "Did you authorize this?" he turned on Elizabeth.

"I did not," Elizabeth said. "But it's done, John, and now we have to deal with it. This tracking device – where was it found?"

"Concealed in a pendant. Teyla often wears it. It's a transmitter, it's been broadcasting a continuous signal. According to Cavanaugh he wouldn't even have noticed it if he hadn't been looking for it specifically."

"Her father gave it to her when she was a child. She lost it, for years… oh god, I gave it to her. I found it… the first time we met. Teyla took me to the old ruins. That was half buried in dirt… I picked it up. I gave it to her…" He stared at Teyla. "I gave it to you…"

"I lost it years ago," Teyla confirmed.

"You activated it…" Sam said, staring at Sheppard. "When you touched it… the Ancient Gene. It's not interested in Teyla or her people. It's interested in you."

"According to Dr Cavanaugh, the locket isn't powerful enough to send a signal very far… certainly not through subspace," Bates said.

"There are probably relay devices that pick up the transmission and alert the nearest hive ship," Sheppard said. He took a step closer to Bates. "I think you owe a few people an apology."

"Time enough for that later," Elizabeth handed the locket back to Teyla. "Teyla, I want you and Dr Carter to work with Dr Cavanaugh, see what else you can discover about this thing's properties." The two women nodded and left the meeting.

Bates stared after them. "This might clear the Athosians but I still have my suspicions about Dr Carter's activities," he said. "She has not filed any reports or updates on her activity or whereabouts in the city for several days." He wasn't quite ready to tell Weir and Sheppard just how closely he was monitoring Dr Carter's activity.

"That's her job, Bates. She's head of the science department and one of the best minds we've got. She's not required to report to anyone – least of all you - until she sees fit to," Sheppard said. "Sergeant, has anyone ever told you that you're paranoid? Now if you would stop chasing shadows, you might understand that we can use this Wraith tracking device to our advantage…"

With the Athosians relocated to the mainland by their own request, the Base was certainly a lot quieter. Bates was still certain that the Wraith had some sort of spy or intelligence network amongst the Athosians though he wasn't quite so vocal in his distrust of Teyla since he had witnessed first hand just how good her hand to hand skills were.

Sam had accompanied Sheppard's team on several missions and had come to value the young woman's insights and friendship. One thing they disagreed on, however, was Sam's love-life or lack of it. Teyla was firmly of the opinion that Sam should declare her intentions to Elizabeth Weir.

Sam had submitted a proposal to set up a couple of remote weather stations at key points on the mainland. She had plans for a satellite network as well, but that was for the future. Weir granted her proposal and Sam requisitioned the necessary equipment and a puddlejumper. Teyla was supposed to be accompanying her for the whole trip but was easily persuaded to spend a few days with the Athosians instead. Sam would pick her up on the way back to the Atlantis Base. Teyla took advantage of the short trip to the Athosian camp to ask again when Sam was going to do something about her feelings for Elizabeth. "What are your intentions, Samantha?"

"I don't have any intentions towards Elizabeth… she's a friend, that's all. As are you."

Teyla had just smiled. Sam had spent the night at the Athosian camp before heading out on her trip. As on Earth, Sam loved watching the night sky. Teyla had told her the Athosian names and legends for the constellations that were visible.

Many of the designations and legends attached to the combinations of stars had a familiar ring to them: the hunter, the huntress, the horse, the keba (a bear-like creature native to the Athosian home world), the lovers. Teyla took great delight in telling Sam that the lovers were both female and had she yet expressed her intentions towards Dr Weir.

"Teyla!" Sam blushed. "I'm not… looking for anyone in that way. A few years ago I lost someone whom I loved very much. I can't think of anyone else in that way, not yet, maybe not ever."

"Your lover demanded this fidelity from you even beyond death?" Teyla frowned.

"No… she… Janet… she would never have asked anything like that from me. She was one of the kindest, gentlest people… I suppose I demand it from myself," Sam said softly.

"But you do like Elizabeth," Teyla persisted. "We Athosians do not hide such things. I suspect it has much to do with our history with the Wraith. One could never tell how long it would be before they would come cull their herd again. Do not hesitate too long, Samantha."

"Teyla, I don't even know if she feels the same way… any way about me," Sam lied. She knew she was socially inept sometimes, but she wasn't blind. Elizabeth Weir liked her – more than liked her. Of that Sam was certain. But the uncertainties of their life in the Pegasus Galaxy that made Teyla urge her to confront her feelings made Sam all the more certain that holding back was the right thing to do. Losing Janet had almost destroyed her. The thought of becoming close to someone only to lose her again… no, she could not take that risk. It was better this way.

And she had the nagging, unfounded feeling that Janet was still out there somewhere.

"She watches you," Teyla said softly. "Even when she's not looking at you. You just have to move or speak and you have her absolute attention in that moment. When you are offworld Elizabeth will not leave the control room until she is assured that you are safe. When you have argued or she has had to reprimand you she is saddened until you have spoken again and you have shown you bear her no ill will. She worries that you work too hard, that you do not eat nor sleep sufficiently for your continued health and that you are not happy here. She fears you think you made a grave mistake in joining the expedition."

"And you watch her too, Sam… until you realize what you are doing and look away. You value her opinion, her approval of you. Of all the people in Atlantis, she is the one you seek out…"

Teyla was absolutely right of course. And three days alone with her thoughts in the puddlejumper had led Sam to some interesting conclusions. She had been uncomfortable with being so isolated at first. It reminded her too much of the weeks she had spent traveling to Hala which set her to thinking about Rose and wondering how she was doing and from there to Daniel and Teal'c, and Cassie and her dad and Jack and of course, Janet. And remembering her feelings for Janet led her to consider her growing feelings for Elizabeth and almost acknowledging that Teyla might be right after all. Elizabeth… intrigued her. She was the kind of woman to whom Sam was naturally attracted: intelligent, attractive, independent, exceptional. Just like Janet…

Sam had just checked in with the Atlantis base, confirmed that they were receiving telemetry from the second station and that following a brief stopover with the Athosians to pick up Teyla and a consignment of fresh vegetables she would be heading back to base. Sam was sitting on the back ramp of the 'jumper, nursing a mug of coffee, a half eaten sandwich at her side. Her vantage point looked along the length of the river valley, purple and grey shadows moving across the land, following the contours. The sky above was darkening to violet, stars just beginning to be visible, including the constellation Teyla had told her about: the female lovers Aroon and Sela. Janet would have loved that story.

Suddenly she could smell Janet's favourite brand of coffee (very different from the sludge she was currently drinking) and a few moments later Janet appeared from the back of the jumper, coming to sit on the ramp beside her, nursing a mug of coffee and looking up at the night sky.

"So, you intend never to love again. You're going to live the rest of your life as a hermit."

"I don't know… I might. It might be…"


"I was going to say safer. For everyone else. Black Widow… remember?"

"Don't give me that old crap," Janet said fiercely. "People die whether you love them or not. I was a doctor, remember. I know death. You are not personally responsible for every death that happens, for every life that is lost. You live your life in a warzone after all. The probability is that some of those who die are those you care about. I died because I was doing my job. Not because of you."

"That doesn't make it any easier…"

"That's the truth isn't it. It's not just that people die. It's that you lose them. You're afraid to let yourself love again because you don't want to feel the pain of loss."

"You want the truth, Janet? The truth is that when you died I wished I had died as well! There are still days when I feel that."

"I never thought you were a coward, Sam."

"You… you can't say that to me! You know me! Hell, you are me. You're a figment of my imagination. I… I…" Sam squeezed her eyes tightly shut. "I don't want this. I don't want to do this again. For gods sake, leave me the hell alone!"

There was silence. The sharp smell of coffee faded from the air. Sam opened her eyes. Janet was gone. She was alone. Pulling her knees up until she could rest her forehead on them, Sam curled in on herself and wept.

The side effects of the gene therapy that Sam didn't think were worth mentioning to Dr Beckett were increasingly vivid dreams, sometimes relating to Jolinar's nested memories, sometimes her own, sometimes nothing and nowhere she could identify. They were vivid, almost lucid. She had managed to walk her dream self away a couple of times when she recognized that the dream was about to enter territory she really did not want to revisit.

And then there was the sleep walking.

Sam wasn't sure if she realized what was happening the first time it had happened or the fifth or the tenth. She woke up standing by one of the windows looking out over the ocean, her hands pressed so hard against the crystal glass that her palms had gone numb. She was calling Janet's name, her cheeks wet with tears. She had wandered out of the populated areas of Atlantis but she recognized where she was, more or less. She had reconnoitered here a day or two previously. The room was full of equipment whose purpose they had not yet fully identified. It wasn't set up as a lab, they had no real idea yet what its function had been. Wiping the tears from her cheek with her sleeve she let her fingers trail across one of the panels which began to glow at her touch. This was as far as they ever got. Then, to her growing astonishment a row of symbols appeared. It almost looked like a Gate Address but there were ten symbols instead of the usual seven, eight or nine.

The wall opposite the device was made of a mineral that she had not been able to identify, one that they had so far not found anywhere else on the base or in all their travels through the gate. That in herself intrigued her. It could just be decorative but Sam intuitively believed the wall obviously had a purpose beyond its obvious existence. She just hadn't figured out what that was yet. The surface was highly polished, enough that she could see her reflection in it. 'Through a glass darkly…' she thought. She looked like a ghost.

It was obvious why Weir and Dr Beckett were fussing over her so often, why Bates thought she was a nut job. She looked like someone holding on to reality by their bare fingertips. The fact that she was currently in her pyjamas and her hair was everywhichway didn't help.

Sam could not remember the last time she had really looked at herself. Even though she knew she was considered attractive, even beautiful (Janet had told her she was beautiful every day that they were together) she had never been vain about her looks, preferring practicality over fashion with regards to her hair style, her use of cosmetics. Living in BDUs took care of the perennial question of what to wear. Sam Carter was heart and soul a soldier, had believed that her career would always be first and foremost in her life. Until the day she met Janet Fraiser. However, even though she no longer had to conform to a dress code or military discipline, her appearance had not changed that much. The one big change that everyone who had known her before commented on was her hair. She had not had her hair cut since Janet died letting it grow out, normally braiding it or tying it back when she working. At the moment it was loose, hanging past her shoulders in thick waves of cornsilk. The weight she had lost whilst she was… away she had not put back on. Her face was so gaunt, her pale eyes seemed even larger than usual. Her hands were still resting lightly on the panels as she stared at her reflection, her long fingers curiously fragile. The glassy surface seemed to cloud slightly and then she was staring at Janet.

Sam realized quickly that this must be a representation of the Janet that Fifth had promised to create. There was no way that her Janet would have been quite so blasé about the proximity of a Replicator bug. This Janet was seated at what looked like a workbench. She was wearing what appeared to be dark brown leather trousers and a leather jacket that was open showing some sort of white or pale coloured bodysuit underneath that accentuated her toned body, her full breasts. She looked… perfect. Janet was putting together a device, her deft fingers sure, moving with preternatural speed and accuracy, her face set in a slight frown of concentration. Sam smiled. Of course, if this 'Janet' existed, she would have all of Sam's skills and knowledge at her disposal as well as her 'own' memories and abilities. And she was not human, but a Replicator, empowered by Kiron energy able to transmute and mold metals just by touching them.

It hurt so much to see her. Sam breathed out, sobbing involuntarily and Janet's head rose as if she had heard her. Had she? Could she? Was this some sort of communication device? Or was it an image created from her imagination. She had never quite believed in the existence of the 'RepliJanet'. She had certainly hallucinated Janet enough times in various guises since the woman's death. The idea, the act of creating a Janet who would never die… She had no evidence that the Replicators could even create a facsimile of a real person. But if they could… if Fifth had done as she asked… And she seemed so real.


"Sam?" Janet put down the device she was building and looked around. A Replicator bug chattered in alarm. Frowning, Janet focused on an area of space somewhere in front of her. "Sam?"

"Yes, it's me… I'm here. I can see you. Can you see me?"

"Not exactly. The air is rippling, like a heat haze. Where are you? How are we able to communicate like this?"

"I'm in the Pegasus Galaxy. On the Atlantis Base. I think it's a bit of Ancient technology, obviously some form of long-range communicator."

"You found the Lost City?"

"Not yet, though this once was a major Base of the Ancients."

"Amazing…" Sam watched as Janet reached out to touch something she could not see. "Oh… oh – I can see you now! Sam… why are you in your pyjama's?"

"Long story… it doesn't matter… this is amazing – unless this is a dream of course."

"I don't dream," Sam knew she wasn't imagining the note of regret in Janet's voice. Do you dream of me?"

"Every night, love." She had no doubt in her heart that this was her Janet in every way that mattered. She had always been better at accepting this sort of thing than Jack O'Neill who in their encounters with alternate reality doppelgangers, androids and clones had always insisted on the preeminence of his own existence. As Teal'c might have put it: this personal reality was the only one of consequence.

"I only know what it is like to dream from what I have seen in your thoughts, your memories. I do not fully understand its function."

"Nor do we."

They stared at each other in silence for a long moment. "Is your child, your daughter with you where you are?"

"No. She's on Earth, with her father, and Cassie."

"You must miss her very much."

It was easier to lie. "Yes." They gazed at each other a little longer. "How is this possible?" Sam asked softly. "I was dreaming about you before I woke up here. I was searching for you, sleep walking, I think. Or am I still dreaming?"

"And you have found me," Janet said. "Not that you ever really lost me. I do not remember dying but I have your memories of the event, of the film that Daniel took, of the memorial service and the words that you spoke. You were in so much pain. You still are."

"I keep thinking its getting better. There are whole… hours, where I don't think about you. Then something will happen and I'll think that I must remember to tell you about that and it just washes over me." Her legs gave out on her, she slid to the floor, resting against the console. "I miss you so much, Janet. Will it ever stop hurting?"

"I can't answer that, Sam, you know that," Janet said softly. "I'm not… your Janet anymore, not in that way."

"I left you behind again, didn't I," Sam sobbed. "Just as surely as I left you to die on '666."

"Don't think like that, Sam. You made sure that I was safe, that I had a chance of life. And on '666 you were doing your job – and so was I."

"You said that to me last time… in the shuttle. I didn't believe it then…," Sam drew in a deep shuddering breath. She was getting a headache. The mirrored surface in front of her darkened suddenly, Janet's image blurring and then dissipating in a shower of sparkles and then all she could see was herself.

Sam blinked, dazed and nauseated. She was sitting on the floor at the base of the console, facing the wall. Had she dreamt it? She had hallucinated conversations with Janet so many times, in substance this had been little different except that this was the Janet Fifth had promised to create, not the Janet she had lost on '666. Was that progress? She did not know…

In truth she did not know what to believe. She pulled herself to her feet. The panel was in darkness. Nothing activated when she touched it. There were no symbols visible, no sign that there ever had been. The wall remained enigmatic, reflecting only her own frustration. That was it then. She had imagined the whole thing.

Sam worked with Dr Beckett to study the live Wraith that Sheppard's team had captured using Teyla's pendant as bait. He fascinated and repelled her at the same time. Looking at his pale almost reptilian appearance she was reminded of her first glimpse of the pale ghostly flesh of Anubis's Kull warriors. Beckett had determined that they were exceptionally long-lived, had superior regenerative qualities and had confirmed what every encounter with them to date had shown: they were incredibly difficult to kill.

He seemed equally fascinated by her. "You do not smell the same as the others," he said. "Are you a different species?"

He must be able to detect the naquada that contaminated her body, Sam thought to herself. "I'm pretty much the same as everyone else round here," she said, not meeting his gaze. As she passed closer to the cage, the Wraith tried to make a grab for her. She did not even flinch, trusting that the Ancient shields would do their job.

"Your kind is persistent. I would have thought you'd given up by now. It does not matter, my brothers and I will still feast upon you when we come make our harvest here," the Wraith sneered. "And all that you think you have learned of us from your tests and your tricks will be for nothing."

"It has been ten days to our knowledge since you last fed. How long can you go without food?" Sam asked. "The injuries you inflicted upon yourself in your last escape attempt haven't properly healed, Dr Beckett noticed. Are you in any pain?"

The Wraith turned away from her. "You waste your time… I'll provide you with no information. You think you have won a victory by my capture but by bringing me here you've only hastened your own doom. It's only a matter of time before the others of my kind come to rescue me… and when they do… there will be no where in this world you can hide."

"Okay," Sam said. After nine years of posturing Goa'uld System Lords, one disgruntled Wraith was just not that impressive. Even less so when he had been named 'Steve' by Major Sheppard.

"When I am free you will be the first that I feed upon," 'Steve' gloated. "Though you will make poor eating."

"Sorry, I can't meet your dietary requirements," Sam said. And in a way she was. The Wraith did not consume anything else. Their captive faced slow starvation. Janet would have done everything in her power to save him. But she was not Janet. She could not afford to be his advocate here.

Sam did not return to the room for three days and three nights. She tried very hard to put the whole experience out of her mind. Then on the fourth night she woke with Janet calling her name. She looked up. The mirrored wall shimmered in front of her, Janet reaching out as if to touch her but that was impossible.

"What happened… It's been days!" the small woman complained. "I was worried."

"I'm not sure…" Sam said. "I couldn't get it to work, again… I didn't believe it was real. I thought I had dreamt it. I was afraid I guess, I thought I had finally lost it. Gone mad," she clarified. She pulled herself to her feet, glanced at the panel. Another string of ten symbols glowed, nine of the symbols were the same as last time, the tenth was not. Her mind began to put together some theories.

"I don't know how to convince you that this is real," Janet said. "And that you are one of the sanest people I know." She smiled, that heartbreakingly sweet smile that Sam remembered so well. A shadow fell across her for a moment, something moving just out of Sam's vision.

"What was that?" Sam asked.

"Oh, just Fifth… he's curious about this phenomena, he's never seen anything like it before," Janet said. She beckoned and Fifth came to stand beside her, his round, boyish face wreathed in smiles.

"Hello Samantha," he frowned, glanced at Janet. "I still don't see or hear her."

"I can see and hear him," Sam said. "I wonder…" She concentrated her mind for a moment, *Can you still hear me, Janet?*

Janet's expressive eyes rounded in wonder. *I still hear you. This isn't any ordinary communication channel is it?*

"No," Sam answered aloud. She was starting to feel light headed again. "Where are you, Janet? Are you on a ship?"

"Yes… we're on the edge of Goa'uld space at the moment. Since Anubis was destroyed there is chaos among the System Lords. We're… scavenging, I suppose…"

"One of the glyphs was different… a change in position…" Sam frowned, trying to think it through before the dizziness overwhelmed her. "I think…"

She opened her eyes, her head still throbbing with pain. She could taste blood and there was a smear of it across her top lip. She hoped that she had just hit her face when she lost consciousness again. She really hoped that it wasn't a sign that this communication was actually damaging her.

"I'm worried about her," Weir said. "She hasn't been the same since the incident with Keras's people."

"I think she scared herself badly," Sheppard said. "She got so blinkered in her search for a viable power source that she just… forgot that it was the only protection those kids had from the Wraith. Of course she wasn't to know that that trophy corpse they had in their shrine still had an active beacon, but…"

"General O'Neill told me a story about something that happened the third year of the Stargate programme. A team, SG10 gated to a world which was unfortunately caught up in a forming black hole whilst they were there. They managed to open the Gate but the gravitational effects and time distortion made it impossible for them to gate back. But the SGC had a perfect view via the MALP of the team trying to make contact. Sam wanted to study the anomaly, said they would never have as good an opportunity again. O'Neill took her down, reminded her that all they were doing was watching good men die. Once it hit her what she'd done, the General said she looked as if she had killed the men herself. It really struck her hard. I think she just got a repeat of that wake-up call. I think he told me that story to warn me not to allow her to put herself in that position again."

"Too late," Weir said softly.

Sam shuddered. "I don't know if I can do this anymore. I'm not safe. I nearly…"

"You are not making much sense. What happened?"

"Remember P3W-451 - the incident with the black hole and SG10? Remember my stupid desire to study the phenomena, just happening to forget we were watching good men die?"

"I remember."

"I nearly did it again." She winced, her eyes wide and dark. O'Neill's voice was very clear in her head, that whole conversation where a year or more's progress with the man who 'hated' scientists was lost in one thoughtless sentence...

"Sir. By some fluke of Stargate technology, we are witnessing something that the laws of physics say we can't possibly witness.

We are witnessing good men die in slow motion, Captain."

"We went to a planet today, looking for an active powersource, a ZPM… an energy field protecting the planet knocked out our power, forced us down. We were captured by the natives… by children to be honest. They had a law, almost a religious precept – once you reached your twenty fifth birthday you voluntarily ended your life – a crude but effective form of population control…

"The shield was powered by a ZPM… I took it, I thought they would be safe. The Wraith were no where near. I didn't know… You see, hundreds of years before a Wraith ship had been downed, the Wraith on board killed. His body was hung up in some sort of shrine. His locator beacon was still active but suppressed by the shield. When I took the ZPM…"

"The beacon activated and the Wraith came," Janet said quietly.

"Yes… only one though, a scout ship… I got the shield working again before anyone was taken, before anyone was killed. But it had to be pointed out to me that I had done the wrong thing. I mean, they didn't even know that the shield existed they thought that the power of the sacrifice they made every time someone reached twenty five and took their own life was enough to keep them safe from the Wraith. If it hadn't been for the locator beacon they could have been safe for years… And you know what the really ironic thing is? It turns out that the shield device was designed specifically for their planet. Its energy signature wasn't compatible with the systems on Atlantis. And the ZPM was a bust - it was pretty much depleted anyway. While it was good enough to power their shield for a good few hundred years yet, with a lot of modification which may or may not of worked it would have powered Atlantis for six-eight hours tops. And I almost condemned several thousand children to death because of that…"

"Presumably Sheppard knew what you had done – you must have cleared it with him. Even if you're not military any more Sam…"

"I still think that way, yes. I cleared it with Sheppard. But he had his eye on the prize as well. And I kinda presented him with a fait acompli – I had already removed the ZPM and deactivated the shield. Teyla thought we were being reckless, even before we knew about the locator device. Anyway, it doesn't matter… I knew – I should have known goddamnit that what I was doing was wrong. They were children… just children." She paused, remembering Cleya and Casta who had been assigned to watch the 'full growns', how easy it had been to divert them with chocolate. Children were the same whatever galaxy you were in. "I thought if the worst came to the worst we could just ship 'em back to Atlantis, let them share the mainland with the Athosians."

"You returned the ZPM… you reactivated their shield," Janet said. "They're safe now. And you stopped the cleansing ceremonies. Cleya and Casta and all those other children will hopefully live to a ripe old age now, protected from the Wraith."

"Elizabeth was so angry – she called me 'morally superior'. She was also the one that recognized that the 'sacrifices' were a crude but effective form of population control: the shield only covered a finite area of the planet. They were moments away from being wiped out by the Wraith..."

There was a clicking sound just behind her ear. She looked up reflexively and saw Bates glaring down at her. Janet's image in the wall fractured and faded and she felt the now familiar pain across her temples.

"Dr Carter, you will come with me please. You need to answer some questions."

She was too dazed to answer back, too dazed to resist as she was hauled to her feet and her wrists were secured behind her back. She was taken to the brig.


Part 7

Everything that was good in her life was taken away eventually. And there was nothing she could do about it. She had earned the soubriquet "Black Widow". Always she fell into the trap, she allowed herself to think that this time it would work this time it would be forever. This time was no different. Slowly, surely she allowed herself to believe. Stolen moments with Janet that were for her and her alone. It did not matter whether it was real or some Ancient-created fantasy. All people noticed was that she seemed happier, more rested, at peace with herself. One or two even told her to her face that they were glad she seemed to be doing better.

As collectively they faced up to their exile, to the uncertainties of life alongside a potent enemy such as the wraith, they were beginning to pull together as a community. Sam knew that she had made true friends here, Elizabeth and Teyla, Zelenka and Grodin, Major Sheppard. Sometimes she almost believed she could have back something of her life as it was before Janet's death. Sometimes.

It had reached its logical conclusion. She was sitting in a detention cell, accused of being a Wraith Collaborator. How could she explain what she was doing in that room, why she had not reported it all these weeks? Who she was talking to night after night? Bates hadn't questioned her, yet. She supposed that Elizabeth wanted to be there when it happened. Sam almost wished that Bates had disregarded Dr Weir's wishes and just tackled her on his own. Anything would be better than seeing the disappointment in Elizabeth's eyes.

Hours passed. She tried to think it through, to reason to herself why she had acted as she had, why she hadn't reported her find. Rationalising to herself the fragile hope that this was real that somewhere out there Janet Fraiser was alive and well.

Sam was interviewed in Weir's office after spending the remainder of the night in a containment cell.

"Major… Dr Car… Sam, please, tell me, what is going on?"

"I think I've found an Ancient's communications device," Sam said.

"You THINK… what do you mean?" Bates said.

"I mean… I'm not sure if it's real, that I'm really communicating with her or whether it's… whether I'm imagining it…" Sam whispered. She felt more than disconnected. All she wanted to do was go back to the room. Preferably with a witness. If no one else could see it then that would be fairly conclusive. She was losing it. "I mean even I can't get it to work every time, there's some process that's… elusive."

"Is that why you haven't reported your discovery?" Weir asked. Sam nodded mutely.

"Dr Cavanaugh is still examining the device," Bates said. "He hasn't been able to replicate what we saw."

Replicate. Dazedly Sam found that funny. She started to giggle despite herself. Bates brought his fist down hard on the table, the noise shockingly loud in the small room, startling Sam back into silence.

Bates leaned forward. "Exactly who have you been communicating with, Dr Carter? The Wraith?" He still thought she was a Wraith collaborator.

"Janet… I think it was Janet." She rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes which were stinging. It came away wet. She realized she was crying. She'd done too much of that lately.

"Janet… do you mean Dr Fraiser?" Weir looked troubled. Both Bates and Dr Beckett had come to her from vastly different viewpoints with their worries about Dr Carter's fragile mental state over the last few months and she was familiar with the woman's medical and psychological history. Weir knew well enough that Dr Fraiser had been dead for more than two years. The repercussions from the doctor's death had marked the start of her own involvement with the Stargate programme.

"Yes," Sam said softly. She realized that she was going to have to tell the whole story for the first time, but not if she could help it to Bates. Elizabeth Weir though, she thought she might be able to tell Elizabeth.

"Something happened to me whilst I was AWOL. Something deeply personal. Something that I have not spoken of before," she said, meeting Weir's gaze for the first time. "I will tell you everything but… in private." She looked at Bates not bothering to hide her dislike of the man. "Not in front of him."

"Dr Weir… this is obviously a security matter…" Bates began.

"Let me be the judge of that," Weir said. "If there are any security issues to be resolved then I will inform you afterwards. You may go now."

With ill-concealed irritation, Bates got up and left the room. Elizabeth leant forward, took Sam's hand in hers. "Take as long as you need, Sam," she said softly.

The friendly tone and gesture brought tears to Sam's eyes. She did not expect, did not deserve this trust, not from this woman. Again and again Elizabeth Weir reached out to her, again and again Sam drew back at the last moment.

"You know from the investigation into my disappearance that I was with the Asgard for several months, as Loki's prisoner. He intended to experiment on me, on my unborn child as a continuation of his cloning experiments on humans. I also had in my possession genetic samples from Janet. He wanted to experiment on them as well. He was very interested when he discovered that she also had the latent Ancient's gene…"

"Why did you have samples of Janet Fraiser's DNA with you?" Elizabeth asked.

"I wanted the Asgard to create a clone of Janet, to bring her back, not just for me, for all of us. We needed her so badly, everything was falling apart. I thought… I went to Supreme Commander Thor first, but he refused to help. What he did do was give me the means to find Loki."

"That would mean that Thor lied to us about your whereabouts," Elizabeth said slowly. "General O'Neill asked Supreme Commander Thor to help search for you on several occasions. He was always informed that the Asgard had no knowledge of your whereabouts and could not spare the time to do a more detailed search."

"Let's just say that I discovered that the Asgard have been less than truthful with us about many things," Sam said, her voice faltering. "Thor provided me with a ship and the co-ordinates to where Loki was being held under what we would term 'house arrest'. I went there with the intention of asking for the same thing I had asked Thor: for Loki to create a clone of Janet Fraiser. With Loki, I knew I could not count on his relationship with SG1 to ask for it as a favour as I might have been able to with Thor, that I would have to offer something of equal worth in exchange…" Her palms were sweating, she rubbed them against her trousers. Elizabeth got up, went to a side table and poured them both glasses of water. Sam drank half of it down in one draught then cradled the glass in her hands.

