DISCLAIMER: Stargate and characters are the property of MGM, Gekko....you get the picture. No infringement of copyright intended. I have gained nothing but the pure pleasure of my own satisfaction.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Pete debacle never happened and the Stargate Program is still a secret. Some dialogue is taken verbatim from the show.
SERIES: Third in the Evolution series after Bridging the Chasm of Doubt and Tribulations.
MANY THANKS: to RocketChick and Saz for the once over and encouragement.
SPOILERS: Heroes specifically, but the entire show in general.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
WARNING: Implied character death.

By MajorDoc

Part Two

Aboard a Goa'uld ship. Four days ago.

Janet was alone for the first time since she stepped out of the sarcophagus. The silence was deafening. How the hell had she managed to get in this situation? She was a doctor, a CMO even, not a freaking Special Ops trained soldier. Did they really expect her to find her way back home like SG-1 always had?

Thinking of SG-1 brought her meanderings back to Sam. Sam wouldn't give up. She would find a way home. Home to her family. It was time she started acting more like her lover, more like the officer she was trained to be.

The opulent doors suddenly opened and Lantash strode into the room. He had been gone less than fifteen minutes and his angry demeanor hadn't subsided. In fact, he was more upset now than when he had stormed out of the room.

"We have a problem, Doctor Fraiser," the Tok'ra stated.

The use of her surname and salutation along with his serious tone implied he was understating the situation.

She sighed. "Let's hear it, Lantash. And I mean all of it," she demanded.

The doctor was tired of being kept in the dark. She wanted answers, and she expected them to roll off his tongue. She was used to being in charge and sitting around afraid and feeling sorry for herself was as alien to her as a Jaffa without a larval Goa'uld.

"As I have explained earlier, I have been in the service of Nirrti. She has been experimenting on various populations with the goal of creating a perfect host."

Janet nodded in understanding. "Yes, the hok'tar." When he raised an inquisitive eyebrow, she added, "Teal'c explained it to us when we found Cassie."

"Then you know how and why the people of Hanka were destroyed?" Her answer had surprised him. Had the doctor known what Nirrti was doing to the young people of Hanka?

"We discovered that Nirrti was experimenting on the population, but we didn't understand the magnitude until she tried to get at Cassie years later."

When he sat silent as stone, she continued. "SG-1 inadvertently found her genetics lab beneath the surface on Hanka. We didn't know exactly what she was trying to accomplish until then."

"Tell me, Doctor. How was it that the little girl survived?" He had never known Nirrti to show an ounce of compassion, nor do anything that wasn't calculated to serve her best interests.

"When SG-1 jumped to the planet, they found all the inhabitants, including SG-7 dead. Well, all but Cassie. Apparently, Nirrti killed everyone in an attempt to destroy any evidence that she was using the inhabitants as guinea pigs."

Janet still felt pangs of guilt. Were they the reason the entire planet was killed? If they hadn't gone to Hanka in the first place, they would all still be alive. Cassie's real family would still be alive. Was studying a black hole worth all of those lost lives? She mentally shook her head. She couldn't think about that right now. There would be plenty of time for introspection later. At least she hoped so.

She continued in a tired, but determined voice. "Once I ascertained she wasn't contagious, we returned with Cassie and observed her on the base. Her health quickly deteriorated and I thought I had missed something. That she was carrying the disease and had infected the entire base."

Lantash silently took in all the information. Elliot certainly knew nothing of these events. His interest piqued, he asked her to continue.

"We eventually discovered Cassie was carrying a bomb in her chest. Nirrti knew we wouldn't leave a frightened small child all alone and would take her back to the SGC."

"Her version of a Trojan horse." Now that sounded like the devious Goa'uld, thought Lantash.

"It was activated once she stepped through the gate and there was no way to remove it without killing her. After further analysis, we discovered deposits of iron and potassium and naquada separated by a thin layer of fatty tissue. The barrier was decaying at a controlled rate and if the elements came in contact with each other, the resulting explosion would cause a nuclear reaction. SG-1 was ordered to take her to an abandoned nuclear facility so the explosion would be contained. Sam was supposed to leave her there to die." She looked at the young man through parted auburn bangs. "How different are we than the Goa'uld?" She asked.

He had asked himself that question many times over in the hundreds of years of his existence. The Tok'ra were not Goa'uld. He was not Goa'uld. But how many times had he made a decision that caused harm or death for the good of the cause...their fight against the Goa'uld? Too many times to count.

"What happened to the girl?" He asked.

"Cassie. Her name is Cassie," she snapped.

"Forgive me. I meant no disrespect." He apologized.

