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.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author

Jolinar of Melkshur
By Celievamp

PT 5

"Colonel O'Neill, Jacob - it's good to see you, but where's the rest of SG1?"

Jack blinked, turned to Jacob who looked equally dumbfounded. Behind them the wormhole deactivated. The two of them were back at the SGC.

"What the hell!" O'Neill said. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. The last time he'd been this spooked Urgo had been a passenger in his brain.

"Likewise," Jacob Carter said. "What just happened?"

*We came through the Stargate* Selmac explained patiently.

*Yeah, but what happened BEFORE we came through the Stargate.* Whilst having two distinct sets of memories was sometimes hard to deal with, Jacob was finding having no memory at all distinctly unsettling.

*I do not know for certain. We were talking with Aum. She made certain demands… and then we were here.*

"That damn snakehead Bitch!" O'Neill ranted. "General, I think you'd better lock us up. We may have been compromised. Aum had some kind of brainwashing technology – semolina…"

"Semuta," Jacob corrected him automatically.

"… and lock out the other GDOs until Jacob and I figure what's going on. Jacob – at least tell me that you have the antidote on you and she hasn't completely screwed us."

Jacob felt in his pocket and brought out the slim case. He opened it and showed Jack the vials of liquid it contained. "It looks like we have it. General, you need to get this to Doctor Fraiser. She needs to inject one dose of this into Sam every six hours for three days. By then the toxin should have been neutralised. Tell her to expect side effects and for Sam to still be pretty sick. Basia didn't give us any other instructions." He gave a quick sidelong glance to Jack to see if he remembered anything else. Jack shook his head. The anger was fading from his face to leave a slightly sick, defeated look that Hammond didn't care to see at all on the face of his 2IC.

"I'll see that she gets it," Hammond said, taking the case from Jacob. He nodded to two of the SFs. "Escort Colonel O'Neill and General Carter to the briefing room and remain with them until I return."

Hammond took the drugs to the Infirmary himself. He found Janet where she had been seemingly stationed for weeks now, at the side of Sam Carter's bed. Sam was tossing and turning in fever, sweat pooling on her sallow skin. Janet was trying to soothe her, wiping her face and neck with a cool damp cloth to make her more comfortable murmuring softly to let her know that she was not alone.

"General," she straightened up as he tapped on the door.

"Dr Fraiser, Colonel O'Neill and Jacob Carter just came back through the Stargate with this. It seems to be the antidote Basia created for the poison. Jacob's instructions were to give her a dose intravenously every six hours for the next three days. But you will need to keep a close eye on her. There'll be side effects and she'll still be pretty weak."

Janet opened the case and examined the phials. "I wish I had time to test this thoroughly but we're just going to have to go on faith with this one. Just so as you understand sir. I am administering an untested drug of unknown origin to one of your officers. I have no idea what the consequences will be." Mentally she replayed what Hammond had just told her. "Sir, you mentioned that O'Neill and Sam's father came back. Where are Daniel and Teal'c?"

"Still on Aum, I presume. The mission hasn't been as clear cut as we hoped. I'm going to debrief the Colonel and Jacob now but they were insistent that I get this to you as soon as I could so that you could begin Major Carter's treatment at once. I'll stop by later and see how she's doing. You have my authorisation to proceed as you see fit, Dr Fraiser." He laid an understanding hand on her shoulder for a moment. "You've done everything you possibly could for her, Janet. Sam knows that, so does every one else on this base. She could not be in better hands."

Janet sent a sample from one of the vials to the labs for analysis and for them to do what tests they could. Though every bone in her body protested that without adequate testing this was too great a step into darkness, she filled the injector from the first vial and inserted it into the IV dripping fluids into Sam's arm, sending the drug into her body. "I hope this works, Sam," she whispered. "I really do."

Sam was back at the lake. She was too warm today, the sun was hot and there was no wind even though the clouds were rapidly scudding overhead. Her head ached and her skin seemed too tight. She could not get comfortable and she longed for a cool breeze or a long cold drink. A beer would be really good about now. For some reason she could not go into the water to cool down, no matter how much she wanted to. The same reason there was no beer and no cool breeze. She had to wait. This time she was alone – no Jolinar to taunt her for her weakness, no Janet to guide her to the truth. No one else could help her through this. She had just about figured that she was dead and this was the afterlife. And it was boring.

Suddenly there was a sharp pain in her right arm as if something had stabbed her. Automatically she had slapped her hand across the injury, her breath hissing in her throat. Whatever it was, it was inside her now, burrowing into her, fizzing through her veins. Then the sensation slowly faded away. But something was different. Whatever it was it was beginning. Or ending.

About time. Sam returned to her contemplation of the water.

"Colonel O'Neill, where are Teal'c and Dr Jackson?" Hammond asked.

"Still on Aum – with Aum," O'Neill said, running his hands through his hair. "General – I wasn't kidding when I said we could have been compromised big time. Aum uses some sort of conditioning on her people – keeps them happy, you know the routine. It was beginning to work on us as well."

"Teal'c identified it as semuta," Jacob said. "Both Selmac and I were badly affected by it. It's a form of brainwashing that works through music, auditory signals that excite certain areas of the brain. You are encouraged to remember times when you were happy. The brain produces chemicals that keep you in that state. After a short time you associate being on Aum with being happy."

"I'm guessing that's the Cliff Notes version," the General said.

"I'm not a scientist," Jacob said. "But it's scary stuff, George. And she uses it planetwide. It started to affect us within a day. From what Jack and I experienced, it's obviously under Aum's control. She can increase or decrease its effect like changing the volume on a TV."

"So why did you two return without Teal'c and Dr Jackson?" Hammond knew that one of O'Neill's guiding principles was that you never left anyone behind. He would not have split up his team without a very good reason.

"Basically we weren't given a choice. I don't even remember coming through the Gate," O'Neil said. He glances across to Jacob who confirmed his own lack of memory regarding those events.

"Jack was arguing with Aum and then we were here."

"And why were you arguing with Aum?"

"About the whole brainwashing gig. And the demand she made before she would give us the antidote Basia cooked up," O'Neill said. "That's why Daniel and Teal'c aren't here. They had to stay behind. It was the only way she'd give up the antidote. And there's a second part this. When Sam is cured, she wants us to return to Aum. Then she wants to come back with us to the SGC to visit with us to talk terms of an alliance. With Earth and with the Tokra."

"I need to get in contact with the Tokra High Council," Jacob said. "Now I don't know whether or not I've been compromised so I don't want to go there in person. Could you contact them, George, get them to send someone through?" Hammond nodded.

"I'll see to it myself, Jacob," Hammond said. He had rarely seen either man so twitchy and it unnerved him. "And I'll get Major Davis in on our discussions. The view from the Pentagon would be useful at this stage I think. Are Dr Jackson and Teal'c in any danger?" he asked.

"Only of never wanting to leave Aum," O'Neill said.

"Everyone is happy there," Jacob smiled ruefully.

O'Neill snorted. "Yeah, like they have any choice in the matter. On the surface this Aum seems all sweetness and light, I agree. And the people looked healthy, looked like they had a good life. But Danny said she comes from the same line as Nirrti so you can bet your bottom dollar she'll turn out to be the same kind of psychopathic snakehead as the rest of her happy little family. We just haven't seen her angle yet." He glanced across at Jacob who was rubbing his temple thoughtfully and staring into space. "You okay, Jake?"

"Yeah, still a little unfocussed. Selmac's not used to having memory lapses. She's a little… freaked."

*I am not 'freaked' Jacob Carter. I am merely concerned that we have been compromised. As you should be, you stubborn Tauri sonofa….*

*What do you suggest, old girl? Do you want to put us through Anise's zatarc testing? It's not like our memories have been altered – they've been erased. We don't have any memory of what happened.*

*I do not want to bring unnecessary danger to our allies or our fellow Tokra! I would have thought…*

"Yeah, definitely a little freaked," Jacob closed his eyes. He badly needed to sleep.

"You got the antidote for Carter to the Doc?" Jack asked.

Hammond nodded. "I authorised her to begin Major Carter's treatment straight away."

"How is she doing?" Jacob asked. "I know Janet was worried…" He was unable to complete his sentence not wanting to even acknowledge the possibility that his baby girl might still die.

"She held on for you, Jake," Hammond said. "Dr Fraiser changed her treatment slightly and it seemed to have a good effect. With any luck this drug of yours can bring her back the rest of the way home."

"Well that's one good thing to come out of this whole mess. I just hope the damn stuff works," Jack felt distinctly jaded. "Otherwise…" Actually, he hadn't felt this bad since that whole narcotic light situation on P4X347. Which was appropriate. He just hoped that it didn't mean he was addicted to this semuta already. He didn't want to think about the kind of withdrawal symptoms he would face if he was. "Sir, I recommend you keep a close watch on both of us. I don't know whether we've been programmed in any way or if we're going to start to feel any after effects or withdrawal symptoms from what was done to us."

Hammond narrowed his eyes. "Are you feeling any ill effects, Jack?"

"Remember the Light Fountain thing with the addictive properties we ran into a couple of years back? Kinda like that. A little crappy, a little irritable - nothing I can't cope with so far. How about you, Jacob?"

"As I said before, a little fuzzy and Selmac is definitely not herself. Otherwise we are okay. George – I really need to see my daughter."

"Okay, Jacob. I'll give the Infirmary a call to see if she's up to visitors. You'll still have to be under guard, I'm afraid and still use quarantine measures."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, George." *Just as long as I get to see her again.*

*You heard what Hammond said. She's made it this far, Jacob. With our help, she'll make it all the way back.*

Sam's condition remained largely unchanged after the first six hours. The latest batch of tests showed another small drop in the concentration of the contaminant in her bloodstream but that could have been due to her continuing fever as much as the new drug. Tests on that would take a few more days to come through. By that time Sam would either be better or she would not. Her kidney function showed a small improvement but her liver had just about ceased functioning, the jaundice and oedema getting progressively worse and she had not shown any sign of consciousness for three days. Ideally, by now Sam should also have been on a drug regimen to mimic the effects of her liver in cleaning the toxins from her body but Janet hesitated on giving them to her in case they interfered with Basia's treatment. The way she figured it, if the drugs got the poison out of her system then they could utilise the Tokra healing device to alleviate Sam's other problems. Or so Janet fervently hoped. The alternative just did not bear thinking about.

"He-ey Sam," Janet said softly, brushing a lock of sweat soaked hair from her brow. "How are you feeling today?" There was no REM, little or no reaction to external stimuli although there was still recognisable brain activity. Sam was now definitely in a deeply comatose state which could be viewed as a worsening of her condition. Her temperature hovered at between 103 and 104 degrees. Her oxygen flow had worsened slightly, not enough to warrant intubating her yet though she was on a mask, but if she didn't recover soon that decision would have to be made. The blood oxygen monitor was set to raise the alarm if her levels dropped any further.

"You just rest now, okay, sweetie," Janet said softly. "Let the drugs do their work. And if I'm not right here beside you I'll be close by, don't worry. Cassie sends you love and kisses and hopes to see you real soon. Your dad and Jack are back safely from Aum so you don't have to worry about that any more. Your dad will stop by later to sit with you a while. And I'm sure Jack will be around as well. I'm going to give you another shot now, hopefully this will make you feel a lot better..." Janet paused, unable to be the detached professional about this any longer. Brokenly she whispered, "I miss you so much, Sam. Don't stay away too long."

Janet administered the second injection and then after watching over her beloved for a while longer went to get some much needed sleep, camping down yet again on the couch in her office. For weeks, it seemed, she had either slept there or in a chair by Sam's bed. She would be awake in six hours to give Sam the third injection. Her staff were all under strict instruction to wake her in the mean time if there was any change at all in Sam's condition.


High Counsellor Garshaw came herself to hear what Aum required. She brought two Tokra guards with her and there were two SFs in the room as well as Hammond, O'Neill and Jacob Carter.

"We have information on the names that Jolinar gave to Major Carter. I regret that Vasey and his host were lost to us some time ago. Deacon and his host Abby are alive and we have been in contact. They remember the events on Melkshur very clearly." She handed Jacob a data crystal. "This is the information that they sent us about the experimental poison. I hope it will be of assistance. Like all our fellow Tokra, we wish to see Samantha Carter returned to good health. She is very dear to us." She closed her eyes and then it was Josef, the host speaking. "We all feel for you, at this time, Jacob." Her hand closed on his forearm for a moment in a gesture of support and solidarity and then Garshaw was back. "Now, what did you find out on Aum?"

Alicia noticed the smell first. "What on earth is that?" she whispered to herself. It smelt as if something had crawled into the air conditioning ducts somewhere and died or some fruit had been left to go really rotten. It was certainly not a smell that belonged in the Infirmary. She tried to track it down and ended up in the side ward where Major Carter was being treated. The smell was definitely stronger here. She cast an expert eye over the Major's readouts and noted that they remained much the same as they had the last three checks that had been made. However, as she passed close to the Major the odd smell intensified. Whatever the smell was it was definitely emanating from the unconscious woman's body.