"What did you offer him, Sam?" she prompted.

"By then I knew I was pregnant. I offered it to Loki… the foetus I was carrying. Loki was obsessed with Jack O'Neill, with the potential encoded in his DNA. I was carrying his child. I offered him my unborn daughter for my lover's return."

Elizabeth Weir was rendered speechless by this revelation. It was difficult to equate such an apparently callous act with the woman she thought she knew. It spoke volumes as to the desperate need, the almost insane obsession that had gripped the former soldier. "That's… you must have been in great emotional pain to make such an offer, such a sacrifice," she said gently. "I know you're not a monster, Sam…"

"Are you so sure?" Sam asked, her voice raw with desperation. "I'm not… I was prepared to do it. I wanted to do it. I had blinded myself to the repercussions, the implications, the simple morality of it. I had to have Janet Fraiser back in my life and that end justified any means. I… I've been accused of callousness before, of losing my perspective for the sake of scientific discovery." Both women remembered their confrontation of a few weeks previously. "It's a lesson I don't seem able to learn."

"Did you have sexual relations with General O'Neill with the intent of becoming pregnant with his child?" Elizabeth asked.

"No!" Sam protested. "No… It was nothing like that, nothing so… premeditated. At least I don't think so… I don't really recall much of those weeks after Janet died. I…"

"You were in shock, in grief, I understand," Weir said. "You felt as if everything and everyone was against you." She sighed. "I'm not sure what to do with this information, Sam. No one else knows?"

"Not the whole story, no," Sam confirmed. "I was not communicating with the Wraith, I promise you. I don't think they would even be able to pick up the signal. Somehow… I really don't understand how it was possible, somehow I was communicating with Janet Fraiser who was on a Replicator ship on the edge of Goa'uld space. The co-ordinates… the co-ordinates on the panel kept changing, as if her location was changing, the ship was in flight. I'm not sure… she didn't say… but I think she's coming here to find me." Unable to contain it any longer she let out a half sob half giggle. Her headache was getting worse again. Absently she rubbed her forehead. "I may have done something much worse than collaborate with the Wraith. I may have brought the Replicators to the Pegasus Galaxy."

"Dr Samantha Carter is not a Wraith collaborator," Weir said flatly. "The device she was using is an Ancient communications array. Of course, that's the simple explanation. It's strictly one-to-one and the two people involved must have the Ancient's gene, and a strong emotional connection. If that's the case, distance is immaterial although communication in this manner is very draining – from Dr Carter's description – and Dr Beckett's findings - possibly damaging. This is why Dr Carter was able to speak to Dr Fraiser. It's also why Dr Carter is now in Dr Beckett's care. I would like to emphasise again at this point that that is the only reason why Dr Carter is not at this meeting and that all allegations about her being a Wraith collaborator are unfounded and all investigations of her alleged conduct will cease. By yourself and Dr Kavanagh." Bates met her stare, his jaw clenched. "Are we clear on this Sergeant Bates?"

"Ma'am," he ground out.

"I thought she was dead… Dr Fraiser, I mean," Sheppard looked confused.

"She is… what do you know about Replicators, Major Sheppard," Weir asked.

"Only what I got told in General O'Neill's ten cent tour of SG1's history," Sheppard said. "They look like metal spiders and they don't leave much in their wake."

"I was at the SGC when the android Reece was activated and started making those things," Bates said. "They damn near overran the Base." He was unable to repress a shudder.

"Well, then you have first hand experience of dealing with them, Sergeant. That could be very useful. Approximately three years ago, SG1 made the discovery that the Replicators had evolved and could now take on human form. They were very strong, almost indestructible and they could interface directly with the human mind and take from it whatever knowledge or information they wanted. With the help of the Asgard SG1 managed to trap the Replicators in a time dilation field – essentially a bubble of slow-time. They knew it was a temporary state of affairs but hoped it would give the Asgard enough time to come up with a more permanent solution."

"At some point in the last year, the Replicators or at least some of them managed to escape from the field. Dr Carter encountered them, in particular one called 'Fifth' who had formed some kind of emotional bond with her in their original encounter. Together they made another humanform replicator utilizing Dr Carter's memories of Dr Fraiser as the template. This is the entity with which Dr Carter believes she has been in communication."

Bates looked as if this was no better news than if she had been a Wraith collaborator. "To what end?"

"On Dr Carter's part – no end. I don't think she believed it was really happening, she thought it was a hallucination induced either by Fifth whilst he was interacting with her consciousness or a product of her own underlying psychological condition at the time. Apparently she's been hallucinating Dr Fraiser on and off since the woman's death. Which is something else Dr Beckett is looking into. But Dr Carter now believes that directed by the humanform Replicant of Dr Fraiser, the Replicators are coming here to assist us against the Wraith."

"Isn't that a bit of a frying pan – fire situation?" Sheppard asked. "I mean, siccing the Replicators on the Wraith is all well and good but what are we going to do about the Replicators once they're done with the Wraith? They're not just gonna pack up and go home like good little 'bots. Not with all this Ancient Technology lying around. It'll be like an all-you-can-eat buffet for them."

"That does seem unlikely," Elizabeth conceded. "But in the short term it may distract the Wraith long enough for us to improve our defences. And, hard as it may be to contemplate, at the moment we have a higher priority: our food stocks are running dangerously low. We might have to introduce rationing within the next few days. We need to find trade partners, and soon. Teyla has identified a few gate addresses that might be useful."

"I'm all for trade… but don't you think we should concentrate on finding a way to defend ourselves," Sheppard asked.

Lieutenant Ford nodded his agreement with that strategy. "How can a bunch of farmers do that?"

"Well, maybe they can introduce us to people who can help… in the mean time let's take care of the basics," Weir nodded to Teyla.

"The Jenai Stargate is a short distance from their village. I suggest we walk as the puddle jumper may alarm them. They are a simple people."

Sheppard shrugged. "Guess it's always good to get to know your neighbours. Will Sam be up to joining us on the mission?"

"Check with Dr Beckett – but she has my blessing to join the mission if he releases her from the Infirmary and she feels up to it," Weir said. Bates remained silent, but his expression left them in no doubt of his true feelings.

As they walked the relatively short distance from the Gate to where Teyla usually made contact with the Jenai, she filled them in on how her visits with these 'simple' folk usually went. "They trust me, but that trust was hard earned."

"What are we hoping to trade with them?" Sam asked.

Sheppard watched her covertly. She looked too damn pale, he thought. She glanced across at him and he knew he wasn't doing a very good job at hiding his concern for her.

Sam sighed. She had put up with eight years of Jack O'Neill's 'mother henning'. She really didn't want to start again with John Sheppard. Dr Beckett had okayed her place on the mission on the ground that 'the fresh air would do her good'. He hadn't found an organic cause for her hallucinations but scans had shown evidence of slight swelling in her corpus callosum, a condition he was monitoring. She hadn't had any more nosebleeds but was still intermittently experiencing headaches though the severity had decreased. She was also severely anaemic and suffering from exhaustion and borderline malnutrition. Having received a sharp lecture about her self-neglect, not only from Dr Beckett but also once she had received the doctor's report from Elizabeth Weir as well, Sam was determined not to let them down again. No restrictions had been put on her activities except that on no account was she allowed to use the communications array (if that was what it was) again. No one else with the Ancients gene had managed to activate it and the room had been sealed pending further investigation. Though the ongoing mystery irked her she had promised Elizabeth Weir that she would not go back to that room. With some difficulty she brought her mind back to their current activity. Teyla was outlining their bartering strategy.

"Whatever they will accept… your medical technology is in advance of theirs, they would no doubt be interested in that. As for their produce, they are best known for a bean known as Tava," Teyla said. "Ah, they approach…"

"How did they even know we were here anyway?" Ford asked, eyeing up the two natives who were approaching them down the unmetalled road.

To Sam they looked like a cross between the Amish and something straight out of 'Little House on the Prairie', a tall rather forbidding looking man and a younger woman, possibly his daughter who was pretty with delicate features and red hair. Their clothes were plain homespun, button-down shirts common to both sexes, trousers for the man, long skirts for the girl.

"They look friendly enough," Sheppard said.

"The eldest one is called Tirus. I have traded with him on many occasions." She stepped forward as the man addressed her by name. "Tirus… it has been many days…"

"Too many," Tirus said gravely. The round of introductions was made. The girl was indeed his daughter, named Sora. She gazed at them all – especially Sam -appraisingly. Although Sam was not wearing BDUs she had not been able to break her military bearing. If she was honest with herself, she didn't know who she was trying to fool. What puzzled her a little was that she was getting the same 'vibe' from Sora. There was more to this girl than met the eye.

True to his nature Sheppard was playing nice with Sora which earned him a smile from the girl and a glower from her father.

It took a little time to explain their status and relationship with Teyla. Tirus was not too happy that they had brought weapons with them. Lieutenant Ford gave Tirus their usual spiel about them being purely for defence. Teyla assured him again that the humans had her complete trust.

"These are my friends, Tirus. I would not have brought them if I did not think them worthy to become yours."

Teyla's word was good enough to get them escorted to see 'Kalan' who seemed to be some sort of local leader. Everything that she saw seemed to indicate to Sam that this was exactly what it appeared to be – a peaceful agrarian community. Yet something about the way that they held themselves did not sit right. She got the distinct feeling that this was an Oscar winning performance on the part of the Jenai.

They quickly established with Kalan that the Jenai were, as Teyla predicted, interested in medical technology. They did not appear to have discovered antibiotics and anything that could combat bacteriological infections would be very useful to them. But the Jenai seemed determined to drive a hard bargain for their crops.

"We will need more than you offer," Kalan said, his expression stolid, forbidding.

"I thought you said the Jenai were fair traders?" Sheppard looked at Teyla.

"We have always been able to achieve a… reasonable bargain," Teyla said.

"You ask for much of our harvest. New crops will have to be planted in sufficient quantities to replenish our stores… or it is the Jenai who will starve. That amount of planting will require new land to be cleared. Clearing more land is slow, hard work and it will lose us an amount of growing time between now and the next harvest season," Kalan's voice rumbled.

"Okay… but if clearing land was fast and easy?" Sheppard countered.

Sam looked around her. Beyond her need for 'fresh air', she had no idea what she was doing here. The Jenai could give the Amish a run for their money in terms of technological impoverishment – and like the Amish it appeared as if it was a conscious choice. Yet they were expressing interest in whatever technology Sheppard was prepared to offer in return for food supplies. It did not add up. If they were deliberately technologically backward for conscientious reasons – if they feared the Wraith would come if they started to develop beyond their current state then why were they even entertaining the prospect of acquiring human medications and technology? Something else was going on here, undercurrents below the surface. She glanced around the room again and realized it was starting to look more and more like a film set to her. No one else seemed to notice her disquiet, except perhaps the girl, Sora, who was staring at her. Sam pointedly stared back and the girl flushed and looked away.

A demonstration was arranged: a 300 year old tree stump versus a claymore. Ford, who enjoyed blowing things up even more than Sam did, was only too happy to set it up. Sam let him get on with it, fretting over the best way to tell Sheppard her concerns over the Jenai. Teyla had vouched for them, after all, and Sam's own credibility with her colleagues was barely above zero at the moment. And really, she had no evidence to back up her concerns only a niggling feeling that all was not what it seemed. Something dark lurked beneath the surface of this world.

The Jenai liked C4. A lot. "If you can supply us with sufficient quantity of C4 we will supply you with the crop you require," Kalan said. In addition to the antibiotics. These 'simple farming folk' knew how to drive a hard bargain. Kalan invited them to stay as guests and take part in a harvest ceremony.

Sam gathered from Teyla's muttered 'wonderful' that this might not be the honour Kalan implied it was. Luckily, she was heading back to Atlantis with Major Sheppard. Partying of any kind was comprehensively off her agenda for the time being until Dr Beckett was quite certain that her brain chemistry had stabilized. And convincing Dr Weir that trading explosives for food was a good exchange programme was going to take some doing. It seemed they had just taken the first step to being arms dealers to the Pegasus Galaxy.

Weir took it pretty much as Sam expected she would. But their situation was becoming so dire that they had relatively little choice. In future years, when the Athosian settlement was more established they might become self sufficient in food but for now they needed the Jenai.

Sheppard and Sam managed to get back to the Jenai settlement with Weir's answer without attracting an escort. This time, for reasons she was not entirely sure about, Sam had brought one of her scanners with her. With the level of technology the Jenai had so far exhibited it was unlikely that there would be any power readings at all, but Sam still had that sixth sense pinging that told her that the Jenai were much more than they appeared. As they had encountered planets before with odd examples of Ancient technology that were a mystery to the native inhabitants she could not really discount the possibility that there was something 'more' to be discovered. And if all else failed she had something to occupy her hands with whilst the trade negotiations continued.

Sheppard was sure that they were heading in the right direction for the settlement but Sam was not so sure. The path looked well used, though. It had to lead somewhere. She started to map the path just in case they needed to backtrack and then stopped. "Major Sheppard?"

"Yes, Doctor Carter?" He mocked her formality, a half-smile on his face.

"I'm getting strange power readings…" she checked the readings again and pointed up the trail, "from that direction."

"Well… define strange," Sheppard frowned.

Sam sighed inwardly, resisting the temptation to just take him at his word. Sometimes if she closed her eyes she could almost imagine it was SG1 all over again. What was it with certain military men and the need to appear dense?

"Something that given what we've been told about the Jenai's level of technology has no right to be here," she said.

"Worth a side trip to investigate?" Sheppard asked.

Sam nodded. "It could even be some left-over Ancient technology that the Jenai aren't even aware of."

"Or it could mean that the Jenai aren't the Amish wannabe's they want us to think they are," Sheppard said. "Something about them…"

"I know," Sam said. "I feel it too."

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" he asked.

She gave him what his mother would have described as an old-fashioned look. "I'm the resident flake, remember? The one who talks to dead people. I had no evidence to go on, just a feeling. And to be honest… I don't particularly trust my own perceptions at the moment either." They were approaching a building that looked little more than a ramshackle barn. Inside were bales of hay, wooden bins of grain and simple hand tools. The power readings were more defined. Whatever it was, they were right on top of it. Sheppard moved aside some of the bales.

"Now that is definitely strange," he said softly. They were looking at a solid metal hatch that resembled that at the top of Cheyenne Mountain, allowing emergency access and exit from the base beneath. The hatch showed signs of recent maintenance: it was obvious that it was frequently used. "We have to check this out."

Sam helped him to pull open the hatch and they climbed down into what appeared to be a tunnel. It was lined with what appeared to be concrete and electric lights were set into the walls at regular intervals. It did not remotely resemble anything they had seen on the surface but curiously was not Ancient either. "The construction is architecturally advanced. I don't think the Jenai could have made this," Sam said.

Sheppard tried to make contact with Ford over the radio, but the signal did not seem to be getting through. "This place is built like a bunker," he said. Sam was studying her instruments.

"Perhaps it was built as a shelter from the Wraith," Sam said. "The Jenai may have been more technologically advanced in their past. We've seen similar cycles of technological advancement and decline in other cultures. The energy readings are definitely coming from down here somewhere, it's a powerful energy source emitting neutron radiation."

"Okay, let's check it out," Sheppard set off down the tunnel, pausing when he realized that Sam was not following him. "What?"

"I really think we should just get out of here," Sam said. "I…" she paused, her gaze fixed on something behind Sheppard. Slowly she raised her hands. With a resigned expression on his face and without even checking behind him, Sheppard did the same.

Two guards had appeared from a side corridor, their guns trained on the two of them. Obviously they had set off some alarms somewhere when they entered the hatch. They were quickly disarmed and ushered through a massive metal door deeper into the complex.

They must have been escorted about half a mile down the tunnel when they were brought to a halt in front of a second bulkhead. They could dimly hear the thrum of engines, some sort of power generation unit, Sam guessed. She took out her scanner and saw that the levels of neutron radiation had increased by a factor of ten. It was now high enough to be dangerous to them if they spent any length of time in this place. Before she had chance to put the scanner away again in her pocket one of the guards pushed her roughly against the wall and took the scanner from her. He glanced at it then put it in his own pocket. The bulkhead opened slowly and they were pushed through into another corridor. There was a checkpoint where all of their gear and ALICE vests were taken from them and their boots and belts and they were pushed into a room containing two chairs and a table and told to sit down. Someone would come to question them in a little while.

Like a previous commanding officer Sam could name, John Shepherd had a low boredom threshold. The two of them were just speculating on the possibility of this being a separate culture from the Jenai on the surface when the door opened and a familiar face appeared.

"So much for two separate cultures," Sheppard said with a grimace.

Kalan looked them over and shook his head. "What am I going to do…"

"Well, you could tell us what the hell is going on here," Sheppard said. "Given what we've seen so far that's quite some act you're pulling. Why all the subterfuge? You must realize how useful an alliance could be between us.

Kalan ignored him. He moved to the table and began sorting through their equipment, examining Sam's monitor for a moment before throwing it down on the table much to her disquiet. "Careful with that…" she burst out. "It's rather fragile and…" her voice trailed off as Kalan turned to her, a brooding almost brutal look on his face.

"We have a problem," he announced.

"Then we have something in common," Sheppard tried again.

"Normally you would already have been shot for discovering our secret."

"In which case more of our people would show up with questions about our disappearance."

"We would simply tell them that the Wraith took you," Kalan said. "With no evidence to the contrary they would believe us."

This was probably true. "You have technology, knowledge new to us. This C4 of yours…" Kalan picked up Sheppard's handgun, sighted along it then put it back on the table.

"I'm guessing… not for blowing up stumps," Sheppard smirked.

"We have a more sophisticated application for it," Kalan confirmed.

"Look… what you people do with the C4 is none of our business. We just need food…" Sheppard sighed. "As far as your little secret down here goes… well…" He glanced wildly at Sam, silently urging her to join in the conversation.

"You are a scientist," Kalan said. "This equipment is yours. You said something about radiation. It was how you detected us."

"Yes," Sam saw no reason to dissemble. "I don't know what or why you're hiding down here but you need to improve your shielding. If we can pick it up then so can the… the Wraith. That's who you're hiding from aren't you?"

"You can help us with the shielding and with other things, other technology. If you have this C4, these scanners then you will have other things that will be useful to us," Kalan ground out. "The secrets of the Ancients… that we can trade for."

"There may be things we can trade," Sheppard said warily.

"You have weapons more powerful than your C4?" Kalan asked again.

"What are you doing here to produce these levels of radiation?" Sam went on the offensive. "You do realize how dangerous sustained exposure to these levels are…"

"Weapons and knowledge… I knew that for Teyla Emmagen to have joined with you you must have something much more…" Sam was feeling less and less happier about the way Kalan was looking at her.

"Look, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say we're looking for allies against the Wraith," Sheppard said. "How about you guys?"

The door opened and Ford and Teyla were pushed into the room.

"You missed a hell of a harvest ceremony, sir," Ford said, as he was pushed onto a seat.

"I can imagine," Sheppard said sourly. "Oh, Teyla…"

"I'm as surprised as you are by all of this, Major," Teyla said.

"I don't know, I'm pretty surprised," Sheppard quipped.

"Teyla and her people only know us as the simple farmers we have shown to outsiders. The secrecy of who and what we are is the only defense we have against the Wraith. One day… all that will change," Kalan said.

Sam frowned at him. Various things were becoming clear. "Do you think you can do that with an atomic bomb?" They were all surprised by her leap in logic. Kalan looked if possible even more forbidding.

"Now it's you who surprised me," Kalan said.

"The radiation levels down here gave it away… and your fascination with C4… I assume you're hoping our C4 will solve your super criticality problem…" Sam paused as the door opened and Tirus walked in, in the same uniform as Kalan. Behind him was Sora, also in uniform. Sam nodded grimly. Her instincts about the girl had been right.

"Will it solve the problem?" Kalan asked.

"It might. Depends on your design…"

"Doctor…" Sheppard said.

"It's all right," Sam said steadily. "I have no intention of helping them." She shuddered, remembering the bombs she had made at the order of General Bauer and the grief and disappointment she had suffered transforming her naquada reactor into a bomb to destroy the Gadmeer on Colonel O'Neill's orders because the man was suffering from a failure of imagination. "Not again."

"You know how to make an A bomb?" Ford asked. She winced, hearing in the young soldier's voice that she had just gone up some in his estimation.

"It's actually not that difficult. The actual hard part is having sufficient fissionable materials of appropriate grade," Sam said.

"And we do," Kalan smiled.

Sheppard squinted up at the man. "You do?"

"The Jenai were once a great confederation of planets. A millennia ago, the wraith had driven us to the brink of total annihilation. Our forefathers sought the protection of bunkers such as these, originally created for wars long forgotten and it was here, the small number of our people managed to survive undetected. Over the course of many, many years. Generation after generation. We have made technological developments here in secret."

"So the whole farmer thing is just a… front," Sheppard said.

"So the Wraith do not suspect," Teyla nodded.

"It is more than that," Kalan said. "We do have many mouths to feed below. I want to show you something. Come with me."

"My monitor… can I have it back, please," Sam asked. Kalan picked it up, looked at it again then tossed it towards her.

Escorted by the guards and Sora and Tirus they followed Kalan through another bulkhead and into a huge central cavern. "Down below our militias train as our scientists create weapons for them. With our atomic weapon we believe we finally have what we need to defeat the Wraith once and for all."

"You do realize that long term exposure to these levels of radiation is extremely dangerous," Sam said.

"Our scientists tell me otherwise," Kalan said. Sam got the feeling that he only wanted to hear very specific things from her, things that would help him to build his weapon. Anything else was irrelevant.

"Are we in danger?" Sheppard asked. Ford looked worried as well.

"At these levels, only if we stay here more than a day or two… but I assume the Jenai spend days or weeks down here?"

"Many of our people have spent their entire lives here," Kalan said proudly.

Their entire short lives, Sam thought bitterly. "You are putting yourselves, your unborn children in great danger," she said. "You have to improve your shielding. Or better still stop the programme completely. This experimentation might well finish you off quicker than the Wraith if you're not careful."

"You will help us to build a better bomb," Kalan said, ignoring her warning completely.

"No." Sam stared him down, but was unable to stop a flinch as she felt the cold steel muzzle of a gun press to her temple and distinctly heard the 'click' of the weapon being readied to fire. Across the table Teyla gazed wide eyed at her, the stubby muzzle of another weapon resting just above her left ear. Sora smiled triumphantly across the table at her from her position just behind Teyla.

"You will help us to build a better bomb," Kalan repeated.

"I will help you to improve your shielding," Sam said, staring unblinkingly at Kalan. "Your people don't deserve to die of radiation poisoning. Nothing more. I've seen someone die of radiation poisoning. I never want to see anything like that again."


"I'm not under your military command, Major Sheppard. You can't order me, and Dr Weir would never authorize such a disclosure. And even if she did, I would still refuse. I won't do it." She refused to meet Tayla's gaze, unsure of what she would do if the Athosian woman was anything less than stoic about this. She had built bombs in the past, but always under orders and the strain of it had almost destroyed her. She had come close to resigning her commission when General Bauer ordered her to work on the naquada enriched device.

"You will work with our scientists or we will kill your friends. And believe me, handing them over to the Wraith would be an act of mercy."

"I will help you to improve your shielding, nothing more," Sam said, staring resolutely ahead of her. The barrel of the efficient looking gun was very cold against her temple. Across from her Sora pressed the gun to Teyla's cheek in an almost intimate gesture.

"Tirus, take her to the lab. Sora, make sure our other guests are securely accommodated," Kalan said. Sam was dragged to her feet.

The lab was several levels deeper. Sam could only imagine what the radiation levels were like. What shielding she could see was woefully inadequate. What looked no more secure than a metal filing cabinet held trays of uranium pellets. She could almost feel the radiation seeping into her blood, her bones. Her head was starting to ache though she thought that was probably a psychosomatic reaction. Probably.

"This is all the uranium you have?"

Kalan shook his head. "We have much more."

"But its not weapons grade," Sam guessed.

"We have had problems in our purifying methods. The molecular structure of the unwanted material is very similar to that of the desired material," Kalan said.

Separating 2:35 from 2:38. Difficult but not impossible once you had the correct technique, Sam thought. Diffusion was probably their best bet. Not that she would tell them that. "I'm sorry, I can't help you with that," she said.

"You want to ally with us against the Wraith. This is a perfect opportunity," Kalan said. "Let's not make any hasty decisions here."

"Then release the others," Sam said. "As a gesture of good faith."

"That could be arranged given a gesture of good faith from yourself, Dr Carter. Describe to our scientists the separation method you hinted at. And I will let your people go."

"I told you, I will help you to improve your shielding, nothing more. I… " she could taste blood. Another nosebleed. She fished in her pocket for a handkerchief, dabbed at the base of her nose. The blood was a thin trickle only but shockingly scarlet. It was stress, she told herself. Not a symptom of anything. She realized that Kalan was still talking.

"As you missed the harvest feast Dr Carter we hoped that after you have toured our facility you will share a meal with us. I hope that by sharing this meal we can make up in some small way for past offences. That facet of our existence is not entirely a front. What we do here is to protect it. We hope to make you understand that."

She hadn't eaten in a while. "That would be… pleasant," she said. "I would also like to see my companions, ensure that they are in good health."

"That can be arranged." They went into another room, alarmingly familiar. This was a nuclear lab all right, similar to the one she had seen on Kelowna when Daniel was fatally irradiated. Though this had even less shielding to protect the scientists.

"What method did your people use to initiate fission reaction in your prototype devices?" Kalan asked.

There was a sphere of silvery metal about an inch in diameter being held in a vice in the middle of the lab. A nearby monitor showed the particle decay rate. A few hours in this room would exceed the safe radiation dose. Sam's headache was growing steadily worse.

"You really need to address your shielding problem first otherwise none of your scientists are going to live long enough to build your bomb," she said. "We use a metal called lead. I'm sure we can get you a sample. You must have something similar."

"Shielding will not protect us from the Wraith. These weapons will end the threat once and for all," Kalan said. "While the Wraith yet sleep we will rise up and destroy them. And even if this radiation is as dangerous as you say it is, our scientists will gladly give up their lives to protect the Jenai race from the devastation of another culling."

He didn't know. The fact that the Wraith were already awake and on the move could change everything. If Kalan found out that they were responsible for waking the Wraith early then… their nuclear programme was working on the basis that they had decades before the next culling rather than a few years if not months before the Wraith ships came screaming through the sky.

'You have to help them…' the voice was insidious in her mind. 'You owe them. What price your scruples against millions of lives… the enemy of my enemy… Rodney McKay would build them their bomb in a moment. Hell, he'd enjoy parading his superior knowledge before these people.' But Dr McKay was not here – she was.

The Jenai plan was simple. It might even have worked. They planned to sneak aboard one of the ships of hibernating Wraith, overpower the small number of guards and set off the nuclear device. The Wraith were so confident that their herds would never dare rise up against them that there were no active defences on their ships beyond the handful of guardians. It might have worked.

The pounding pain in her skull was getting worse and her nosebleed did not seem to be abating. "Your plan… might no longer be possible," she choked out.

Kalan glanced around at his people. "Please explain."

"Several of our people were captured by the Wraith a few months ago. We mounted a rescue mission… but as a result…"

"You wakened the Wraith… The next culling was supposed to be decades away!" Tirus's entry took them both by surprise. Behind him Sam could see Sora's bright hair. The girl looked sullen. She had not got her way over something.

"We had hoped to test our first atomic weapon five years from now… do we have that much time, Dr Carter?" his face darkened and he took a step towards her. "Do we?"

"I don't know… no, probably not," Sam said. The taste of blood at the back of her throat was nauseating her. Tirus pushed past Kalan, backhanded her, sending her crashing into the wall. He got in several more well placed punches and kicks before Kalan hauled him back.

"That solves nothing, Tirus."

"She and her kind have condemned our people to death!" Tirus spat.

"We need her, Tirus," Kalan said. "The Wraith may detect the radiation as they did. If we do not get this shielding she speaks of in place we will have to shut down the reactors, survive this culling and somehow plan for the next."

Sam did not hear Tirus's reply to that. She was fading in and out of consciousness. Someone was bending over her – she managed to force her eyes open long enough to see Sora staring down at her, an expression of pure hatred on her pale face. "Once we have extracted all the information we can from you, you will be left on the surface," she hissed. "You will be the first the wraith feed upon I promise."

"We could be allies," Sam choked out. "We've gone up against the wraith ships and won." The nosebleed was getting much worse, her t-shirt was sticky with blood. The hammering pain in her head was blinding. It felt as if her skull was too small to contain her brain anymore.