"No, Lantash. I should be the one to apologize. I get upset every time I think about what Nirrti did to my little girl. I'm sorry." A weak smile played across her lips and eyes. "Cassie is fine now. The object completely dissolved and was reabsorbed into her system. The only telltale sign anything was ever wrong with her is the small traces of naquada in her blood."

Lantash leaned back in the chair totally engrossed in thought. Perhaps the doctor wouldn't be so upset to learn Nirrti was still frantically trying to create the perfect host. However, knowing about the experiments and experiencing them first hand were two entirely different situations.

"Nirrti has several genetics labs scattered throughout the Stargate system. The largest one is based on the planet we are about to orbit."

"Does she know I'm aboard this ship?" The brunette asked quietly.

He shook is head. "If so, Lomar would have you at his side where he could gloat over you." Seeing her confusion, he clarified his meaning. "He despises SG-1 and any Tau'ri...humans...associated with them."

"What are we going to do? Can we negotiate with them? There's got to be something we can offer them in exchange for releasing us."

She wondered how SG-1 would handle this particular crisis. Daniel would try talking, Sam would try to create a diversion while the others escaped, and Jack would blow something up and ask questions later.

Lantash needed to make the doctor understand the gravity of their situation. There would be no negotiating. "Make no mistake, once he finds out you are Samantha's mate, he will torture you and take great pleasure in doing so."

"I think he'll have to get in line, because once Nirrti recognizes me, she is gonna flip."

The young man's brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't believe you understand. Nirrti will not only torture you, she will also manipulate your DNA."

"Oh, I understand you. I'm just not willing to accept it. We need to contact Jacob and wait for the calvary. Once Sam finds out I'm alive, there will be nothing that can stand in her way." Of this she was certain. "Now I want to speak with Elliot. He's been silent for far too long," she demanded.

He obstinately stared at the brunette. "I'm in charge here."

"Don't test me, Lantash. Bigger men have tried...and failed." The Doctor was in the house.

"He has no experience to draw from and he is afraid of failing you."

His reticence to relinquish control was beginning to piss her off. She stood within a foot of the much taller Tok'ra and poked him in the chest. A wicked grin formed when he flinched. "That's why I want to speak with him."

An almost imperceptible dip of his chin released the young man from the confines of the symbiote's mind. Elliot sheepishly grinned. "He can be a bit of an ass at times. Don't mind him, he's just..."

Janet interrupted his rambling apologies. "An overbearing, egotistical chauvinist." She remembered many times in the past when Lantash's mouth had landed him in trouble and Martouf had to fast talk his way out of the messes he had created. "Christ, he hasn't changed a bit."

"He's worried about you, Doctor Fraiser. He's vowed to protect you and wants Major Carter..."

She silenced him with a flick of her hand. "Don't even go there, Lieutenant," she warned.

Fidgeting nervously, he finally turned his back on her and began to pace the room. This was just too damned awkward. He knew everything about Lantash. His favorite color, his favorite foods, his need to sleep on his back. Oh, and don't forget his love for Major Carter who happens to be in love with Doctor Fraiser. The young man mentally slapped his forehead. The training manuals never covered this.

"I didn't want to know. I swear." His eyes implored forgiveness. "We never thought we'd live long enough to meet anybody from the SGC. I don't want these memories, they're not mine. But I feel as though I've lived them and I don't know how to handle it," he confessed.

The young man stooped before her was only a few years older than Cassie. Janet could not fathom how someone so young could deal with the responsibility unknowingly thrust upon him. Her daughter was more concerned with clothes and makeup and not how to deal with being joined with a symbiote. The thought of her daughter blended sent shivers down her spine.

Elliot was right. Lantash shouldn't have put him in this position of feeling estranged from the only other connection he had of his former life. Janet couldn't punish the young man, but she could be mad as hell at Lantash. She needed to separate them into two distinct entities. Elliot needed nurtured. Lantash needed his ass kicked.

She knew she wasn't being fair to the Tok'ra, but old hostilities were hard to shake. Was she angry because Elliot knew that Lantash was in love with Sam, or because he knew of Sam and Janet's secret life together?

He was, after all, still a commissioned officer in the Unites States Air Force. And he could make a world of trouble for them if he became jealous enough to do so. She wasn't naive enough to believe the young man could separate Lantash's feeling for her lover from his own, but she could try to help him distance himself enough to retain his own personality. Including his own thoughts and feelings.

"Elliot." She winced when he jumped at her voice.

He was so entranced in his own thoughts he had completely forgotten she was still in the room. "Yes, Ma'am."