Quickly Alicia checked Sam's swollen hands and feet looking for any sign that her circulation had been compromised, but her flesh though puffy was warm and whole and there was no sign of any discoloration or lesions that could have meant gangrene. Alicia did note what looked like dirty streaks appearing across Sam's forehead and cheeks and across her upper chest and forearms and the palms of her hands and realised that it was some sort of residue being exuded from Sam's body as she sweated out her fever. The sheet she lay on was also stained with it. It was definitely the source of the smell. In Alicia's view this absolutely qualified as a change in Major Carter's condition. She went to wake Dr Fraiser straight away.

"Dr Fraiser?" Alicia hated to wake the Doctor after she had had only four hours sleep, but her orders regarding Major Carter had been explicit. Even so she worried about the effect this was having on Dr Fraiser. Her boss was driving herself far too hard. But then she always did when she had critical patients – especially if they were SG1. Alicia remembered when Teal'c had been in a coma for three weeks whilst the rest of his team was captured by Hathor. Dr Fraiser had barely left his side the entire time. Whatever her bond with SG1 her bond with Major Carter was something else entirely. Alicia knew about the depth of friendship between the two women and had a strong feeling that the bond between them went far beyond friendship. But the way things were with military regulations she could never ask and they could never tell. It was clear to Alicia that under normal circumstances the two women were good for each other and very much in love. What worried Alicia was that the way Dr Fraiser was driving herself; Major Carter was not the only one who would need a long recuperation once this was over. And if the outcome was not good, well, then they could lose Janet Fraiser as well. Alicia prayed with all her heart that this would not happen. Dr Fraiser was one of the finest doctors she had ever served under – and a good friend to boot. "Dr Fraiser - Janet?" she reached out to touch the sleeping woman's shoulder, gently shaking her awake.

"Alicia?" Janet gazed up at her head nurse muzzily. It felt like she'd only been asleep for a few minutes. She really was going to have to get a more comfortable couch in here. Or a bed. Surely the number of times she slept in here by now she warranted a bed? Come to think of it, when was the last time she had slept in a bed? Or gone home? A vague memory of waking up to find the bed beside her empty and cold and Sam gone. That was it – the night this all started. How many weeks ago was that? Too many. Realising that her sleep-addled thoughts weren't making much sense even to herself, with an effort Janet brought her mind back to the present. "What's happened? Sam, is she…?"

"It's Major Carter, ma'am. There's been a definite change in her condition, something new happening with her. I noticed the smell at first and then what looks like an oily residue building up on her skin. I think that the Tokra drug is beginning to work. Her body could be expelling the contaminant."

Janet swung her feet over the side of the couch and sat up, brushing her disordered, decidedly lank hair back from her face. She tried to wake herself up a bit more, processing what Alicia had just told her. Currently she felt like a stranger in her own skin. Focus. She had to focus. "Okay, take samples of the residue and rush them to the lab. If it is the contaminant then it's potentially toxic – so take appropriate precautions. Make the lab understand that this is an absolute priority. I want to know its chemical content as soon as possible. There's another..." she squinted at her watch "hour and thirty minutes before she's due her next dose. You mentioned a smell?" Janet pulled herself to her feet and tried to ease the kinks out of her spine. The room swayed gently then steadied. She took a couple of deep breaths.

"Like rotting fruit," Alicia confirmed. "I hate to say it but she's beginning to stink out the entire Infirmary! You can even smell it in the corridor."

Gangrene. Could it be gangrene? Janet swallowed hard. If it was their options were limited. "Did you check the circulation to her extremities?" Her mind wanted to shy away from the possibility, but she had to know.

"Yes, Dr Fraiser. I checked very carefully both the Major's hands and feet. There's no sign that her circulation has been compromised. Her hands and feet are still very swollen but they were warm, there were no bruising, lesions or discoloration. No sign of gangrene or blood poisoning. No sign of discharge from anywhere either."

"Good," Janet forced her panic back down again. Not gangrene. That was something. That was good. "Well, Jacob did say there'd be side effects, though he wasn't too specific what they would be. Weird BO could count, I suppose. Talking of which, I really need to freshen up and change," she said, indicating her creased shirt with an expression of distaste. Talking of smells… a shower would probably be a good idea about now as well. Could she take the time to grab a shower? "All Major Carter's other readings are stable?"

Alicia nodded. "There's been no other change. I'll get those samples to the lab straight away, Dr Fraiser. Do you want me to take another set of bloods and urine as well?"

"If you could, that would be a great help," Janet said. A shower and a change of clothes and she would be a new woman. She hoped. Well, certainly after she'd had some coffee and maybe some calories.

Alicia seemed to read her mind. "I'll have a cup of coffee and something to eat waiting for you when you've cleaned up. I'll get those samples now, doctor."

"You're a godsend, Alicia," Janet smiled. She was so lucky to have such good staff to work with. She must remember to tell them that more often.

Twenty minutes later after a quick shower and a change of clothes Janet felt infinitely more her normal self. She managed to swallow down the cup of coffee and the toasted bagel with cream cheese that Alicia had procured for her from the Commissary. She wrote a hasty but no less loving email to Cassie and one to her mother, apologising for not being in touch recently and promising to phone her very soon. Then, steeling herself, she left her office and walked towards the Infirmary.

Janet understood exactly what Alicia meant as she approached the Infirmary. The smell was certainly pervasive and vaguely unpleasant. She was glad she had eaten before coming down there because it certainly was an appetite-killer. The test results weren't back yet but Janet decided it probably wasn't a good thing to let this stuff linger on Sam's skin any longer than necessary. The sheet beneath her was wet and stinking with it as was the gown she was wearing. It could not be comfortable for Sam.

"Okay, I don't want anyone touching Sam who isn't gloved up," Janet said. "And anything contaminated with the residue is to be treated as hazardous waste. Alicia, you and I are going to wash her down, get this stuff off her before it's reabsorbed back into her skin again and we're back to square one."

Trying to preserve the unconscious woman's dignity as much as possible, Sam was moved onto a gurney whilst her ruined bedding was disposed of and the mattress washed down and then Janet and Alicia undressed Sam and gave her a sponge bath. Luckily the residue came off easily without the need to use any stronger detergents than ordinary soap. Within a few minutes the water was decidedly murky but the smell was beginning to fade a little. Either that or they were getting used to it.

Unbidden, memories of washing Sam's body in happier times came to Janet's mind. Sometimes after Sam came home from a mission and Janet was already home, Janet would run a bath for Sam and whilst Sam relaxed, Janet would slowly and gently wash her body and then her hair for her, usually accompanied by much gentle kissing. More often than not they ended up sharing the bath. Janet's hand faltered, and she realised belatedly that there were tears in her eyes.

"Dr Fraiser, I can finish up here," Alicia said quietly. "I know this must be hard for you…"

"It's okay," Janet said huskily, trying to control her tears. "I need to do this for her. But thank you for offering." Fluid retention due to the damage to her liver and kidneys had puffed up Sam's hands and feet, the skin was stretched taut over her swollen fingers. Her skin was very sallow. Her abdomen was also hard and distended, in direct and chilling contrast to the starkness of her ribs and collarbones. She looked like a famine victim, one of those horrible pictures of stick thin children with distended bellies. Janet could feel the heat coming off her skin even through her latex gloves. It scared Janet to see her so still.

"Don't give up on her, Janet," Alicia said softly. "Sam's still fighting, she needs you to keep fighting for her as well. But you're not alone here. Everyone on the staff wants this to come out right." Janet swallowed back her tears again and nodded. They raised Sam to a sitting position whilst Janet washed down her back and then they carefully washed her hair and dried her off, making sure she didn't get chilled.

"Is it just me or is she looking a little less jaundiced?" Alicia asked.

Janet considered Sam for a moment, her hand gentling the soft skin of her cheek. "You could be right. The blood tests should confirm it."

"I think she is. Sam's going to beat this thing, Dr Fraiser. I know she is."

With fresh bedding and a clean gown and lying on an absorbent sheet, Sam was put back to bed. Janet was just preparing to give her the third injection when General Hammond telephoned her.

"Our meeting with Garshaw has just finished, Doctor. General Carter and Colonel O'Neill would like to visit with Major Carter, if that is okay with you, Doctor Fraiser."

"Give me an hour, sir. I'm just about to give her the third injection and then I'm expecting some test results back. I should have a clearer picture of her progress by then," Janet told him. "General Carter will still have to maintain anti-contamination procedures."

"Understood, Doctor," Hammond said. He paused. "So there is progress?"

"Yes sir, we think that there is."

"That's very good news, Janet. I'll escort them down myself, if you don't mind."

"She'll be very glad that you're here, all of you," Janet said steadily.

Daniel stared muzzily at the richly decorated ceiling, wishing that the room would stop spinning a little and that his head would clear. Aum had held a feast in their honour. The palm wine had been strong and sweet. On reflection, and considering his reputation at the SGC as something of a cheap date, he might have had a little too much of it.

Soft hands crept across his bare chest, fingers trailed along his jawline. "What is your pleasure, my lord?" a deliciously accented voice purred.

Yep, definitely too much palm wine. As hostage situations went, this wasn't too bad at all. She was pretty, very pretty, dark hair, dark eyes like his lost Shaure, though her skin was a shade or two lighter and she was maybe a little curvier. He could not remember her name, perhaps he had never known it. He peered up at her a little uncertainly wondering where his glasses had disappeared to. And his clothes. She was definitely pretty. She smiled, showing perfect white teeth, her fingers still doing their little dance along his jawline. Her other hand was on his bare stomach, heading south.

"My lord!"

That was it. He had died and gone to paradise and this was his own personal houri for being such a good boy. Abruptly Daniel realised that although his mind was still fuzzed and not exactly up to decision making his body had quite definite ideas about what he wanted to do to this delightful creature. He was inclined to let it get on with it. It had been a long time and he was just a guy after all. He grinned. He definitely had been hanging around Jack O'Neill too much. Jack…

Where was Jack?

The last thing he remembered clearly… Aum toe to toe with Jack about something… something to do with the cure for Sam, or was it… Music in his head, drowning out his thoughts, his will, his…

"Oh God!" He could swear his toes were curling. The girl knew how to get his attention all right, a better distraction even than the music, the semuta as Teal'c had called it. A form of conditioning, brainwashing.

Teal'c. Teal'c was still here. Somewhere. Daniel didn't know how he knew that in the same way he didn't know how he knew that Jack and Jacob Carter were somehow gone. But it was okay. Everything was okay. He closed his eyes, as almost-forgotten sensations ran through his body. His mouth suddenly dry, he swallowed painfully. Oh boy!

The young woman's actions were by now entirely focussed on the lower half of his body. It had been a long time since he felt this good, this happy and to be honest, carefree. But then he was on Aum. Everyone was happy here. Aum had promised that he could spend as much time in her library as he wanted. She had shown him just one of the rooms – there was a lifetime's work here. In the back of his mind someone or something that sounded a lot like Jack O'Neill was yelling at him to stop thinking with his gonads and get the hell out of there. But with very little effort Daniel let the ever-present music drown the voice out.

Teal'c basked in the hot humid air. A server poured more water on the coals, the warm steam enveloping him. Another server began to rub scented oil into the skin of his back and shoulders, gently but firmly massaging his muscles. He let himself relax. The music helped. If he closed his eyes and let his thoughts relax, as if he were about to go into a state of kel-nor-eem, Teal'c found that he could almost believe that the woman massaging him was his lost Shauna'c. She had the look of her, the gentle hands, the fire in her eyes. So much here reminded him of the old days, when he was First Prime. Apophis had taken good care of his most loyal Jaffa. And Teal'c was always careful to appear loyal. Many things here reminded him of Chulac. The atmosphere, the handsome people, the air of industry and contentment of a people who knew nothing more than a life in the service of their god. The feeling of being among his fellow Jaffa. He had missed that. Though he enjoyed the comradeship of the Tauri, it was not the same. It would be very easy to stay here, to accept, to forget all his past troubles, to stop fighting, to become what he had once been. To reverence Aum as he had once reverenced Apophis.

But Apophis was not a God. Aum was not a God. And his beloved Shauna'c had been murdered by another of these would-be Gods, Tanit. They were Goa'uld, parasitical beings who used humans as hosts. And he had sworn to fight them until his dying breath. He had sworn to free his people, to avenge Shauna'c. Teal'c fought against the semuta, against the feelings of pleasure that the woman's touch brought him. This was not for him. He had a higher purpose.

The woman moved around to massage his pectorals, the smell of the warmed oil sweetly seductive in his nostrils. His hand closed around her wrist. "Leave me," he said. She bowed her head and did as he asked.

No one had threatened him, raised a weapon in his presence or harmed him in any way. That did not mean that there were not many dangers in this place. He should never have let himself relax, how could he let himself forget himself his oath, even for a moment? He needed to find his companions. He knew that Daniel Jackson was still somewhere in the palace. He knew that O'Neill and Jacob Carter had been sent through the Stargate back to Earth with the drugs for Major Carter and Aum's proposal for an alliance. The music grew more insistent in his mind and he closed his eyes, fighting against it. It could not be allowed to distract him.