"I've seen your weapons," Kalan scoffed.

"Talk to Colonel Sheppard…" Sam whispered. She could feel that she was fast succumbing to shock. She didn't have much useful consciousness left. "He'll tell you about our ships… show you…"

Everything silvered out. Kalan's voice rose and fell like the waves against the shore but it was meaningless to her. She was moving very fast and she was colder than she had ever been.

"It's okay, Sam," a voice whispered close by. "Don't be afraid. It's going to be okay. We're very close to you now. You're very brave, remember. You're very brave."

Her mind told her the impossible and she fell into darkness, Janet's name on her lips.


Part 8

What was Samantha Carter drifted. Connections were made…

"We don't belong anywhere, you and me." Janet argued softly, still lying on her side, enjoying the feel of her lover spooned behind her. "Best we can hope for is somewhere where we're not hated."

"I'm not her," Samantha said. "You're not… "

"We are what we are," Janet shrugged. "I know what I feel… I feel – miracle that that is. The fact that we're not the original… it shouldn't make a difference. We're perfect copies after all. We have our own lives, our own existence. You and I, we've done things that our counterparts, those that were 'real' could never have dreamt of doing."

"So if I'm really her… why are we going to the Pegasus Galaxy?" Samantha asked. She knew the answer herself, it was engraved in her cells as deeply as all the memories and experiences she had been imbued with and all that she had experienced since. Fifth loved Samantha Carter, so deeply and completely that his obsession with the human had been passed on to his sister/daughters.

"She needs our help."

John Sheppard carried Sam through the Stargate. "We need a medic! Now!" he shouted. Sam's lower face was scarlet with blood that was running from her nose, soaking into her shirt and jacket, already dirty and ripped from Tirus's beating. She was on the point of choking on her own blood. Her skin was ashen, pale blue shadows under her sunken eyes. When she had lost consciousness and could not be revived and her hemorrhage showed no sign of stopping Kalan had grown concerned enough to bring Sheppard to the lab. He asked Sheppard to confirm what Sam had said about their possession of a ship capable of taking on the Wraith. In return for his promise to return in the Puddlejumper (with Teyla and Ford remaining with the Jenai as hostages), he allowed Sheppard to take Sam back through the Stargate for treatment. As a gesture of good faith.

Carson Beckett came in at a run, an emergency team with a gurney behind him. He fired off a series of questions to Sheppard his usually soft Scots brogue taking on a distinct edge when Sheppard could not give him the answers he required. Elizabeth Weir was behind him, waiting her turn to ask her own questions, her dark eyes wide with distress as she looked at the too-still bloodsoaked woman being whisked off to the Medical Lab on a gurney.

Sam was in danger of going into cardiac arrest from the severe bloodloss, and a pneumothorax which had collapsed her lung seriously compromising her breathing. Beckett's team got her lung reinflated, her heartrate steadied and started to transfuse her whilst Beckett started to look at the rest of the damage.

Sam Carter's latest MRI at last showed Carson Beckett what had been going on with his friend for the last couple of months. He watched the luminescence flare, creating pathways through her corpus collosum, her amygdylla. Her brainstem looked like the night-view of a busy interstate. The entities were also present in her cerebrospinal fluid. He managed to draw some off through a lumbar puncture. As soon as they left Sam's body they started to become inert, shutting down completely reverting to base chemicals. But not before his analysis showed him what he needed to know. Samantha Carter's brain and nervous system were infested with humanform replicator cells.

"Normally they mimic perfectly her own brain structure and are just about undetectable. However, in the presence of certain triggers it seems, such as certain types of radiation, they become 'agitated' causing swelling and hemorrhaging in the surrounding tissue. Then, as the source of the irritation disappears they appear to tidy up after themselves, repairing the damage done to the tissue before becoming dormant again and once more indistinguishable from her normal brain structures. That slight swelling in her corpus collosum – that's the only sign that they're there."

"There's no way you can get them out of her?" Elizabeth asked.

"Not without the kind of radical surgery that you only want to consider as a very last resort," Carson said. "If it didn't kill her it would leave her severely brain-damaged. If she survived it would be no kind of life. No…"

"How did they get there in the first place?"

"Whether they're an accidental residue from when Doctor Carter was 'read' by the humanform replicator 'Fifth' or they were deliberately introduced into her system… I don't know." Beckett sighed. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I don't seem to have any good news for you at all on this."

"How is she doing?" Elizabeth glanced at the monitor screen. Sam looked impossibly small and frail lying on a bed in the Intensive Therapy Unit. Though there was less equipment around her than there had been only a few hours ago and she was breathing on her own again, there still seemed to be entirely too many tubes and wires attached to the woman.

"Better. The swelling in her brain tissues has diminished and the ruptured bloodvessels and other tissue damage have been repaired – not that we had much to do with that. The low grade radiation poisoning has also disappeared completely – her little friends seem to have taken care of that as well. She's still very weak though out of immediate danger. She lost enough blood to put her into hypervolemic shock. The Jenai also roughed her up a fair bit, she has badly bruised ribs and abdomen and a hairline fracture to the left side of her jaw and fractures to the ulna and radius of her left arm. She'll need to keep her arm in a cast for a week or two but the rest is healing nicely. Now that the replicator cells have reverted to their dormant state I don't expect any lasting effects – though of course we'll know more when she wakes up."

Weir nodded. "Did she know that she was infested?"

"I don't think so," Beckett said. "I really think she would have said something if she had known. I've been treating her for weeks; if she had any inkling of the true nature of her symptoms, I'm sure she would have said something. It would have spared her quite a few of the tests I've been doing for starters."

"And they took care of her radiation sickness."

Carson nodded "Even though there's now no trace of radiation in Dr Carter's body, her clothing was heavily contaminated. It's been put in secure storage until we can deal with it properly. She had obviously been exposed to a heavy dose, possibly for several hours. Major Sheppard's clothing and body was contaminated though not as severely. I've put him on a course of anti-radiation drugs as a precaution and no doubt I'll have to do the same with Teyla and Lieutenant Ford when they return." He shrugged. "I can only surmise that these replicator cells took care of the radiation in Dr Carter's case. The blood loss from the hemorrhage is another matter."

Elizabeth glanced over at Sam again, seeing the bag of blood on the IV line. "I can see you're still transfusing her."

"She came close to bleeding out… too close. If the hemorrhaging persists, we're going to have a long-term problem treating her – because of what happened with Jolinar, Dr Carter cannot be given standard blood transfusions, not even so-called 'universal donor'. For the same reasons she can't donate to anyone else either. Basically she donates as regularly as she can and her blood is stored exclusively for her use. Currently our stores of that blood have been exhausted dealing with the effects of the last hemorrhage. That's the last bag on the stand now. Should she have another episode in the near future then we won't have the blood supplies on hand to treat her. Before she died, Dr Janet Fraiser back at the SGC was experimenting with an artificial blood serum which Dr Carter could possibly tolerate in emergency situations but she died before she completed her research and it wasn't picked up by anyone else…"

Elizabeth Weir clearly heard, understood and supported the unspoken 'until now'.

"Do what you can for her, Carson. Is she up for visitors?"

"Aye, she's already fretting that she's bored and wanting her laptop but she badly needs her rest and I want her condition monitored for another 48 hours at least before I'll consider letting her out of the ITU. And I don't see her returning to duty for at least two weeks."

He was blaming himself for releasing Dr Carter from the Infirmary to go on the mission in the first place, it was written all over his face. He sighed. "And I told her the fresh air would do her good."

"You weren't to know. None of us were. Teyla vouched for them. The Jenai have been hiding their true nature for generations. No one is to blame for this, Carson." Elizabeth laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently for a moment before stepping into the ITU.

Samantha Carter glared up at the ceiling. Dr Beckett had made it quite clear that she was not permitted out of bed and she was not allowed her lap top or anything remotely resembling work for another couple of days at least. She was to rest and to recuperate. She had persuaded a reluctant Dr Zelenka to smuggle her in some research papers but Dr Beckett had somehow known and intercepted and confiscated the reports, much to Zelenka's embarrassment and her own chagrin. Hell, she wasn't even allowed coffee.

She'd been quietly surprised at the number of visitors she'd received, having not really considered that she'd made that many friends in the Pegasus Galaxy. Most of the Command staff and her own science team had stopped by for a minute or two each to see how she was doing. It was strangely comforting. It seemed she had made a place for herself here after all.

Now that she was off most of the drugs Dr Beckett had been pumping into her to shore up her systems she could actually think straight for more than a few seconds at a time. Sam could not help but fret over Lieutenant Ford and Teyla, still held hostage by the Jenai. If anything happened to them… At least worrying about them meant that she wasn't driving herself crazy about her own problems.

Carson had informed her about her condition, explained to her his theories how in fact the things had saved her life, shown her all the test results, the scans he had taken of her brain and spinal column whilst the replicator nanocytes were still active. Thinking about it made her brain… itch.

"Do you think infecting you with the nanocytes might have been a deliberate act?" he asked.

She had just shrugged, having no answer to that question. Fifth had been obsessed with her, angry with her betrayal. He could well have been capable of doing something like this. But she had gone back to Halla, rescued him. That must mean something. She remembered what it was like when he read her to make the template of Janet. She had relived every moment, every act from the first time she saw Janet to the last. Everything she had thought, everything she had hoped, wished… fantasized. Everything she had said. Everything she had left unsaid.

Sam closed her eyes as pain flared in her skull. She could feel hot tears slide between her eyelashes and did not have the strength to hold them back. The pitch of the monitor signal changed as the system reacted to her growing distress.

Someone touched her cheek.

"Janet?" Her eyes flew open. It was Elizabeth Weir. The woman was not quite quick enough to mask the look of disappointment and sorrow in her eyes.

"Are you in pain, Sam?" she asked softly. "Should I get Dr Beckett for you?"

"No… no, I'm okay, thanks Elizabeth," Sam said, shifting herself higher on her pillows. "Just getting a little maudlin… and stir crazy."

"Dr Beckett insists you stay here another couple of days at least," Elizabeth said lightly. "And then only light duties."

"What are we doing about the Jenai?" Sam asked.

"We're monitoring the situation for the moment. Negotiations are…" Elizabeth Weir sighed. "We've been allowed to talk to Teyla and Lieutenant Ford. They're being held on the surface and they're being well treated." She changed the subject. "Were you dreaming about her?"

Who? Sam wanted to say but her usual refuge of denial would be an insult to the honour of this woman. "Yes," she whispered. "Though it was like the other dreams I told you about, the one's that seemed more like… communications. I was on the Replicator vessel. We were talking about… acceptance. They're getting closer, I think. These things in my head, they don't just heal me, they enable me to… know things. I don't know for certain… but that's how it feels."

"Sam… I want you to consider something very carefully. I want you to be truthful… Your feelings for Janet… this Replicator version of her – do you love her?"

Crystal blue eyes stared at her, honesty shining from them. "I don't know, Elizabeth. I really don't. But the memory of her, what I felt for her is so strong, so very strong. It's like an echo… it's not the same, but it's no less real."

"And if there was someone else in your life, someone who… cared for you, very deeply. If you could move on before… before the Replicators got here, would it be easier for you to deal with her."

"Are you saying… no, don't answer that, not yet, not here," Sam said. Elizabeth forced herself not to look away as that gaze pierced her again. "In theory, if there was someone, if I could move on and be sure… I would. But I'm not sure it would be fair on y… on this hypothetical other person. What I feel for Janet is so complicated. There's love – a lot of love, but there's a lot of pain there as well. And… it's strange, how much I resent her." Sam's voice was little more than a whisper, her gaze unfocused, inward looking. Elizabeth could almost believe that Sam had quite forgotten she was there. "I gave up everything for her and she left me, not once, but twice." A bubble of laughter escaped her that might well have been mistaken for the sound of a heart breaking. "And then there's shame, the things I've done for her, the things I might yet do." There was a long silence.

"You haven't answered my question," Elizabeth said softly. "If you could move on… if there was someone here for you… would you take that chance."

Sam swallowed hard, moistened suddenly dry lips. "Yes… yes, I think I would."

One of Beckett's nurses came in at that point to check Sam's vitals and make sure none of her IV sites were inflamed. The moment was gone but Elizabeth felt curiously light hearted. She stood to one side as the nurse finished her checks and then came back towards the bed noting how exhausted Sam looked. "You need to rest," she smiled. "I'll come back and see you later, I've got to go and debrief Major Sheppard. We will need to talk about what happened with the Jenai but not right now. It can wait a day or two until you're stronger." She leant in and softly kissed Sam on the brow. Sam raised her casted arm, which wasn't encumbered by any IV lines, and let her fingers drift through Elizabeth's dark hair for a moment. She smiled, the first real smile that Elizabeth had seen from the woman in a long time.

She met with John Sheppard and (at his insistence) Sergeant Bates in her office. "They wanted her to build a damn bomb for them – a nuke," Sheppard growled. "They have this crazy idea of using them to take out the hive ships. Of course, that depended on them still being dormant."

"And now they know that the Wraith have awakened," Elizabeth said.

"Sam told them whilst she was trying to persuade them how fundamentally bad an idea it was. Something about their set up down there scared the crap out of her."

"Dr Beckett said that her clothing was heavily irradiated. If it wasn't for the nanocytes, she would probably be suffering from radiation poisoning."

"Radiation levels were climbing the further in we got," Sheppard remembered. "Sam seemed to think that their shielding wasn't worth a damn. More likely to blow themselves up than the Wraith. I'm worried about Ford and Teyla."

Bates frowned. "We have a team ready to go extract Lieutenant Ford, ma'am."

"Teyla Emmagen is also being held hostage," Weir reminded him somewhat acerbically.

"With respect, ma'am. She's an Athosian. Lieutenant Ford is one of our own and his capture is much more of a security concern. He is a weapons specialist after all and though I am certain it would only be under extreme duress, he could tell these Jenai a great deal about our weapons capability and defence systems not to mention everything he could tell them about Earth and the SGC. And it was on Teyla Emmagen's recommendation that we contacted the Jenai in the first place. It could have been a set-up from the beginning."

"I don't believe that for a moment," Weir said. "Halling and the other Athosians who have had contact with the Jenai in the past have confirmed that they had no inkling that they were anything other than a peaceful agrarian society."

"I've been consulting with some of the scientists…" Bates began

"Dr Cavanaugh you mean," Sheppard interrupted.

"Dr Cavanaugh," Bates confirmed, sourly disliking Sheppard's insinuation that the disaffected scientist would be the only one to give Bates the time of day. "He has a proposal regarding the Jenai."

Weir glanced at Sheppard who just shrugged. "Okay, let's hear it."

A few seconds later Dr Cavanaugh arrived at her office, carrying a sheaf of reports and what looked like blueprints. "I've been working on the data that Dr Carter managed to bring back with her," he said, without any preamble. "It's quite fascinating."

"What exactly are you proposing?" Elizabeth asked.

"Why don't we just give the Jenai what they want and show them how to build their bomb?" Dr Cavanaugh asked. "They want to use it against the Wraith after all. Surely that's to our advantage as well. And Dr Carter isn't the only one capable of building it. Any competent physics major… And while I respect her viewpoint…" said in a tone that made it perfectly clear he did no such thing. "I'm willing…"

"I'm sure you are, Dr Cavanaugh and I will take that… under advisement," Weir said smoothly.

"I'm willing to go back, make them an offer," Sheppard said. He still looked pale, Weir noted. "We do need allies and the Jenai are the most advanced technologically that we've come across so far. If I can convince Kalan to work together with us, agree to start over…"

"You forgive us for waking the Wraith, we forgive you for lying to us about who you really were," Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

"Something like that," Sheppard grinned. "Kalan isn't stupid. He has the best interests of his people at heart. I think I can get through to him, especially with Cavanaugh's proposal."

"I am concerned about the security implications of the Jenai having more of our people under their control," Bates said. "Perhaps… an exchange of personnel."

"An exchange of hostages you mean," Sheppard nodded. "Given what Cavanaugh could offer them, they might go for that."

"I don't see that we have any other choice," Weir said. "Whilst I don't condone their methods, Major Sheppard is right, the Jenai will be more useful to us as allies than enemies. They have been fighting and hiding from the Wraith for centuries. We need their knowledge, their expertise. Dr Cavanaugh – you are willing to work with the Jenai on their nuclear device."

"I am," Cavanaugh said, drawing himself up to his full height.

"Okay… Major Sheppard, make contact with the Jenai, present them with our proposal."

Elizabeth was relieved to see that Sam looked a lot better than she had the previous day. There were less monitors around the bed and she was down to only one IV line. Something in her melted a little at the almost shy smile Sam sent in her direction. "You look better," she said.

"I feel a lot better, thank you," Sam said. "I think I've been asleep most of the day. Carson has promised to let me out of here tomorrow if the improvement continues."

"When you're feeling well enough, I wondered… would you like to have dinner with me in my quarters?" Elizabeth asked. "I can't promise anything fancy, but…"

"I'd love to," Sam smiled.

The relief she felt at that was almost tangible. Another step forward. But she couldn't forget the big picture. She had her duty above all else.

"Sam… I need to hear your assessment of the Jenai strategy. Could they build a bomb big enough to take out a Hive Ship?"

"They have the raw materials, but not the technological know-how," Sam was immediately all business as well, as befitted a former military officer. "From what I saw they are at least a couple of years, maybe even as much as a decade away from a viable prototype weapon. At this point they're more likely to blow themselves up or at the very least accidentally irradiate a large proportion of their population."

"By which time the Wraith will be upon them anyway," Weir said softly.

"It makes sense that they would stock up at their regular feeding grounds first," Sam said. "Elizabeth… I won't…"

"And I won't ask you to," Elizabeth interrupted her. "I understand your viewpoint, Sam, believe me. And I do sympathise. But I have to think of the best interests of Atlantis first. I have to tell you that Dr Cavanaugh has proposed that we do assist the Jenai in building a nuclear device, and that Sergeant Bates and Major Sheppard concur that an ongoing alliance with the Jenai might be in our best hope of success against the Wraith. Major Sheppard is reopening negotiations with the Jenai right now. The hope is that if Cavanaugh helps them with the bomb they will release Teyla and Lieutenant Ford."

"Why is Cavanaugh doing this?" Sam asked. "He hates the military, despises it. I would have thought that that included nuclear proliferation."

"I think his fear of the Wraith is more of a motivator than his hatred of the military," Elizabeth said. "And I think he wants to make his mark, that he believes the system here is holding him back."

"And being haled as the 'saviour' of the Jenai will do wonders for his reputation," Sam shook her head. "He can make the bomb for them for sure, it's well within his capabilities. I just hope it does some good."

Elizabeth nodded. "I share your concerns. Once the Jenai have nuclear capability they could potentially hold a lot more than just the Wraith to ransom."

"Major Sheppard has convinced me that we may yet prevail, if we work together," Kalan said. Behind him, Tirus looked less than convinced. "To that end, I propose a joint endeavour. Many generations ago…during a culling the Jenai were able to shoot down a Wraith dart. Although many lives were lost that day, the ability to resist even in some small way gave the Jenai the seeds of hope."

Tirus placed an item on the table between them. "This data storage device was recovered from the downed Wraith dart. It contains information about the hive ship that it was deployed from. Sora and I have been able to successfully access information from it." He moved to the side of the room where what looked like a primitive computer was set up. A few seconds later he had the device linked up.

Sheppard looked over the man's shoulder.

"We believe this is where a wraith ship still sleeps," Tirus indicated a glowing area on the screen. "With this interface we can access the Wraith ships data core."

"So this is what your whole plan is based on?" Sheppard asked. "How does getting access to a Wraith ship's computer help you?"

"With this interface device we can learn the location of all the Wraith ships… "

Sheppard nodded. "So you know where to deliver your new bombs…. Assuming of course that the Wraith ship we're looking at is still there."

"Well if the wraith are in no hurry to rally their forces as you claim, then it will be," Tirus said.

"I'd like to get Dr Carter's opinion on this," Sheppard said. "Also, this ship is nowhere near the Stargate. Approaching it undetected by foot is impossible."

"Dr Carter is welcome to return. As for approaching the Wraith ship – that is where your ship comes in, Major."

Sheppard grinned. "I was wondering when my ship would come in. I can't agree to that without contacting our leaders. I will return with our decision as soon as I can."

"Oh God, I want to say 'no' so badly to all of this. How's that for an answer?" Weir stopped pacing long enough to glare at him, her arms tightly folded. "But we really have no choice but to agree to this."

"Only because we'll get something out of it," Sheppard said. "We do need allies."

"Allies… are you sure we can trust them?"

"Hey, I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. There's a reason they insisted Ford and Teyla stay there and its not just so we'll help them build their bomb. But we have something they need and they have something we need and I thought that was what negotiating was all about."

"Ah well it is. Personally I stop short of offering nuclear weapons," Weir was still pissed at him for escalating the situation. She closed her eyes and threw up her hands. "I know, I know, they were building them anyway. You realize I originally sent you out for food."

"I'm sure the Jenai will still help us with that," Sheppard said.

"Alright… bottom line – can you pull this off?"

"We'll have to watch our backs but… I wouldn't put my team at risk if I didn't think so… but… If she's well enough, I want Dr Carter with us on this one. We stand a far better chance of getting around the Wraith systems with her on board."

"I will ask her… I won't order her. You know she has strong reservations about working with the Jenai," Weir said. "And after what they tried to do to her… And officially she's still on down time. Dr Beckett won't be happy about letting her back through the Gate so soon."

"Does she know that Cavanaugh is working with them on the Wraith bomb?"

"Yeah, I don't think she was too impressed."

"You are destined to become a hero among our people, Dr Cavanaugh." They could hear Kalan's voice as they walked into the farmhouse.

"Thank you," Dr Cavanaugh preened. He had the minor grace to look embarrassed as Sam walked in with Major Sheppard.

"Dr Carter, I'd like to apologise for what happened on your last visit," Kalan said, reaching to take her hand but pausing when he saw the light cast on her wrist and the yellowing bruises on her cheek and jaw – and Sam's total lack of response to his overture. "You are recovered, I trust."

"I am well," Sam said stiffly. "I would like to see the Wraith artifact."

"Of course," Kalan said. "Tirus will demonstrate it to you."

The last time she had seen Tirus he had been kicking her unconscious. He stared at her unsmiling. She stared back, her game face firmly in place. Tirus looked away first.

Teyla was to accompany them to the Wraith ship. Sam was pleased to see that the Athosian was okay, less pleased to see that Sora was still intent on needling the woman at every opportunity. She was not surprised by the first thing that Teyla said to her: "I am sorry Sam, to have got you into this. The Jenai are not the people I thought they were."

"It's okay, Teyla. They fooled everyone. You're not to blame for this."

"Look at you…" Sora sneered. "I would never have thought that you would leave your people."

"No. I do this for them. John Sheppard and Samantha Carter have brought new hope to our stars, Sora. They have the spirit of explorers and the hearts of warriors. They have accepted me." She turned to Sora and Tirus. "It saddens me that you could not trust me enough to share in your secret."

"That is our way," Tirus said stiffly.

"Our deception was and is a matter of our survival," Sora said proudly. "It is a secret we are born into and will take to our graves." She reacted angrily to the look of skepticism on Teyla's face. "Have we not always traded fairly with you? You should know… we have not dealt with others so graciously."

"Perhaps this new alliance will help to open your eyes. That we can only stand against the Wraith if we do so together."

Sora shrugged. "We'll have to see if your friends will live up to their promises." Her glance in Sam's direction was candid in its disdain. For her part Sam ignored her. She had bigger and better things to worry about than this child.

The Wraith device was tantalizing. Sam quickly familiarized herself with what it could do – and what it could not. It did give them a clear picture of the internal layout of the Wraith Vessel, the entry points and routes into the ship, pinpointing where the majority of Wraith would be, hopefully still in a state of hibernation. Control and drive systems were clearly marked. As a guide as to where to place any explosive device – nuclear or conventional – to do maximum damage, it would be invaluable. However, its limitations were worrying. There was no real-time picture. They had no idea what was happening right now on that ship, whether the Wraith still slept or were emerging from their hibernation. Too many factors in this mission were going to be left entirely up to chance and the conditions on the ground when they got in there.

"We have to get in there and out as fast as possible," Sheppard said looking over the specifications for the Wraith ship.

"I've been studying these plans all my life," Kalan boasted. Quickly he outlined the route they would have to take and the obstacles they would face.

It was agreed that Kalan would take the lead. Tirus, Sheppard, Carter and Teyla would go into the ship, Ford would stay on the Jumper. And Sora would remain at the base. Sora argued against this.

"I should be going with you." Watching her, Sam wouldn't have been surprised to see the headstrong young woman stamp her foot. Whatever military training the young woman had been given had done nothing to temper her impetuous hot-headed nature, Sam thought. She had the arrogance that seemed common to all Jenai. Ford didn't look too impressed at his assignment either but he was too much the good soldier to argue the point.

"You must stay here," Kalan said. "To carry on the fight if we don't come back." He turned to Sheppard. "We need you to deliver the C4 you promised us before we proceed."

"We need the proper Intel first – no use in building a couple of nukes if you can't put them to use," Sheppard said. Sam silently agreed with his assessment. She still did not trust the Jenai. After seven years on SG1 she was used to seat-of-the-pants missions but this one was flaky even by their standards. She had to wonder how Jack O'Neill would have handled the Jenai. Their duplicity would have angered him but their gung-ho nature might well have won him over. Though he had distrusted the Aaschen almost from the first, he had been in favour of helping Alar's people up until the point he realized he would be collaborating in what amounted to ethnic cleansing.

"Those are your terms?" Kalan asked.

"I'm sure you understand," Sheppard smiled.

"I do. Seems we have no choice but to trust each other." Kalan and Tirus exchanged what Sam could only describe as significant glances.

"How many of these ships do you have?" Kalan asked.

"Just the one," Sheppard lied smoothly. Sam busied herself with her monitoring equipment, Teyla intent on checking over her weapons. Neither of them gave Kalan any cause to doubt Sheppard's words.

They were approaching the Wraith ship. "Have they awoken?" Kalan asked.

Sheppard studied the readouts. "Don't see any activity… alright, here we go… through the front door… Lieutenant Ford, hold the fort."

"Yes sir. Good luck," Ford said, smartly.

Because of her still healing arm, Sam wasn't able to carry all of the equipment she really wanted to take with her and she didn't want to burden any of the others with her scientific 'doo-hickey's' when they needed every piece of ammunition they could lay their hands on to take on the Wraith should they be unlucky enough to encounter them. Damn things didn't know when to die after all. She limited herself to those items she considered most vital to the success of the mission. Thorough data gathering would have to wait another less pressing opportunity. She took a final inventory and looked up to find Sheppard watching her.

"You good to go, Doc?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she smiled. He nodded.

They were due some good luck. There were no sign of active Wraith until they came to a corridor which was evidently used for food storage. Bodies wrapped in the fibrous cobwebs they had seen before on other Wraith ships.

"These people were cocooned for a later feeding," Teyla said quietly. "Some of them may still be alive."

"We don't have time for this," Kalan said. On one level, Sam had to agree with him but the thought of just leaving these people to their horrendous fate did not sit well with her. Nor with Major Sheppard, it seemed.

"These could be your people for all you know. Okay, Teyla, take care… we'll meet you back at the ship. Dr Carter – you're with me."

To Sam's surprise, Tirus offered to stay help Teyla search through the stored bodies for survivors. Kalan guided them along another set of corridors towards a sealed bulkhead.

"This is it but the ships plans I memorized did not include the details on how to operate this door," Kalan admitted.

"We can't blow it… it's gonna make too much noise," Sheppard said.

Sam was already on it, crouching down to begin her scan of the door and the surrounding bulkhead. Like much of the Wraith technology they had seen so far it had an organic quality to it. She quickly determined the path of the control circuit and with Sheppard's assistance, cut through the almost fibrous material of the bulkhead to reveal the sinewy strands of the control and power circuits. Experimentally she tweaked one of them and the door irised partially open. No obvious alarms went off so she thought they probably remained undetected.

Sheppard and Kalan pushed the door fully open and Kalan secured it with a wedge. "Good work, Dr Carter," Kalan said. There was something almost proprietary in his tone. Sam resolved to watch her step with him and with Tirus. She did not trust them not to try and abduct her again.

"All right, I'll cover your six. Go!" Sheppard urged them into the room. Kalan was already acting as if he owned the place. Out of habit, Sam moved more cautiously, scanning as she went. Every piece of information she gathered could be crucial to their understanding of the Wraith.