"Relax, Elliot, or else you're gonna sprain something. And I don't have my medical bag with me." She smiled at the young man trying to put him at ease.

He relaxed and fell into the nearest chair. Janet took a seat opposite the nervous man. "Elliot, I'm not angry with you. I know you didn't ask to know about my relationship with Major Carter...Sam. But you do and we both have to come to some sort of understanding."

Elliot hung his head in shame. He felt like he had violated both women.

"You are privy to my personal life with Sam. I am not ashamed of being in love with her, but you need to tell me right now if you are uncomfortable with this knowledge. I hope you respect Sam and me enough to be truthful."

With a quick snap of his head, piercing cerulean blue stared unwavering at the small woman. "Lantash may have inadvertently shared his feelings with me about your relationship, but he has also shared a lifetime of knowledge as well. He has been blended with both genders and he has loved and been loved by men and women alike. Lantash is not judgmental and neither am I."

She released the breath she had been holding. "Thank you, Elliot." His sincerity touched the young woman. At least she wouldn't have to worry about recrimination from him. Lantash had already proven is loyalty, even though she questioned his motives at times.

The sandy haired young man continued to fidget in his seat. Accepting Sam and Janet as a couple was never the problem. However, Lantash's love for the blonde major was a huge obstacle to overcome. He hoped, in time, he would be able to separate Lantash's life from his own. A monumental task, no doubt, since he was having an especially hard time differentiating his own feelings from the much older symbiote, discerning between Elliot the Air Force officer and Elliot host to an ancient being.

Now that that order of business was over, Janet hoped to help ease his troubled conscience. The young physician's enormous empathetic capacity enabled her to sense his growing apprehension. "Once we get out of this mess maybe Sam can help you. Since she's been blended she can help you disassociate yourself from Lantash's memories and help you concentrate on feeling your own."

"With all due respect, Ma'am. I think Major Carter is the last person I need to be talking with." He nervously rubbed the back of his neck.

The brunette shook her head in disagreement. "You are a bright young man and I have no doubt you will be able to handle talking with Sam. Don't sell yourself short, Elliot." A bright smile light up her soft features. "I know I won't."

He smiled sheepishly at the brunette. She had more confidence in him than he felt he deserved. "Okay, it's a deal. I'll try to talk with Major Carter." He felt bad deceiving the brunette. He had no plans of escaping with her. If he intended to complete his mission, he needed to stay as close to the Goa'uld as possible.

Momentarily putting that problem on the back burner, they needed to decide how they would handle the more pressing issue of dealing with Nirrti. Janet wondered how close the Goa'uld was to creating the hok'tar and if she planned on taking it for herself. How many worlds had she destroyed to selfishly pursue the perfect host?

Blue eyes carefully watched the small woman shifting uncomfortably in her chair. A luminous flash indicated that Lantash had once again taken control. "Doctor Fraiser, we don't have much time. We will orbit the planet in ten hours."

Brown eyes widened in surprise. She thought they would have more time. "Why the hurry? I thought you said we would have two days before we reached Mengal?" Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What aren't you telling me?"

"I assure you, Doctor, I am not keeping anything from you. I honestly don't know why we were required to report back so soon. Nirrti doesn't make a practice of sharing her reasons for anything she does." Left unsaid was his uneasy feeling that something was not right.

Reaching into his robe, he withdrew the round globe and palmed the communication device until it glowed a bright silver. "I believe we should contact the Tok'ra now before the opportunity is lost. If you will excuse me," he said as he walked to the other side of the room.

A clipped resonant tone filled the room as Lantash spoke quickly into the round device. Janet wished she understood Goa'uld. She had to trust Lantash, she really had no other option.

The one-sided conversation ended abruptly and Lantash placed the now dormant globe back into the folds of his blue robe.

When he didn't offer any information, Janet quirked an inquisitive eyebrow. "Well?"

He sighed. "I was successful in reaching my contact within the Tok'ra. It is a..." He tilted his head as though listening to a far away sound. "Elliot says it's a game of hide and seek now."

Janet visibly paled at the comparison.

He continued without noticing her reaction. "We need to keep you hidden away until help arrives. There will be no way to successfully approach the Stargate without assistance." Nirrti had stationed Jaffa near the gate to prevent any unwelcome intrusions.

Regaining some composure, Janet asked, "And where will I be hiding? Here on the ship?" She could only hope to stay as far away from the Goa'uld as possible. Once Nirrti discovered her, Lantash, or rather Faunus, would be in just as much danger as Janet.

He shook his head. "No, once the cargo is off-loaded the ship will be sent on another mission."