Teal'c opened his eyes, stood up and reached out to take a robe from a hook on the wall and wrapped it around his naked body. He had to find his powerstaff and his zat. More appropriate clothing would also be good. Then he had to find Daniel Jackson and free his mind from the semuta. And he had to keep them both safe from the glamour that Aum projected long enough to get them home either through the Gate or back to the waiting teltac. He could not allow either himself or Dr Jackson to be used as hostages to the whim of a Goa'uld.

The test results confirmed that the residue on Sam's skin was almost entirely composed of the contaminant. Levels in her blood had dropped by almost 40%. What little urine she was producing also contained heavy traces of the contaminant. Her fluid balance was improving slowly; her liver showed signs of returning function. And the smell was getting less pervasive.

Janet reported the latest results to the General, O'Neill and Jacob Carter. Sam's father was unable to hide his relief. He got up and put his arms around Janet, holding her close.

"Thank you," he said softly. "Thank you for giving her the chance."

"It was Basia's antidote that made the difference," Janet said. "Sam has you and the Colonel to thank for that."

"So she kept that part of the deal," Jacob looked over at Jack. His eyes closed for a moment as he talked with Selmac. "George, I think you have to let us go back."

"I'll take that under advisement, Jacob. The Pentagon is still considering Aum's proposal."

"What is a person but the sum of their memories and experiences?"

Sam realised that she was not alone any more. Slowly, she turned from her contemplation of the lake. She had lost track of time. She could have been here hours or days, she had no way of telling in this changeless landscape. She had got used to being alone, she welcomed the quiet, the lack of demand on her time, her intellect. It was nice just to drift for a time, to forget, to be nothing and no one. The voice was familiar, but she could not immediately place it. The shock when she saw the speaker was immense. She felt her heart miss a beat, her breath stop for a long moment.

The woman smiled, the gesture transfiguring her face in a way which anyone who knew Samantha Carter would be very familiar. "Why do you keep coming here, Sammie? Why are you hiding here instead of getting on with your life?"

"Mama?" Sam scrambled to her feet, staggered towards the older woman. Not that much older, not now. With a start Sam realised that she was herself now only a few years short of the age her mother had been when she died. Barring hairstyles, they did look remarkably alike, something that Sam had never truly appreciated before. In a moment of clarity Sam finally understood the fleeting look of sadness in her father's eyes every time that he saw her. She reminded him too much of his dead wife. 'Oh, mama!"

"I'm here, my baby girl," her mother smiled holding out her arms to welcome her daughter. "Though I shouldn't really call you that now, should I?"

Sam managed to utter a sound somewhere between a sob and a giggle, blinking back tears. "I guess not," she whispered. She fell into the welcoming arms and held her mother close for the first time in over twenty years, burying her face in the long blonde hair, wrapping it around her fingers as she had done when she was a young child, taking solace from the elusively familiar perfume, the feel of strong, slender arms around her, holding her close, protecting her against the world. "I missed you so much, Mama. It's been so long."

"And I missed so much of you, my darling," her mother said, stroking her long slender fingers through her daughter's short hair. "Look at you now, all grown up and so strong and so beautiful in body mind and spirit. You are everything I hoped you would be and so much more. I am so proud of you, Samantha, of the person that you have become."

"You don't know how much it means to me to hear you say that, mama, even though I know this is all…" Sam gestured around her and then pointed to her own head. "I mean it is, isn't it?" She could not stop smiling even though there were tears in her eyes. Her mother was also smiling as well, crystal blue eyes a shade or so darker than her daughter's lighting up as she gazed at her child. By unspoken agreement, they sat down on the sun-warmed deck. Sam could not take her eyes off her mother's face. "I didn't forget you," she said softly, reaching out to stroke her mother's cheek. "I tried to remember everything about you, the way you looked, the way you smelt, the sound of your voice, your laughter. And I tried not to blame Dad for what happened to you. He was hurting so much, mama. And Mark… I knew you wouldn't want that, wouldn't want the family to fall apart. I tried so hard, mama. I wanted so much for you to be proud of me."

"I know. And I would have been proud of you whatever you had done with your life, Samantha, I hope you realise that. I admit that I was terribly afraid for a while that you would become what your father wanted rather than what you wanted to be," her mother said. "But just look at your achievements. You managed to remain your own person no matter how difficult and demanding your father became. You built a life for yourself, a reputation as a scientist at the top of your field, as a soldier, a pilot. And as a person of trust, integrity, of such courage and generosity of spirit. You adopted a child, raised a beautiful daughter yourself who loves you so much. You fell in love. You weren't afraid. You have achieved so much, Samantha, made a difference to so many people, inspired them. And you never took the easy route. How could I be anything other than proud of you? You will always be my daughter, Samantha."

Sam cuddled into her mother's arms again, rejoicing in the touch of her mother's hands. The easy route. No. It had definitely not been the easy route. But on reflection if she got the chance to do it over again, Sam knew that there was very little she would change about her life. Except perhaps for having her mother alive again and still at her side. That idea had plagued her dreams and waking hours when they had time-jumped to 1969 and for weeks afterwards. An anonymous letter telling her mother that on a specific day in May 1980 she should under no circumstances take a cab anywhere – it would have been so easy. Perhaps even seeking out her four year old self… And damn the consequences to the timeline. But she hadn't done anything of the sort. She had been the good soldier, the good scientist. Throughout the carefully managed conversation with Catherine Langford she had felt on the point of crying, as if she was losing her mother all over again by denying herself this opportunity. It was why she had reacted so strongly when O'Neill had been on the point of telling Michael about the outcome of the Vietnam War, fiercely ordering him not to say anything about it.

Thinking about it afterwards when with the future Cassie's help they had got safely home to their own time she wondered if Daniel and the Colonel had fought their own demons, thought about writing their own letters – Daniel to his parents warning them about the dangers of the Metropolitan Museum exhibit collapsing; the Colonel to his future/past self reminding him to make sure that he never ever left his gun where his son could find it. They had never talked about it afterwards. Perhaps they should have.

Resolutely, she pushed those memories out of her mind. It was in the past, literally and figuratively. Instead Sam asked another question that had been bothering her since her mother's appearance on the dock. She pulled away a little to look her mother in the eyes. "Mama, am I dead?"

Elizabeth Carter smiled and leaning over pressed her lips to her daughter's brow for a moment. "Bless you, darling, no you're not dead. Far from it. In fact, you're almost well again. The treatment worked. All you need to do now is wake up. Everyone and everything is waiting for you out there. You don't need to hide here anymore."

Everyone and everything. Sam was suddenly aware that there were two other people on the dock with them. Jolinar and Janet. They were sitting on either side of her, their hands joining with hers and her mother's, their strengths, their spirits merging with hers, willingly a part of who she was. If she wanted them to be. And she did.

Her mother had set the standard for her life, her ethics, her love of science, had taught her never to apologise for being intelligent nor for being a woman. Sam had often wondered what she would have been like if her mother had not died when she was sixteen, what the true effect of the loneliness and isolation of those later teenage years had been on her adult character and viewpoint. Sometimes it occurred to her that her emotional life had only really started again when she met Janet.

Jolinar. Her essence irrevocably joined with Sam's own, their memories, their feelings intertwined. Sam knew that some of her gestures, her movements, even the way she sat sometimes owed more to Jolinar than to herself. And even to describe that legacy as 'Jolinar' was not entirely accurate. She had the memories not only of Jolinar but of all the symbiote's previous hosts as well, even if she could only ever consciously recall fragments. Thousands of years worth of experiences, memories, emotions. At first Sam would catch herself almost guiltily, look around to see if anyone had noticed her lapse and would hold it against her, but now she just accepted it, realising that people picked up mannerisms from other people all of the time. Hell, half the base now used 'O'Neillisms' as part of their everyday speech patterns and no one thought anything of it. If anyone noticed how often now, when relaxing she sat with her knees drawn up under her chin in the very same way that one of Jolinar's earlier host's, Calthea, used to sit, no one would say anything. After all, who else would know but her? Calthea had been dead for over a thousand years. She existed now only in Sam's second-hand memories.

Sam remembered how difficult it had been for her initially to come to terms with what Jolinar had done to her. Forcibly taking her as a host and then sacrificing herself so that Sam could live. The slow realization of the legacy that Jolinar had left in her – not only the protein marker and naquada residue in her blood, but also her memories and experiences. At first Sam had not been able to consciously access them. They came in nightmares and sometimes in terrifying flashbacks, the alien images and second hand emotions and sensations disorientating in the extreme. Sam had likened it to a kind of schizophrenia. The lack of control had terrified her more than anything, had driven her to seek a way to control the 'visions', to use the knowledge contained in them to her advantage.

Drug therapy was not an option, not if she wanted to retain her active status. After talking it through with Janet and with Dr MacKenzie's help, she tried hypnotherapy. He had successfully hypnotized her before to get around Oannes block's that had convinced them that Daniel Jackson was dead. She had several sessions with him, sometimes with Janet or Jack present as moral support but the results were inconclusive. She could not seem to access them even subconsciously.

Then Daniel, who had been doing some research of his own came up with the concept of lucid dreaming. Sam could train herself to direct her dreams, recall more of the content. By this point, Sam was willing to try anything. With MacKenzie and Janet's assistance, and General Hammond's agreement, they set up the necessary equipment in one of the isolabs. Two or three nights a week Sam would go to sleep in the lab as the equipment recorded her brainwaves. She was given a drug to keep her in REM sleep for longer intervals. With either MacKenzie, Janet or Daniel monitoring her, Sam tried to direct her dreams towards the memories that Jolinar had left within her mind.

Three weeks into the experiment Sam dreamt of Martouf for the first time and saw the gate address of one of the Tokra worlds.

Sam smiled at Jolinar's avatar and reached out to clasp hands with her for a moment. She had come to a greater understanding of this aspect of her character over the last days. Perhaps she had even come to acknowledge it as really part of herself. Then she turned to the dark haired woman waiting patiently at her other side.

Dr Janet Fraiser. Her closest friend and confidant, her lover. The centre of her world. Her hope, her joy. Her better half. The angel on her shoulder. Her own secret, deepest love. The one who saved her from the worst excesses of her personality even if it was just because Sam could not stand to disappoint her lover. Janet had changed her in more subtle ways. Thanks to her Sam was no longer afraid of affection, of showing or receiving it. She berated herself for her failings – real or imagined – far less frequently. She knew that she did not have to succeed every time, as long as she at least tried. As long as Janet still loved her.

Sam smiled the smile she reserved for Janet alone and pulled the smaller woman closer, drinking in her familiar scent, exhilarating at the touch of her fingers on her skin. "You have no idea how much I wish that I could do this for real. Janet – this is my mother, Elizabeth Carter – mama, this is Janet Fraiser. I love her, mama, I love her so much." She bent her head and Janet raised her face to hers reaching up to caress her cheek with one hand as she quietly accepting the almost chaste kiss.

"I know," her mother smiled, taking other Janet's hand. "Here and in the outside world, Sam, she is your strength. As you are hers. You complete each other." The two women smiled at one another in perfect understanding. It was the truth beyond question.

"And this is Jolinar of Melkshur, of the Tokra."

"I am honoured," Jolinar bowed her head.

"As am I," Elizabeth Carter said gravely. "After all, you gave your life to save my daughter. With your assistance Samantha has changed her world forever, been instrumental in forging an alliance that may yet one day defeat the Goa'uld."

"I saw her potential, her strength. I knew my death would not be in vain," Jolinar said. "Though we have not made life easy for each other since." A smile dimpled her cheek.

"But that has changed now. Your thoughts are in harmony."

"We are as we would have been if we had truly become Tokra."

Sam nodded in agreement. "I think we finally are." She looked around in sudden dismay as the scene around her wavered and began to change. Jolinar and Janet disappeared. Sam realised that she was back in the Gateroom. Her mother left her side and walked up the ramp towards the huge stone and metal circle that was the Gate itself. "My little girl figured out how to work this thing after thousands of years," she marveled. "You have a place in history, my darling."

"Maybe," Sam smiled. "But only if the Stargate ceases to be a state secret. Until then I'll just be that rather bright Air Force major who wasted her career in Deep Space Telemetry. But one day…"

"One day," her mother agreed. "But only if you go back now. It's time to wake up, Samantha. Your father and all your friends are waiting for you. Your body is healing and they need you, need that wonderful mind of yours."

Sam took her mother in her arms, held her tightly. "I missed you so much, mama."

"But I never really left you, you know," Elizabeth Carter said softly. "I have been here and here," she touched a long-fingered hand to Sam's temple and then placed it over Sam's heart, "all the time and I always will be."

The Stargate blossomed into life. "Time to go," Elizabeth reminded her daughter. "Remember I will always love you and that you are very brave." She kissed her daughter on the brow and then pushed her gently towards the shimmering energy field.

The two men chuckled. "I remember when Sammie was nine or ten," Jacob said. "She'd just won a scholarship to go to a summer school for advanced mathematics…"

"Please, dad," a whispered voice from the bed startled both men. "He's lasted this long without hearing that story. Don't tell him about that please. He's sure to repeat it to the guys first chance he gets and then I'll never hear the last of it!"