"This is it," Kalan said. The unit was quite small, probably designed to be portable. It was relatively easy for Sam to disconnect it from the rest of the equipment. She was about to slip it into her back pack when Kalan took it from her. Glancing at Sheppard, she saw him shake his head, a signal not to protest. Not at this point, anyway. Sam shrugged, turned her attention to the rest of the interface. Her hand poised just over what appeared to be a control unit just as a strident alarm began to sound.

"What did you do?" Kalan shouted, his round face suffused with fury.

"Wasn't me," Sam said. Sheppard's radio crackled. It was Teyla. The Wraith knew they were there. "They are coming!"

"Get back to the Jumper," Sheppard ordered.

Teyla met them half way back to where the cloaked Jumper was parked. She was alone. Sheppard saved the obvious questions until they were all back on board and Ford was powering up the systems.

"What happened back there?" Sheppard asked.

"There were survivors amongst the shrouded bodies. One was conscious. He begged us to help him. Tirus refused. He said if you free him they'll know he was taken. He was afraid that they would know it was the Jenai had done this and their world would be the first to be visited on the Awakening. But I could not leave the prisoner, not after he had begged us to help him. Tirus… Tirus shot the prisoner in cold blood. For a moment I thought he was going to shoot me too but then the Wraith came. I managed to kill him but not before he shot Tirus."

"Wraith weapons do not kill, he may only have been stunned. Tirus may still be alive. We must go back…"

"More Wraith came… they took him…" Teyla said. "Kalan, I am sorry."

Whatever else might have been said was interrupted by three Wraith blasts impacting on the shields with a worrying accuracy considering they were still cloaked. "Go! Go!" Kalan urged. Sheppard had already taken the helm with Ford at second seat.

"All right, all right! Hang on." The ship took off, heading back to the Jenai planet. It was an uncomfortable, quiet journey. Kalan kept casting dark brooding looks in Teyla's direction Sam resolved to keep a close eye on her friend, even though Teyla was more than capable of looking after herself. But a little back-up never hurt.

Sora was the first to greet them when they landed near the Stargate on Jenai. "Where is my father?"

Kalan laid his hand on her shoulder. "He did not survive."

"How? What happened?" Sora wailed.

"I think we should find out…" Kalan turned to the treeline. "Take aim!" Soldiers appear, aiming at the team, surrounding them.

"Kalan… and I thought we were just learning to get along," Sheppard drawled, readying his own weapon.

"She killed Tirus," Kalan spat, pointing at Teyla.

"No!" Teyla stood her ground, denying Kalan's allegation.

"By leaving him to die you might as well have killed him yourself," Kalan said.

"He shot the man we were trying to save," Teyla glared at him.

"It was a mistake to try and save anyone. It jeopardized the mission. We will keep this intelligence information…" He pointed his weapon at Sam and motioned for her to give him the rest of her scientific equipment. Sam hung onto it and just glared at him, waiting for opening to take him down.

"You're making a mistake," Sheppard growled.

"… and your ship and whatever quantities of C4 you have in your possession," Kalan continued as if Sheppard had not spoken.

"This is all you ever intended – to use us," Teyla did not bother to hide her growing hatred of the man if not the entire Jenai race. The looks that Sora was giving Teyla did not bode well for the continuation of the Athosian race either.

"And for your efforts I will spare your lives," Kalan smiled.

'Generous of you,' Sam thought, keeping a close eye on Kalan's movements. The older man was growing over-confident. True, they were outnumbered, and the way Sora was looking at Teyla she was inclined to shoot first, whether ordered to or not. If Kalan made a grab for her equipment bag she stood a good chance of being able to disarm him or at least cause enough of a distraction for Sheppard, Ford and Teyla to take out a few if not all of the others. At least even the score a little.

"Guess the tava beans are off the table," Sheppard said drily.

"Your weapons," Kalan gestured with his own gun.

"No, I don't think so," Sheppard grinned.

"We have the advantage, major." He took a step closer to Sam.

"This is what your father died for. In the name of those who would lie and steal from those they would call friends," Teyla was hoping to goad Sora into premature action and perhaps distract Kalan from Sam, but it wasn't necessary. As Kalan grabbed for her bag Sam brought her casted arm up and smashed him across the jaw, splitting his lip and knocking him back. Before the pain from her arm took hold she delivered a kick to his ample belly that doubled him up. His gun fell from his hands. Sora cried out then froze as Teyla's knife whispered against the skin of her cheek. Kalan's men tensed, impotent as two of their leaders were incapacitated.

"Well I lied too," Sheppard grinned. "Jumpers 2 and 3 execute!" Above and behind him the air shimmered into life as two Jumper ships silently decloaked. "You didn't really think we only had one ship did you? Tell your people to get back and nobody gets hurt…" Kalan hesitated. "Jumper 2, get ready to fire on my mark."

"Wait! You promise to leave?" Kalan wheezed.

"Well, that's the plan. Guess we'll have to go somewhere else to find our tava beans. But… I think it's only fair we end up with something." He nodded to Sam who stepped towards Kalan and moved to search him for the salvaged data device. With a defeated jaundiced look Kalan held up his hand to ward off her search. He reached into his jacket and handed her the salvaged data device. Sam tucked it into her bag and stepped back towards Sheppard, cradling her arm which was now keening its own song of pain. She suspected that she had refractured at least one of the bones, but she was sure Beckett could fix it again.

"You do not want to make an enemy of the Jenai," Kalan spat.

"You know what. Same here," Sheppard signaled a retreat back to the Jumper. Thirty seconds later they were in the air, the two other Jumpers escorting them back through the Gate to Atlantis.

"Everyone okay?" Sheppard asked, checking his team. Sam nodded, dismissing the pain in her arm, her mind already busy extrapolating ways of harnessing the Wraith technology and linking it in with their systems once they were back on Atlantis. Back home.

Home. She blinked. The sentiment took her by surprise. So did the sensation of exhaustion that swept over her as soon as she took a seat on the Jumper. She continued to hold on to her bag of equipment as if her life depended on it. She started as Teyla's hand came to rest on her shoulder.

"Samantha… your arm!"

"It's nothing… I'm okay," she said. "How about you?"

"I will be fine. The Wraith did not touch me. Tirus…" Sam could see that Teyla was unwilling to admit how much the encounter had unnerved her. "Hopefully the information in that device will make his death worthwhile, and save the life of many other's in the future." Sam nodded. She also wished that she could be sorry that Tirus was dead but all she could remember was the look of brute satisfaction on his face as he kicked her into unconsciousness. "But that is for later. Sam, you should rest. It is not many day since you were gravely ill. If anything were to have happened to you…" Teyla grinned. "Well, Elizabeth for one would not have forgiven me." Her eyes – and her smile - widened as she caught the blush that reddened Sam's cheeks. "What have I missed? Has something happened between you at last?"

"We… talked," Sam admitted. "And she has invited me to dinner in her quarters."

"That is wonderful," Teyla said. "I was beginning to think that the two of you would need to be marooned alone together somewhere before anything would happen. Or hit repeatedly with blunt objects until you admitted the truth of things." She took down the medical kit from the wall and fashioned a sling, easing it over Sam's head and making sure her injured arm was securely strapped. "You really should rest."

Sam was about to protest again that she was fine, really, when a sudden headache speared her and she closed her eyes. Something like static seemed to fuzz her mind. She could hear Ford talking to the Atlantis control room and Teyla's comforting murmur as she made room on the bench for Sam to lie down. "Sam…"

Two voices saying her name at the same time but in vastly different places.

"Sam… You're hurt…"

She opened her eyes to silvery-whiteness, a room walled with replicator tiles. She was sitting on the floor, holding her injured arm against her. Janet was crouched in front of her. "Who did this to you… the Wraith that you spoke of?"

"It's nothing… a misunderstanding. We were trying to make an alliance with a race called the Jenai against the Wraith but in the great traditions of the SGC it didn't go too well."

"We're coming to you as fast as we can," Janet said. "We are agreed. If these Wraith are your enemy then they are our enemy also. We have an army of thousands upon thousands of Replicators just waiting to fall upon them. They will not withstand us."

"And if you do prevail, what then? What about the rest of us in the Pegasus Galaxy. Will you destroy us too?"

"Of course not. You are our friends," Janet's fingers brushed against her bruised jaw. Sam leant into the touch. Janet's flesh was cool, pliant. She could almost believe… The lips that touched hers felt just as she remembered, but there was no warm breath, no scent of jasmine and sandalwood, no 'sense' of Janet. There was shape and there was form and there was the memory of a memory. But the soul, that blessed beloved soul was long gone.

Elizabeth was right. It was time to move on.



The short nap had invigorated her and Sam eased herself back to a sitting position as they prepared to dial the Atlantis Gate. As a precaution, they had gated to another world from the Jenai before gating on to Atlantis. As the Jumper emerged through the Gate it hit Sam.

"Colonel – what about Cavanaugh? He's still with the Jenai."

"I know," Sheppard was tight lipped. "It can't be helped for the moment. We'll start negotiations to get him back as soon as we can." The rear door of the Jumper opened and they could see Weir and Dr Beckett waiting to greet their return.

The plaster on her arm had to be replaced but to everyone's surprise she had done no further damage to the bone. Sam shrugged off Beckett's concerns to join Grodin in the lab where he was busy interfacing and downloading data from the Wraith construct. A lot of the data was encrypted and Sam got to work decoding that. There was enough data that they were able to debrief Dr Weir and Major Sheppard the following day. The events of the previous day were already beginning to take on an almost mythical quality.

"We have been able to ascertain the existence of 21 Wraith hive ships just in our quadrant of the Pegasus galaxy alone," Grodin informed them. They digested that fact in silence for a little while. One hive ship could decimate the population of a planet.

"And there are indications of far more elsewhere in Pegasus," Sam said gravely.

"How many more?" Sheppard asked.

"Well, there's no way of knowing for sure… perhaps sixty or more…" Peter Grodin could not hide the disquiet in his voice. Without a ZPM or equally powerful alternate power source they were defenseless.

"That's a lot of ships," Sheppard breathed. Elizabeth was silent and wide eyed. Sam knew she would be calculating the odds, trying hard not to visualize the consequences.

"Some of them would appear to be on the move already," Grodin indicated the changing symbols on the screen.

"Toward us?" Elizabeth asked.

"That's the part we're still working on," Sam felt compelled to say. There was no use hiding the fact. The Wraith artifact only went to prove that a little knowledge was sometimes worse than no knowledge at all. Sometimes it was preferable for sheer peace of mind to be working blind.

"So even if we were to have helped the Jenai build nuclear war heads…," Elizabeth said softly.

"We only could have nuked a handful of them, instead of all of them simultaneously… there's far too many wraith ships for a coordinated attack," Sheppard confirmed.

"The Jenai plan would never have worked… with or without our help," Elizabeth said sadly.

"I'll see what else I can find," Grodin said. He gathered up the pages of his report and returned to the lab.

"What are we going to do about Cavanaugh," Sheppard asked. The scientist was still with the Jenai. They had been unable to retrieve him before everything went south.

"We received a message from the Jenai a little while ago. It was Cavanaugh. He disavows his allegiance to Atlantis and pledges himself to the Jenai cause."

"So he's a prisoner of war," Sam said softly.

"That seems likely," Elizabeth nodded. Cavanaugh had always been maverick but given his dislike of human military authority it seemed unlikely that he would pledge his allegiance to Kalan's military dictatorship. She sighed, closing her eyes. "Well, on the bright side, we've managed to broker a small trade agreement with one of our allies, the Menerians. We might get heartily sick of chenna root before this is done, but we won't starve."

"Chenna root… sounds delicious," Sheppard grimaced.

"I'm sorry we didn't find the allies you were looking for," Elizabeth said softly.

"At least we got some intel…" Sam sighed, shook her head. "Don't know how much good it's going to do us in the long run."

"I much prefer to know what we're up against than not," Sheppard said.

"Sixty ships or more…" Elizabeth hugged herself.

"I just hope they don't all come at once," Sheppard said.


Part 9

Kavanaugh's defection continued to be a bone of contention polarizing opinion between the scientists and the military for weeks. They did not hear anything further from the Jenai after that last transmission nor did they encounter them on any other planets they visited. They managed to successfully manage a few more trade agreements for food and had the great luck to find an abandoned world with the remains of an orchard just coming into season. For two days everyone who could be spared went on an apple picking expedition. They also found what looked like the overgrown remains of a market garden. Few vegetables were salvageable but there were some vines that bore a crop of grapes and something that strongly resembled redcurrants which they picked and transported back to Atlantis. They did take cuttings and samples of every viable plant they could find. Their explorations in the city itself had unearthed what looked like it had once been an arboretum and hydroponic garden. The botanists had seized on it, declaring that given a few months hard work food shortages would be a thing of the past. Their first cropping would be in three months time. They were beginning to think in the long term.

Sam and Peter Grodin continued to tease as much as they could out of the Wraith detector. They had confirmed the presence of 47 active Wraith ships, working their way steadily across their quadrant of the galaxy. If they were coming to Atlantis, they were taking their time, feeding, restocking. The exploration teams continued to warn every world they visited that the Wraith were on the way. Sometimes they were too late. Desolation greeted them, the survivors of the culling too dazed, too terrified to recognize friend from foe.

Sam's recuperation from the activation of the nanites infesting her brainstem took several weeks. She found that she tired easily and she thought that her concentration was off though she knew she was probably imagining some of the supposed 'side effects'. She was frightened, depressed and paranoid. Beckett, Weir and Teyla tried to be close with her, to support her but sometimes all she wanted was to be alone.

She did not dream of Janet again.

She had had dinner on three occasions with Elizabeth Weir, just the two of them. They had been pleasant, even enjoyable. Elizabeth was good company, beautiful, witty with an abundance of stories about her travels, her career with the UN. She seemed to be content to let Sam dictate the speed of their relationship which Sam was very grateful for. Sam knew that she wanted a relationship with Elizabeth very much, she just could not seem to get the impetus to start it. The invitation was clearly there but every time instead of taking that step forward into Elizabeth's welcoming arms, Sam took a step back and tried to make herself believe that she had not seen the look of disappointment on Elizabeth's face.

The Stargate they had designated M5S-224 seemed to be another abandoned world, devoid of any animal life or plant life more complex than a blade of grass. The whole are seemed to be covered with a thick fog. Dr Beckett had been concerned enough about the MALP readings to insist on the exploration team wearing hazmat suits.

There were a few what could generously be described as structures around the Stargate and then, as Lieutenant Ford put it "a whole lot of nothing." Sam was trying to make sense of her power readings which had been constant no matter how far they got from the gate. There was only one conclusion she could draw from that. Well, two. That their long, uncomfortable walk through the fog for the last couple of hours had been a complete waste of time. And that the stone pillars in the immediate vicinity of the Gate were the most interesting things on the planet.

"There's the Gate… dial it up," Sheppard looked as disgruntled as she had ever seen him. Sam tried to get through to him again the ramifications of what she was seeing.

"The energy readings here are exactly the same as they were a mile away," she tried to show him her PDA but he waved her away.


"I really think we should stay a while longer."

"Not in these suits!" Ford groaned. "Have some pity, doc."

"I know, I hate wearing them as well, but these energy readings are amazing. It's as if they are coming from all around us…" She carefully stabbed at the buttons on the readout, changing the parameters of the scan, the bulky gloves of the hazmat suit making her uncharacteristically clumsy.

"You cannot explain it?" Teyla asked.

"Not yet," Sam glanced over at her friend, the faceplate of her helmet not diminishing her smile one iota.

"Knowing you, I'd say 'yet' was the operative word," Colonel Sheppard said. "We're stuck here until you figure it out, aren't we? Do you think we can use it?"

"Don't know yet," Sam muttered.

"Well it looks like we got ourselves a mission, anyway," Sheppard grinned, vastly amused by his scientist's rapt expression.

"This could take weeks, you know. Pure science like this… we could be talking months… years before we get anything useful," Sam warned him. "I've never… wow!"

Ford glanced at Sheppard and mouthed 'Wow.'. Teyla just tried to keep a straight face.

"You talked me into coming here because you thought those energy readings indicated the presence of a civilization. There are no buildings, no people here, Sam – no nothing. Just fog.

"Technically, it's not fog. There's no actual water vapour in the atmosphere. In fact we could probably do without this lot…" She removed the helmet from her Hazmat gear and took a deep lungful of fresh air. After a moment's hesitation to check that their 'canary' didn't fall off her metaphorical perch, the others followed suit.

"Now you tell me," Sheppard muttered. He waved Ford forward. "Okay, dial the Gate." As the Gate activated, Sam's gasp of amazement was almost drowned out by the familiar 'ka-woosh' of the energy field. "Move out, people."

"Wait!" Sam clutched at the material of his suit to hold him back. "You should see this, it's incredible, it means… it must…" she gazed up at him, bright blue eyes shining. "Wow."

When she looked at him like that 'wow' just about summed it up. Sheppard stared at her, momentarily forgetting how to speak, possibly how to breathe. It struck him once again that Sam Carter was a truly beautiful woman, more so because she seemed to be blithely unaware of the effect she had on other people. And if the scuttlebutt was true, Elizabeth Weir was a very lucky woman.

"What's going on?" Sheppard asked.

"When the Gate connected there was a fluctuation in the energy field. Somehow… this is incredible… but if I'm reading these numbers right, it looks like the Gate is actually drawing power from the atmosphere."


"Well, we walked for at least three klicks away from here and the power levels didn't vary once. This field goes on for miles, perhaps even enveloping the entire planet. Major… we're talking about a lot of energy here."

"How much is a lot?" Sheppard asked.

Sam Carter had dealt with Colonel Jack O'Neill for eight years and John Sheppard was made from the same mould. Figures would just be a lot of numbers to him, he needed something more practical to get his head around. "Enough to open a wormhole to get back to Earth."

"So we can just dial home," Lieutenant Ford asked.

"Not straight away," Sam tried to explain. "Our Gate has an additional control crystal that allows the eighth chevron to lock."

"It's probably a security measure," Sheppard said. Sam nodded, agreeing with his assessment.

"As long as we have the control crystal, I can make the other Gate work," Sam said.

"You're suggesting we remove it from our own DHD and bring it to M5S-224," Elizabeth said. "Isn't that risky?"

Sam leant forward. "I know it sounds radical, but I think it could work."

"You're going to deliberately break our Gate on the chance that you can get this other Gate to work." Sheppard laid it out as he understood it.

"Yes… it's not as bad as it sounds. Our Gate will still work without this control crystal, for other Gates in the Pegasus system anyway. And the control crystal is useless without enough power."

"You said you didn't know where the energy on the other planet is coming from," Ford said.

"I think it's being generated somehow in the atmosphere itself," Sam replied.

"The fog that was not fog," Teyla smiled.

"Exactly," Sam grinned at her friend. "I still don't know what it is exactly but that's the power source, I'm sure of it."

"Okay, Sam. Not that I'm doubting your credentials as a miracle worker in any way but even if you can pull this off we have to assume that the Earth Gate lacks a power source capable of establishing a wormhole back to Pegasus so whoever went – they'd be taking a risk that it might be a one-way trip."

"Well I volunteer," Lieutenant Ford said.

"What about you, Sam?" Sheppard asked.

"I think I'd only go if there was a good chance I could come back. But at least we can send a message to Stargate Command letting them know that we're okay," Sam said.

"We've gathered a lot of intel, we should send it if we can even if its only over a radio," Sheppard said.

Elizabeth nodded in agreement. "Okay, Sam, make the alterations to the DHD. Major Sheppard, if you could assist me in putting together a message to broadcast to the SGC."

Peter Grodin monitored the systems whilst Sam eased herself under the consol to disengage the control crystal in the Atlantis DHD. "There, that's it," she said, a few minutes later.

"All our systems are still active," Grodin reported.

"So how easy will it be to put that thing in the other DHD?" Sheppard asked.

"The Atlantis DHD is unique. I'll probably have to make some major modifications to the set-up in the M5S-224 system. It's not like installing a memory chip in a computer," Sam said, carefully stowing the salvaged crystal in a foam-fitted storage box. "There won't just be an empty slot waiting for us to plug it in."

"Meaning…" Sheppard asked, his eyebrow raised.

Sam grinned. "Some self assembly required," she quoted the term beloved of all DIYers. "I'm going to have to take the DHD apart and install a custom-made interface… don't worry, I can put it back together again, good as new."

"Do you not run the risk of disabling the other Stargate?" Teyla asked.

"There's a very small possibility that something could go wrong but I've done this sort of thing before – and I have very detailed blueprints of the workings of the DHD. Don't worry – if I think there's any doubt that this will work, I'll stop." She meant it. She had learnt the hard way that just because you could do something, it didn't mean that you should.

"Eight hundred and four years," Sheppard reminded her with a crooked smile. "That's how long it will take us to come get you by Puddlejumper."

"I'll keep that in mind," Sam smiled. It would work. She was certain.

Two days later Sam announced that she was ready to attempt to jury-rig the DHD on M5S-224. Lieutenant Aidan Ford was accompanying her – partially because he had volunteered and mostly because Major Sheppard had ordered him to go. Having survived the first trip, they were dispensing with the Hazmat suits on this run.

Sam checked in with Atlantis. "We're ready to begin work on the DHD," she reported.

"You're sure about this, Sam?" Weir asked, concern evident in her voice.

"Positive," Sam grinned. "Next time you hear from us we'll be delivering good news, I hope."

"Well, good luck… and take care," Elizabeth said.

Sam knew she wasn't imagining the tone in Elizabeth's voice or the fact that last comment was aimed directly at her. Though they were very discreet it was an open secret amongst the Atlantis Command Crew and probably most of the other personnel as well that the two women spend most of their downtime together. There were rumours flying of course, but so far nothing had happened between them more dangerous than a kiss. Not that they were telling.

"Don't worry," Sam said. "We'll be back in time for supper." They had another date planned for that evening, a shared meal in the cafeteria then a couple of hours walking around the outer decks. There was still so much to be explored.

The Gate disengaged. "Right, let's get started," Sam said, crouching down at the foot of the DHD and preparing to remove the access panel.

John Sheppard was taking some downtime, in his quarters. Space was at a premium when he was packing for the mission and he determined that if he was going to take a book to read it was going to be a long one. And it was a good opportunity to improve his mind. Consequently 'War and Peace' was propped open on his knee. There was a knock on the door. "Come in!" he called.

Elizabeth Weir walked in. "Hi, do you have a moment?"

"Yeah, sure," Sheppard said, sitting up and closing his book. Elizabeth craned her neck to look at the cover.

"War and Peace… wow, that's some heavy reading."

"Yeah, well back on Earth when I was getting ready for this mission I realized there was a good chance that I might be here for a while so I figured why not bring along a book that takes a while to read?"

Elizabeth picked it up, noted where the bookmark rested. "Page seventeen." She raised an eyebrow. Sheppard beamed at her.

"I'm right on schedule." He was gratified when Elizabeth also began to laugh and some of the worry lines faded from her face, even if it was only for a moment. His work was done.

"Hmmm… it's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," Elizabeth said, composing herself once more. "Home… going home... Sam's right… if this works and we are able to establish a wormhole back to Earth…"

"Y'know, if this conversation is going where I think it's headed, you can put your mind at rest. I'm not going anywhere. I haven't read my book."

She laughed on cue, but she was still uneasy about something. Pulling up a chair, she sat down. "Look, all I'm saying is that you are the person who is best qualified to brief General Hammond and all the other powers-that-be about the Wraith threat."

"Well, maybe so," Sheppard said, "but I think I'm needed here."

Elizabeth's smile was genuine but he sensed he hadn't won the argument. "Good."

"But if you want to go, I understand that too," he said.

"What – are you saying I'm not needed here?"

"I said I'd understand," he repeated.

"Well, thank you, but I made a commitment."

"Of course, in all fairness, life sucking aliens weren't mentioned in the brochure."

She inclined her head, acknowledging the sad truth. "Regardless, I'm staying."

"Good," he grinned at her. "Wouldn't be the same without you."

"I could say the same for you," she said. "I know we didn't have the best of starts, but…"

"What about Sam Carter?" he asked. "Do you think she'll stay?"

"I don't know, I hope so," Elizabeth could hear herself floundering. "Like the rest of us, she's made a life here. I don't think there's anything or anyone back on Earth…"

"Doesn't she have a kid?" Sheppard asked. "I heard…"

"Her daughter lives with her biological father, I believe," Elizabeth said. "Sam gave her up completely, after she was born. It wasn't the best time in her life from the little she's told me."

"That's got to be a tough decision to make," Sheppard said. "She doesn't seem the type to take the easy way on anything like that."

Elizabeth wasn't comfortable talking about Sam behind her back like this. "I think it cost her a lot of heartache. I'm not sure it's anything she'd willingly revisit." She changed the subject. "I'll need your help pulling together a report of everything that's happened since we set up operations here. I would imagine that we're going to be asked some pointed questions about the loss of Colonel Sumner and the other casualties we've suffered."

"I'll start work on it straight away," Sheppard said.

Sam eased her shoulders a little. The adjustments to the DHD were taking a little longer than she had anticipated but otherwise were proceeding as planned. Accessing the relevant areas was difficult: she was lying on her back with her head and shoulders more or less wedged in the body of the DHD, holding a small flashlight between her chin and her shoulder. Lieutenant Ford and a second flashlight were hunkered down as near to the DHD as he could get.

"So, if this works, would you want to go back?" Ford asked.

"I don't think it matters what I want," Sam said. "I don't have anyone back on Earth any more, not really…" resolutely she pushed back into the furthest recesses of her mind any thought of Cassie or Rose. "And… I have too many reasons to stay on Atlantis. My life is here now, my work, my research, my friends…"

"True enough, Dr Carter," Ford said. "Without you, Atlantis would have been toast a couple of times by now."

Sam could feel the blush rise in her cheeks at the compliment. "We all play our part, Lieutenant Ford. And call me Sam, okay."

"Okay, Sam. And its Aidan…" the young officer eased his cramped position a little, careful to keep the beam from the flashlight as steady as possible. Anything happened to Dr Carter on his watch and he'd have no reason to go back to Atlantis. Too many people there would be after his hide. "I'd love to see my grandma. She thinks I'm somewhere in Afghanistan or something… So if we do get the chance, how many people do you think will go back to Earth?"

"I don't honestly know, Aidan. It's a difficult decision to make. I know some of the scientists are uneasy about having ended up in a war zone, but at the same time we've barely scratched the surface of Atlantis never mind all these other worlds. Not many of them are going to pass up the chance to keep studying all the Ancient technology we're finding. Someone in command will need to go back even if its just to brief Earth about the threat that the Wraith represent." In her heart Sam knew that that would probably be Elizabeth Weir. It was her fate it seemed that anyone she loved would leave her. At least this time it was only a potentially one-way trip to the other side of the wormhole and not death that was taking Elizabeth away from her. Her hands stilled… if it didn't work, no one would question it. They all knew this was theoretical at best. No one would know otherwise. Then Elizabeth would stay. She would not be alone again.

"I suppose I really meant it when I volunteered to go back through," Aidan Ford. "This has been one hell of an experience and all and I don't want to miss out on going through the Gate but… I can't get it out of my head that I don't belong here. This place is never going to be home to me – not like its become for Major Sheppard – or for you."

The moment passed, like a cloud over her heart. Her hands completed the last connections, her eyes blurring with tears she dare not shed. She was a selfish bitch, a cold hearted monster. What the hell gave her the right to condemn everyone to remain here and lose out on the chance of a trip home just because she was scared of being alone again? Quickly, she checked the connections and reconnected the DHD's power supply. The crystals began to glow. Now all she had to do was make sure they could still dial out.

News of the discovery had already spread throughout the base. Everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for Sam and Lieutenant Ford to report back. Expectations were running high.

As an observer, Teyla found the different reactions of her human friends to the prospect of going home to be fascinating. As usual she sought out John Sheppard as her interpreter of the human condition. "It is to be expected, of course – the possibility of being reunited with loved ones, returning to familiar ground." They were standing on the balcony that ran outside the control room, looking out over the ocean.

Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, I'd love to go back."

Teyla was surprised at this. "You would consider leaving Atlantis?"

"If I was certain that I could gate back here, then I'd go in a heartbeat."

"It would be wonderful to see your world," Teyla said wistfully.

"You could help me with the briefing," Sheppard said. "You know more about the Pegasus galaxy than anyone. And then there's all of those cool Earth things we talked about – Football, Ferris wheels… oh! Do you remember the last of the popcorn we ate? We could get more!"

"If we knew we could return…" Teyla nodded. Their conversation was interrupted by an announcement from the Control Room. An unscheduled activation was in progress. Someone was dialing the Atlantis Gate. Elizabeth Weir came out of her office and joined them at the top of the stairs as the Gate opened.