"The cargo?" Why did that sound like more than a few Jaffa. "I'm not the only human aboard, am I?"

"You are not. In addition to the dead Jaffa, we have also acquired a number of inhabitants from many different planets to serve as test subjects." His disgust was evident as he bitterly admitted to kidnaping innocents to further the genetic experiments of the Goa'uld.

"Test subjects?" Her stomach lurched with the implications. "I thought Nirrti established labs on individual planets and conducted her experiments over a long period of time."

"You are correct. However, she is ready to implement a new phase in her experimentations."

"We have to stop her and help these people." How typical of Doctor Fraiser to put the safety of others before her own.

"Doctor, we are in no position to help anyone." He incredulously shook his head. "We will be lucky to get you out of here unharmed."

Janet decided not to argue with him. Once SG-1 arrived she would implore Colonel O'Neill to rescue everyone. Instead, she asked Lantash to outline his plan to keep her away from Nirrti and her Jaffa.

"Ideally, I would like to keep you in my quarters until the Tok'ra or SG-1 show up. The Jaffa are worse than old women when it comes to gossip and I'm afraid once the others realize I have a concubine they are going to want to have a look for themselves." He paused waiting for the explosion.

"So that's the cover? I'm your concubine?" Jesus, why couldn't I have just stayed in bed this morning?

Broad shoulders shrugged in diffidence. "Better than being imprisoned with the others." He was grateful that the doctor hadn't lost her temper. "However, the subterfuge will not last long. We will need to keep up the facade until your rescue."

She immediately noticed his slip. "Don't you mean our rescue?" Dark eyes intently studied the young man nervously shifting in his chair. "Lantash? I don't know what hidden agenda you may have, but I have a responsibility to that young man." She pointed a slender finger at his chest, indicating his host. "Who, I might add, saved your life as much as you saved his. Now is not the time for heroics."

His lanky frame easily lifted from the seat and he walked away from the brunette. Once he reached the other side of the room, he turned his head and spoke in a sharp tone. "We will need to rest before we reach Mengal." He indicated to his right with a slight head nod. "The guest room will provide privacy for you while you sleep. I will wake you before I am needed to transport to the surface." He turned on his heel and disappeared into the adjoining room.

"Goddamnit," she mumbled under her breath. "You're eventually gonna have to let me in on your little secret."

With that said, she retired for night.

SGC. One day ago.

The briefing room was cold and silent, matching the mood of both Jack and Daniel as they took seats behind the black lacquered conference table. Cassie settled into the chair at the head of the table. The General's chair. The seating arrangement was not lost on the men. Her posture was rigid and formidable. Cassandra was not about to take any of their shit and she wanted them to be forewarned.

"Cassie," O'Neill broke the silence. "Why did you open the gate and let Carter leave?"

"I want you to be quiet and listen to what I have to say. There isn't much time and we have to decide what to do, if anything at all." Her no nonsense tone broached no argument.

"I'm listening." With his anger barely controlled, Jack placed his folded hands on the table and waited for her explanation. Unconsciously, Daniel mimicked his movements.

The older woman appraised each man in turn and shook her head. "Why was it so hard to believe her?"

Both men squirmed in their seats like they had ants in their pants. What the hell? She just skipped the explanation and went right for the jugular.

Before either could find their voice, she continued. "SG-1's been killed on many missions in the past, only to be raised from the dead by one means or another."

"You weren't there," Daniel interrupted, his voice shaking with anger. He didn't want to relive Janet's death again, each time he remembered holding her hand and watching her die took a piece of his soul.

Cassandra studied the emotions contorting the young archaeologist's face. She knew he believed his words to be true. Janet's death had hit him the hardest next to Sam. He unwillingly had witnessed her death and he may well never recover from the horrible experience.

"I watched Janet die." He defiantly refused to back down. "You don't know what that was like." His inflection increased with each sentence. "She died at my side. I held her hand and watched her take her last breath." Liquid blue eyes closed as he relived each second for at least the thousandth time. "That blast ripped a hole in her chest." His eyes opened to stare unwavering at the woman seated at the head of the table. "Nothing could have saved her."

Holding Daniel's stare, she released a sigh. "I recall a time when you were left aboard Apophis' ship after you had taken a staff blast to the chest. Granted, you didn't die on impact, but the result would have been the same had you not found a sarcophagus."

Two sets of eyes blinked in slow motion, the same thought tormenting them. We left her behind. Carter was right after all, and they had dismissed her without a second thought.

"Janet's death changed the future." She studied both men intently.

Both men stared at each other and then back at the older woman. Was the Doc alive or not?