"Sam?" Jacob reached out to touch his daughter's pale cheek, drinking in her blue eyes.

"I'll go get Janet," O'Neill scrambled to his feet.

He found Janet in her office, curled up on her couch, fast asleep. One good thing about the almost constant vigil he and Jacob had kept over Sam this last day and a half, it had allowed the Doc to finally get some sleep. It seemed a pity to wake her, she looked so peaceful, absurdly young tucked up under the blanket, but if he didn't she would never forgive him. And he knew that knowing that Sam was back in the land of the living would do more good for Janet Fraiser than any amount of sleep.

Crouching down he gently shook her shoulder, watching her come awake, the look of fear in her eyes. "It's okay, Janet. It's good news. Sam's awake."

"She's awake!" Jack was graced with one of Janet Fraiser's smiles. His II1C was a very lucky woman, he reflected ruefully. Just his luck really. He worked with two of the most beautiful, intelligent and downright charming women it had ever been his privilege to know and they only had eyes for each other.

PT 6

Teal'c found the armoury and retrieved two zat guns which he concealed in his robes and a staff weapon. He tried to maintain the same expression of vague happiness that he saw on everyone else's features and no one stopped him or asked him his business as he strode through the corridors of the palace. He remembered Daniel saying something about Aum agreeing to show him her library and decided that this would be a good place to start his search for his team-mate.

Daniel was indeed in the library. He was seated at a large table piled high with books and scrolls, appearing to be in his natural element. He looked surprised to see Teal'c, even more surprised to see that the big man was armed.

"Teal'c - what's going on? Is Aum in danger?"

"Have you discovered anything that would aid us in our escape from this place, Daniel Jackson?"

"What? No – well, I haven't really been looking for anything like that. What's the hurry? It will take me a lifetime to go through all of this stuff. It's amazing. Jack and Jacob will be back in a day or so and then we'll all go back to Earth with Aum. We can just… kick back, relax, you know."

"Forgive me, Daniel Jackson but that is a somewhat naïve analysis of the situation," Teal'c said crisply.

"You don't think Aum will keep her word?" Daniel seemed almost shocked by the implication.

"I do not, Daniel Jackson. Aum is a Goa'uld. She cannot be trusted."

"But she seems…" Daniel frowned as if he was trying to remember something.

"She seems many things. But she is a Goa'uld. You should know better than most what that means, Daniel Jackson."

Jack had been reminiscing with Jacob as Sam dozed. She was getting stronger by the hour. Basia's drug was doing the business. At least one good thing had come out of this sorry-assed affair. Janet had given Sam the last dose about an hour earlier. There were now only traces of the contaminant in her system and even these were being flushed out. The awful sallowness in her skin and the oedema had just about gone as well. Although that meant she was paler than her sheets and looked like a slight breeze would knock her down. Her kidneys and liver were back on line and there was no longer any danger of organ failure. It would take a while for her to get her strength back but she had come a hell of a long way in just a couple of days.

Suddenly Jack realised that Jacob had stopped talking, that the older man looked pale, sweat standing on his brow. Then it hit him as well. Weakness and nausea rolled over him. And then the pain ground into him, hard. Jack groaned, doubling over and clutching his abdomen. It could not be a coincidence. Whatever this was it was damned quick and bloody painful. A few minutes ago he had felt fine and now he was weak as a kitten and felt like his guts were liquefying in his belly.

It was three days to the hour since they had come through the wormhole. This was Aum's wake up call for sure. She wanted them back. And the snakehead bitch wasn't going to take no for an answer. It looked like she'd rather see them dead first.

Sam woke with a start hearing her father's grunt of pain as his hand tightened around hers, unwittingly crushing her fingers. "Dad?" From where she lay she could see the sweat standing out on his brow, the grayish pallor of his skin. "Dad, what's wrong?" Beyond him Jack O'Neill looked in little better condition. Jacob Carter suddenly released her hand and clutched at his chest, sagging a little. "Dad!" Sam struggled to get out of bed to help her father. "Help me, someone, please, help me!" she shouted, reaching for the assist button on the table by her bed and pressing it hard.

The tape holding the IV needle in her arm pulled painfully at her skin as she moved and determinedly Sam yanked out the needle and vent flow, ignoring the blood that spilled down her arm as she slid out of bed. Her legs supported her for all of thirty seconds before she collapsed to the floor beside her father who was shaking uncontrollably, his eyes rolled back, his mouth in a rictus of pain, saliva frothing on his lips. She heard footsteps running towards her room - Janet and one of the medical SFs appeared in the doorway. Jack O'Neill was already out cold, her father seemed on the verge of joining him. His eyes flared gold for a moment. "Aum," Selmac whispered through clenched teeth, clutching her hand. "Must return to Aum. Only way." Then he too passed out.

There were at least two nurses and a pair of SFs with a gurney in her room, now carrying out O'Neill and then her father, supervised by Janet who was deeply anxious about her two new patients and the rapid escalation of their symptoms. She paused by Sam's side for a second and crouched down beside her, quickly checking her pulse, brushing her hand against Sam's cheek and brow and finding it cool. "You okay?"

Sam nodded, leant into Janet's touch for a moment. "I'll be fine. Help my dad and the Colonel, please, Janet."

Janet nodded and left. Sam realised that she was stuck, unable to get her weakened body to stand again. She leant against her bed, trying to steady her breathing, her heart hammering in her chest. General Hammond appeared, looking slightly out of breath, Major Ferretti just behind him. "What happened, Major?"

"My father... the Colonel - they both collapsed. I couldn't... I can't." Ferretti realised her difficulty and moving past Hammond easily scooped her up off the floor and lifted her back onto the bed. He could not hide the surprised expression on his face at how little she weighed. "Dad said… Aum."

"You okay, Sam? Any pain? I can..."

She shook her head impatiently, interrupting him. She had the strength to say this once if she said it now. "I'm okay, Lou. The Colonel and my dad need Janet now. Sir, what happened to my dad, Colonel O'Neill - it has to have something to do with the three day deadline Aum gave them. It's time."

Hammond nodded. "I think you're right, Major. It's three days to the hour since they Gated back." He beckoned a passing nurse to come and attend to Sam.

"Dad said… Dad said they had to return to Aum," Sam realised that her eyes were drifting closed again, the room blurring and swaying however much she fought to stay conscious. She was exhausted. She tried to push away the nurse who was fussing around her, trying to reattach the IV, but even breathing was becoming an effort. "I have… to go with them… get them all home." She suffered the return of the hated oxygen mask over her mouth and nose just long enough to give her enough air to say what she needed to say.

"Major... Sam, you can't even stand up under your own steam right now. I can't see Dr Fraiser authorising you as mission-ready for quite some time to come. And I certainly won't be. Just take it easy - let the rest of us take care of things."

"Elf!" Sam gasped out, her eyes flying open, grasping Hammond's hand hard. "Elf!"

"Elves?" Hammond looked alarmed, wondering if perhaps she was delirious.

"No… E.L.F. Infrasound… extremely low-frequency sound waves … If Aum.… had some kind of E.L.F. generator… that might account for … Sir… Have idea to break conditioning... ," Sam pulled away the mask from her face again, despite the nurse's protests, fighting to stay with them. "Broadcast… or through an earpiece. Like a Walkman. Or what we did against Seth. Divert..." She went limp. The nurse replaced the mask, checked the outputs and noted something on Sam's chart.

"She's been in and out like this since she first regained consciousness, sir," she explained to Hammond, addressing his obvious concern. "She'll sleep for a while, now."

"Major Ferretti – I want you to run Major Carter's idea past our science people," Hammond frowned, taking Sam's hand, checking her pulse. It seemed a little rapid to him, but strong and regular. As far as he could tell it was as the nurse had said and she was just sleeping but she looked so pale and fragile. He could not help but worry about her – he had known this bright and vibrant young woman since she was born. It was a little known fact outside the immediate Hammond and Carter families that George Hammond was Samantha Carter's godfather. "Tell them I want an answer as soon as possible and that it is a top priority. I can't send anyone through to Aum if they're just going to be addicted to this semuta as soon as they walk through the Gate. We can't give this Goa'uld any more ammunition."

"Yes sir." With one last anxious look at the unconscious woman, Ferretti saluted and then left to talk to the 'geek squad.' He just wished Carter was there to explain it for him. Hell, Sam would probably have had something designed and half built before he got the explanation out of his mouth. She was that kind of girl. He remembered how she had helped him through the intensive physical therapy he had to endure after he was badly injured during the second mission to Abydos, how her scientific knowledge and basic decency had got them out of more scrapes and life or death situations than he cared to think about. Hell, babysitting the geek squad was the least he could do in return.

Janet and her team got Jacob and O'Neill stabilised and monitored. Initial tests revealed no physical cause for their symptoms but their systems were under a lot of stress and they had not regained consciousness. Janet was particularly worried about Selmac who was presumably also feeling the effects and trying to heal herself as well as Jacob. Knowing there was nothing more she could do for them until the remaining test results came back, she went to check on Sam. Nurse Ross had already told her about her collapse.

Janet was terribly afraid that she was going to have to break it to Sam that there was nothing she could do for her father or the Colonel other than send them back to Aum.

To her surprise she found General Hammond still sitting beside Sam's bed, his fingers entwined around hers. "General?"

"I thought I'd sit with her a while," Hammond explained softly. "In case she woke up and was worried about her father. How are General Carter and Colonel O'Neill?"

"They're both critical but stable for now," Janet said. "They are still unconscious. I'm awaiting some more test results, but so far we haven't seen any indication of anything specific. There's no sign of any toxin. But whatever it is it has put every organ in their body under a great deal of stress." She checked Sam's readouts and nodded in satisfaction. There was no sign of any relapse. She was just sleeping. Careful not to wake her friend, she removed the oxygen mask from her face. Sam's condition had stabilised sufficiently for her not to need it at the moment. Mindful that they had company, she kept her physical contact with Sam to the minimum.

"Before she lost consciousness, Major Carter seemed to have some sort of idea of how to get round the semuta," Hammond said. "Something about a jamming device and low frequency sound waves. I must admit that a lot of it went straight over my head. Hopefully Major Ferretti will be able to give our tech people enough clues to get started."

Janet could not suppress a smile. "That sounds like Sam. Her mind never stops working. She usually keeps a pad and paper by the bed just in case she wakes up during the night with a new idea. When she wakes again she'll probably be able to draw the schematics for it."

"Doctor Fraiser – I know she's not out of the woods yet but…"

Janet knew what he was going to ask. "We'll see how she is when she wakes, sir. If Siler can set her up in here with a laptop I have no objection – it will do Sam… Major Carter good as well," Janet said. "She's unlikely to be back on her feet for another week at least. You saw for yourself just how weak she is…" She knew from past experience just how bad a patient Sam could be when she was bored. It would stave off her growing depression if she thought she was still contributing to the work of the SGC. "Just as long as she stays in bed and doesn't overdo it."

"I trust that you'll make sure that doesn't happen, Doctor," Hammond smiled.

"Yes sir," Janet said.

An unwilling Daniel Jackson in tow, Teal'c continued his march towards the heart of Aum's complex. They had to find the source of the semuta and destroy it before Aum stopped them. Teal'c wondered if she knew yet that her drug no longer worked on him. He was fully aware that if Daniel Jackson was motivated by the semuta to try to stop him then Teal'c would have to render him unconscious. Teal'c was prepared to do this. He would deeply regret causing Daniel Jackson pain, but it was for the greater good. Teal'c had memorised the layout of the palace from the drawing that Daniel had shown him in the library. To him, Aum seemed over-confident that all of her people were under her outwardly benign control and had grown lax. The effects of semuta did not seem to be compatible with a military mindset. This would be their greatest advantage in making their escape. There would be little security to contend with. Which was a pity because Teal'c was definitely spoiling for a fight with someone.

He would be interested to find out if and how Aum could inspire her people to violence given the relaxing, pleasure-inducing properties of semuta. In their current state he did not think he would find them formidable warriors. However, Teal'c could not forget that Aum had already stolen his senses once. He would not allow her to do so again. Nor would he allow the apparently safe environs to lull his watchfulness. The semuta would make her people willing to defend her at all cost however ineffectually. In his time as First Prime to Apophis Teal'c had participated in several massacres. He had no desire to do so again. Because that was what this would be. The bottom line as his Tauri friends would have put it was that Aum was a Goa'uld and therefore could not be trusted. However appealing she seemed to be.

As he was expecting, Aum revealed that his suspicions about her were correct and that she was not completely without tricks. Teal'c found himself staring at a blank wall where, according to the floor plan, there should have been a door leading through into the heart of the complex. He studied the wall intently, determining quickly that some kind of illusion was in place.

"I believe that the entrance to the central complex is concealed behind a forcefield," he said.

"We've seen this before in other Goa'uld structures," Daniel nodded, his interest sparked. "And if this follows the same design, the access point should be…" his questing fingers found the slight indentation in one of the panels on the right hand wall, "here."

The forcefield shimmered and dissipated revealing a doorway. The ornate wooden door was locked but a blast from Teal'c's staff weapon took care of that in short order. The two men checked the corridor and continued walking down it, counting off the intersections pausing at each one to check for activity, but the complex seemed deserted. No one seemed to have been alerted by the noise they had made getting through the door. "I think we go right here," Daniel said.