"It's a radio transmission from Dr Carter," the duty technician announced. Elizabeth joined him at the console.


"Elizabeth… we're done. The crystal's installed in the DHD and as you can see…" If she said anything else it was drowned out by the whoops of delight around the control room.

"Well done," Elizabeth smiled. "What about the energy readings?"

"Same as before," Sam reported. "All indications are that the Gate's drawing power from the atmosphere and there's enough to activate the eighth chevron mark."

"Okay, you stay put," Elizabeth glanced over at Sheppard and he nodded his assent. "We're on our way."

Within the hour, Elizabeth, John Sheppard and Teyla had gated through to M5S-224. They had determined that they would send a message through to the SGC first of all. Sam swallowed back her nerves. For some reason it felt like the first time all over again. The Gate 'kawooshed'. Elizabeth took a deep breath and began to speak into her radio.

"Stargate Command, this is Doctor Elizabeth Weir of the Atlantis expedition. Do you read?" She paused. There was silence, not even the crackle of static. Sam realized she was biting her thumbnail with the tension and hastily removed her thumb from her mouth, hoping no one had noticed her lapse. "I repeat, this is Dr Weir. Come in please."

A wonderfully familiar voice came to them. "This is Sergeant Harriman of Stargate Command. Whoever you are, this better not be a joke."

Elizabeth laughed aloud. "No joke, Sergeant. I'm sending my personal IDC for confirmation." Carefully she typed her code into her GDO.

There was another moment of silence. "Sorry about that, Dr Weir. We're just, er, a little surprised to be hearing from you."

"Understandable," Elizabeth could not keep her excitement out of her voice. The grins on the faces of her colleagues told her everything she needed to know about their state of mind.

"The iris is open – you're clear to come through."

"Thanks, but we're not ready to risk a one-way trip," Weir said.

"You don't understand, Doctor. Things have changed around here. The Asgard are in the process of fitting Prometheus with engines capable of reaching other galaxies. We were mapping a mission to find out what happened to you."

"Is he serious?" Lieutenant Ford asked.

"The Asgard have that capability," Sam confirmed. "But they've never been keep to share their technology with us before. This is… incredible."

"Yes ma'am. Come through now and you could be back in Pegasus inside of a month," Harriman confirmed.

There was a long silence whilst everyone digested this. Sam tried to analyse what she was feeling and failed. There really was nothing for her back on Earth. And yet… Lieutenant Ford was grinning hard. It looked like he was going to get his cake and eat it after all. Major Sheppard was all business for a change. Elizabeth looked… worried. Sam realized that she had not really expected this to succeed. She was concerned about how their return to Earth would be received. Would their mission so far be considered a success? Would Elizabeth even be allowed to return or given the intel they had about the Wraith threat, would the mission be placed under purely military command? And of course Elizabeth had someone to come home to. Simon.

They hadn't talked about him that much. Elizabeth had told her that they had been friends for a long time but that their relationship had only begun a year or so before. "I don't know if there's any great passion on either side," Elizabeth said. "We enjoy each other's company, we're good together, but…" she sighed. "Simon was an afterthought, not a consideration when I made my decision about heading the Pegasus expedition. And I've missed his company, certainly. I've missed seeing him, missed talking things through with him. But I haven't missed him, if you know what I mean. We didn't make any promises to each other."

She hadn't made any promises either. And now it might just be too late. Elizabeth could have her second chance with Simon. It came as a surprise when she heard someone speak and realized it was herself. "Well, who's going?"

It certainly felt like coming home. General Hammond stood at the bottom of the ramp to greet her as he had so many times before when she had walked through the Gate as part of SG1. "Welcome back to Earth," he smiled.

Though she was glad to see her old friend and mentor, Sam felt a fleeting sense of wrongness. General O'Neill was in command of the SGC now. General Hammond had been promoted to head up the new department of Homeworld Security. This was…

"General O'Neill sends his regards. He's stuck in Washington at the moment. I happened to be visiting the SGC today so I get the pleasure of welcoming you home."

Sam's disquiet abated slightly. Of course that was the reason General Hammond was here and not Jack O'Neill. Not that she was in any great hurry to see him again anyway. Elizabeth brushed past her as she walked down the ramp and took General Hammond's outstretched hand. That seemed the signal for everyone else to move as well and moments later the Gateroom seemed to be full of people welcoming them home.

The next few hours were a slightly uncomfortable blur. Daniel and Teal'c weren't around either. Teal'c was visiting with Brata'c and Rya'c and working with the Free Jaffa and Daniel was offworld on a dig, likely to be a long-term project. Whilst she knew everyone who came up to congratulate her on her safe return, apart from General Hammond there was no one here she could really call a friend. Sam spared a glance at Teyla who must be feeling even more overwhelmed than she was but the Athosian woman seemed to be taking it all in her stride.

They were whisked through some medical checks and then into the first of what promised to be many debriefing sessions. The new doctor, Dr Lam was efficient but impersonal. The sense of unreality seemed to be getting stronger. She couldn't concentrate on Elizabeth's briefing.

" ... and while the Pegasus galaxy does hold many dangers, I feel its potential rewards justify the risk of maintaining a continued presence on the Atlantis base."

"Unfortunately, Doctor, your preliminary report has given the Pentagon cause for concern," General Hammond said. "If the Wraith are as powerful as you say, that would make them an enemy even more dangerous than the Goa'uld. There are those who believe it would be prudent to cut our losses and abandon the Pegasus galaxy altogether."

Sam frowned, absently rubbing her forehead. She'd had a low grade headache for… well, as long as she could remember, really. For a moment she had been convinced that this was the first briefing but if Hammond had had time to consult the Pentagon then it couldn't be. She had an almost-memory of other meetings of presenting her findings over and over again trying to prove that whatever the dangers their foothold in the Pegasus galaxy was worth pursuing. They did tend to blend into one another in her mind.

"General… you can't…" Elizabeth protested.

"We're talking about a race that defeated the Ancients," Hammond reminded them, somewhat unnecessarily.

"Over its years in operation Stargate Command has encountered a number of threats that could well have brought about the destruction of this world. Now, that never stopped you from continuing to send teams through the Gate, General," Elizabeth said earnestly.

"By the time SG1 had returned from their first mission, the damage had already been done. We had alerted the Goa'uld to our presence and shutting down operations wouldn't have changed that. In the case of the Wraith however, we have a choice."

"So we're just going to turn tail and run," Sam's indignation burst out before she could put a lid on it.

"The Pentagon would prefer to call it a strategic withdrawal," Hammond frowned at her. Even though she was no longer military he obviously expected slightly more decorum from her. But Sam was too angry and too afraid to draw on her military detachment right now.

"But how can we be sure they won't come after us?" Elizabeth asked.

"Elizabeth is right, General. They feed on human lifeforms. They know we're here. Billions upon billions of humans in this galaxy. We'll be a… an all you can eat buffet for them." Sam knew that her opinion had always been valued by General Hammond. Hopefully that was still the case.

"I don't think we have a choice. We need to continue to explore the opportunities for technological advancement Pegasus galaxy has to offer – not to mention our responsibility to the other humans who live there," Elizabeth continued to press her argument.

"Responsibility?" Hammond questioned.

"We did wake up the Wraith – and while, yes, that would have happened eventually without our interference, our access to Ancient technology puts us in a unique position to help those people. We can't just walk away…" Elizabeth glanced across at Sam, unsure as to the success of her argument. Sam could tell that General Hammond was seriously considering her words.

"Rest assured your recommendations will be given consideration at the highest level," Hammond said at last. Both women nodded their thanks recognizing that that was as much as they would get out of him before he consulted his superiors again.

Sam had got the distinct impression that Elizabeth had been avoiding spending time with her since their return to the SGC. Not that she had seen much of Sheppard, Ford or Teyla either. Ford had gone on leave, visiting his grandparents, Sheppard had got permission to escort Teyla off-base. They were off sight-seeing. With the constant press of meetings and briefings, not only of the civil and military but also the scientific community at the SGC Sam didn't seem to have had a moment to herself in days and she could only presume that Elizabeth was going through a similar experience.

General Hammond seemed keen that everyone get some R&R. Sam had sold her house and severed all her remaining links with Colorado Springs before she had joined the Pegasus expedition. A part of her had never expected to come home again. She had no place to go. Hammond surprised her. "Your old house was leased by one of our civilian scientists, Dr Novak. She's currently assigned to the Prometheus. She's very willing for you to make use of the house whilst you're here."

"That's very kind of her," Sam smiled. She was surprised at how few changes Novak had made to her house, all her furniture was still there. Perhaps Novak hadn't spent much time here yet, she hypothesized. It explained why everything was simultaneously spookily familiar and yet just that little bit 'off'.

General O'Neill was still in Washington as far as she knew. Presumably Rose was with him. No one seemed keen to fill her in on any personal gossip about him, or indeed anyone else on SG1. Daniel and Teal'c were still offworld, her father was with the Tok'ra – relations with them were still somewhat spiky. She had received one brief but strangely impersonal message from him since her return, and that had been waiting for her for several months..

"You don't have to stay in Colorado Springs you know, Dr Carter," Hammond said. "You can go anywhere you'd like, enjoy some well deserved R&R. We can arrange accommodation, transportation…"

"That's… very generous, sir," Sam stammered out.

"You've done your country a great service, Sam. You deserve it," Hammond said warmly.

Sam knew she would be blushing, she had never been able to take praise as her due. She knew that Teyla and John Sheppard had already taken off somewhere, and Lieutenant Ford was visiting his grandparents. Elizabeth she hadn't seen for a outside of briefings for a couple of days and she discovered that she missed the other woman keenly. "If you don't mind, General, I'd like to stick around here a while longer. There are a lot of new developments I want to catch up on and I'd welcome working with Dr Lee and…" she swallowed, "Dr MacKay, on the zero point technology."

Hammond didn't look entirely happy with her decision but didn't question it or refuse it. "Very well, Doctor Carter. Your old lab has been reassigned but I'm sure Dr Lee can find you some space. We've opened out a lot of level 17 since you left. There is still some unassigned laboratory space there. Just let Dr Lee know what you need in the way of equipment."

"Thank you, sir," Sam said, bringing herself to attention and just to say stopping herself from saluting.

Hammond allowed himself a small smile as he recognized her lapse. "It is good to have you back."

Elizabeth Weir realized that she had missed driving. The generous R&R allowance the SGC had given her had encouraged her to splurge a little and the open topped sports car she had hired suited her mood. She had hoped to get together with Sam but the scientist had apparently disappeared into her new lab for the duration. Elizabeth was a little surprised that General Hammond had not insisted on Sam taking her R&R as well but had figured that old habits died hard. The former II1C of SG1 had been notorious for her work ethic.

Simon was outside his house, working on his car in the drive. She parked up behind him and he came to greet her, cleaning off his hands on a rag. His expression of shock and disbelief did make her wonder if her return was entirely welcome.

"Hello, Simon."

"My God. When did you…" his voice trailed into silence. He gazed at her as if he could not quite believe she was real. Then his rather solemn face broke into a smile and he pulled her into a hug. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around him and hugged him.

"I missed you," she whispered. He tried to kiss her and she drew back, almost shyly. "Simon, we need to talk."

By common consent they took their drinks out into the back garden. There she was greeted by another Sam, Simon's dog. Elizabeth sat down on the steps to stroke him. "Hey, Sam. Did you miss me? Did you miss me, huh?"

"More than you could imagine," Simon said softly. He came to sit on the wall by the steps. "I don't know how many times I watched that damned tape you left me."

"I wanted to tell you in person," Elizabeth started to say.

Simon shook his head, cutting her off. "No, you didn't. You were afraid I'd talk you out of it."

"I was afraid you'd try," Elizabeth admitted.

"When you told me you were going away but couldn't say where, my first guess was Korea. My second guess was Israel. To be honest, the Pegasus galaxy didn't make my list," Simon said.

"I am sorry," Elizabeth tried to put all the empathy she possessed into those three words.

"I know… I imagine my security clearance doesn't let you tell me what you've been doing while you were there."

Elizabeth shook her head, not meeting his gaze. "No…"

"Or when you'll be leaving again?"

"No," she said.

"Well, at the very least you could promise me that… you'll take this with you." He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and then handed her a flat velvet jewellery box.

Elizabeth realized that she had absolutely no idea what to do or say. How long had he been carrying it around with him, anyway? It seemed strangely out of character of him to be this… sentimental. She opened the box. Inside was a necklace. Thank goodness it wasn't a ring, she thought. "It's beautiful." She managed to say. Simon moved to sit next to her on the steps and took the necklace from her, placing it around her throat. He eyed it critically for a moment and smiled.

"Nice." He leaned in and they kissed briefly and then after a moment's hesitation, more deeply. Elizabeth felt… nothing. Simon looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I'm sorry, it's just when you kissed me…"

"What are you talking about, Elizabeth?" Before Elizabeth could answer him, her cellphone rang. She stood up and walked away from Simon before answering it.

"Hello? General… what? Yes, I understand. Thank you…" She ended the call and turned back to Simon. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

Sam drove to her old home. At least that was her intention. Yet strangely she wasn't surprised when she found herself driving past Jack O'Neill's house all the way across town. She slowed: there was a very familiar truck in the driveway. The General was back from Washington. The truck doors were open as was the front door. As she slowed almost to a stop she saw Jack O'Neill exit the house and walk towards the truck. There was someone standing in the porch, a woman, holding a toddler, a little girl with curly dark blonde hair. The child could only be Rose. She could not see the woman and she was passing the house now. Sam craned to see more through the rear-view mirror as the woman emerged from the porch onto the drive. She could not believe what she was seeing and came close to crashing the car. The woman was Janet Fraiser.

Somehow she got back to her house without crashing the car. She staggered inside, slamming the door behind it and made it as far as the couch before losing it completely.

It was impossible. She was dead. Janet was dead. There was the other one of course, the Replicator version but how could she be here? Her dreams, her visions had told her that RepliJanet and Fifth were on their way to Pegasus Galaxy to rescue her from the Wraith. It was possible of course that there was some interdimensional tourism going on and this Janet was from an alternate reality. Or there'd been a bit of business with a time machine and a total disregard for the continuity and sanctity of the timeline. Or this was Replicator Janet. And if that was the case RepliJanet had lied to her or there were more than one of them or her visions were mere illusion and she really was going insane. Or all of this was the illusion and someone or something was trying to subvert her... God, her head was killing her. She stumbled into the bathroom for the stash of painkillers Dr Beckett had given her before she left Atlantis.

She dry-swallowed two of the pills, then after a moment's thought took another two. Sam stared at her reflection in the mirror, willing the headache to go away. She had no idea how long she just sat there before someone knocked on the front door. Rubbing her tearstained cheeks, Sam made her way rather unsteadily towards the door. It was Elizabeth. She was dressed as if she had just come out of a meeting rather than her down-time. It seemed forever since she'd seen the other woman; she looked well, rested, happy. "Sam, sorry to interrupt your day off so quickly but… hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah… yeah, just got a bit… overwhelmed, I think," Sam lied. "Being home again, you know. Especially after, well, we'd all almost given up hope of ever seeing it again."

"Well, the shoe's on the other foot now, I'm afraid. There's news… Sam," Elizabeth lowered her eyes, her fingers straying to play with a ring on her hand, one that Sam had never seen before. It looked almost like an engagement ring. "I just got a call from General Hammond. There was an accident on Prometheus. We can't go back to Atlantis."

"What!" If she hadn't have been sitting down, Sam would certainly have fallen down. As it was she felt the room slide sideways. Elizabeth's hand was on her shoulder, she was speaking to her urgently but her words were all but lost in a rushing sound that seemed to fill her head.

"Sam… everything's going to be okay, you'll see. We'll work something out…"

Sam could only stare up at her, the intensity of Elizabeth's dark blue eyes holding her together more than anything else. "I'm sorry… it took me by surprise… I didn't realize…"

"How much you'd come to think of Atlantis as 'home' until you couldn't get back there again," Elizabeth nodded. "I wondered if you'd feel that way."

"You don't?" Sam asked, her voice hushed.

Elizabeth shook her head. "To be honest the first thing I felt when General Hammond told me was a profound sense of relief. That perhaps I could get through a night without lying awake wondering if tomorrow would be the day the Wraith found us. That doesn't mean to say I won't fight tooth and nail to find a way to get back there, Sam. We left some good people behind. Some good friends."

Sam nodded dumbly, thinking of Grodin and Zelenka and Carson Beckett in particular. The thought that she might never see them again was insurmountable. At least if she were going to be stranded here, it was with Elizabeth. Her hand was trembling as she reached up to touch Elizabeth's cheek. "Thank you for not giving up on us," she whispered.

Elizabeth smiled. "And risk losing you?" she whispered back. She moved closer to Sam, their lips almost touching. Sam closed the final half inch or so to kiss the other woman.

She didn't remember how they ended up in the bedroom. She was naked, Elizabeth was still wearing her shirt but it was open, revealing the delicate peach lace of her bra and panties. She still had the slight tan she'd picked up in her off-duty hours at Atlantis and Sam admired the softness of her skin as Elizabeth arched above her, reaching down to kiss her way down Sam's throat and across her breasts. Her fingers traced the pattern of constellations through the freckles across Sam's shoulders and upper chest, stopping here and there to smooth across various scars Sam had earned over her years in the field. Sam found herself unusually passive, letting Elizabeth direct their lovemaking, gasping, arching her back as Elizabeth's fingers teased her clit, raising her thigh so that it pressed against Elizabeth's centre as the brunette straddled her leg. Elizabeth's lips closed around the belly button piercing that was strictly non-regulation but Janet had dared her...

Janet… In her mind's eye she saw her clearly, the woman holding the child as if it were her own, turning to say something to Jack O'Niell as he got a buggy and bag out of the back of the car. It had been Janet, Sam had no doubt, but she did not understand, she could not understand… The headache pierced her again and she moaned, Elizabeth mistaking the sound for pleasure rather than pain and laughing quietly before lowering her head to lap at Sam's dripping centre. And as the other woman's talented tongue and fingers brought her to screaming, weeping climax, all thoughts of Janet, Atlantis, and her headache fled…

She opened her eyes to see Elizabeth in the process of getting dressed. "I need to get back to the Mountain," she explained. "I was paged. General Hammond has called a meeting to discuss options for returning to Atlantis."

Sam reached over to her own pager, which was silent. There were no messages for her. "I haven't been called," she said.

"You're on down-time," Elizabeth explained. "He probably doesn't want to bother you." She took the ring she had been wearing earlier out of her jacket pocket and placed it back on her ring finger.

"That's a pretty ring," Sam said quietly. "I haven't seen you wear it before."

"It was a gift… from Simon. I went to see him earlier," Elizabeth said. "Look… nothing's changed okay. He asked… but I haven't given him an answer."

"Then what the hell was this?" Sam asked, indicating the rumpled sheets.

"This was between you and me. It has nothing to do with Simon, or anyone else. Look, I have to go. We'll talk later, okay?" Elizabeth blew a kiss in her direction, picked up her briefcase and car keys from the dresser and was gone before Sam could formulate a reply.

Elizabeth stared at General Hammond in horror. "What happened? Was anyone hurt?"

Sam bustled in with an armful of files. "I don't think we needed the Prometheus in the first place. I worked out how to establish a wormhole connection but I will need to use the ZPM."

"The ZPM's been depleted – it's of no use." Hammond turned back to Elizabeth but Sam had not finished.

"Actually that's not quite true, sir," Sam placed a folder on the table in front of him. "You see, the last time it was used, the ZPM had to establish and maintain a wormhole back to Atlantis. We don't need to do that again. This time around, all we need to do is establish the briefest of connections, just a few seconds. Even depleted it should have retained enough energy to do that."

"That hardly seems like enough time to establish a connection…" Hammond began.

"General, when we first got to M5S-224, before the wormhole shut down, I picked up fluctuations in the energy field. At the time I just assumed that it was an effect of the Gate's residual energy signature but having thought about it some more I now realize that can't account for such sizeable variances which leaves only one possible explanation. The Gate must have been energised on our arrival, meaning it doesn't just draw power on outgoing wormholes but on incoming wormholes as well. All we have to do is make a connection for 3.5 microseconds. That's the minimum amount of time it requires to confirm a lock before the Gate automatically kicks in, drawing power from the atmosphere to maintain the wormhole.

"You'll forgive me Dr Carter – but this all seems a little farfetched," Hammond frowned.

Elizabeth had to agree. It lacked the… elegance of Sam's usual scientific expositions. Still, if it got them back to Atlantis…

"Think of it like making a long-distance call to someone you know is going to accept the charges. All you have to do is dial," Sam said brightly.

Hammond shook his head. "I'm sorry, Doctor."

Sam wouldn't let it go. "General Hammond, sir. You're not going to lose anything by letting me try, are you? At least let me run a few more tests." Hammond paused and then nodded.

"All right, I'll have the ZPM delivered to the lab."

Elizabeth frowned. They seemed to be overlooking something. "General Hammond, aren't we going to repair the Prometheus?"

"It was very severely damaged. Twenty crewmembers lost their lives. She won't be flying again any time soon."

"So we ask the Asgard for one of their ships," Elizabeth said.

"I'm sure that when the Asgard are in a position to help, they will," Hammond got up to leave.

"General, I only came to Earth because I was assured I'd be able to get back. Now, I am not about to abandon my expedition team."

"I'll see what I can do, but I'm not making any promises," Hammond patted her on the shoulder and left.

Elizabeth did not return. Nor did she contact her about the outcome of the meeting. Sam didn't know what to do. She wasn't used to being out of the loop. It reminded her unpleasantly of the time when the Ascended being Orlin took up residence in her house and everyone thought she was crazy because no one else had seen him. And here she was again. It wasn't as if she could just go up to General Hammond and ask if Janet Fraiser had come back from the dead. Not without sounding a complete idiot. Or a prime case for mental health. Yet if it was true then surely someone would have mentioned it to her. Her real relationship with Janet Fraiser might have been known only to a select few but everyone at the SGC had known that the two women were close friends.

It didn't make any sense.

She fought against the temptation to go stalk the woman she had seen at O'Neill's house (she refused to think of her as 'Janet') and went to her lab instead. Dr Lee had found her space on the newly opened out level and had done what he could to accommodate her equipment needs but some of the stuff she needed was highly specialist and not available in the short term. She had to make-do with what she could. The depleted ZPM sat on her desk like a particularly exotic if over-sized paperweight.

McKay was away on another assignment at some think-tank called Eureka, liaising with the team designing the X-304. The news of the explosion on board the Prometheus had shocked everyone. They had lost so many good people.

Sam stared at the ZPM. She had no idea how she would ever get it recharged. She had plenty of theories but nothing that leapt out at her and said yes, that's the one, that's the way to do it. One of the first notions she'd come up with was some half-cocked idea about using the power of the M5S-224 gate to somehow recharge the ZPM but it was a no-brainer when you actually got down to the physics of it.

Sam wasn't getting any answers. Rodney McKay wasn't even taking her calls. All of the science team seemed to be diverted to working on recharging the ZPM no matter that she had advised them that it really was a no-go. What results Sam had seen so far made no sense whatsoever. A few laws of physics seem to have been rewritten or conveniently forgotten whilst she was in the Pegasus Galaxy and certainly most of the SGC protocols regarding submitting research results. If she didn't know better she'd think there was some kind of conspiracy going on.

She still hadn't asked anyone about the new woman in Jack O'Neill's life. And no one had said anything to her. The Infirmary nurses were always a good source of gossip about everyone's love life but Sam fought shy of going there. It wasn't the same. And the fact that no one had as yet asked her any hard questions about her physical condition was beginning to bother her.

"Do you have those test results for me yet?" she asked one of the team seemingly arbitrarily assigned to her. His name was Pender and he looked about fourteen. He reminded Sam strongly of one of her brother's scrawny friends from the summer after her mom had died. It was one of the more frustrating times in her life, marking time before she went away to school to get on with her future. Mark was supposed to be looking after her whilst their father was away on a mission but had spent his time lounging around the house with his friends, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and the occasional joint. Until Dad had come home and found him high. The argument had raged for hours. Mark had left home shortly after, Dad had taken the next mission that came along and Sam, well Sam had been left alone…

Pender stammered something and handed her a sheaf of papers before scuttling off. Sam glanced at the top sheet, did a double take then read it through again, leafing through the rest of the sheets in growing confusion. "Wait a minute – what is this, some kind of joke?"

"We might need more time," Pender said defensively.

"All the time in the world won't make that make sense. The Universal Constant is…" A first year physics undergraduate should not have made this kind of mistake. "What were you thinking?"

"We've checked the equations over the link with Dr MacKay," Pender said. Sam silently ground her teeth. Even if he wasn't here in person, she still had to deal with his ego and his 'cute' little putdowns. If he called her or referred to her as 'blondie' or 'blue-eyes' one more time in front of the other scientists... "He believes the ZPM has enough power to open the wormhole and establish the link. He says it's worth the chance."

"Well, you wouldn't know that from this, would you?" Sam almost gave in to her urge to crumple the sheaf of papers into a ball. "This is complete gibberish. Doesn't anyone here have a grasp of even the basic rules of physics anymore? Look, just… go. Get out. I'll redo them myself."

He scuttled out. If he had had a tail it would have been firmly between his legs. Sam stared at the sheets of gibberish in her hand and with an exasperated cry, let them fall to the floor. Usually she was pretty self-sufficient when it came to this sort of thing but at the moment she dearly wanted someone to talk to. Too many things weren't adding up any more. But there was no one. Friends, family, colleagues – all gone. She had to deal with this alone.

Elizabeth had taken the necklace with her when she left Simon's house, but she had not taken it out of the box in the days since their last meeting. He had left her several messages, only one of which she had answered and she had been so relieved to get his voicemail. She had made arrangements to see him again, at his house. This conversation was not one that she wanted to have in a public forum. The necklace was in her bag, at her feet as she sat in his lounge. She had been telling him as much as she could about their difficulties in contacting the expedition again. "Would it be so bad if you had to stay?" Simon asked, handing her a mug of coffee.

Elizabeth stared into her cup. "I'm sorry, Simon. I know none of this is fair to you."

Simon smiled. "It is tough to compete with the greatest adventure in human history… I don't blame you for going."

"Thank you," Elizabeth smiled wryly. "But I still feel guilty. And now I feel guilty about being back."

"Because of the people you left behind?"

"No. I should have stayed at Atlantis. Major Sheppard should've been the one to go," Elizabeth whispered. She realized too late how that might have sounded. "Oh, Simon, I'm sorry."

"It's okay…" he said, his voice a little tight. "Like you said. I'm just here to provide a sympathetic ear, nothing more. We both have to move on…"

"So you understand why I have to give you this back," Elizabeth said, reaching into her purse and pulling out the jewelry case.

"No, please, Elizabeth. Keep it. A gift between old friends. No strings, I promise," Simon said. "Just… one day, when you can, tell me the whole story, okay. Promise me that."

"Okay," Elizabeth smiled. "It's a deal."

Simon had been very… sweet. His insistence that she keep the necklace disconcerted her but she abided by his wishes not wanting to hurt his feelings any more than she already had. The message to return to the SGC had come as a relief for both of them from what was still an amicable but becoming increasingly awkward conversation.

Elizabeth was ushered to the briefing room and General Hammond joined her there after a few minutes. "Thank you for coming in again, Doctor," he said.

"Has there been a response to my request," Elizabeth asked.

"Actually, we won't be needing any help from the Asgard. It turns out that Doctor Carter has found the solution that will enable us to open a wormhole back to Pegasus."

"She has?" Elizabeth was unable to hide her delight, then her sixth sense about these things started twitching. Hammond wasn't being entirely straight with her. "Why wasn't I informed?"

Hammond had on his most fatherly expression. "Doctor – the Atlantis mission has been re-assessed."

"What does that mean?" Elizabeth asked, though she had a sinking feeling she already knew the answer.

"In light of the intelligence you've brought us concerning the Wraith, it's been decided that the Atlantis presence should be military."

"Our allies have agreed to this?" Elizabeth asked, hardly believing what she was hearing.

"They did. As soon as Dr Carter can establish a wormhole, we intend to send reinforcements, along with a new commanding officer. I'm sorry, Doctor but you've been relieved of your duties."

"Okay, wait a minute," Elizabeth said, in her agitation forgetting protocol and getting up from the table to pace a little. "I am not saying that there shouldn't be an increased military presence, but the mission must remain the same – and I'm sure if Major Sheppard were here, he'd tell you…"

"I spoke with Major Sheppard before this meeting and he agrees with our assessment," General Hammond informed her.