"What the hell are you telling us, Cass?" Jack was spitting mad and red in the face.

"I'm not telling you anything, Jack. The timeline has been compromised enough as it is, and I can't risk making it worse."

O'Neill stood so fast his chair flew across the room. Strong hands slapped the table leaving perfect sweaty imprints on the cold surface. "I am sick of all this goddamned time paradox crap," he shouted. His gray hairs parted and stood at odd angles as he ran his hands through his hair. He exhaled a deep, frustrated sigh. "You tell us right now. Is Janet alive or not?"

"It's not that simple, Jack," she chided.

"Of course, it is. You just need to get past that burr you're sitting on and tell us the truth."

Daniel cradled his head in his hands and mumbled, "Oh, boy."

With practiced ease, Cassie rolled her eyes and shook her head. She didn't want to admit it, but Jack was right. If they were going to be of any help to Sam, she would have to tell them the truth. "Janet's death changes the balance of power in the universe and Earth will not survive."

Thin eyebrows disappeared in his hairline as the colonel incredulously stared her. "But she's so small," he dead panned.

"You of all people should know just how formidable she is."

"Ah hah. You said is. That means she's alive." He rocked back and forth feeling smug.

"Yes, she is. For now. She is in grave danger and if she isn't rescued soon..." She didn't complete the thought. Instead, the scared eighteen year old girl in the older woman surfaced. "Why didn't you help Sam, Uncle Jack?" She turned imploring eyes to the younger man. "Uncle Daniel? It may be too late already."

Both men were at a loss for words.

"I can almost," she pierced Daniel with a withering glare, "almost forgive you since you were with mom at the time of her death." She then turned her attention to the colonel. "But you, Jack, you will have to find solace within yourself to justify why you didn't listen to Sam."

"Now wait a goddamn minute." He began, but she cut him off.

"You need to let Sam go." A fine-boned hand lifted to halt his protestations. "Things are about to change around here. Some for the good and some for the bad, but change nevertheless. What you need to take from this meeting is this. Sam and Janet will need all of your support and understanding if they are to survive their future. They will need your trust now more than ever."

What could they possibly say to that declaration? Neither of them could in all honesty refute her accusations.

Daniel cleared his throat and asked in a small voice. "Cassie, why can't you just wave your arms in the air or something equally dramatic and bring Janet back?

"I didn't risk everything just so my mother could live. As much as I love her, I would never change the timeline. But..." A hint of the Carter smile spread across her face, "desperate times require desperate measures."

"Meaning," Daniel implored.

"She means somebody has already fucked the timeline and she's gonna help clean up the mess." O'Neill smirked.

Twin sets of piercing blue stared at the colonel.

"What?" He asked. "I'm not as dumb as I look." He turned to Cassie, "Sorry about the f word and...and stuff."

For the first time since Sam stepped through the gate with Teal'c, Cassie smiled a happy smile. "I never said you were, Jack." In a softer voice she continued, "And I know you're sorry." She looked to Daniel to include him. "I know you both are sorry for...stuff."

Turning serious once again she continued to explain their predicament. "I am merely the catalyst. You," she gestured between the men, "along with Sam and Teal'c are the means with which the future will be put back on track."

The colonel's eyes glazed over. "Look, Cass. Carter isn't here to decipher all the mumbo jumbo crap, so just tell us what we need to do."

She looked sheepishly at them. "I can't do that exactly."

"Well, what exactly can you tell us?" Came his sardonic reply.

"I'm almost as much in the dark as you are. I won't know what to do until the time comes. So, you need to be ready to move out on short notice." She gave them an apologetic shrug.

"Alright. We can do that, can't we Danny?" He clapped the younger man on the back.

Daniel nodded his assent. "How much time are we looking at? I doubt we have that big of a window of opportunity."

"Just be ready when I call, Daniel. It won't be long now." She gracefully stood and made her way across the briefing room. "I'll be around," she said over her shoulder and then disappeared into thin air.

The startled men stood transfixed and stared into nothingness. "Wow," the both exclaimed in unison.

"Let's call the general and update him on this latest development," Jack said as he led them out the door.

Once General Hammond had been apprised of the situation, Jack and Daniel wandered back to the briefing room. The archaeologist stood before the large window overlooking the Stargate while Jack took a seat at the table. He swivelled the chair back and forth a few times and then spun around until the momentum brought the chair to a standstill.