"You are correct, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, reviewing his own mental image of the map he had studied for a few moments back in the library. He gestured for the young Tauri to walk ahead of him so that he could monitor his friend's behaviour and react accordingly.  He reasoned that as they were nearing the heart of the complex that Aum would have additional security measures in place, principally the use of her favoured semuta. She had already demonstrated the ability to increase its potency. There would no doubt be further illusions to contend with. This time he would not be taken by surprise.

Unknown to both Aum and Teal'c, Basia was monitoring the progress of the two men through the complex. Meeting SG1 had reawakened something in the Tokra, a sense of her original mission long since suppressed. Though the Tokra agent still firmly believed that Aum was a force for good and not a run-of-the-mill Goa'uld, her malicious delight at her trickery and subversion of SG1 caused Basia some disquiet. Host and symbiote were at odds over what to do next.

*You question her motives?* Calyx asked her partner.

*Of course. Since we revealed to her that we were Tokra she could have initiated contact with our brethren at any time if she so wished. Many years have passed. Why wait until now?*

*Perhaps she feels that now the time is right. Before it was not.*

*That is too simplistic an analysis, I fear. Remember, we are also susceptible to the semuta. She could have hazed our minds as well. We could have been living an illusion all these years. Remember our surprise when we discovered how many years it had been? How long since we had made any kind of report? And how easily we revealed our true nature to her. We abandoned our duties, our cause. And for what?*

*I remember. Selmac was affected very quickly. The host did her bidding without question within a couple of hours. How could we not have realised what had been done to us?*

*Aum is everything we looked for. Both of us. This place was a sanctuary from all that we had seen, all that we had done. We allowed this to happen to us. It was easier to remain within the spell. And we have been happy here. We had hoped we had convinced her of the right of the Tokra way. Aum did nothing to disabuse us of this belief.*

*She used us.* Basia had rarely seen her host so angry. Calyx was known for her sweet temper.

*We allowed ourselves to be used. We thought ourselves in love. Be thankful that we did not betray more than we did.*

*The Jaffa has shown us the way. It is possible to free ourselves. If we observe discipline.*

 *If we are strong.*

*We are strong. Together. We are Tokra.*

*We are Tokra.*

Basia had some status in Aum's household, enough to make sure that Jaffa security patrols, such as they were, were diverted away from the area that the remnants of SG1 were exploring. They were getting closer to the area where Basia knew the control mechanism for the semuta must be situated. She had never seen it, had never been interested in it before. That in itself now worried her. She had an enquiring mind, a scientific background. Surely she would have wanted to know about such a thing, to study it for herself and report back on it to the Tokra. It was a weapon that no other Goa'uld possessed. It was the explanation for Aum's continued existence: short of bombardment from space she was secure. Any troops sent to her planet would have their judgment affected within minutes, follow her will without question within the day. Like Basia they would never want to leave.

Sam was pleasantly surprised when, after lunch, Janet came in followed by Sergeant Siler who was carrying her laptop and a sheaf of reports. "General Hammond thought it was about time you started earning your keep again, Major," Janet said, a huge grin on her face and a sparkle in her eye that gladdened Sam's heart. "Two hours, no more and then you are to rest. Understood?" Siler put the laptop down on the bed and hooked it up to the power supply and network point.

"Good to see that you're on the mend, Major," Siler smiled and left.

"Two hours. Understood," Sam said fervently. She caught hold of Janet's hand for a moment, rubbing her thumb gently across Janet's knuckles. "Thank you."

"Two hours," Janet reminded her, smiling. Their gazes locked for a long moment. Anyone watching the two women at that point could not have begun to guess at the wealth of unspoken communication that passed between them in that moment.

Janet had been at her bedside when she first woke, as she had been almost every other time Sam had opened her eyes since she first fell ill. Before Sam could ask the question Janet calmly told her that her father and the Colonel were both stable but had not regained consciousness. There had been no word from Aum and no further information on the whereabouts of Daniel Jackson or Teal'c.

Her computer booted up and Sam entered her ID and password. She accessed her email account and found over 400 messages waiting for her, most of them marked urgent. The date at the top of the screen mesmerised her for a moment. She had lost six weeks of her life to this. A whole season had changed. And it wasn't over yet. Not until the threat from Aum was neutralised, her father and Jack O'Neill were well and Daniel Jackson and Teal'c were safely home.

Which brought her back into the present. For the moment she ignored the emails. They had waited this long: they could wait a little longer. Leafing through the reports from Major Ferretti and the focus group who were working on ideas to counter the aural conditioning that semuta utilised she accessed the relevant documentation and test results that they had posted on the SGC intranet, frowning slightly. They were close, but not quite on the right lines. She had no idea how she knew that, she just did. She did a quick Webcrawler on infrasound research and bookmarked several sites to look at later, copying the URLs to her senior researcher. Accessing her own notes and files that she had written up after the Seth incident, she looked over the specifications for the device she had field-engineered at the time that delivered an electric shock to the body intense enough to destroy the nishta that was colonising their bodies making them extremely susceptible to Seth's will. She copied them to the team attaching her observations on their current line of research and suggesting several other options that they did not seem to have considered including the use of infrasound, extremely low frequency sound waves that had been scientifically proven to have an effect on emotional states. Creating a standing wave at 19hz or lower seemed to be the key. Measured effects included dizziness, hyperventilation, panic attacks and paralysis. One researcher had gone as far as to call it the 'sound of fear'. She reminded them to reread the mission reports from the planet of 'little white naked guys' whose apparently symbiotic relationship with the local plant life was governed by low frequency soundwaves emitted by the plants.

Now if they could get the MALP already on Aum to measure the soundwaves being used, perhaps she could devise something to negate it. But how to broadcast it? How was Aum broadcasting it? Surely it would be world-wide, perhaps via a satellite system. And what would the side effects of destroying it or turning it off be? She sent a request for the science team to follow up on measuring and calculating how the soundwaves were being broadcast into effect the next time the wormhole to Aum was opened.

When Janet came back into Sam's room two hours later she found her lover still hard at work but the shadows under her eyes and the slight tremor in her hands told their own story as did the lack of complaint when Janet gently but firmly told her to shut down what she was working on and rest for a while. She stowed the computer and the files on a table in the corner of the room and then helped Sam lie down again. She had some good news for her.

"Your dad's awake. He's weak, but coherent. The Colonel's condition is stable but he's still unconscious. If you're feeling okay in a couple of hours I'll wheel you along and you can visit with them for a while. And as for you, my girl," she carefully emphasised the last two words, smiling at the faint blush that coloured Sam's cheeks, "if you continue to improve as you have been you can come home at the weekend and continue to recuperate there."

"I can't believe how long it's been since I was home," Sam said softly. "And Janet, I feel as if I've put in a full day in the field and its barely been two hours and I didn't even get out of bed! It's scary!"

"You were critically ill for several weeks," Janet reminded her, her tone deliberately matter of fact. "You almost died… more than once. You were running a very high fever for a lot of the time. You suffered multiple organ failure – under any other circumstances you would have been put to the top of the organ donation list if it wasn't for the fact that the chances of finding a suitable donor for you were so remote. It's going to take time to for you build your stamina up. But you are improving every day, Sam, believe me. Just don't push yourself too hard is all, promise me? I don't want you undoing all of our hard work." She reached out to brush her fingers against Sam's cheek for a moment. Sam turned her head into the touch, her lips brushing Janet's wrist.

"Scout's honour," Sam promised. She contented herself with gazing at her lover for a long moment, drinking her in. She knew that her condition must be improving because Janet was looking so much more relaxed. The haunted expression in her eyes had almost gone. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, Sam. Now that you're fine." There was another long eloquently silent exchange of looks between the two women.

"What's happening with getting Teal'c and Daniel back from Aum?" Sam asked fighting to stay alert a moment or two longer. She felt so guilty just lying here. Janet had moved over by her IV stand, making adjustments to her drug intake. By the way that she was feeling increasingly fuzzy Janet had upped her pain relief a little, just to make sure she did rest. Sneaky!

"I'm not sure to be honest, hun, I'm a little out of the loop, there. I know that General Hammond sent a message via the MALP a couple of hours ago," Janet said. "Basically requesting the return of our people or at least an explanation for their detention. All polite and friendly for the moment… but there's nothing much else we can do at this stage. I don't know if there has been any reply. Now, Major - rest. I don't want to hear a peep out of you for a couple of hours. After you've had a nap, if he's still doing okay you can visit with your dad and the Colonel for half an hour and then if you're very, very good I'll come and have dinner with you before I go off duty, okay?" She gifted Sam with a smile to take any sting out of her words.

Sam nodded sleepily, her eyes already closing. "Okay by me, Janet. Sounds good…tell Dad… love…," her voice tailed off into sleep. Janet let her fingers card through her lover's soft golden hair for a moment, silently wishing her beloved only the sweetest of dreams.

Daniel had paused to examine a panel incised into one of the walls. "Teal'c, wait up a minute. This is really interesting."

"What is it, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked, unable to keep his growing irritation with the Tauri out of his voice. The lack of any obvious security measures was beginning to worry him. What measures had Aum taken to protect her stronghold? If she was relying solely on the semuta to control any rebellious thoughts and actions amongst her people then he may well have overestimated her guile. He realised that he was experiencing what O'Neill termed 'the jitters'. It was an uncommon experience for the Jaffa. His prim'ta moved urgently in his pouch. Junior felt it too.

Daniel paused, blinked at the unusual tone in Teal'c's voice. "Well, this panel seems to indicate that Aum is not the first Goa'uld to have ruled here. Either that or she changed her identity at some point in the past. It speaks of the Creator Goddess… there's a whole hymn of praise to her the Seizer of Souls, Deluder of Minds, the Paralyser of the Tongues Eloquent, the Attractor of Good Fortune…"

Teal'c let Daniel Jackson's words wash over him. Perhaps it was still the semuta, it had merely taken a different approach. His skin was prickling seeming too tightly stretched over his body. They should not stay in one place for too long. If she had anything in common with her fellow Goa'ulds, Aum's anger was probably not something to be taken lightly. Seizer of Souls, Deluder of Minds, Paralyser of Tongues Eloquent. It did not bode well. Daniel was still talking…

"…this part speaks of the mystery at the core of the secret – I suppose it might be a reference to semuta."

"Does it say how it can be counteracted?" Teal'c asked sharply.

"No, I don't think so…" Daniel scanned the rest of the panel.

"Then it is of no use to us, Daniel Jackson. We must continue." Ignoring Daniel's complaints he dragged him up the corridor towards the double doors at the end. His feelings of disquiet were growing by the moment, his prim'ta moving within its womb. If he did not want to face disgrace as a warrior and give in to the temptation to turn tail and flee they would have to keep moving.

Daniel could have sworn that the Jaffa was channeling Jack O'Neill. It had to happen sooner or later he presumed. He'd even caught himself saying a few of Jack's choicer catchphrases at one time or another.

He had a vague memory of Jack and Jacob being escorted somewhere else, presumably for more in-depth negotiations with Aum. Then Basia had said something about Aum opening her library and archive to him and to be honest every other consideration had flown from his mind. At some point a woman had come to him and he had… and they had… he was pretty sure he had anyway, but the memory was curiously elusive. And then he had been back in the library again. He had found some fascinating materials when Teal'c had interrupted, dragging him off on this insane wild goose chase.

It could have been worse, he could have still been with the girl. It would not have given Teal'c pause. He would have still dragged him off. The girl had looked a little like Shaure, but then so did most of the women he had seen so far in Jangri. They had all come from the same North African stock. Except for Aum. He wondered where her host had originated.

What did she want from them? And why had they come here in the first place?

A shocking image of his team mate Sam Carter in the throes of a severe convulsion stunned him for a moment. They had come here to help Sam. To seek an antidote to the poison that was killing her, shutting down her body system by system. Sam was dying. His friend, his almost-sister was dying. How could he have forgotten?

"Teal'c – what about Sam? Did Aum give the Colonel the antidote? Do you know if it worked, if she is all right?" She could not be dead, not Sam.

"I am not certain, Daniel Jackson. The antidote was discussed, I remember that. I also remember watching Selmac and O'Neill returning through the Stargate. I do not believe that they would have done that and left us here if they had not got the antidote. However it may be possible that their minds were also clouded. In which case…" he paused, sighed. "Anything is possible."

Daniel had rarely heard Teal'c admit to being less than certain about anything. The potential seriousness of their situation struck him even more intensely. "We're in real trouble here, aren't we?"

Teal'c fixed his colleague with his most imperious stare. It was about time the archaeologist 'got with the programme' to borrow one of O'Neill's phrases. "Indeed, Daniel Jackson, we are."

"I need to see General Hammond at once," Jacob Carter, despite the nurse's remonstrations was set on detaching himself from the monitoring equipment around his bed. "Bring me my clothes," he demanded.