"He wouldn't do that," Elizabeth stammered out, sitting down again. "I know John Sheppard."

"Apparently you don't know him as well as you thought, Doctor. Major Sheppard stated categorically that in his opinion it's the only way to ensure the security of the project. And so I am empowered to tell you, Dr Weir, that the US Government thanks you for your participation in this project and wishes you well in your future career."

Sam parked her car in the street about three doors up from Jack O'Neill's house. There was a gap in the treeline here that meant she had a perfect view of his porch and front door through her rear-view mirror. This was the third evening in a row that she had found herself here – and the third evening in a row she swore she would not do this ever again.

She hadn't seen Janet… the woman again. The house was definitely occupied. Sam had caught a glimpse of Jack O'Neill once the previous evening, going out to his truck to fetch what appeared to be a child's toy from the front seat. As the day drew down to dusk, lights went on in the porch and she could see a patch of light that must be from the lounge window. A shadow moved across the patch of light every now and then. Sam rubbed her forehead wearily. Her headaches were getting worse again. She fumbled in her pocket for the bottle of over the counter painkillers she had bought and dryswallowed four. She crossed her arms on the steering wheel and lowered her head to rest on them. She hadn't dared go to the infirmary to refill Dr Beckett's prescription. Too many questions would be asked. Actually what she feared the most was no questions being asked, that Dr Brightman would just hand over the pills without insisting on a full medical examination. Even more terrifying was that she might insist on a full workup. If they looked hard enough they would find out about the Replicator infiltrates in her brain and that would be that. There was no way she would be able to return to a normal life after something like that. The security implications were immense. And if she was any kind of military officer she would just hand herself over… except... She knew how close she had come to becoming a living test subject when she had first been forcibly joined to Jolinar and then again when Adrian Conrad had kidnapped her. The Trust had always been interested in her – and they were still around.

Raising her head, she slammed back into the headrest in shock. Janet Fraiser was standing in front of her car, her arms folded across her chest, a very pissed off expression on her face.

"Aren't you even going to speak to me?" she asked. "What the hell is up with you, Sam?"

Warily, Sam got out of the car, moved towards the smaller woman. "You're dead," she whispered.

"Not that again, for cryin' out loud, Samantha Elizabeth Carter, when the hell are you going to face reality. I am not dead. I did not die. Yeah, I was hurt on P3X-666, yeah it was touch and go for a long while, but I did not die. What I did do was wake up six weeks later to find that my former lover had got knocked up by her boss and gone AWOL off-world. You left me, Sam, not the other way around."

"That's not how it happened… that's not… no," Sam ground out, eyes tightly closed as the headache flared painfully deep in her skull.

"You can't even look at me, can you? You're pathetic. Such a damn coward… how the hell you can rationalize what you did, I don't know. I thought… I thought you really loved me, Sam."

"I did!" Sam cried out. "I do!" She rested one hand on the car door to steady herself otherwise she would have fallen. "I don't understand how this is possible… How… why are you here – with him?"

"Why am I here raising your daughter who you abandoned to go off on another hair-brained adventure?" Janet asked. "What was I supposed to do? Rose… Rose is all I have left of you, Sam. And Jack… well, I never expected that, I have to admit. He's a good man, Sam. He didn't deserve what you did to him."

"I'm sorry…" Sam whispered. "I can't do this… I can't see you… it's… none of this… something… something is terribly wrong…"

She got back into the car, almost stalling it in her haste to start it and get away. She barely registered Janet's last words. "Get some help, Sam. Before it's too late."

Sam didn't remember driving back to the Mountain. Something was very very wrong here. Either that or she was going insane.

After her encounter with Janet, Sam didn't dared leave the mountain for what felt like days. She had run diagnostic after diagnostic on the ZPM, not eating, barely sleeping because every time she closed her eyes she saw Janet's accusing face. Every model she ran showed the chances that the power transfer through the gate – if they even managed to establish a lock in the first place – had a 95% probability or higher of running out of control. If they were lucky the power surge would just severely damage their gate and blow most of the attendant systems into their component parts. What was more likely was that the explosion would take out the mountain and probably a large proportion of Colorado. Not that she could get anyone to take her results seriously. It made no sense but no one else seemed to think there was anything wrong.

Elizabeth was standing in the doorway, a frown on her face and a sheaf of official looking documents in her hand. She looked as if she'd just stepped out of yet another meeting Sam hadn't been involved in. She had tried to talk to Elizabeth about it but the other woman had just brushed off her concerns with an 'I'm not a scientist,' remark.

"Well, neither is anyone else around here apparently, or they would have noticed that the laws of physics seem to have flown out the window," Sam had replied tartly. "Let me put this as simply as I can for you, okay?" Sam was fast losing patience with the situation. "These results don't just say the ZPM won't work – they say this reality isn't governed by any natural laws. It's like looking through a microscope at a cell culture and seeing a thousand tapdancing elephants! It's impossible!"

"You need to relax, Sam. You don't have to solve this on your own," Elizabeth said. "Let someone else solve this for a change. It's not as if it's life-threatening or anything, we've just got an… an unexpected career change. Why don't you make the most of it. You're not in the Air Force anymore. Explore your options. There must be any number of universities or private engineering companies out there who would jump at the chance to have you on board."

"I'm not just giving up on this," Sam said fiercely. "I don't understand how you can just move on so easily."

"It's not easy, Sam, believe me," Elizabeth said. "But sometimes… you just have to do what's right for yourself. Be selfish for a change. Go where your imagination takes you." She leant over the desk, her lips touching Sam's for a moment before giving her one last meaningful look and enigmatic smile. "Sam, you need to calm down."

"No… no… what I need to do now is wake up because this is all a lie or a bad dream…" Sam shouted. "This…" she scattered the report across the floor, "… and this…" she picked up her laptop and crashed it to the ground. "… and most of all this…" She picked up the inert ZPM and raised it above her head, ignoring Elizabeth's inarticulate cry of alarm, before dashing it to the ground where it splintered into a thousand shards.

"No more lies!" she panted. "What's happening here?" Everything started to grey and smear. She realized that she could see right through Elizabeth to the wall beyond. "What's happening to me?"

Something was very very wrong here. Elizabeth went to see Sam. The woman was in her lab, which was lit only by the glow of her computer screen. A model of a ZPM revolved slowly on the screen.

"Sam, I need to talk to you," she said.

"Is there a problem?" Sam asked without looking at her. "Can it wait? This is at rather a crucial…"

"No… something's very wrong here," Elizabeth said. "Sam, I've been relieved of my command."

"Oh," Sam said. "I'm sorry to hear that."

Elizabeth blinked. "They're going to militarise Atlantis!"

Sam shrugged. "Well, it was sure to happen sooner or later."

"What… so you're okay with this?"

"Ex-military, remember… why wouldn't I be okay with this? General Hammond asked for my opinion and I told him. With all their experience against the Goa'uld, the Jaffa and the Replicators, the military is in a lot better position to go up against the Wraith. Elizabeth… how did you expect them to react when you told them about the Wraith?"

"At the very least I expected them to keep me in the loop," Elizabeth said.

"Elizabeth – do you have any idea how paranoid you sound," Sam said. "Go home… spend some time with Simon… he's important to you, isn't he?"

"Sam… I told you… Simon and I aren't seeing each other any more. I told him about you… about us…"

"Are you sure… you'd be throwing a lot away you know. Simon and you have history…"

"I thought we had something as well," Elizabeth said, horrified to find tears pricking at her eyes. "On Atlantis…"

"Elizabeth… we're not on Atlantis any more."

"And that means…"

"It doesn't have to mean anything… we can get back to our lives again. I have to say, Elizabeth, I'm surprised that you have a problem with this."

Profoundly shocked, Elizabeth stepped back. "Sam, I'm… I thought…"

"You thought we had something. Elizabeth… really, we had dinner a couple of times, took a couple of walks together, we kissed once or twice, we talked about the future… Well, the future's here."

"No, this isn't the future. This is wrong. There's something terribly wrong here," Elizabeth said slowly. "You are not Samantha Carter and this is not the SGC. No more lies…" Sam's smile was fixed, frozen. Elizabeth became aware that someone was standing behind her and turned to see General Hammond. "What is this?" she asked. "What is happening to me."

"There's no point in deluding you any longer," Hammond said somewhat sadly. To her amazement he morphed into a misty figure, vaguely human-shaped for a few seconds before solidifying into the familiar figure of General Hammond again. "Now you know."

Elizabeth noted that Sam had vanished. "Where's Dr Carter?" she asked.

"The real Dr Carter and others of your team are safe in their own illusory worlds for now. Though several of them have begun to realize that their reality is anything but… they have not been harmed, I assure you. That was not our intent."

"I want to see them," Elizabeth insisted. "Please."

Suddenly she was standing in the Gateroom, on the ramp. Elizabeth was standing a few feet away, looking startled and more than a little upset. She turned to see Teyla, Sheppard and Ford also looking a little disorientated. The figure of Hammond appeared again.

"I have drawn you together from your fractured realities," he said.

"Why did you do that to us?" Sam burst out. "Why did you put us through such…" she turned away taking a deep breath, rubbing her forehead between her eyes. Her headache was throbbing. She felt in her pocket for her pills more than happy to find that they did not seem to be an illusion. She dry-swallowed four.

"You were all capable of manipulating your own fabricated reality," Hammond said. "After we placed you there… all that happened was your own design. They were fabrications of your own mind."

"When I think about the scenarios I could have through up, I'd kick myself," Sheppard quipped. Sam gazed at Hammond in horror. It was all her doing, her subconscious mind taking her on a little trip. From the horrified look on Elizabeth's face Sam realized that the other woman's 'reality' had obviously left a lot to be desired as well.

"It is unfortunate that you all became aware so quickly. However, you may now create a fabricated reality of your own choosing in which to live out the remainder of your lives," Hammond said.

"What?" Elizabeth exclaimed.

"That's not gonna work for us," Sheppard drawled.

Hammond was looking positively tetchy. "I'm afraid the matter is beyond your control."

"Well, we'll find a way to fight you," Sheppard took a step closer.

"That would be quite impossible, Major. Even now you are simply experiencing a shared fabrication. It will be best if you try to make a life for yourselves… I'm sorry… that's all I can offer you." He turned and started to walk away.

"So we're just pretending," Sam said.

"Wait… why are you doing this?" Elizabeth asked.

"To protect ourselves," Hammond said simply.

"From us?" Elizabeth asked. "We have no intentions of harming anyone."

"Unlike you, we exist in a non-corporeal form susceptible to the destructive effects of the Stargate on our homeworld."

"What destructive effects?" Elizabeth asked.

Sam felt the fog that seemed to have afflicted her mind for days begin to lift. "So the energy readings we picked up – they were lifesigns. You were in the mist."

"We are the mist, and every time the Gate is activated, lives are lost. Over time, explorers have come and gone, completely unaware of our existence. Sacrifices are made to ensure our secrecy, but when you came back we grew concerned. To learn your intentions, we had no choice but to enter your minds. When we discovered what you were about to do we were forced to take preventative measures."

"But you just said you let others come and go. Why not allow us to do the same?" Elizabeth asked.

"Your desire to return to your homeworld was too strong. The amount of energy required to gate to another galaxy would have killed millions of our kind."

"But we dialed the Gate…" Ford said.

Hammond shook his head. "No. You never dialed the Gate – you just imagined that you did. You're unconscious even now on the planet's surface."

"So none of this is real," Ford turned away.

Sam closed her eyes. She had hit on the truth by accident. She hadn't got the reason right of course, but that was something of a relief. She was not necessarily going insane.

"We lacked a sophisticated understanding of your world. As a result, the illusions we created from your thoughts were ultimately flawed."

"The dead people were a dead giveaway," Sheppard said. Sam could only nod in agreement.

"Dead people! What were the two of you doing?" Ford asked. "I saw my grandparents, ate a ton of my gran's cooking, went clubbing… had the best time. You're telling me none of it really happened."

"If you'd just told us, maybe we could…" Elizabeth as always was trying to broker an accord.

"So really we're just lying unconscious on that planet still," Ford was still processing. "But… won't we need food… water…"

"What he's saying is we won't live long in this state," Sheppard said.

"Then I suggest you make the most of the time you have yet," Hammond said in a prosaic tone which betrayed more than anything else his race's complete inability to understand corporeal life.

"You're killing us in order to save yourselves," Elizabeth said.

"In order to save millions of our kind. I believe you would do the same," Hammond countered.

"If we do not go back, our friends will come looking for us," Teyla warned him.

"Others of your kind?" Hammond looked uneasy.

"They'll show up. What are you gonna do - kill them too?" Sheppard taunted him. "More will come. Sooner or later they'll figure out how to access the Gate; then millions of your kind will die. We don't leave people behind. If you were really General Hammond you'd know that."

"But if you allow us to leave here, we promise we will never return – ever. You will not have to fear us ever again – I give you my word," Weir said.

"How can you make such a promise when you so desire to return home?" Hammond asked.

"Sure, we'd like to go home," Sheppard answered him. "But we're not willing to kill millions of your kind in order to do it. Now, you've been in our heads – you… you're in our heads right now. You should know we mean that."

There was what seemed to be a long, dramatic pause, presumably whilst the aliens checked the veracity of Sheppard's statement, the truth that dwelt in all their hearts and minds. "I understand," he said at last.

The Gateroom slowly dissolved around them. Sick to her stomach, Sam closed her eyes and lowered her head to rest on her knees. When she opened them again she was sitting on the ground on M5S-224, her back resting against the DHD. The rest of the team were just beginning to regain consciousness, lying on the ground around her. She tried to think of a way to prove to herself one way or another that this was real, that this wasn't a double fake-out, remembering how in another time and place the Gamekeeper had tried to fool them.

"How do we know this is…" Sheppard began, echoing her own thoughts.

"This is the reality," Hammond's voice echoed around them. "You have my word."

No one felt inclined to argue. "Wonder how long we've been out?" Sheppard asked, squinting at his watch.

Sam rose shakily to her feet. "I need to get the control crystal out of the DHD. It shouldn't take me more than a few minutes." She squatted down in front of the DHD access panel, clinging onto it for dear life for a few minutes as nausea threatened to overwhelm her.

"I'll give you a hand," Aidan Ford said. He squatted beside her and handed her his waterflask motioning that she should take a drink. "You look a little rough around the edges," he said softly.

"I'll be okay in a minute," Sam replied in the same tone. "But… thanks, Aidan."

Elizabeth took a step or two into the swirling mist. "Thank you for trusting us," she said. She turned to Sam. "Are you sure we can get back home." Sam just nodded her assent.

"Does she mean Atlantis, or…" Ford asked whispered.

"You mean you think we should do a fake out of our own and dial Earth anyway," Sam shook her head. "I don't think so."

Ford shrugged. "I know… it's not the kind of stunt we do. Weir's already given them our word. But…"

"I know, Aidan. But we'll get back to Earth soon, I'm certain of it," Sam said. "We'll find a better way."


Part 10

Dr Beckett insisted on giving them all a full physical when they returned but apart from minor dehydration and low blood sugar levels gave them all a clean bill of health. Sam told him in confidence about the headaches she had experienced throughout her experience and he scheduled another MRI and told her to take an extra day to rest up.

They were all still processing what had happened to them: what was real and what was not. Sam knew she should talk to Elizabeth about what they had jointly and separately experienced but shied away from it. She didn't do emotions well: she never had. After her mother, Janet was the only other person Sam Carter had ever been able to talk to about how she felt about things.

And that option wasn't available to her any more.

The room with the Ancient communicator in it was still sealed by Security. Sam had not tried to circumvent it - Bates was still giving her the evil eye and if she was honest with herself she was still a little chary of it herself but there was nothing and no one to say that she couldn't go to that area of the City.

She had discovered that the wall opposite the sealed door was warmer than the surrounding area, not enough to cause concern, but a few degrees different never the less. A little judicious exploration of the blue prints had revealed that there was a major heat exchange unit in the wall and tiny vents at floor level allowed excess heat to bleed off. Most people found the ambient temperature on Atlantis to be a little cool and Sam was no exception.

So when she wanted to think… to remember, this was where Sam came.

John Sheppard came around the corner. Sam raised her head from her knees, looked at him silently for a moment then lowered her head again.

"Sergeant Bates took it upon himself to inform me that you were lurking down here again. Security on the door hadn't been breached so I told him to back off, said I'd handle it myself… how are you doing, Sam?"

"Trying to get it all straight in my head once and for all," Sam said. "And this is as good a place as any to do it. Out of the way, quiet… warm."

"And metaphorically putting two fingers up at Bates. My kind of gesture," Sheppard grinned. "Still getting headaches?"

"Not for the last day or so," Sam told him. "Look, did you want me for anything or…"

"No… no emergencies, no life or death situations demanding your input. Weir's on a paperwork crusade and Teyla and I are planning a trip over to the mainland. Those two things aren't connected, I swear. You're welcome to come with if you want some fresh air… we haven't seen much of you since we got back."

"I've been… " Sam couldn't claim to have been busy. "… preoccupied."

"They put us through some weird shit I know – though if you believe them we put ourselves through most of it. You should talk it through with someone – Beckett or Teyla or…"

"I can't talk to Elizabeth about it…"

"I was going to suggest yours truly, but talking to Weir would be good… for both of you. She's still tearing herself up about something as well. The two of you should take some time…"

"When are you and Teyla heading out?"

"About three hours…"

"I'll come with you. I wanted to take some more soil and rock samples anyway… we don't know enough about this planet's geology yet."

Sheppard nodded, realizing that he wouldn't get anywhere further with Sam. He'd leave it to Teyla to work on her once they were away from the base.

They were about an hour from the mainland. Teyla was talking about the Athosian's hopes for the future. "There is still talk of returning, even though I've told them the Wraith have scorched Athos bare in revenge for our resistance."

"Well, maybe in time this place will begin to feel like home," Sheppard began but neither woman were listening to him. Both were staring out of the right side window at a dark cloud formation that seemed to take up the whole sky.

"Do you see that?" Teyla asked.

"That can't be a storm – it stretches across the whole horizon," Sheppard said.

"I've never seen something like that from so high," Teyla said.

"I've seen a lot of things from altitude but nothing like that."

Sam was already on the comm. "Atlantis base, this is Jumper One. We're going to change our heading to investigate a storm."

Elizabeth's voice came through loud and clear but it was obvious that communication was far from two-way. "Dr Carter, this is Weir. We didn't copy that. You're breaking up."

"I repeat, Jumper One is changing heading to investigate a storm. It's huge and it looks like its heading right for you… Check the satellite weather forecasting."

Back at the Atlantis Base Weir stood over the tech. "Did she just say weather forecasting?"

The tech was already pulling up the sensor readings. "There is an extreme low pressure zone forming, we're detecting high level winds… extrapolating… Doctor Weir, it looks like there's a hurricane forming and it could be heading in our direction."

"Get me everything you can on that storm," Weir said grimly.

In the Jumper, Sheppard had taken them into a near orbital altitude, putting them above the storm. All three passengers stared in horrified fascination at the cloudscape below them. There was no mistaking it – to the two humans anyway - a hurricane was heading straight for Atlantis Base.

"Do all storms look like this from above?"

"No," Sheppard said grimly. "This must cover…"

"20% of the planet," Sam supplied from her station.

"Is it headed towards the mainland?" Teyla asked.

"Tracking right towards the settlement," Sam said, overlaying the tracking data on the screen.

"And after that?" Teyla asked, unable to hide her concern for her people.

"Straight for Atlantis." Sheppard said grimly.

Abandoning the meet and greet for now, they headed back to base and after Sheppard brought Weir up to date, went straight into a Command Conference. Sam asked Doctor Zelenka to sit in on the meeting.

"… the problem is that even though this planet is pretty much the same size as Earth, the water to land ratio is very different. Without as much landmass to slow it down it's just gaining momentum," Sam said.

"Both of them are," Zelenka said gloomily.

"Both of them!" Elizabeth exclaimed.

"We saw only one!" Teyla said.

"It only looked like one. According to the Ancient's database, every twenty or thirty years the sea gets unseasonably warm…"

"What we called the El Nino effect…" Zelenka added.

Sam nodded and continued. "Which means that hurricanes are much more likely to occur. If you have a situation where there a bunch of hurricanes out there, the likelihood of two colliding is greatly increased."

"It's more like a merger than a collision," Zelenka said. "They are intersecting and combining their power."

"And it's heading right towards us," Sam said grimly.

"You just said the Ancients experienced these storms every twenty to thirty years. Atlantis must have some sort of precautions in place," Weir said.

"In the past the Ancients have been protected by the shield or submerged deep enough in the water not to be affected," Sam reminded her.

"Okay," Sheppard said. "Strike those options. What else have we got?"

There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

"Nothing," Zelenka said dolefully. "It is a real threat. The high winds alone will wreak havoc."

"C'mon guys," Sheppard said. "This city's been around for a long time."

"Storm surge is inevitable," Zelenka whispered, eyes wide as if he was already seeing the tidal wave that would engulf the city.

"Not to mention the likelihood of tornadoes and electrical activity is greatly increased because it will move over a landmass just before it hits us," Sam was doodling equations on a sheet of paper, her brow furrowed in thought.

Sheppard held somewhat optimistically on to his belief in the infallibility of the Ancients. "This is Atlantis! I mean, they've got to be able to handle that… right?"

Sam fixed him with a glare. "No."

"Why not?" Elizabeth asked.

"The Ancients who built this city knew they had a forcefield capable of holding back anything nature or for that matter, the Wraith could throw at them. Without that protection, Atlantis is remarkably fragile."

"Even our most conservative calculations project widespread structural damage," Zelenka projected his team's findings onto the screen.

"Flooding could sink the city entirely," Sam explained.

"How could something as big as Atlantis just sink?" Ford asked. Then he remembered what he knew of the Earth legends of Atlantis and winced.

John Sheppard seemed finally to have grasped the magnitude of their situation. "I'm sure the passengers on the Titanic were asking themselves the same question… and if you believe the legends the inhabitants of the original Atlantis. So, what you're saying is, if we hadn't discovered this when we did…"

"We would be in even bigger trouble," Elizabeth said decisively. "Alright, Sam – what's the plan."

"Well…," Sam began uncertainly, casting an anxious glance at Zelenka, who still had a somewhat rabbit-in-headlights look about him. "By our calculations we have just under twelve hours until the storm hits, so, uh, we plan to have a plan…" Zelenka managed a tentative smile, "by then."

Elizabeth nodded silently. Sheppard sighed.

"We'll let you get to it then."

He walked Elizabeth back to her office. She had her habitually intense look on and Sheppard knew she was busy evaluating and rejection options. "Well, in the meantime I think we should start investigating evacuation plans both on the mainland and offworld somewhere," Elizabeth said. "John, I need you and Lieutenant Ford to start going through our list of contacts."

"You know Sam Carter will come up with something. She's a legend back at the SGC for pulling world-saving ideas out of her as… out of the air," Shepard said.

"Yeah, I know, but both she and Dr Zelenka seemed genuinely concerned about the situation.

"So my orders are to come up with a friendly planet that wouldn't mind putting us up for the night."

"Exactly," Elizabeth smiled.

Teyla along with Carson Beckett had already gone to the Athosian settlement on the mainland to warn them of the extreme weather conditions and evacuate them to Atlantis in the first instance. Teyla was desperately concerned that the remnant of her people be protected at all cost. There were so few of them left. It seemed a bitter fate to have survived the Wraith only to be destroyed by a storm. And there were also the crops to consider. Everyone that could be spared worked for as long as they could to salvage as much as they could.

After several reconnaissance trips that proved that deserted planets were usually that for a very good reason - Sheppard and Ford went to Manara to talk with the leader, Smeadon about providing a refuge for the Atlanteans and Athosians for a few days. He was not immediately receptive to the idea, as Sheppard reported to Elizabeth. "He wanted something of equal value in return. We didn't… directly threaten him, but we made it clear that if the Manarians ran into trouble down the line they were on their own. But Smeadon pretty much had us over a barrel and he knew it. He was right when he said that uninhabited planets were usually so for a very good reason."

"So he will help us."

"Reluctantly. And I recommend we do not outstay our welcome. If we had more time…"

"But we don't… "

Sam let the datapad drop onto the worktop. "No, no, no! I'd already thought of that."

Zelenka picked up the pad and scanned it. "He might be on to something…"

"No… I've already modeled that one… it doesn't…" She sighed, her breath blowing her fringe away from her face. "Yes, the naquada generators could be used to power select sections of the city but when you subtract the areas that need to be secured just to protect themselves, it doesn't leave much power to shield anything else and the city breaks apart because of a tidal swell."

Zelenka pondered the conundrum. "We could relocate some of them – put them closer together." Part of Sam was pleased that Zelenka appeared to have finally got over his awed crush of her and her reputation to put up some kind of argument against her ideas but…

"Radek… there isn't enough time…" Whatever else Sam was about to say was lost when Sheppard and Ford walked in.

"Well, I got a green light of sorts from Smeadon and the Manarians. I'm not sure how pleased he'll be if we get stuck there, though…" he paused, sensing the tension and frustration in the room. Sam's pensive expression and Zelenka's wilder than usual hair spoke volumes. "That's not gonna happen, though. Right?"

"Of course it's not," Sam said. "Besides… we could always gate to another planet."

Sheppard winced. "Comforting… thank you!"

"Are we sure there's no part of the mainland we could go to?" Aiden Ford asked as Dr Weir and Teyla entered the lab.

"Everywhere that we've explored is in the path of the storm," Teyla informed her wearily. "My people are evacuating even now."

"Still, Ford's right. I mean, the mainland's the size of North America," Sheppard turned to the scientists, a hopeful expression on his face. He got no encouragement for his theory. "You're telling me the entire continent's gonna get hit? It's just I'd rather not owe Smeadon any favours."

"If we lose Atlantis we'll be stuck on the mainland without any access to the Stargate," Weir pointed out.

"Well, Sam will come up with something," Sheppard said bracingly.

Sam was uncomfortably aware that all eyes were upon her. "Look, I'll try but I'm not… superhuman you know. This storm is going to affect over seventy percent of the mainland and Atlantis isn't safe either. The only way to be certain is to gate everyone offworld."

Sheppard was obviously trying not to think of frying pans and fires. "Come on, Sam, you do have a certain… reputation to uphold here. Blowing up a sun, riding an asteroid through the earth…"

"Almost destroying a planet's entire ecosystem for the sake of a shortcut…" Sam bit back.

"Everyone has an off-day," Ford muttered to himself. Elizabeth frowned at him.

Sam folded her arms. "Total Evacuation… it's the only certainty of survival."

"I agree…" Teyla said. "And I will do my best to convince my people. Though it may be difficult… but, I have seen the strength of this coming storm…"

"In the Czech republic we don't have to deal with hurricanes…" Zelenka said, almost dreamily. Sam recognized her colleague's thought process and left him to work it through. When he had something he would let them know.

In her work with the United Nations, Weir had seen at first hand the devastation caused by earthquakes, tsunami and other natural disasters too often to count. She had no desire to experience it again half way across the galaxy. "All right – total evacuation it is – but Sam, Radek - I want to you keep working as long as you can to try to salvage or protect as much of the city as you can manage."

"…though I was once almost struck by lightning…" Zelenka said suddenly. "Lightning!" Wild eyed, he turned to Sam, grasping her arm. "Do you see it?"

She did. Grinning, she turned to a bemused Weir. "What is the one thing keeping us from having a shield?"

"A working ZPM… power?" Weir said.

"And what does this mega-storm from hell have lots of?"

Weir began to smile. "Power… wind – you want to build a windmill!"

Sam shook her head. Though it was an interesting idea. Perhaps a wind farm on one of the outer pylons… but not today No time.

"Electricity!" Zelenka could hold himself back no longer. "Atlantis is designed to withstand substantial lightning strikes. There are lightning rods all over the city."

"All those rods are channeled into four main grounding stations," Sam explained.

"In turn, those grounding stations discharge electricity back into the ocean, keeping Atlantis safe from massive electric shocks due to lightning strikes."

"Most of the corridors are lined with a superconductive material that allows a safe, low-voltage transfer of power throughout the city…" Sam pulled a piece of paper towards her and started to swiftly draw what looked like a circuit diagram.

"If the grounding stations weren't around, every time lightning struck the city, those halls would become supercharged," Zelenka continued the explanation as he too watched Sam complete the diagram of what they were proposing.

"If we were to disable the grounding stations…" Sam continued.