Slumping over the table, he rested his head on crossed arms. Leave it to Cassie to cut right to the chase. She said he needed to let Sam go. Had his feelings for the major clouded his judgement? He just didn't know what to believe. He'd like to think he was an honorable man and acted no differently if it had been Daniel or Teal'c left behind, but what if it had been Carter? Would he have been so quick to believe she was dead?

Daniel silently watched Jack's reflection through the window knowing his friend was beating himself up and second guessing his actions. Not that he blamed him. Even though he had watched Janet die, he still felt like he had let the doctor down. He should have believed Sam.

A loud groan filled the room. O'Neill spun the chair around to face his friend. "I really fucked up, Daniel. If Cassie can make things right, I'll spend the rest of my life doing penance. That's if Sam or Janet ever speak to me again."

Daniel was busy trying to decipher his own troubled thoughts. He too felt incredibly guilty for not pushing the general harder to investigate Janet's death. He agreed with Jack, if they were lucky enough to see Sam and Janet again, the harshest restitution would never come close to cleansing his sense of inadequacy.

"You don't have to shoulder all the blame, you know. We," Daniel poked himself in the chest, "fucked up." He walked over to the older man and knelt beside his chair. "But now we need to concentrate on helping them instead of wallowing in our own self-pity." Plenty of time for that later, like the rest of their lives.

"Do you really think it was as simple as finding a sarcophagus?" Jack asked. He hadn't, in all honesty, even considered the idea. Even though the place was crawling with Jaffa and at least one Goa'uld ship was orbiting the planet.

"The thought had never crossed my mind," Daniel confessed. He had unknowingly parroted his friend's thought. The archaeologist shook his head in disbelief. "If it had just been SG-1 maybe I would have thought outside the lines, but there with so many other teams and medical personnel, I guess it seemed so real. So permanent."

Jack scrubbed his hands over his face. "Yeah, I know what you mean. We're usually far from home and flying by the seat of our pants. We get ourselves outa one scrape after another, but we always come out on top. This time it felt like there were too many hands in the pot and no way to change the outcome."

"No matter how much blame we place on ourselves, the fact of the matter is that Janet somehow survived and she needs our help..."

The colonel finished his friend's statement. "And we'll be damned if we fail her a second time." He smiled and slapped Daniel on the back. "Let's go Danny-boy. We need to be ready when Cassie calls for us."

Moving with a purpose, Jack O'Neill lead his companion down the corridor, his shoulders less heavy and a bounce in his step. Feeling better than he had in days, the experienced officer made a mental check list of supplies and weapons needed to mount a rescue operation. He had no idea when he would be called upon, but he planned to be ready.

Aboard a Goa'uld ship. 2 days ago.

Dr. Fraiser was uncharacteristically quiet since their argument the day before. She was still upset with Lantash, but knew there was nothing she could do about his reticence to be entirely truthful to her. Janet knew, without a doubt, that the Tok'ra had a completely different agenda on P3X-666 than just saving her life. She would have to be content to watch, wait, and hope nothing more would go wrong. Time was a bomb ticking incessantly in her ear reminding her of her precarious situation. Instead of counting the maddening seconds, she quietly meditated in her room and dreamed of Sam charging to her rescue.

Lantash had managed to avoid Nirrti for an entire day by staying aboard the vessel in pretext of overseeing the transfer of the Tau'ri to the planet below. With all the human cargo now safely secured, he could no longer remain behind without rousing suspicion. He took his leave from the doctor with one last reminder to stay in his chambers.

The Tok'ra stepped away from the transport rings and proceeded to the main laboratory complex at a rapid pace. He ignored the cries and whimpers emanating from the adjacent buildings. The newly acquired subjects were being herded through the open doorways by menacing Jaffa. Most were young healthy specimens. Nirrti would be pleased.

Lantash's stomach turned. Doctor Fraiser's company had made him soft. He would never complete his mission if he couldn't ignore his conscience. It certainly wouldn't be the first time, but after the last he vowed he would never be placed in that situation again. How could he be true to her if he couldn't be true to himself?

He groaned and quicken his step. The lab was much like he had left it. Except for the glaring addition of a much larger version of her DNA manipulating machine. Nirrti had been busy in his month long absence. Faunus had tried to abscond from the trip, but she insisted he oversee the acquisition of more Jaffa to join the ranks of her growing forces and Tau'ri to continue her hideous experiments.

A man and woman were huddled together inside the machine, wide eyes fearfully darting between Nirrti and anyway out of their entrapment. The female Goa'uld approached the humans and began to examine them as if they were horses to be sold for stud. As she ran her hands over their bodies, the young woman whimpered and moved closer to her companion and wrapped trembling arms around his waist.