"General Carter – I'm sorry but until Dr Fraiser or Dr Warner…"

"I need to see him now. It is very important…" the man's eyes flashed, his voice suddenly becoming more guttural and taking on that strange doubled tone as the nurse realised that she was now talking to the Tokra symbiote, Selmac.

The nurse was saved from further futile attempts to get the General to return to his bed by the arrival of Janet Fraiser.

"General Carter… Selmac, what is the matter? Has something happened? Are you in any pain?"

"I need to speak to General Hammond... Jacob wants to speak to George. But it is imperative that I speak to him first. There is danger." He successfully got to his feet, swaying slightly.

"Get back into bed. I'll call him and see if he is available to come and speak with you." Selmac stared at her. "Get back into bed, Selmac," Janet repeated firmly. "You're not going anywhere in your current state." He shuddered and his eyes flashed momentarily.

"I apologise, Dr Fraiser." Janet realised that she was now talking to Jacob.

"It's okay, Jacob, but you really shouldn't be on your feet at the moment."

"Something has happened. I've remembered something. A message from Aum. Selmac wants… You can't… I must…" He shuddered. Janet eyed him curiously. There seemed to be some kind of internal struggle going on between host and symbiote. As Jacob and Selmac were usually in unity on most things, this was highly unusual.

"I'll page General Hammond straight away, he'll be right down, I'm sure," she tried to reassure the increasingly agitated man.

She heard someone or something moving at the other side of the curtain where Colonel O'Neill's bed was and an alarm sounded on one of the monitors. The nurse ducked inside the curtain to check on his status. Janet heard her shout "Colonel!" before there was a thud, the curtain was swept aside and without warning Jack O'Neill grabbed her tightly around the waist, lifting her off her feet, one hand clamped across her throat. She tried to kick at him and his hand tightened across her throat in warning. After a few seconds she felt her head start to swim, her vision darkening.

"Make a sound or a move I don't like and I'll snap your neck, woman," he snarled. Knowing that given his training O'Neill was more than capable of doing just that, Janet stayed quiet, holding herself absolutely still. Jacob Carter was locked, half in and half out of bed as if host and symbiote were going through a silent battle for control of the body.

"Jake, hurry it up," O'Neill tightened his hold on Janet. "We have to get the other woman. Their security will be crawling all over us any minute."

'The other woman'. That could only mean Sam and the way O'Neill said that and the phrase 'their security' meant that both Jack O'Neill and Jacob Carter had been subverted in some way by Aum. She was in deep trouble. They all were. If Aum's plans included sabotage, both O'Neill and Jacob Carter had the black ops training and knew enough about the layout of the SGC to do serious damage before they were detected and neutralised.

Jacob Carter straightened up, nodded to O'Neill. "I am in control," he said. "I'll get our clothes." He left the cubicle. O'Neill pulled Janet closer into his body. She could see her nurse's body lying unmoving on the floor next to the bed. She hoped to god that the girl was okay, that O'Neill had merely knocked her unconscious. She had only been working at the SGC a couple of months. The two men were not Goa'uld, there was no way they could be Goa'uld. This had to be something else, something new, something different. But whatever it was it meant that the SGC had been infiltrated. And unless security were really on the ball, no one knew.

Jacob Carter came back with two sets of scrubs. He quickly dressed and then O'Neill passed her over to the other man whilst he dressed himself. Jacob's hold on her was equally uncompromising. Janet had no chance to escape. Jacob had also raided the supply cupboard. Janet's hands were securely tied behind her back with surgical tape and more was put over her mouth. O'Neill's hand was wound tightly in her hair, harshly enough to bring involuntary tears to her eyes, and he held the pointed end of a pair of scissors at her throat. "Come on, doctor." He pushed her in front of him, out into the ward towards the side room where Sam was being treated.

Sam was still sleeping. Her father disconnected her from the monitors and IV and lifted her easily into his arms. She did not wake entirely, the mild sedative Janet had administered earlier holding her under, merely snuggled against his familiar form. Janet was sure she heard her lover murmur the word "Daddy."

They set off towards the lifts. Janet had clearance everywhere on the base. Using her key card they would be able to get all the way to the Gateroom unless they were stopped by security first.

They were at the elevators. The two guards stiffened as they approached and brought up their weapons then Sergeant Siler chose that moment to exit one of the lifts, clutching a makeshift dressing to his arm which had been injured somehow.

"Colonel… General… what's going on?"

"Back into the lift, Sergeant or I snap her neck." Janet felt her breath shut off for a moment and Siler must have seen the panic flare in her eyes. The two airmen could clearly see the danger that she was in and the fact that Sam was unconscious and helpless. "You two, put your weapons down and back away as well." The two guards did as they were told. Siler backed into the lift, crowded in by Jacob Carter and then O'Neill dragged Janet in after him. He snagged her card from where it hung at her waist and swiped it through the reader, punching in the Gateroom level.

As they exited the lifts they were met by two SFs guns ready: the two guards on the infirmary level must have raised the alarm and whoever was on duty on the security room must have realised that something was very wrong and alerted the General. Hammond appeared, flanked by more armed SFs.

"That's far enough," Hammond grated. "Why are you doing this, Jack?"

"She commands us. If we were not allowed to return as planned we were to make our own way back to her presence bringing more hostages, the more valuable the better," Jack grinned. "You would make a most valuable hostage, General."

"No one is going anywhere, son," Hammond said. "I suggest you let Dr Fraiser go." Major Griff and SG2 had appeared at the other end of the corridor along with Captain Hailey. Griff was holding a tranquiliser dart gun and Hailey had a zat, a watchful expression on her face. Their only escape was back into the lifts.

Sam was dimly aware of the conversation going on around her. She hated dreams like this, when she wasn't quite sure whether she was awake or asleep and she could not move and it was as if there were people talking about her just out of earshot. As things cleared slightly she realised that she was being held securely in someone's arms. She remembered her father holding her like this once before, when she was about nine years old. She had been climbing a tree in their backyard and had fallen from about twenty feet up, breaking her right leg in two places. He had carried her to the car cradled in his arms like this.

But that was long ago. She was not nine years old any more. This was different. This was bad. She struggled to open her eyes. "Dad? What's going on?"

Without explaining he lowered her to the ground until she was standing on her own, his hand still tight around her waist her body held firmly against his. For the first time she saw clearly the predicament they were in and she shuddered as something cold and sharp was pressed against the skin of her throat. She knew how little extra pressure it would take to pierce the skin, to sever an artery, to kill her. Her father was trained in such things. It was not something they had ever really talked about.

"You risked much already to save the life of this one," she heard her father say. "Would you undo all of your hard work?"

Janet was just ahead of her, gagged and bound, O'Neill's hands holding her tightly to him, one hand across her slender throat. Sam knew how O'Neill was trained to kill, that in that position it would take just a small movement of his hand to end Janet's life. Janet knew it as well - her eyes were wide and dark with fear. General Hammond's expression was implacable. Sam heard the click-whirr of a zat activating somewhere behind her.

"Give yourselves up, now and we will negotiate your return to Aum. Harm any of your hostages in any way and even though we would regret the loss of our people we will use deadly force against you. If you still remember Colonel O'Neill and General Carter you will know that we speak the truth.

"Dad, please, don't do this," Sam whispered, on the edge of tears. She was physically weak, off balance. Her father did not seem to know or to care who she was.

Then in quick succession the intercom's started to broadcast a strident tone that seemed to stop O'Neill and her father in their tracks as well as making her feel sick to her stomach and a zat discharged twice from somewhere behind her enveloping all four of them in the seething blue energy.

Aum was being bathed by her attendants when Basia entered her quarters. Once Basia would have seen it as a measure of the trust that Aum had in her that she would allow her in her presence when she was so vulnerable. Now she could only see it as an arrogant presumption of the level of control the Goa'uld believed that she exercised over her tame Tokra operative's behaviour.

"I wish to speak to you about the Tauri O'Neill and the Tokra Selmac," Basia said. "I am concerned that you set conditions on their return and that you are keeping Dr Jackson and Teal'c as hostages."

Aum smiled up at her, "Be calm, Basia. There is no need for concern." She signalled her attendant to come forward with a robe as she stood up, water cascading down her beautiful form. She knew exactly what effect this would have on the Tokra. She had played this game with her for long enough. "They are our honoured guests, Basia, as are you." There was subtle admonition in Aum's tone. Basia was about to interfere in matters that were not her concern. This had not happened before. But then the arrival of the Tauri had been the catalyst for many things. It remained to be seen how many of these changes would be for the good. But Aum was prepared, resolute. Her attendant wrapped the robe around her shoulders and began to dry her off, gently patting her skin dry. Another attendant stood by with vials of perfumed oils warmed and ready to be massaged into the pale perfect skin.

Basia knew that Aum was displaying herself like this to distract her. *We cannot allow it. We are Tokra. We are strong.*

*But she is beautiful… it was pleasant to serve.* Calyx was beginning to waver.

*We are strong!*

"I know that they wish to return to Earth, to make sure that their team mate is recovering from the poisoning. You did allow Colonel O'Neill and Jacob Carter to return with the antidote for the former host of Jolinar?"

"You made the antidote, and you gave it to them yourself, Basia. And standing at my side, you watched O'Neill and Carter step through the Gate a few hours later. Unharmed and of their own volition, happy that they had the cure for their colleague. Really, I am not used to being questioned in this way by you." The admonition had given way to petulance. "I thought we understood each other."

"So did I," Basia said sadly. "Why are Dr Jackson and Teal'c still here?"

"Of their own free will. Dr Jackson wished to study in my library and Teal'c is here for his protection, at Colonel O'Neill's insistence."

"Is that the whole truth? Why this sudden urge to rejoin the rest of the Universe?"

Aum signaled one of her attendant Jaffa. "You go too far, Basia. I tire of your questions – and your tone. Jaffa, remove her from my presence. Do not allow her near me again until I expressly wish it."

"It was Colonel O'Neill's advice sir, in our training and selection for when you were not sure about a situation. Shoot first and sort it out later. Buy yourself some time. I saw the opportunity and well… that's what I did. Sir."

If Captain Jennifer Hailey stood any straighter she was going to break something, Hammond thought to himself. "I see. Well, leaving aside the fact that you zatted four superior officers on your own recognizance… " He watched the young woman pale a little. "You indeed managed to successfully diffuse a potentially dangerous situation. On this instance, I commend your initiative. And Captain…"


"You might want to rethink using Colonel O'Neill as a role model in future." He smiled to show he was joking. After a moment's hesitation she smiled back. He forgot how young she was sometimes. And yet he had no doubts about the young woman's capabilities. Sam Carter's protégé was coming into her own. And she had the makings of a fine officer, just as Sam had predicted.

Daniel looked around him in awe. "Wow, this place is… Sam would love it."

"Indeed she would, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c levelled his powerstaff. "I suggest that you stand aside."

This was the control centre for Aum's semuta delivery system. Unlike the other rooms they had investigated so far, it had been guarded but the two Jaffa had been no match for a very paranoid Teal'c. Their bodies were in the corner by the door, out of sight of the corridor.

The control centre itself was pyramidal in shape, an intricate sculpture of crystals suspended in some sort of energy matrix. There were no obvious buttons to press no dials to turn.

"Teal'c – you can't just destroy it! We need to study it, figure out how it works, what else it does."

"I can destroy it. We know what it does. It subverts minds, even the minds of other Goa'ulds and Jaffa, it makes them prey to the will of Aum or whoever controls the device."

"But we don't know what would happen if we destroy it. Remember the Light? I nearly died because of withdrawal from that. SG5 did die."

"I remember," Teal'c said somberly, lowering his powerstaff for a moment. "But if I do not destroy this we have no chance of escape."

"Then we have to find another way. I do not want the deaths of hundreds of thousands more innocents on my conscience, Teal'c, and neither do you. These people have been subject to semuta probably every day of their lives. There is no way of telling what will happen if we just remove it. They could all just die like SG5 or try to suicide like I ..." He looked away, his cheeks flushing slightly, the memory of that time still painful for him. "And we haven't got time to do what we did with the Light and wean us all off it. That took over 40 days, remember?"

"The depression that addiction to the light induced did not affect me," Teal'c remembered, bringing up the powerstaff once more.

"But the semuta definitely does. Face it, Teal'c, neither of us are exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment, no matter how you might try to deny it," Daniel said urgently.

Teal'c considered this for a moment and finally lowered and disarmed his power staff. "You are correct, Daniel Jackson. What course of action do you suggest we take?"

Daniel frowned. "Well there we have a problem. Apart from not shutting off the semuta, I got nothing." He shrugged, offered his companion a smile. "Sorry."

"It is all right, Daniel Jackson. The conditions are not conducive to positive thought. I would kel-nor-eem except that I think that state makes me more susceptible to the drug. I suggest we make a closer study of this room. Perhaps the solution will come to us on further deliberation."

Sam woke with a cry dying in her throat. Her skin seemed to tingle all over. She recognized it as the after effects of a zat blast. She remembered. Her father holding something to her neck, threatening to kill her, O'Neill with his hand on Janet's throat. Janet's eyes wide with fear. The General… Janet…"

"Sam, it's okay, you're safe. We're safe," One of Janet's hands rested comfortingly on the bare skin of her forearm, the other carded through her hair, the gesture calming her as ever.