"…which we think we can…" Zelenka said, reaching past Sam to point to the relevant portion of the diagram.

"…every time lightning struck the city, Atlantis would experience a momentary massive power surge," Sam completed the thought.

"Now," Zelenka continued, "if it's channeled correctly…"

"Oh yes," Sam's brow furrowed "it'll need to be channeled correctly otherwise… well, anyway it could conceivably be used to charge up the shield generator. Now, the more severe the storm, the more energy's produced to keep the shield running…"

"It's an ingenious plan, really!" Zelenka said brightly. Sam nodded, her smile bright, almost crazily cheerful given their circumstances.

Their audience looked as if they had already been struck by lightning. Some had been privileged enough to see Sam Carter before when genius and inspiration started to fly but this was the first time any of them had witnessed the double act with Zelenka.

"The only downside is we have no way of storing all that energy," Zelenka's tone was almost wistful.

"Ah, once the storm stops, the lightning stops striking…"

"… we have no way of charging up the generator…"

"… and we're back to square one." Sam contemplated her circuit diagram and shook her head.

"So the City would survive," Weir tried to keep her anxiety out of her voice as she brought them back to the immediate matter.

"Mmm… it might give us a better than…" Sam pursed her lips, cocked her head, "90%...."

"…70…" her Czech colleague was more circumspect.

"80," Sam compromised, "percent chance of survival."

"Okay," Weir said, trying to assimilate all the information she had just been given. "So we should still evacuate."

"Oh yes, but not just because of Radek's pessimism," she gave her colleague a friendly nudge to show she meant no criticism.

"If the plan works the city will become highly charged with electricity," Zelenka explained. "Really, the only safe place to be once the lightning begins to strike is in the Control Room."

"We need to evacuate everyone offworld until the storm passes and execute the plan with the smallest team possible," Sam said.

Elizabeth nodded. "Okay, good… get on it."

Sam nodded, all business. "Right." She turned to Zelenka. "To the grounding stations?"

"No, I think we should go to the power distribution centres first."

Sam agreed. "Good call." The rest of the Command Team watched them leave, still refining their plan as they went.

The last of the crew went through the Gate to Manara. All the Athosians who had agreed to evacuate had gone through an hour before. A few dozen still remained on the mainland. They had either been on hunting parties that could not be contacted in time or a stalwart few who had refused point-blank to leave their homes again. A handful of Atlantis crew – Carson Beckett, Teyla and Lieutenant Ford were also still on the mainland but were expected back on Atlantis before the storm struck. They would pass through the Gate at that time.

"That's everybody. We've got, uh, just over four and a half hours until the storm hits," Sam said. "Let's get down to the labs." Elizabeth nodded, going with her. Sheppard gave final instructions to his security team. One Jumper was outstanding, racing the storm front back to Atlantis.

"Evacuate the people on inbound Jumper Two as soon as they come in." He followed Elizabeth and Sam down to the labs ready to give what aid he could to putting Sam and Zelenka's plan into operation. He still had a bad feeling about dealing with Smeadon and the Manarian's.

Sam had already begun her explanation of the procedure by the time Sheppard reached the lab. "There are dozens, possibly hundreds of lightning rods placed strategically around the city."

"Wait a second… Sheppard asked. "Why are there hundreds of lightning rods placed around the city – wouldn't the shield protect against lightning?"

"Yes, it would," Sam said. "But running the shield all the time is only good for one thing – draining power." Sheppard nodded his understanding. Aware of the passage of time, Sam continued. "So… as I was saying… there are lightning rods – a lot of them – placed all over the city. The current position is that all they energy they capture is routed into four main grounding stations. In turn the stations ground all that energy into the ocean below."

"So, instead of sending all that energy to ground…" Sheppard said.

"We use it to power the shield," Sam nodded.

"How?" Elizabeth asked, getting to the crux of the matter in her usual direct style.

"By directing it right down the corridors of Atlantis and into the shield generators," Sam said.

"The city can handle that?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yes," Sam said. "Theoretically," her innate sense of honesty compelled her to add.

Sheppard wasn't fooled. "Like dinosaurs turned into birds theoretically or theory of relativity theoretically…"

"Somewhere in between," Sam admitted. "So… Elizabeth – you take grounding station two; I'll take grounding station one and Major Sheppard – you take stations three and four… here and… here."

Sheppard peered at the map. The two stations he had been designated were out on the edge of the city. "And we are…"

Sam pointed to the centre of the map. "Here, yes. I need to get done quickly so I can start working on the subroutines, and Elizabeth was complaining about her knee the other day, so…"

Elizabeth stared at her. She hadn't been aware that Sam had heard her conversation with Teyla. Perhaps she wasn't as distant and disinterested in her as she was making out to be.

"Wait… wait… wait a second. Are these things even close to a transporter?" Sheppard asked.

"Well, Elizabeth's is and yours is… a brisk walk away."

"By walk… you mean run, don't you."

Sam winced. "Sorry."

Sheppard took a deep breath. "Okay."

"You need to radio in once you've got to your first station," Sam instructed him.

"All right, let's do it," Sheppard said.

Sam and Elizabeth had both completed their initial assignments by the time Sheppard reached the first of his two grounding stations. Unlike their assignments, his station was external to the towers and he was subject to the full scale of the growing storm as he attempted to make the modifications, Sam coaching him over the radio. Elizabeth had rejoined Sam in the labs by the time Sheppard had successfully input the code sequence to separate the grounding rod from the station.

"Good," Sam said. "Three down, one to go. They all seem to have the same separation code, so get to the next one, repeat the procedure. We'll meet you in the Control Room."

"Roger that," Sheppard said and cut communication.

They were alone. With a start, Sam realized that it was the first time she had been alone in the same room as Elizabeth since before their ill-fated mission to M5S-224. Elizabeth's slightly uneasy body language told her that the other woman was having pretty similar thoughts. Several times she thought the other woman was on the point of asking her something but she never did.

They headed back towards the Control Room, unaware that the Gate had just dialed in from Manara and that an attack on Atlantis was underway. The two guards on duty should have contacted Weir first before opening the Gate, whatever the provenance of the IDC but the message coming through about incoming wounded sounded so urgent that they lowered the shield and allowed them through unchallenged, only then reporting to Weir.

"Dr Weir, there's been some sort of attack on Manara. We have an Athosian party incoming with wounded."

"We're on our way." Sam had already started to run towards the Gateroom. Elizabeth took a moment to apprise Sheppard of the situation. "Apparently there's wounded incoming."

"Doesn't make any sense," Sheppard huffed. "They said it was Wraith-related?"

"We'll ask them ourselves in a second… hold on." She entered the Gateroom to find Sam on her knees, her hands behind her head. Three uniformed men held her at gunpoint. A fourth motioned her to kneel down next to Sam. "What the hell is going on?" she asked, mirroring Sam's position.

An older man came down the stairs towards them. One glance at him told Elizabeth all she needed to know. This was a career soldier, a warlord, a man for whom those hard life-or-death decisions weren't too difficult at all. He had no problem dying for what he believed in. "Doctor Elizabeth Weir," he smiled at her. Elizabeth tried to repress a shiver. "And you must be Doctor Carter."

A young woman came to stand at his side. "That is her," she confirmed when Sam remained silent.

"Nice to see you too, Sora," Sam snarled.

"Where is Major Sheppard?" the man asked. "I would like to know the whereabouts of Major Sheppard." Elizabeth knew that her radio link was still open so Sheppard would be hearing all of this. She hoped the man had the sense to stay out of sight.

"You seem to know a lot about us," she said. "Who are you?"

"They're Jenai," Sam spat out.

"There's only one thing you need to know, Doctor Weir," the man said almost gently. "As of right now, we are in control of Atlantis."

Sheppard got to the Jumper Bay and accessed the communications equipment. "Jumper Two… this is Sheppard, come in… Jumper Two, do you copy?"

A moment or two later he heard Lieutenant Ford's voice. "This is Ford, sir. We decided to wait out the storm in the Jumper."

"You're still on the mainland," Sheppard checked. On hearing Ford's affirmative he quickly brought them up to speed with events on-base. "We've got a situation here," he said. "From what I can ascertain a small Jenai strike force has gated in."

"The Jenai! The folks who wanted us to build them an A-bomb?" Ford exclaimed.

"Yeah, that's them. And they've got Weir and Carter hostage. They've also got control of the Gateroom."

There was a crackle of static. "You're breaking up, sir," Ford's voice waxed and waned. "Did you say hostage?"

"Affirmative," Sheppard said crisply.

"We're on our way," Ford said. Sheppard heard other voices remonstrating with Ford over the link and gathered that the young man's gung-ho attitude was not universally supported.

"Major, this is Teyla… the hurricane is in full force outside. We could attempt to fly through it but it is doubtful that we could make it back to Atlantis and we have three young passengers…"

She was right. Neither Ford nor Beckett were front-line pilots and Sheppard doubted very much whether even his skills would be enough to negotiate a storm of this size and ferocity. "That's bad news… Just stay put 'til it passes over."


"Ford, it's okay. Just get your ass back here as soon as you can. I could use a little back-up."

"Good luck, sir," Ford said before he closed transmission.

The dead guards were being removed from the room. Sam wanted very much to hold Elizabeth but did not dare show anything that might make this man think that he could use their feelings against each other. That was the problem with relationships such as ... if they indeed had a relationship any more. Whatever… this was not the time. She could not allow her fears to split her focus. Neither of them could. Elizabeth was obviously horrified by what had happened. Senseless violence and death always disturbed her. But she was strong and resourceful. She got hold of herself quickly.

"Who are you?" Elizabeth asked.

"Commander Acastus Kolya of the Jenai," the man introduced himself. "This Atlantis is… extraordinary – more than I ever imagined."

"What have you done with the rest of my people?" Elizabeth's expression was set, her dark blue eyes hooded. Sam concentrated on Kolya, studying the face and mannerisms of this new enemy. An accurate threat assessment could make the difference between life and death later on.

"I'm quite sure they have no idea we're even here," Kolya said.

"Then they're safe," Weir demanded assurance.


"How were you able to bypass the shield?" Sam asked.

"With a time-tested combination of strong drink and a weak mind," Kolya smiled thinly.

Elizabeth stepped into his space. "There was a time when our two peoples considered becoming allies. Why are you doing this?"

"You are in possession of supplies we vitally need. Hand them over without difficulty and we'll leave peacefully."

"Or?" Elizabeth asked.

"We're both intelligent people, Doctor Weir. I'm sure there's no need for me to demonstrate once again the strength of my resolve."

"Which supplies did you have in mind?" Elizabeth got the situation.

"All of your stores of the C4 explosive, all of your medical supplies, the Wraith data device you stole from my people, and one of your ships."

Elizabeth exchanged an amused glance with Sam. "Is that all?"

"No," Kolya grimaced. "Where is Major Sheppard?"

"He's on the mainland," Elizabeth lied smoothly. "What you're asking for is not easy. We've had to divert a lot of power in order to prepare for the storm. The armoury's safety doors have shut which means we can't…" She paused as Kolya held up a hand.

"I know a lie."

"Elizabeth, for crying out loud, just give him what he needs," Sam said suddenly, leaning forward, her hands on the console to brace herself. "I've seen his type all my life, he's not going to give up and we're just going to get hurt. I've been worked over once by the Jenai, I'm not keen on it happening again. You can see that he means business. Just give him what he's asked for – the C4, the medical supplies and the Wraith data device. None of that's worth dying for."

"Get her away from that console," a familiar voice shouted. Both women glanced sharply up to see Cavanaugh in an ill-fitting Jenai uniform. "She was communicating with someone." Another soldier roughly pulled Sam away from the console, the business end of his rifle at the back of her neck. Cavanaugh demonstrated to Kolya what Sam had been doing. Kolya glared at Sam, who smirked back at him, her hands up.

"I was leaning… I was just leaning. It's been a long day and I'm tired. We're in the middle of a crisis here if you hadn't already noticed. And whatever he told you – it was a lie," Sam said. Cavanaugh glared at her, making no attempt to hide his hatred.

"Your request is unreasonable. And you can't possibly need all our C4, all our medical supplies," Elizabeth said.

"You're in no position to tell me what is reasonable and what is not," Kolya snapped.

"How do we know that you won't kill us once we give you what you need?" Elizabeth asked.

"You don't," Kolya said shortly. "Please show my men where they can find what they are looking for." He nodded to Sora who escorted Elizabeth out of the control room, followed by two of the Jenai soldiers. Kolya stepped closer to Sam. "What are you still doing here?"

Sam looked puzzled. "My understanding… I'm being held hostage."

"I mean here in Atlantis. Why did some of you stay behind?" Kolya asked.

"Oh, I was helping with things," Sam said nonchalantly.

"Like what?" Kolya persisted.

"Well, making sure everyone got out okay," Sam said.

"Isn't that the work of someone… less important?" Kolya asked.

"I'm not as important as you think," Sam said steadily.

"You have a plan, don't you?" Kolya looked her up and down.

"I've got lots of plans about lots of things," Sam smiled faintly. "I'm a scientist, it's what I do."

"I'm interested in the plan you have to save the city," Kolya said.

Sam shrugged. "We were evacuating… we figured the city could take care of itself… that was pretty much the extent of the plan as far as I know… as I said, I'm just one of the scientists…"

"She's the chief scientist…" Cavanaugh growled. "Weir's golden girl and fuckbuddy if you believe the scuttlebutt. She has an idea and the whole of Atlantis moves into action. The rest of us scientists…" He made a disgusted noise. "She's lying."

"And you're a traitor," Sam shot back. She noticed that the holster on his belt was empty. The Jenai didn't trust him enough to give him a weapon.

"I see," Kolya said. "I think, Dr Carter, that our discussion needs to be a bit more… in depth." He nodded to one of the soldiers standing behind her who drew out a long knife and handed it to Kolya. Sam glanced at the long thin sharp edged blade and deliberately refocused her gaze onto the Stargate.

Elizabeth was in the laboratories off their medical centre watching as Sora directed the two soldiers to start packing up any drugs and portable equipment they came across. Once she satisfied herself that they were doing what they were supposed to, Sora dragged Elizabeth into another storage lab where the Wraith data device was stored amongst other things, and set herself in front of Elizabeth, fingering the dagger at her belt.

"Where is Teyla Emmagan?" she asked.

"Teyla…" Elizabeth tried to remember everything she had heard about this girl-soldier, Sora and their previous missions involving the Jenai. Teyla had considered Sora a friend before the deception was uncovered, she remembered.

"Is she here? In the city?" Sora persisted.

"No, she isn't," Weir said at last. "Sora… I read the Jenai mission report – I'm sorry about your father…"

"He'll be avenged," Sora said darkly.

"Teyla didn't kill him," Elizabeth frowned, wondering just how many different agendas were being played out here.

"No… she left him to die," Sora spat out.

"She had no choice," Elizabeth tried to placate the angry young woman but fell silent as Sora held up the knife.

"Enough… where is the data device?"

Seeing that Sora would not be placated, Elizabeth went to the shelves and took down a case, the Wraith data device carefully stored inside. She handed it to Sora.

"All the information we downloaded from the Wraith ship is still on this device."

Sora nodded curtly and motioned to Elizabeth to precede her out of the storage room. One of the soldiers fell in behind her as they headed back to the control room.

Kolya was holding one of their radios in his hand as she entered the room. In front of him on the floor was an empty storage carton. It should have contained ten blocks of C4 explosive. Obviously Sheppard had received their message loud and clear. In the corner, under armed guard, Sam sat on the floor, her head resting against the bulkhead, her right hand tightly grasping her left forearm. Despite the pressure she was putting on the injury blood continued to drip steadily from the long cut, pooling on the floor beneath her. There was also a distinct hand print visible on her left cheek, the flesh under her eye already beginning to darken and swell. Other than the bruised cheek, Sam looked pale and very pissed, though her angry expression eased slightly when she saw that Elizabeth seemed unharmed.

"What happened?" Elizabeth asked, kneeling down beside Sam and examining her injury. The cut started from the hollow of her elbow and continued almost to the pulse point on her wrist. Kolya had either been very lucky or very careful not to hit a major blood vessel but the wound was still bleeding heavily. Elizabeth wrenched at her shirt, tearing off the sleeve and fashioning a tourniquet which she tied around Sam's upper arm in an attempt to stem the bleeding further. She sacrificed her other sleeve to make a dressing pad over the worst of the cut.

"Your colleague was slow in answering my questions," Kolya said. "And someone is playing games with us…" He indicated the empty boxes. "Major Sheppard, I presume." He held the radio to his mouth and activated it. "This is Commander Kolya."

Sheppard's voice came through clearly. "Kolya… that's a hard name to pronounce. Is that a first name? My name's Major John Sheppard and I have hidden the C4 where you will never – I repeat, never – find it. When I get confirmation that the prisoners have been safely released and allowed to gate off Atlantis, I will help you find it."

Kolya grimaced, glancing at his captives. "He's good."

"Yes, he is," Elizabeth said. "I'd do what he says."

"Your offer is very generous, Major," Kolya said into the radio. "However, you interrupted a very interesting conversation I was having with Doctor Carter. I understand there's a plan in action to save the city."

There was a moment's silence. "She shared this information with you, did she? Voluntarily?"

"A little gentle persuasion," Kolya said. "You're a man of the world, Colonel. You know these things are sometimes necessary."

"I didn't tell him anything," Sam whispered to Elizabeth. "He was curious why I was still here… and Cavanaugh said it must be for something big, something important. Kolya put the rest together himself. He's bright… dangerous." She nodded towards Cavanaugh who was sitting at one of the consoles, reading data from the screen. "He's trying to figure out what we were trying to do."

"Will he?" Elizabeth whispered back.

"Yeah. He's an idiot with the social skills of plankton, but he's gonna win the Nobel Prize one of these days if someone doesn't kill him first. He should be able to figure it out."

"My understanding is that this plan isn't complete yet, that you still have some work to do," Kolya continued.

"There's one final grounding station that needs to be deactivated," Sheppard said slowly still uncertain if Kolya already knew the whole plan or was just fishing for information.

"Grounding stations… so that's… that's insane… brilliant, but insane," Cavanaugh put it all together. He asked the computer some pertinent questions then quickly laid it out for Kolya.

"Major Sheppard. You have a chance to complete your rescue plan. Uncouple the grounding rods at Station Three, assist our Dr Cavanaugh with the reactivation of the shield and you and your friends can leave here unharmed."

"Wait a minute – I thought all you wanted was C4 and a Jumper," Sheppard said.

"Why raid a city when you can seize it, Major? Atlantis will be ours or the ocean's. You choose."

Teyla could not hide her worry over the situation in the city. The Jumper did not allow for pacing up and down and the storm overhead prevented her going outside. This was her fault.

"We should have heard something from the Major by now," Ford was also fretting. Inaction did not suit his character.

"Perhaps he has not had the opportunity…" Teyla said.

"I don't like not knowing what's going on in there," Ford scanned the stormfront again.

"Why would the Jenai attack us? Why now?" Beckett asked.

"We didn't exactly leave on the best terms. I mean, aside from the fact that we stole some of their gear and didn't hand over the C4 we promised them, they're pretty convinced that Teyla killed one of their top guys," Ford laid it out for the doctor.

"They believe so falsely," Teyla reassured him. "The fact that they chose our weakest hour cannot be a coincidence. Someone must have told them that we would be in a diminished capacity."

Ford had a pretty good idea who that 'someone' was. He hadn't trusted Smeadon from the start. "There's got to be a way back."

"Those winds outside are blowing at a hundred and ten knots. We're not going anywhere, son," Beckett said gloomily.

Kolya had taken up residence in her office. Having negotiated a side trip to the infirmary so that Sam's injured arm could at least be dressed, Elizabeth asked Sora to take her to see the commander.

"Thank you for seeing me," she said.

He shrugged. "You have information I need. Tell me about the city's systems."

"This city was designed to be inhabited by the Ancients and their direct descendants and although yes, while there is limited functionality for those who do not possess the Ancient gene, it is only those who have it who can revive the city to its true potential."

"And you have this gene?" Kolya asked.

"No, but many of my team do. The Wraith are slowly waking. Soon this entire galaxy will be embroiled in a war the likes of which our generations have never seen."

"A war that you expedited," Kolya pointed out.

"Disagreements like ours will no longer matter. The only thing of any consequence will be how prepared we are and what defence we are able to mount. Now, this city holds many secrets which will help us win that war – but only if my team are here to discover them. So, fine, take whatever you need for your people, but if you don't leave us this city, you're only hurting yourselves in the long run."

Kolya smiled mirthlessly. "You believe your people – who are not even of this galaxy – are closer to the Ancients than we are? Your arrogance is astounding. We will take this city, we will mount a defense and we will win – with or without your help, Doctor Weir."

A Jenai soldier arrived, reporting that Sheppard had reached the grounding station. A Jenai team was standing by within visual range of the station to take him down once he had completed the modifications. "Use lethal force only if necessary."

Sora bristled at that. "You told him he would be unharmed."

"Let's hope he doesn't put up much of a fight," was the only comment Kolya made.

The soldier reported that Sheppard seemed suspicious, "He's not at the control panel any more. He's looking around…"

"Hold your fire," Kolya ordered.

Sam figured that Sheppard must have picked up a lifesigns detector on his travels – it was exactly what she would have done in the same circumstances. The Jenai life-signs would stand out like beacons in the empty city. It would be very difficult if not impossible for Sheppard to be ambushed – unless walking into one was part of his gameplan. She realized something else. "You can't fire weapons in the grounding station, the control panels are pretty fragile - you…" She bit back a cry of pain as one of the Jenai guarding her dug the butt of his rifle into her injured arm.

The sound of gunfire came over the comms… cradling her throbbing arm Sam listened carefully. The Jenai opened fire first, a flurry of shots, then she heard the sharp staccato of one of their own weapons – Sheppard returning fire. There was a faint incoherent cry and then another flurry of shots followed by what sounded awfully like an explosion. Then the staccato again… and silence.

A few seconds later, Sheppard's voice came over the Jenai communicator. "Let me tell you what you did wrong here, Kolya… A: you lost two of your men. B: you damaged the switch before I could separate the grounding rods, which I'm sure you're gonna get an earful from Doc Carter for; and C: you lost all of what little credibility you had with me."

Kolya glared at Sam who glared right back, her head held high. "You have no idea of how big a setback that is," she said in her best lecturing tone. "I may not even be able to activate the shield. I mean, I can't possibly…" She bit back a cry of pain as the Jenai soldier guarding her hit her on her injured arm again. It was the same arm that had been fractured on her last encounter with the Jenai and this time the pain ran bone deep. Conversely, her little finger and ring finger on that hand were now numb. Kolya returned his attention to Sheppard.

"You killed two of my men," he snarled.

"I guess we're even," Sheppard pointed out.

"I don't like 'even," Kolya pulled a pistol out of his coat pocket.

"I'm not finished yet," Sheppard continued to goad him, unaware of Kolya's actions.

"Neither am I." Kolya motioned to the soldier holding Elizabeth to bring her forward. "Say goodbye to Doctor Weir." He leveled the pistol at her head.

"The city has a self-destruct button. You hurt her, I'll activate it. Nobody'll get Atlantis."

"Even if it exists, Major, you'll need at least two senior personnel to activate it," Kolya reasoned. "and I'm about to take one of them out of the equation."

Sheppard had belatedly realized how effectively Kolya had called his bluff. "Kolya… Kolya… I'll give you a ship! I'll fly it out of here for you myself!" Kolya did not respond. He stared deeply into Elizabeth's eyes his hand rock-steady as he held the pistol to her temple. Wide-eyed, Elizabeth stared back at him. Sam tried to scramble to her feet to throw Kolya off if she could but the Jenai soldier held her in a stranglehold.

"Kolya, don't do this!" Sheppard shouted over the comms. Kolya cut him off.

"How is this going to help you get what you want?" Elizabeth asked.

"Sheppard put you in this position, not me," Kolya said.

Sam had heard and seen enough. Putting the pain of her injured arm out of her mind for now she twisted in the guard's grasp, throwing him over her shoulder and swiftly moved to place herself between Kolya and Elizabeth so that his pistol was now pointing at her. "You can't do this. This is… crazy. You need her… you need both of us."

To the surprise of both women Sora of all people stepped forward to speak for them. "She's right, Commander."

"I'm telling you the truth. Check with Cavanaugh if you don't believe me. There are codes required to activate the shields, codes that only she knows. You can't do it without her…" Sam paused as the pistol aimed squarely at the centre of her forehead. "…without the both of us. Cavanaugh might figure out what we were planning to do with the shields but by the time he does it'll be too late. We're a package deal, Kolya. Take either of us out of the equation and you lose everything. We're the only ones who can fix the grounding station, we're the only ones who can activate the shields and we're the only ones who can ensure that everyone and everything in this city survives…" she ground to a halt as the pistol lowered fractionally as Kolya glanced over at his pet scientist.


"She's right," Cavanaugh growled. Sam could only imagine how much it cost the man's ego to admit that. "The notes on the system aren't complete… by the time I figure it out the storm's hit and we're dead anyway."

Kolya nodded, lowered the pistol and replaced it in his pocket. He walked towards the balcony, deep in thought.

"Thank you," Elizabeth said shakily, turning to Sora. "I appreciate…"

"You're an asset we need to complete this mission," Sora said stonily before following Kolya.

Sam had not moved. Elizabeth gently touched her shoulder, appalled at how rigidly the other woman was holding herself. "You stood in front of a gun for me," she said softly.

"Don't thank me just yet," Sam warned her, cradling her injured arm. "We have two and a half hours until that storm hits and unless our luck changes drastically, the city is going to be obliterated." Elizabeth closed her eyes and turned away, but her hand remained on Sam's shoulder. It was Sam who moved away from her touch. She reasoned that it would be dangerous to give either Kolya or Sora any reason to believe that they meant any more to each other than colleagues – not that they were, she reminded herself, sadly. And she had no idea what Cavanaugh might know or have surmised about their relationship although his earlier comment about them being 'fuck-buddies' meant that his nasty little imagination must have been working overtime.

Kolya was busy taunting Sheppard. "Major Sheppard… how's this for credibility? Weir is dead."

Sheppard's response came clearly over the comm.. "I am going to kill you."

Kolya gave a half shrug, a smirk on his craggy face. "Maybe… stay out of my way. Or Dr Carter will join her."

Cavanaugh and a Jenai called Laden had configured the internal sensors and had located Sheppard's position in the main structure, four levels down. Laden directed two soldiers to head to that location. Sora went with them. Over and above her fears for Sheppard's well-being Sam had a mental count-down in her head to the time when the storm would hit the city. Depending on how badly the last station was damaged she could still – just – get her plan into operation. But the longer they spent looking for Sheppard… he was continuing to give the Jenai soldiers the slip despite Laden directing them from the control room with the lifesign scanner.

Kolya got tired of waiting. "Come on…" he roughly gestured to the soldiers guarding his two female prisoners. "We're going to check on the damage at Grounding Station Three. See if it's as bad as Sheppard claimed." He stepped close to Sam, ran the snub muzzle of his pistol down her cheek. She stared straight ahead, not flinching. He seemed disappointed by her lack of reaction. "After all, you have a reputation as a miracle worker to keep up…"

"Oh Holy Hannah, not you as well," Sam muttered.

Cavanaugh got out of his seat. "Why are you trusting her? I can…"

"I need you here, Cavanaugh. Laden – watch him," Kolya barked. Cavanaugh wasn't strong enough to keep face, flinching like a whipped dog as he subsided back into his seat under Laden's scornful gaze. Kolya pushed Elizabeth forward, Sam falling into step beside her as they made their way to Grounding Station Three.

"How much longer until the storm passes?" Teyla asked. A few moments earlier a huge tree had blown over, just missing the front of the Jumper. All of them were getting twitchy. Beckett had already adjusted the inertial dampeners to make sure they weren't blown away.

"I guess we're barely halfway through. But there's no way to tell," Beckett fretted.

Ford resumed his pacing, Teyla tried to meditate. Then, suddenly there was silence and stillness.

"What's this then?" Beckett asked, scanning the instrumentation. Sunlight was streaming through the viewport.

"Are we through?" Ford asked eagerly.

After a moment's hesitation, Beckett opened the doors and they all walked out onto the rain sodden ground. The air was almost magically still.

"We're in the eye," Ford realized.

"Right," Beckett nodded. "Has to be… dead centre of the storm," he explained to Teyla. "The storm swirls around a twenty to forty kilometer area."

"Then this calm will not last," Teyla said, looking back towards the haven of the puddle jumper.

"No, in fact… in about ten minutes, it's going to get very ugly again," Beckett said.