Nirrti laughed and roughly grabbed the female's chin up so she was face to face with her Goddess. "It pleases Us to see you are already acquainted with each other. It will make the coupling all that much more..." Nirrti tilted her head to the right and smirked, "...enjoyable."

She turned on her heel and descended the narrow stairs in three quick strides and once she was behind the control panel, the machine was activated and a swirling purple bubble surrounded the frightened man and woman. Nirrti intently studied the DNA patterns and then deftly moved her fingers over the controls to begin her monstrous manipulations.

Without turning in his direction, Nirrti addressed Faunus. "You have done well, Faunus. This last batch is more promising than any other we have encountered."

He dipped his head in acknowledgment of the compliment. Nirrti rarely bestowed praise. She must be very excited about the results she was receiving from the machine.

Thirty minutes later, the bubble disengaged and the sweating bodies of the young man and woman were removed from the machine by two Jaffa. Where as before, they trembled in fear, now they moved in a highly seductive manner. The Jaffa had to pull the young man off of his paramour's back before he had her sprawled on the floor pinned beneath his body. The female had to be physically restrained and carried out of the room she was fighting so hard to reach her mate.

Lantash was shocked. "That reaction is new." The Tok'ra wondered what Nirrti had discovered while he was away.

"Yes. They will mate to the exclusion of all else until they fall from exhaustion." Nirrti said, clearly pleased with her subjects actions.

"If the female is not fertile, they will die before she is impregnated." Even as he said this, a part of him silently hoped she had conquered the obstinate obstacle of manipulating the female's reproductive cycle into a constant state of estrus. The other half hated him for thinking it.

Nirrti smiled. "Once they have sexually exhausted themselves, she will be pregnant and they will no longer feel the urge to copulate like wild animals." She strode over to stand in front of Lantash. "Our success rate is 100 percent." She leaned closer and whispered into his ear. "Perhaps we should try it, my love."

Lantash took a step backwards, but Nirrti wrapped her hand around his neck and pulled him closer. She really wasn't that interested in the other Goa'uld, rather she enjoyed watching him squirm against her advances. His reticence only served to increase her desire to dominate him.

Her sexual appetite didn't discriminate against man or woman. She took whomever she wanted, whenever she wanted. Not necessarily for physical gratification, but to fill her insatiable desire to do what she wished. She considered no one beyond her grasp. Once she finally created and then blended with the hok'tar, she would set her sites on the System Lords and crush them like the insignificant worms they were.

A thin tongue licked up his neck and around his earlobe as thoughts of bringing her goal to fruitation increased her arousal.

Lantash could not contain the shudder as Elliot mentally retched.

The Goa'uld misread the shiver as a sign of excitement and her brown eyes darkened and dilated to the exclusion of color. She lightly kissed his neck and worked her way to his mouth where she roughly bit his lower lip. He immediately opened his mouth before she could bite him harder and draw blood. She had done so in the past. Many times.

Mind over matter was good in theory, but he never seemed to master the technique. He groaned when he felt his body respond to her. She kissed him thoroughly and deeply before withdrawing her tongue. She pressed her body closer and slid her hand down past his stomach and cupped the growing bulge in his pants.

"Time for that later." With one last grope, she lightly kissed his cheek and pushed him away.

Summarily dismissed, Lantash moved away from her and stepped behind the smaller control panel. He nodded to the Jaffa indicating he was ready to begin.

The rest of the day was spent in the lab brutally experimenting on one human after another. Most had been subjected to the genetic manipulations before they were brought to Mengal and showed ill effects of time trapped in the helix bubble.

While Lantash concentrated on single subjects, Nirrti continued to pair perfect genetic matches to hopefully produce a viable offspring. She had been successful in impregnating all the females, but none of the fetuses had been carried to term and died in utero.

She became more and more frustrated as the day progressed. Now that she had conquered the estrus problem, Nirrti now concentrated all her efforts on decreasing the gestation period. So far the results had proved disastrous. Initially, she was content to wait the nine months, but it became painfully obvious as each deformed child was born, she was no were near creating the perfect host.

Hours had passed since Lantash's departure and Janet had begun to worry. She didn't know what to expect, but she hoped he would return soon. She wanted to confront the Tok'ra on his hidden agenda. She would not idly sit by and allow Lantash to sacrifice Elliot for her safety.

A scraping sound preceded a soft thump and the doors swung apart. Janet cursed and quickly hid behind a large chair.

"Doctor Fraiser?" The deep voice of Lantash filled the silent room as he quickly perused the area.

"I'm here," she squeaked in reply. He had scared her senseless. His abrupt entrance left her in the open and totally vulnerable.