"You're okay, you're not hurt?" Sam asked.

"I'll never get used being zatted but yeah, I'm fine. And don't go stealing my lines, you." A sly finger poked her in the ribs, causing a most unmilitary giggle to escape the Major's lips. She stared up into the deep brown eyes of her lover noting that she was too pale apart from a livid scrape on her left cheek and a nasty looking scratch on her neck.

"What happened?"

"As far as we can work out, Aum had programmed your dad and the Colonel to take hostages and make their way back to her if her conditions had not been met within the time limits. We happened to be easy marks. One thing for sure, I'll never complain about Sergeant Siler being accident prone again though. He got caught up with the kidnapping, managed to delay things enough for Simmons to test out your anti-semuta device and Griff and Hailey to take us down."

"Zat first, ask questions later," Sam nodded, recognizing the strategy. She struggled to sit up, vaguely annoyed with herself that she still needed help to do so. "How are my dad and the Colonel?"

"Still unconscious. And in secure accommodation."

Sam shivered. She remembered the tone in her father's voice. Not even when they were in the darkest time of their estrangement had she ever heard anything so cold, so uncaring in his voice. He truly had not known or cared who she was. She remembered the look of mute fear on Janet's face; Janet had expected to die in that moment.


She realised that she must have zoned out long enough to alarm Janet. Sure enough, Janet was holding the oxygen mask, one hand around Sam's wrist, monitoring her pulse.

"Okay, I'm okay," Sam reassured her, managing a fleeting smile. "Just… thinking, remembering. Can they be deprogrammed?"

"I don't know," Janet said. "We're just lucky they were programmed to take hostages and not to sabotage. As it is the General's got teams combing every area that the Colonel and your father might conceivably have had access to since their return looking for anything out of place."

Sam nodded dumbly, a wave of sheer exhaustion overwhelming her again. Being this weak was just so damn frustrating. At this moment even the proverbial kitten could have probably beaten her with one paw tied behind its back. Janet's fingers curled around her wrist. "Your electrolyte balance is out of whack again so you're back on IV fluids," she said. "And there's a low grade pain killer in their as well to take care of any residual effects of the zat. I want you to rest until you've finished the bag and then if you're feeling up to it, we'll eat dinner together like I promised earlier, remember." Sam sketched a nod and managed a sleepy smile, her eyes drifting closed.

Janet let out a shuddering breath. She had almost lost her again and in circumstances that would have destroyed all those involved. Her own father… This Aum bitch had a lot to answer for.

Captain Hailey laboured hard on the first working model of a personal semuta blocker. As Major Carter had envisaged it did look something like a walkman or a mp3 player. The miniature hard disk contained a programme that scanned for the semuta signal and automatically designed and produced a counter-agent, playing the signal through the earpiece shifting amplitude as the semuta shifted. A second piece of kit that would hopefully do the same thing once it was interfaced with whatever planetwide distribution system was being worked on by Dr Felger and his mouse of an assistant whose name Hailey could never remember.

For once Felger seemed to have got with the programme. He was keeping his wilder flights of fancy under control and sticking to the project brief. He had actually made some good suggestions to boost the range and efficiency of the device whilst keeping it relatively portable.

They were ready to take the fight to Aum. But first they had to test to see if their semuta blocker worked.

Hailey had been thoroughly briefed by Major Carter on the type of device they were looking for and what she should do when she found it. The specially modified laptop containing the programme that Carter and her team had written was one they had used to interface with Goa'uld technology before. It should work again. If they could get close enough to the source to deliver it. Sam had been allowed out of the Infirmary long enough to go over the gameplan with Hailey and Feretti.

It had been heartening for everyone to see her so animated, grabbing for a pen and scrap paper to illustrate what she meant when words would not suffice. Janet kept a careful eye on her though knowing just how limited her energy reserves were and when she saw Sam's pallor begin to fade to grey called a halt to the proceedings and wheeled her back to the infirmary to rest.

"I think it's going to work," Sam said. There was a moment's silence. "It has to work, Janet. I don't think I could stand to lose them." Not just her father, her boys as well. Her team mates, her big brothers, closer to her than her real brother. She was shocked to feel tears prick at her eyes.

"It'll work," Janet told her, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Some of the finest minds on the planet were in that room, Sam." It has to work, she thought to herself, because if we don't get our people back from this, we'll lose Sam as well. And the SGC will never be the same.

Eighteen hours later, SG3 accompanied Colonel O'Neill, General Carter and Captain Hailey back through the wormhole to Aum. All seven officers were kitted out with the masking devices that Sam had engineered. With the earpieces activated, receiving signals from Hailey's portable modulator, theoretically they should all now be immune to the semuta. Colonel O'Neill and General Carter were conspicuously unarmed by their own request. Although they were currently in full charge of their faculties they could not guarantee that even with the earpieces in place they would not succumb to their existing level of addiction.

They were met by a token force of Jaffa who were there to take them to Aum. No moves were made to disarm them or to investigate the technical equipment that they carried. Hailey was busy taking readings and communicating with Carter back at the SGC whilst the wormhole was still active. Their anti-semuta device was tracking and logging the permutations and amplitudes of the signal and programming the counter signal. The more information they got the better the countersignal would be at doing its job.

Ferretti decided to chance trying to make radio contact with Teal'c and Daniel Jackson on the standard SGC frequency. Aum would be monitoring but she knew that they were there anyway so there seemed little point in being circumspect.

"Teal'c… Dr Jackson… Come in please," he tried. There was no reply. "Teal'c… Dr Jackson. This is Ferretti of SG3. Please report your position."

This time there was a reply. "Colonel Ferretti. This is Teal'c. Daniel Jackson is here also. We are in Aum's palace… in what we believe to be a strategic location… I believe you should join us here if that is possible… can you get a fix on our signal?"

"We have a bit of an escort at the moment," Ferretti said. "But we'll join you guys as soon as we can." He glanced across at Hailey who held up one of her doohickeys and nodded. She had their co-ordinates.

There was a moment's silence then Daniel's voice broke through. "Lou – how's Sam."

Ferretti smiled. "Doing much better," he reported. "The snake's cure worked. She'll be fine as soon as she sees you guys again. She likes you for some reason."

"Funny, Lou. Real Funny," Daniel said. "See you guys soon."

One of his foster-mother's, one of the nicer ones, had always said he never used the good sense he was given at birth. She once told him that when he died, they'd find a box in the back of his closet, covered with dust and cobwebs and labelled 'Common Sense: Property of Daniel Jackson'.

Although the communication with SG3 had soothed his worries somewhat he did not want to just wait around for them to arrive. Teal'c was in the corridor making sure that they did not have any more company. Daniel started to walk around what they had decided was the main machine again to see if he could figure it out. It looked a little like the Sentinel on Latona and he had managed to figure that out.

He reached out, caressed the side of the intricately detailed interface and froze. Something had changed. It wasn't exactly an electric shock more like a pressure wave against his skin. Oops.

Teal'c appeared in the doorway, frowning. "You touched something, Daniel Jackson. The semuta's song has changed. I can feel it." His voice was tense with accusation, the power staff in his hand pointing directly at Daniel.

"I don't…" Daniel began to say. He realised that he had just irked Teal'c enough for the big guy to actually contemplate shooting him. Then they both heard running footsteps, the clinking of armour from further up the corridor. With a final silent glare at him, Teal'c went to defend their position.

"You have committed us to action, Daniel Jackson. Do what you can."

Daniel took a deep breath and turned back to the machine. Teal'c was right. There was nothing else to be done. He might just have killed them all.

Back at the SGC they waited for further word. Sam fidgeted. It felt strange to be in normal BDUs, to be sitting in an ordinary chair and not lying in bed or in the hated wheelchair – though it was folded in the corner of the room ready to transport her wherever she needed to go next. Tonight, if everything went well, that would be home with Janet. She would actually see the outside world.

The idea of sleeping in her own bed once more after almost two months seemed like a great adventure.

The briefing was over quickly: there was not much to say – they had no idea what was happening on Aum. If the anti-semuta technology had not worked, well they had just handed Aum seven more hostages. And they would be back to the drawing board. In fact her own recovery was the one positive to come out of this so far.

There was so much that could have gone wrong: Aum had proven herself unpredictable, her father and the Colonel might not be fully protected against the effects of the Semuta due to their previous exposure. The technology was unknown, their response to it largely guesswork – her guesswork and only she knew how far away she was from working at her usual level. So many things that could have gone wrong. And it was all down to her. If only…

She worried her thumbnail. Then a gentle hand laid on hers, pulling her fingers away from her mouth. She looked up into General Hammond's face

"Major Carter… Sam, you did your best. Let it go, please. None of this is your fault."

Sam nodded, tried to put her game face on. Intellectually she knew that nothing she could have done – save not going on the mission to Melkshur in the first place – would have changed the outcome. But it didn't make her feel any better.

Basia sighed, reflexively rubbing the back of Calyx's neck. Her host was unhappy. She wasn't feeling too bright herself. The change in the semuta-song was a discord, a semitone from perfection. The effects would be slow but accumulating. They would go mad. She analysed it carefully, her expression deeply unhappy with her findings. She reckoned that the first killings would begin in six to eight hours. The humans should not have meddled. How they had lasted this long without bringing destruction upon themselves she did not know.

Again they forced her into action. It was not too late to redress the imbalance. Looking around the rooms that had been her home for so many years she sighed. Once she left here tonight she would not be returning. One way or another. She began to gather together things she might need, things she did not want to leave behind.

O'Neill stopped, shuddered. "Something's happening," he said. Jacob Carter had also slowed, rubbing his hand over his head and the back of his neck. The SG team saw that their escort had also slowed, looking around them nervously.

"Jack's right," Jacob said. "Selmac feels it too. The semuta has changed."

"Teal'c said they were at a strategic location," Hailey said. "Perhaps they've found the controls for the semuta. And they're right – the amplitude has changed significantly."

"Meaning?" Ferretti asked.

"I don't know, Sir," Hailey said. "I have no idea what the changed signal will do – but the headsets are coping with it. We're in no danger."

"Spacemonkey better not be touching anything," O'Neill growled. "He's just as likely to fry all our brains as do any good." He indicated the escort. "Isn't it about time we lost those guys? Jake and I can take you the rest of the way and Four Foot Nine has her bead on Danny and T's location." He blithely ignored the venomous look that Hailey sent in his direction. Knowing her nickname and being called it to her face were too very different things.

Ferretti nodded. He glanced across at Captain Armstrong, his II1C. "Let's go easy on them, okay. Just knock 'em out." It was over in minutes, the still confused Jaffa no match for the SGC personnel. Armstrong dragged their unconscious bodies behind a wall into a garden area and gagged and secured them. Someone would come across them sooner or later but hopefully when it wouldn't make any difference to what they had to do.

"Teal'c – how are you feeling?" Daniel called.

"I am fine, Daniel Jackson. I think we will have company very soon. Prepare to defend yourself."

What with? Daniel shook his head and continued his minute examination of the panel – without actually touching anything else. He realised that his initial assessment of his abilities to decode this might have been a little optimistic. He wished Sam was here. He was the one with the brain for codes and puzzles but Sam's intuitive understanding of technology would have been very useful about now. She would have been all over this.

There was a crashing noise in the corridor that sounded awfully like a grenade. As the noise faded he heard Teal'c shout. "Hold your fire, Daniel Jackson!" Seconds later Ferretti appeared in the doorway with Hailey and Jack just behind him.

"What have I told you about touching stuff, Rock-boy?" Jack asked, the twinkle in his eye belying the grimness of his tone.

"Good to see you as well, Jack," Daniel said. "Hailey – you I am really glad to see. From what I've been able to figure out this is the main control panel. And that…" he indicated as precisely as he could without actually touching it again "is the area I touched."

"You changed the amplitude of the signal," Hailey said. "The main effects seem to have been some mental confusion as far as we can tell. You actually did us a favour – I don't think we would have got here so easily otherwise." She shrugged off her backpack and lowered it to the floor, kneeling in front of it to lay out her equipment.

The soldiers watched the two scientists confer for a couple of minutes before Hailey started to carefully disconnect the panel so that she could get to the circuitry beneath. Jacob joined them on the offchance that Selmac recognized anything potentially useful. Another whispered conference with Daniel and Selmac and then Hailey looked up at Jack O'Neill and Jacob Carter. "Sorry sirs, we're going to have to use you as lab rats for this. You as well, Dr Jackson. How do you feel right now?"

O'Neill shrugged, glanced at Jacob who looked equally uncomfortable. Feelings, huh. Admitting to them, describing them… Definitely asking the wrong guys here. Thankfully Daniel stepped into the breech.

"A little anxious. Off…. You know. Like a storm's coming. The air feels wrong, charged, rubbing me up the wrong way."


"What he said," O'Neill glanced across at Jacob who nodded emphatically.

"Couldn't have put it better myself Dr Jackson."

Daniel glared at them. Hailey smothered a grin and concentrated on connecting her modified laptop to the semuta-generator.