Ford was galvanized into action. "Then come on, we have to help the major." Beckett grabbed him as he headed back to the puddle jumper.

"Aye, we can take off… but landings twice as hard, believe me. What if the storm has reached Atlantis?"

"Has it?" Ford walked over to the control panel, scanning it with a frown.

"Not just yet, but it will anytime now," Beckett fretted.

"Then we'd better stop wasting time," Ford said, taking his seat at the console. Teyla followed his example.

"We still have to fly straight through the storm… its insanity!" Beckett gestured at the scanners showing the extent and severity of the storm.

"It's not insanity. This is a spaceship. We can fly up and over," Ford pointed out.

"What? Straight up and down!" Beckett was not convinced.

"Straight up and down," Ford grinned.

"I'm a bloody medical doctor, not a magician," Beckett groused.

"You can do it," Ford encouraged him.

"Teyla!" Beckett appealed to the level-headed Athosian woman for support.

"If we can help, we must," Teyla said, reminding the doctor of the situation back on Atlantis.

Beckett nodded in resignation. "Crap!" he said softly, turning to the controls.

The damage to the panels was extensive. Elizabeth helped Sam wrest off the cover to expose the circuitry beneath. Sam sighed heavily and started to poke around inside. She pulled out a cracked and blackened crystal. "Well that is just never going to be useful again…" She dropped it onto the deck and continued her investigations. "I should be able to bypass the switching station," she said at last.

"Good… how long?" Kolya asked.

"It's not as bad as it might have been. Say 15-20 minutes, tops," Sam said, not lifting her gaze from the panel.

"Do it," Kolya snapped. He grabbed Elizabeth's arm as if intending to take her somewhere else.

"I need Dr Weir here as well," Sam said. "My arm… I can't hold a torch and work at the same time."

Kolya scowled, nodded abruptly and let Elizabeth go. Needing no further prompting, she scooted down next to Sam, holding the torch to illuminate the internal workings of the panel.

A few minutes later they heard Sora report to Kolya over the radio that Sheppard had taken out three more of the Jenai strike team. Both women were careful not to show too much elation at that knowing that Kolya was only too likely to take out his frustration on them.

"Tell everyone to fall back to the Control Room," Kolya ordered. He moved away from the women so that they could no longer hear him but he was still giving Sora orders.

"Why did you tell him you could have this fixed in 15-20 minutes?" Elizabeth whispered. To her, the circuit board looked a charred mess.

"The storm will be here in less than an hour. This is to give us – and Sheppard – a bit of time," Sam whispered back. "And to make Kolya believe that he really can save the city for the Jenai. So he won't just cut his losses and kill us and strip the city of everything portable before they leave. Truth is, Elizabeth, I really don't think it's as bad as it looks. And in fifteen minutes I'll know whether this can be fixed at all – and if it can't then either Kolya will kill us or the storm will."

"And if it can?" Elizabeth preferred to think positively.

"I fix it, and we keep things going here so that Sheppard can do what he needs to do. We get the shield working and we get out of this - alive."

"Once the shield is operational – we'll no longer be useful to him," Elizabeth said.

"I'll just have to time it right, hold off finishing the repair 'til the last possible moment. Keep his hopes up. You're going to have to stall him, Elizabeth."

"Can't you come up with some technical explanation why it's taking longer than you said?" Elizabeth said. "Blind him with science…"

"Technobabble," Sam smiled. "That's what General O'Neill used to call it… Not that he had a very high tolerance for it. I don't know if this Kolya will be any better. You may have to be… diplomatic."

"I don't know if he'll have much of a tolerance for that either. From the sounds of it, if we can buy Sheppard enough time it seems he can take care of the rest of them on his own…" she paused as Kolya reappeared in the doorway, still talking on the radio.

"Radio Chief Cowan, tell them to send reinforcements. A full company." He leered towards the two women. "If you were hoping Major Sheppard can diminish our numbers, you are mistaken."

His radio crackled into life again. "Commander, Major Sheppard has cut power to the control room."

Sam and Elizabeth covertly exchanged delighted glances as Kolya stomped back into the doorway again. "How?"

They recognized Cavanaugh's somewhat prissy tone. "Atlantis is powered by five small generators, each responsible for a separate area of the city… Major Sheppard has just disabled the one generator that powers Stargate operations in this tower. Now, we still have most primary systems. We have definitely lost all secondary systems."

"Can you still track Sheppard?" Kolya asked.

"No…" At that, Elizabeth's fingers brushed along Sam's and squeezed them gently. Sam squeezed back.

"Then we have no idea where he is now," Kolya said heavily. "Is the control room secure?"

"Yes, Commander. I suggest we send some men to guard the remaining generators," Sora recommended.

"No," Kolya said. "He's trying to divide us into manageable numbers. Just close Stargate operations until the reinforcements arrive."


"Elizabeth, we need to stall him," Sam whispered. "If he asks what's taking so long…"

"I'll do my best…"

"What's our progress?" Kolya asked.

"We've hit a small snag," Weir said smoothly, rising to her feet as Sam looked as busy as possible, pulling, examining and replacing components. "The blast caused a lot of secondary damage to several key circuits. Dr Carter is about to run another diagnostic to make sure we can still interface our codes properly."

Kolya ignored her and moved closer to Sam.

"It's just as Dr Weir explained it," Sam said hurriedly. "The damage was more intensive than I first thought… and tracing the fault without the right equipment in these conditions is not easy… another half hour at most, I…" she paused as the lights in the tower behind them went out.

"Commander… Major Sheppard has just disabled another generator," Laden reported from the control room.

"Yes, Laden, we're aware of that," Kolya's voice grated with sarcasm. "He's cut the power to grounding station three." He pointed at Sam. "Can it still be repaired?"

"Without power, no," Sam stepped back from the panel.

Kolya started to pace. "Can the plan be completed without it? The other three grounding stations have been disabled."

"No…" Sam started to explain. "By uncoupling the grounding stations it means that when lightning strikes the city, the electricity will have no where to go. Now, if we can channel the electricity properly to the conduits that line the city corridors we should be able to power the shield… temporarily at least. But if any of these grounding stations are left active a sizable amount of electricity will find its way to ground and we won't have a shield."

A particularly powerful gust of wind almost blew Elizabeth off her feet. She clung to the panel. The temperature was dropping fast. A squall of rain blew into their faces. Very quickly all three of them were soaked as the rain became torrential. Sora was monitoring the conversation from the Control Room.

"Commander, the storm is not slowing its pace… we have little time to get the shields activated… we should re-evaluate our goal, perhaps…"

"We still have more than enough time to complete our objectives," Kolya disregarded her plea for caution.

Sora pressed her point. "Then I must strongly advise that we send men down to repair the deactivated generators and to guard the remaining active ones."

"Agreed," Kolya said crisply. "Teams of two. But I want you to watch over the control room. As soon as the reinforcements arrive have them take Sheppard with overwhelming force."

"Understood," Sora said.

Sam realized that she was shuddering violently, suddenly aware of just how cold she was getting. She could see that Elizabeth's hands were also trembling. Neither of them were exactly dressed for this. They were both soaked to the skin from the rain and spray. Her injured arm was throbbing painfully and her fingers were numb and tingling. It was getting increasingly difficult to move them. "Perhaps we could be under shelter while we wait… we're going to develop hypothermia if we stay here – if the wind doesn't sweep us over the side first," she pointed out to Kolya who looked distinctly unimpressed with her suggestion. "I take that as a no," Sam said more softly. Either of the options she had outlined for their demise would at least save Kolya the bother of shooting them.

She gently pushed Elizabeth to get closer in behind the panel where at least she would get a little shelter from the driving rain and crouched down beside her. There was nothing else either of them could do until either the power came back on or Sheppard made his next move.

Teyla was first out of the Jumper, followed by Ford who immediately headed for the Armoury, trailed by Beckett who was not entirely happy about being impressed into service.

"Should we try and contact the Major now?" Beckett asked.

"The Jenai may be monitoring our frequencies… we do not want to alert them of our presence," Teyla said. Ford handed him a P90 and a palm scanner.

"Life signs detector," he explained tersely.

"These wee dots don't tell us much about who's who… how do we know which one's the Major?"

"He'll be the dot that's getting rid of all the other dots," Ford wisecracked. Teyla gave a dutiful smile in recognition of Ford's attempt to allay the doctor's anxiety and took up position on their six, Ford taking point.

Sheppard's next move took everyone by surprise with its simple brilliance and heartstopping callousness. When the Jenai reinforcements were coming through the Atlantis Gate he infiltrated the control room and restored power to the systems operating the force field over the Gate, knocking out both Laden and Cavanaugh to ensure that they did not lower the forcefield again. Of the troop of sixty Jenai soldiers, only five got through. The rest impacted against the shield and died instantly.

Kolya's communicator transmitted the whole horror to those in Grounding Station 3. Kolya was shouting instructions to the panicked Sora. "Shut it down! Turn it off!"

"I don't know how," Sora shouted back. "Laden and Cavanaugh are unconscious."

Kolya advanced on Sam, holding out the communicator. "Tell her the procedure."

Sam backed away. "I don't know what he's done."

Kolya was not convinced. "Tell her!"

"He must have entered his own personal command code," Sam said, aware that she was only a couple of feet from the edge of the platform. The wind almost knocked her off her feet. Kolya snagged her by the front of her jacket.

"What is it?" he shouted.

"I don't know!" Sam shouted back. "That's the whole point of having one."

"Only Sheppard would know it," Elizabeth said, clinging to Kolya's arm, trying to pull him off Sam. She was backhanded across the face for her trouble, sent sprawling across the rain-slick deck. Kolya stared coldly into Sam's eyes as he pressed her back against the railing.

"I don't know it," Sam repeated. Kolya kept his hold on her and turned to Elizabeth.

"You have command codes." Kolya's hand closed around Sam's throat, shutting off her breath. She was pushed back so far she was having problems keeping her feet on the ground, the freezing wind tearing at her body. The metal rail dug painfully into her lower spine. Elizabeth started towards him then thought better of it. Kolya could easily push Sam off the balcony just for the hell of it before she reached him. She did not want to further provoke him.

"You still need her if you want this city," Elizabeth reminded him shouting above the rain and the wind. "You still need both of us."

"Five men. Five out of sixty…" Kolya snarled. "I should…" His hand tightened vindictively around Sam's throat, shutting off her air. She started to black out her good hand scrabbling uselessly for purchase on anything that would save her from the long drop to the raging sea below.

"Commander…" Sora's voice came over the radio. Kolya abruptly let Sam's body drop to the platform and walked away. Elizabeth rushed over and cradled Sam's semi-conscious body in her arms.

Deep bonewracking shivers wracked her body, hypothermia and shock warring within her as she tried her best to listen in as Kolya conferred with Sora in the Control Room. She clung to Elizabeth, craving the scant warmth the other woman's body provided. There was a half familiar half terrifying sense of static in her mind.

"You're okay… you're okay," Elizabeth murmured. "Kolya's pissed." Sam's vision blurred as she stared at her and for a second she saw Janet, and then Elizabeth reappeared. There was a brief sense of warmth on her upper lip. Another nosebleed. She wiped the smear away with the back of one shaking hand.

"He wo.. .won't have t-time to get any more re.. re… men through before the st-storm hits," Sam choked out. Whatever her military sensibilities, the extent of the carnage Sheppard had perpetrated sickened her – over fifty men dead. But the Jenai had started this conflict.

Kolya contacted Sheppard again. "Major Sheppard, I have a proposition for you."

"Kolya, I'm having a hard time keeping up… what's the score again?" Sheppard taunted.

"My men have informed me that not only have you disabled some crucial generators, you've stolen key components that make it impossible to restore them."

"Yeah, I did that," Sheppard cheerfully admitted.

"There are two flaws in your plan," Kolya grated.

"I'm always open to constructive criticism," Sheppard quipped.

"One… the assumption that I would believe you would rather destroy the city than let it fall to us… is childish."

"Doesn't sound like me."

"Second. If and when I determine Atlantis unsalvageable Doctors Weir and Carter become obsolete," Kolya said calmly. Elizabeth felt Sam tense under her hands and realized that the woman had recovered enough to know they were still in danger.

There was a long pause. "Weir's alive?" Elizabeth realized that Sheppard had been under the misapprehension that Kolya had carried through with his threat of shooting her. It explained though did not excuse his ruthlessness earlier.

"Doctor Carter was able to make a strong case for keeping her alive…" Kolya said.

"Let me talk to her," Sheppard requested.

Kolya kept hold of the radio but held it out so that Elizabeth could talk into it. "Sheppard, we're both here."

"It's good to hear your voice," Sheppard could not hide the relief he felt at that.

Elizabeth could not tell him much more. Kolya resumed his conversation. "We have less than one hour until the storm hits full force. If the power is not returned to grounding station three within the next ten minutes, Dr Weir dies."

"Again you mean?"

Kolya ignored the comment. "Her death will buy you another ten minutes. After which should the power still be out Dr Carter dies. We will then leave with what we can and the city will be destroyed."

"Well that's not enough time," Sheppard said.

"If you don't mind destroying Atlantis, stay where you are for the next twenty minutes. Starting now." He broke off communications.

Teyla was beginning to despair. With testosterone levels ramping as high as they were Lieutenant Ford and Dr Beckett were likely to kill each other before they had chance to take on the Jenai. Neither man knew enough about Atlantis's systems to be certain where Sheppard was likely to go next in his sabotage spree or to second-guess where the Jenai would mount their ambush for the man. They had reached a generator room to find it empty.

"Is it the wrong one?" Dr Beckett asked.

"Yeah, I'd say so," Ford scowled at the doctor.

"Oh, don't you blame me for this… I'm not an engineer I really only have a basic understanding of how Sam and her team configure the power so don't expect me to…"

"You just can't stop talking can you?" Ford hissed. "Can't help yourself. No matter what I say – you…"

"Aye, and you're such a nice young lad. Until you're put in charge, you cheeky little bugger," the normally sanguine doctor snarled back.

"Wait!" Teyla attempted to bring them both back to the matter at hand before one or more of them died of testosterone poisoning. "What if this is the right station and the major has not made it back yet?"

"She's right," Beckett said. They had a one in three chance of finding the right generator and two minutes to make a decision. "We might be walking into the very ambush we're trying to save him from."

"We are not far from the transporter – are any of the generators near a transporter station?" Teyla asked.

Beckett checked. "Aye. There's two."

"Well let's go," Ford said, itching to see action. Beckett followed him, checking the map outside the transporter.

"Okay now… if I remember correctly…" He ignored Ford's exasperated sigh. "… I think they're here and here."

"Which one are you sure is next to a power generator?" Ford asked.

"Okay… just give me a moment."

"No moments!" Ford had had enough. "Just Pick One."

"I'm the one you're gonna blame if its wrong."

"We have to go now…" Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Beckett pointed to the map and the transporter activated.

They were lucky. Sheppard had just intercepted his ambush. "What the hell took you guys so long?" he asked sardonically as Ford stunned the two guards.

"Well, there's this storm…"

Teyla looked around, half listening as Sheppard brought them up to speed on his sabotage campaign. "We should leave this area," she said. "More Jenai will be on their way."

Sam's head was resting on Elizabeth's shoulder, the shudders that had wracked her body had died down to the occasional bone-deep shiver. Elizabeth knew that this was not a good sign: they were both in the early stages of hypothermia. Suddenly, the power came back on.

"It seems Major Sheppard wants you to live. Let's get back to work." Kolya motioned with his gun.

Elizabeth struggled to her feet, her chilled body uncooperative, then helped Sam to stand. She brushed wet hair back from the doctor's face, concerned about the way Sam was still leaning heavily on her. At least the nosebleed seemed to have stopped but such obvious weakness was uncharacteristic for the former soldier. "Sam – you okay to continue."

"I have to be, don't I," Sam whispered, blinking water out of her eyes, visibly marshalling her resources. "Don't worry. Everything's okay."

Sam tried to control the tremors in her hands as she rewired the damaged console.

"If this doesn't work…"

"It will," Elizabeth said.

"I'm just saying – if it doesn't work…"

"It will," Elizabeth repeated.

"I'm sure it will, but in the unlikely event that it doesn't, I…"

"Sam, please!" Elizabeth watched as Sam closed up the console again and activated it, entering the code to shut down the unit. The station reported that it was now disconnected. Both women breathed a sigh of relief.

"Now I need to run the subroutine that will convince the input buffer to the shield generator to convert the raw electricity into useful power," Sam said, looking across at Kolya. "I can only do that from the control room. That's where Doctor Weir's codes come in."

"Only primary systems are operating," Kolya said. "Sheppard has to repair the other generator."

Sam nodded impatiently. "The shields are considered a primary system so we're good to go now… I mean now… all of us, all your men."

"What does it have to do with my men?" Kolya asked, puzzled as to why the 'trap' was so obvious.

"Now that the grounding station has been deactivated electricity will be free to flow through the conduits that line every corridor of the city," Sam explained tersely. Elizabeth realized what she meant. Anyone left in the hallways when the process started was as good as dead.

Kolya was talking to Sora on the radio, the Jenai woman was intent on hunting Sheppard. Sora informed him that Sheppard had reinforcements – including Teyla.

"She's here... Teyla. She and two others have joined Sheppard."

"Fall back to the control room immediately," Kolya ordered, but Sora wasn't listening. All she followed now was the dictates of her blood feud with Teyla.

"She's just out of my reach. If I am patient…" Sora said.

"I gave you an order," Kolya barked.

"She left my father for dead," Sora said hotly.

"The storm is upon us. The city is no longer safe."

"I don't care."

"Fall back," Kolya told her what he thought she needed to hear. "You have my word your father will be avenged."

It did not dissuade her. "By me," Sora said, breaking off contact.

"Sam and Zelenka figured they could harness the storm's lightning to fire up the shield," Sheppard explained as they walked down the corridor.

Ford nodded. "SG Teams have done it before to power the Stargate." He grinned fiercely. "You gotta hand it to Doc Carter. She comes up with a plan every time. So we got to get ourselves somewhere safe."

"Will the young hunters in the Jumper be safe?" Teyla asked.

"Jumper Bay is part of Stargate operations so they'll be protected," Sheppard assured her.

"Where do we go?" Beckett asked.

"Same place," Ford said.

Sheppard shook his head. "Once the shield goes up over the city, Weir and Carter are expendable to Kolya. We've got to take the control room first."

"Would he really kill them because they are of no further use to him?" Teyla asked.

"No, he'd kill them to punish me. Now, here's the deal. Ford and I get into position just below the control room stairs. Teyla and Beckett head for the Jumper Bay."

"I intend to fight alongside you," Teyla said.

"And I intend you to fight with us, once you get in position, lower the ship into the gateroom, open the weapons pods. That should create a distraction for Ford and me to go in. We take back the control room, get the shield up… city safe… Weir and Carter safe. Take the rest of the day off!"

"Sounds like a plan, sir," Ford said smartly. Beckett nodded.

"Stay on channel 2. Let's move out." As Teyla and Beckett moved out, Sheppard told Ford to leave the bulky Wraith weapon behind. "You're not going to need that. Shoot to kill."

In the Control Room, Sam and Elizabeth were running out of time and options. The storm was getting to the point where the city infrastructure was in danger of being overwhelmed. Kolya had rounded up most of his men in the Control room where they would be safe from electrocution but the two women had no idea where Sheppard was in the city.

"You need to keep stalling," Weir whispered.

"There's no more time," Sam said bleakly. They could feel the tower shaking with every impact from the waves that were getting higher and higher by the minute.

"Now, Dr Carter," Kolya said.

"It's done. Dr Weir, I need to enter your codes now," Sam said formally.

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth said. She began to recite the sequence of numbers that made up her authorization code.

Teyla entered the jumper bay trailed by Dr Beckett who was still fretting about his part in the plan. "I'll be glad when this following orders business is over… I…" There was the sound of a body hitting the floor. Teyla turned to see Sora standing over Beckett's body. Teyla pointed her gun at the Jenai woman.

"Drop it, or I kill him," Sora threatened. As Teyla complied, putting her weapon on the floor, Sora surprised her by laying down her own weapon. "I would hate to kill you so quickly," she explained.

"I have known you for most of your life," Teyla said evenly. "Why are you doing this?"

Sora pulled out a knife. "You left him to die."

"Your father killed an innocent. He alerted the Wraith to our presence."

"And you escaped!" Sora raged.

"If I am to die by your hands, Sora. I die knowing there's nothing I could have done to have saved Tirus," Teyla said calmly. Sora paused. She held up her knife so that Teyla could see it.

"This was my father's! It was handed down from his father."

Teyla pulled out her own knife which had an equally illustrious heritage. "If you want to fight this way, Sora, I will win. You will have avenged no one."

Sora took up a fighting stance. "We will see." She threw herself at Teyla, swiping left then right then left again. She was good. Teyla knew that she could not make the mistake of underestimating the girl's skills. She dodged and weaved but Sora was faster, the knife flashed down, cutting Teyla's arm. Teyla ignored the injury and brought Sora off-balance, flipping the girl onto her back. Sora arched herself back onto her feet again and in a flurry of kicks and punches forced Teyla back against some packing crates. Teyla landed a kick in Sora's stomach forcing the girl back and giving herself some room to maneuver. She settled herself, knife ready and Sora rushed in again. Teyla reversed her knife and slashed Sora across the thigh. Sora gasped in pain and Teyla sensing she had the advantage took a hold on her and threw her over the crates and onto the stairs. Sora rose to her feet and tried to swipe at her again forcing Teyla to switch hands and twist Sora until the knife was at Sora's throat.

"This is not what your father would have wanted. Our people were destined to be allies," Teyla gasped out. Sheppard's voice crackled over the radio.

"Teyla and Beckett fall back to the control room."

"This must end. Now," Teyla told Sora.

"Then end it," the red headed woman challenged. Slowly Teyla withdrew the knife and let Sora pull away.

At the bottom of the stairs into the control room, Sheppard and Ford were in position ready to storm the room as soon as their diversion was in place. But there was no sign of Beckett or Teyla.

"They should have easily made it back to the Jumper Bay first. They should have been waiting for us," Ford said after a fruitless attempt to raise the two on the radio.

Elizabeth winced and shielded her eyes as a vivid blue white bolt of lightning zigzagged across the sky striking the North Pier. Sam was hunched over the console putting the last pieces of their plan together.

"No more time!" she shouted above the noise of the thunder. "Routing power… now!" She activated the console. Nothing appeared to happen. A second bolt of lightning and then a third struck the North Pier. It sounded like the end of the world.

"Okay, this is a problem," Sam gasped.

"What?" Kolya strode towards them.

"I warned you from the beginning that this was a long shot," Sam straightened up.

Cavanaugh emerged followed by two Jenai guards. "We already have serious flooding on the north and west piers," he told Kolya.

"It's no use, the city conduits just can't handle this kind of raw power," Sam said.

"Is any power getting to the shield generator?" Elizabeth asked.

Sam shrugged. "Nominal amounts. Nowhere near enough."

"You said this would work," Kolya growled.

"I warned you not to trust her," Cavanaugh's voice was shrill. "She'll destroy us all. They all believe she's some kind of miracle worker and you fell for it too. She…" He staggered and fell to the floor as Kolya lashed out at him. Sensibly, he stayed down.

"Hey, this was a long shot at best," Elizabeth shouted, feeling the need to defend all of her people, even a worthless piece of shit like Cavanaugh. "Why else would we evacuate the city? It was always our intention to dial out in case this didn't work… within minutes Atlantis will fail. You can leave and survive or you can go down with the city. You choose."

"We're just not getting enough power to the shield generators," Sam shook her head. "Elizabeth, I'm really sorry."

"You did your best, Sam." Elizabeth stared down Kolya. "Are you really going to sacrifice the lives of all your men on the off chance that this city won't be completely destroyed?"

Kolya snarled impotently and gestured to his men. "Open the Stargate, start evacuating the remaining men."

"What about him?" Ladon gestured towards Cavanaugh.

"Leave him. Let the storm take him. Bring the two women though. You'll both serve the Jenai as payment for what you've done. Let's get out of here." Two men grabbed Elizabeth, another tried to pull Sam away from the console as she entered another command. She kicked out at him and drove her elbow into his face. Kolya swiftly brought the butt of his rifle down on her injured arm again. Sam felt the bone snap for certain this time before the world turned grey and all the fight went out of her. This had not been part of the plan. She could only hope that Sheppard and the others were keeping tabs on the situation.

The Gate was open, the surviving Jenai leaving with their looted supplies. Elizabeth was pushed forward. Sam was not quite feigning semi-consciousness, biding her time. She let Kolya take most of her weight hoping to slow the man down sufficiently for Sheppard to make his move.

She did not have long to wait. Sheppard opened fire, killing the two guards that were escorting Elizabeth who hit the floor, covered by Ford as she edged her way to safety. Sam headbutted Kolya, the roundhouse kick that followed sending him tumbling off balance away from her and towards the open gate. He turned and raised his weapon, intending to fire on Sam but a shot from Sheppard took him in the shoulder and sent him crashing to the floor at the base of the Gate.

"Your last chance, Kolya," Sam said through gritted teeth against the pain. "Leave or die."

"Let the storm take you all," Kolya staggered to his feet and fled through the Gate.

Sam slumped against the console as Elizabeth reached her side. "Are you okay? Can you still do it – there isn't much time."

"Do what?" Sheppard asked.

"Activate the shield… save us all…"

"You can't… Teyla and Beckett – they're still out there somewhere in the city," Sheppard said. He turned to Ford. "Find them… and make sure that Kolya was the last of them."

"The tracking system's still down," Sam said. "I can't… in two and a half minutes the tsunami will hit us and we'll all be dead."

"Then give them two minutes," Sheppard said.

Sam nodded, her head lowered. Elizabeth let her hand rest on the small of Sam's back, moving in small comforting circles. She could almost feel the stress and tension thrumming through Sam's body. She kept an eye on the countdown. This was her call to make after all. She was still the leader of this expedition.

"There's no more time," she said as the clock showed a minute to go. "Either we lose them or we lose the city." She heard Sheppard's relieved sigh and looked over to see Teyla enter, supporting a groggy looking Beckett followed by a young redheaded woman – Sora.


"On it," Sam activated the circuit. It would not take the shield more than a couple of seconds to power up but it was still going to be a close run thing.

"What's happening?" Elizabeth asked.

"It's working," Sam assured her. "It just needs to build up enough power for the shield generator to activate." They could feel the approach of the wave in their bones, subsonics rattling through their bodies. The air seemed to ring as the wave struck the shield, passing over it without harming the city beneath.

"Saved the world again, Sam," Elizabeth smiled gently.

"Nice work, Doc," Sheppard congratulated her.

Sam silently acknowledged their congratulations not having the energy to do anything else.

"I see you've made a new friend," Sheppard said, bringing his gun up to cover Sora who glared at him – a look matched by Teyla. Ford moved to take the young Jenai woman into custody.

Ten hours later the storm had passed and their people began to come home. Repair teams were checking the systems and repairing Sheppard's sabotage. Carson Beckett had taken a leaf out of Janet Fraiser's book and after failing to persuade Sam Carter to rest or get immediate treatment for her injuries, had deftly sedated her when she wasn't looking. Her forearm was fractured in two places and the cut on her arm required twenty five stitches. She was still sleeping when Elizabeth, Sheppard, Teyla and Ford met to discuss the Jenai problem – particularly their red-headed prisoner.

"What do you want to do with her?" Sheppard asked.

"Oh, I don't know yet. We'll keep her locked up for the time being. Maybe releasing her to the Jenai will help ease tensions."

"You're extremely optimistic you know that?" he glanced up as the door opened and Sam Carter walked in, her arm in a lightweight cast and sling across her chest.

"Is everything okay?" she asked. "I know I'd got the power grid sorted before I…"

"Took an unscheduled nap?" Sheppard grinned. "We're getting along, we've teams pumping out the lower levels of the east pier which was flooded. There is structural damage but nothing too serious. The two docs and Teyla were the only medical casualties," he told Weir.

Elizabeth nodded. Beckett had suffered a minor concussion but had classed himself walking wounded. Teyla had a shallow but messy knife wound on her thigh and some bruising to her back and ribs. The only fatalities from the expedition were the two security people Kolya had murdered in the control room when the raid began. Everyone from Atlantis who had gone through the Gate to escape the storm had returned intact. They had been lucky. Very lucky.

"You say these things happen every twenty years, right?" Sheppard asked Sam.

"That's our belief, yes," Sam said. Sheppard nodded sagely, turned to Elizabeth and gave her his most winning smile.

"How far in advance can we book days off?"

The End

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