Aum registered that something was happening outside her decree. Normally she would have sent Basia to deal with it but the reformed Tokra had been unreliable of late. And she seemed to have lost track of the blue-eyed Tauri and the sho'vah Teal'c. Though they were firmly wedded to her semuta they still bore watching.

The Tauri delegation should have been here by now. Something was amiss. She could feel the change in the air, the siren call of the semuta had soured.

So if she could not count on Basia, she would have to deal with it herself. She exited her chambers. The two Jaffa guards at her door drew themselves to attention. At least one of them did. The other looked as if he was trying to figure out why he was there.

"Follow me," she ordered. "There are intruders in the palace. Be ready."

The dazed guard pulled himself together and took up position flanking her. They picked up another four Jaffa on the way, one of whom also appeared distracted.

The majority of her Jaffa had never been into this part of the palace, where she housed the semuta generator and broadcast equipment. Whatever had been altered it was affecting her people already. If it was allowed to continue there would be chaos within hours. She needed to reestablish her rule of law and quickly.

It was regrettable, but the Tauri would have to die.

Hailey looked up as she sensed a displacement in the air around her. A young woman was standing a few feet away in front of what looked like a blank expanse of wall. Her sudden appearance took everyone by surprise.

"I really would not tamper with that if I was you. The equipment is far too sophisticated for your understanding and the consequences for the people of this planet will be dire. Already your interference is starting to have an effect. Within a few short hours there will be chaos."

"Good to see you again too, Basia," O'Neill grated. "Your friend didn't leave us much choice in this."

"I had no part in her plans," Basia said quickly. "Her actions against you troubled me greatly."

"Enough to get you moving, I see. You're remembering that you're a Tokra," Selmac said, his doubled tones harsh.

"I never forgot that I was a Tokra, Selmac," Basia said. "I truly believed that Aum's way was a peaceful one."

"Of course it's peaceful, if you're brainwashed never to have a contrary thought," O'Neill said. "Now the way I see it we have three choices here. Either you show us how we turn this thing off, or I let Hailey here continue to experiment, or Ferretti here will introduce it to the marvelously explosive properties of C4."

"Turning it off would have a catastrophic effect," Basia said. "Within minutes there would be chaos. All who rely on the semuta would go mad, destroying themselves or anything or anyone else they came across. It would be genocide."

"Is there a frequency that would, for example… just tell everyone to go to sleep," Hailey said. "Or make them really happy or, I don't know, just go catatonic. Something that ultimately wouldn't harm them." She glanced at her colleagues. "None of us what to harm anyone unnecessarily if it could be avoided."

"There is a frequency which will put everyone to sleep or at least make them very drowsy," Basia said. "Depending on the exposure to semuta. Most of the people here have lived with it every day of their lives. They will sleep. The rest of you may just feel a little drowsy," she looked around at O'Neill. "To avoid bloodshed on a massive scale, this may be the only way forward. Do you trust me, O'Neill."

"Selmac – she's one of yours. What do you think?"

"Basia would not betray us," Selmac said. "She understands Aum's deceit now. She is resisting the semuta. We should let her try to alter the frequency."


"It would save a lot of trial and error, sir. Not to mention time. I could probably get the same result but…" she shrugged. "I say we trust her, Colonel."

"I agree," Daniel said. "We don't want to cause these people any further harm, Jack."

"Okay, okay. Do what you have to do." He waved her towards the interface.

Closely watched by Hailey and Selmac, Basia started to make some adjustments to the panel. It did not take her long. She stood back, looked at Hailey. "It is done. Within a few minutes everyone will be affected."

Jack started to feel it after a few seconds, a lethargy that he was able to shake off, one look at Daniel's half-lidded eyes and slumped posture told him that his friend was feeling it too.

There was a commotion at the end of the corridor. They heard Teal'c shout a warning and then there was a thudding sound as if something or someone had impacted with a wall, hard. Basia's head went up. "Aum is here. She is most displeased. For this we will die."

"Not here and not today," O'Neill said. "I got playoff tickets this weekend."

"Then we stand together against her," Basia said. She fitted something over her fingers. It looked rather like an Ashrak Hara'kesh.

They felt the shockwave from another hand device blast as Ferretti flew backwards into the room, skidding on his ass for a good ten feet before impacting with the wall. He groaned, tried to get up and thought better of it. Aum stood in the doorway, her small form bristling with power. O'Neill reflected that the last time he had seen anyone that small look that scary was the Doc when she was on the warpath with him. Although Four-Foot-Nine when he actually called her that to her face had come pretty close.

Her dark hair was uncovered, rippling down her back in waves of black silk. Her pale skin was almost luminous in the dim light. She looked ethereal, angelic. But there was nothing angelic about the expression in her glowing eyes.

"You have the audacity to stand against me? You would destroy everything I have achieved? I think not, Tauri." She turned to Basia. "As for your betrayal… there are no words to express my disappointment in you, Basia. But then I suppose your breeding had to come through sooner or later."

"You rule by love rather than fear but that love is indoctrinated and your people are still slaves. You do not allow them to know any other way to be. You are no different to any other Goa'uld. And as such your days are numbered. The days of the Goa'uld are numbered. If I die here today, tell them that I died with hope and with honour. My death only feeds the fire that burns strong in the Tokra."

Aum raised her hand with a snarl, the jewel in the centre of the device already glowing. Her initial sweep sent Daniel and Jacob flying. O'Neill threw himself to the floor to avoid getting hit, noting that Hailey was already down, hiding behind a console, her zat in her hand and looking for a clear shot. Basia touched her arm, a shield springing up around her. She raised her own hand, a spindle of light emerging and striking at Aum. Aum threw up her own shield which absorbed the beam harmlessly. Two blasts from Hailey's zat also failed to get through. Aum laughed. "Is that all that you have, Basia? I'm disappointed. And you, Colonel? What have you to offer me?"

"Oh, not much." He had held the knife concealed in his hand before he could before throwing it with deadly accuracy. Its low kinetic energy allowed it to penetrate the shield and the four inch blade buried itself in Aum's chest up to the hilt. Her gown immediately began to stain with blood as she staggered, her shield shimmering and then going down. A thin trickle of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth. The knife had obviously pierced one of her lungs.

O'Neill smiled. "Kind of smarts, I bet." Aum raised the hand device to him again but Basia knocked her hand aside and then held onto the woman as her legs buckled and she started to fall. Basia lowered Aum to the ground. She brought the Hara'kesh to the back of Aum's neck over where the symbiote lay and activated it. Aum's body jerked, her eyes rolling up, the light dying away. The trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth grew darker.

"Sir!" Hailey whispered. "Are you just going to let her…"

O'Neill nodded. "Yep. The host was dying anyway – that knife will have done some major damage. One less Goa'uld in the universe, Hailey. Always a good thing." He continued to watch as Aum shuddered again and then went limp. After a few moments longer Basia lowered Aum's body to the floor then took a scarf from around her shoulders and laid it over the dead woman's face.

"It is over," she said simply.

"What are you going to do now?" Daniel asked, picking himself up off the floor. Jacob went over to check on Ferretti. Teal'c appeared in the doorway, rubbing the back of his head where it had obviously impacted with a wall.

"Make sure that everyone is weaned off the semuta. It will take many weeks but it should be possible without most even knowing that they were ever addicted in the first place," Basia said. "You should go now. I will keep everyone asleep until you have done so then begin to wake them up. As for their allegiance to Aum – most had never seen her anyway. I will maintain the fiction that she is alive but in seclusion and then tell some tale about her going through the Great Circle to visit her fellow gods. And then I'll just disappear. Let these people get on with their lives unmolested."

"Sounds like a plan," O'Neill said. "You need help with any of that, get in touch,"

Selmac embraced the smaller woman. "The Tokra Council will be glad to hear from you. We need all the help we can get."

The incoming wormhole alarm sounded. Sam paused the treadmill and looked up, glad of the reprieve from her physiotherapy, even if it was only momentary.

"Do you think it's them?" she asked, slightly out of breath.

"We'll get a call if it is," Janet said from her perch at the side of the room. "Now, I believe Sergeant Trent wanted another five minutes on the treadmill before you were done today."

Sam did not dare to admit to her how much her leg muscles were already aching. But she needed to build up her fitness quickly if she was to have any hopes of regaining her active status and rejoining SG1. And she was getting stronger every day. A week ago she had barely been able to stand on her own. The exercise regime that Sergeant Trent and Janet had devised for her would allow her to rebuild her strength and stamina slowly. She restarted the machine and resumed walking. A couple of seconds later the phone rang. Motioning that she should continue, Janet went to answer it. Her smile told Sam everything she needed to know. It was over. The guys were home.

Sam sat down on the edge of the pier and easing off her sandals, dangled her bare feet into the cool water, happily curling and uncurling her toes. It felt so good to be out in the fresh air, the late summer sun warm on her bare skin. It had been too long – she had missed spring and almost the entire summer after all. Sam raised her too pale, slender arms and stretched cat-like, rolling her shoulders and neck and unkinking her spine. It felt so good. Janet had driven them all the way here; Sam was still far too prone to falling asleep without warning at odd intervals to be allowed behind the wheel even though she hated being a passenger, especially in her own car. Her body was still healing, her energy levels remained aggravatingly low. As it was Sam remembered leaving Colorado Springs, a couple of brief stops en route so that Janet could stretch her legs and have something to eat and then Janet deliciously kissing her awake when they reached the cabin.

This time she was here for real, Sam realised. It was somewhere where she felt safe, somewhere she could be her self. She had visited this place many times in her delirium. She had talked to people here, Jolinar, Janet, her mother's spirit. Real meaning of life stuff. She had yet to fully assimilate how much the experience had changed her though she knew that it had, to a quite fundamental level. She had a lot of thinking to do about her life, her future over the next couple of weeks.


Sam turned to see Janet approaching from the cabin. Her heart slammed hard in her chest. Janet looked as she had in one of her dreams, barefoot, wearing the same peach sundress and wide brimmed sunhat. Disorientation made her head swim. Was she awake or still in the coma dream, a prisoner inside her failing body? Had everything that had happened since been part of an illusion? The sun sparkling on the water made her head ache suddenly, her vision silver out.

"Sam!" Janet was on her knees beside her, Sam's head resting in her lap, one hand on her brow, another around her wrist, monitoring her pulse. "Lie still and take deep breaths, hun. Are you in any pain? What happened?"

"You... you startled me. That's what you were wearing in one of my dreams. For a moment..." she shuddered, clinging to Janet as if her life and sanity depended on it. Perhaps it did. She was desperate for reassurance. Part of her hated to be so needy. Part of her rejoiced that at last she could show her emotions to someone. "This is real, isn't it? You are real?" Please, please be real.

"I'm real, this is real. And it's okay, sweetie, everything's okay," Janet sought to reassure her lover, cradling her in her arms. "There's no trace of the contaminant in your system any more. Your liver biopsy was clean, your kidney function is back to normal. The Tokra healing device cleared up any residual damage to your other organs, including your heart. Your blood count and immune system are recovering. Once you get your weight and stamina back up and you pass the fitness test, you'll be back on active duty in no time. But it is going to take time, Sam. And it will be months rather than weeks." The litany was for her own benefit as much as Sam's. For too long she had lived in the daily dread of losing her beloved. But Sam was getting better, getting stronger every day. And Janet vowed that would be beside Sam every step of the way. Undomesticated equines, to borrow Teal'c's phrase, would not be able to keep them apart. She ran her fingers through the thick blond hair. "Everyone is behind you on this, Sam. We're all with you 100%."

"I know," Sam choked out. "I'm sorry to be such a wuss, Jan." Tears came so easily to her at the moment, tears of frustration at the lingering weakness of her body, of pleasure at the kindness of her friends and adopted family. Tears of love at the simple joy of having Janet in her life, tears of remorse for all the heartache she had put her lover through these past months. Tears of sheer relief that she was alive.

"My big, bad, beautiful Major a wuss – never!" Janet said warmly, bending her head to kiss her. Sam returned the kiss and then shuddered with pleasure as Janet softly kissed the tears from her cheeks.  "You're very brave, remember?"

They sat together on the deck in silence for a long time, Janet's arms around Sam as they watched the sun lower in the sky. At last Sam felt Janet shiver and realised that a fresh breeze had sprung up, the air temperature was cooling fast.

"Let's go inside," she suggested, "and light the fire. I want to make love to you in front of an open fire, Janet. Remember the last time we did that?" Although many kisses and caresses had been exchanged in the weeks since Sam had been released from the infirmary, they had not yet made love.

"Mmm, I do. That would be a nice way to end the day," Janet smiled, hugging Sam tighter for a moment before getting to her feet again, smoothing down her dress but not before giving Sam a tantalising glimpse of her bare legs.  Janet had waited for this, instinctively knowing that it would be better for Sam to initiate the rekindling of their physical relationship.

It took two attempts for Sam to get to her feet but at least she managed it under her own steam which was not something she would have been able to do a week earlier. Janet slid an arm around Sam's narrow waist, tacitly offering her support if Sam needed it.  Sam's arm went around her shoulders and she hugged the smaller woman for a moment. Together they walked back up the shallow incline towards the cabin.

The End

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