He frowned when she suddenly appeared from behind the massive chair. "I apologize for startling you, Doctor." He ran a frustrated hand through his thin hair. "And for staying gone for so long." He motioned for her to take a seat opposite him. Lantash nervously shifted in his chair.

From his obvious distress, Janet knew that things had not gone well on the planet. She patiently waited for him to gain some sense of control.

"Nirrti is here, on the planet. She has achieved a breakthrough in her experiments." He shifted uncomfortably and exhaled a resigned sigh. "I need more time to discern the extent of her discovery, but I think she is getting close to her goal."

The brunette stared at her friend. "Close?" She asked.

"She has recently discovered how to super-ovulate the females and somehow she has managed to successfully impregnate them almost at will." He raised his hand to halt the doctor's plethora of questions. "Suffice to say, she places a male and female together in the DNA helix bubble and then manipulates them so that when they are freed from the machine..."

He paused to think of a suitable expression. He didn't think she would appreciate the phrase 'going at it like dogs', but that was his first thought. Nirrti had reduced many innocent young couples to nothing more than a fornicating tangle of bare skin. They had no thought process of their own, they only lived to have sex and nothing more until the female became with child.

"Lantash?" Her soothing voice and soft touch to his forearm broke his reverie. "What happens to the couple after they are released from the bubble?"

"Every couple that I have witnessed acted in exactly the same manner. They didn't care where they were or who was watching, they just proceeded to have intercourse as fast and as many times as possible. They only stopped when the female became impregnated."

A thin eyebrow raised in question.

"I don't know how," he answered the doctor's unspoken question, "but they instinctively know the time of conception and then they stop as abruptly as they started."

He shook his head in disbelief. As much as he hated what the Goa'uld was doing to innocent people, his unwanted sense of marvel and admiration of her achievement surprised him.

"And then what happens?" She asked, knowing she really didn't want to hear the answer.

"The females are all placed together in an open infirmary where they are all closely monitored."

"How many babies have been born?" She asked.

"Many women have become impregnated, but none of the fetuses have been viable."

The doctor closed and then rubbed her tired eyes. Why had that answer not surprised her? Genetic engineering had been going on for longer than she liked to admit, but the problems generated by such manipulations were still far from being conquered.

Lantash leaned forward in his chair. "There is more."

Of that, the doctor had no doubt.

"Another ship has orbited and this one will depart as soon as the other one is off-loaded. We need to ring to the other ship and then down to the planet. It is dusk planetside and under the cover of night, we will attempt to reach the Stargate."

If only it were so simple.

Two hours later, Janet cowered in the hot, cramped cargo bay with the other captured humans waiting to be ringed to the planet surface. She chanced a glance to her right and caught Lantash's eye, his subtle nod the only indication he had noticed her gesture.

He stood ten feet away and ready to jump to her defense if need be. Luckily, the Jaffa were only interested in getting the rest of the Tau'ri off the ship, and not amusing themselves with some of the frightened cargo.

Soon it was Janet's turn as she was roughly pushed within the circumference of the transport rings. Just before the Jaffa activated the machine, Lantash stepped into the circle. "I will accompany them to the surface. Continue your task and depart as soon as you are finished," the Goa'uld ordered.

He stood directly behind Janet and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Her knees were shaking so hard she didn't think she could stand much longer, but at his reassuring touch, she calmed enough to stand without assistance.

The Jaffa inclined is head in understanding and activated the rings.

A burst of white radiant light filled the room and Janet had to stifle a groan as her stomach dropped and an instantaneous wave of dizziness washed over her. She had hated to ride roller coasters as a child, now she was reminded why. She closed her eyes against the vertigo and swallowed several times as her mouth began to water.

Before her queasy stomach could decide to expel its contents, the rings deposited them on solid ground. They were roughly pushed in the direction of a large building. Once her head stopped spinning, she looked around.

She thought they were standing in the middle of a large crater, but on closer inspection, the area looked like someone had gouged off the top of the mountain and then deposited the dirt, rocks, and trees to create a natural defensive barrier. The main building was flanked by two smaller ones and off to the right, a bit removed from the others, was a long narrow building, reminiscent of a barrack. She guessed it housed the many Jaffa she could see around the garrison.

Before the brunette could memorize the lay of the compound, the group of humans were led to a larger cordoned off gated area adjacent to the main structure. It resembled a horse corral, but much more sophisticated in that the barricades were reinforced with a force field. Once the shimmering wall was dropped, they were led into two separate areas that segregated the men from the women.

Janet shuddered. How was she going to escape the force field let alone make it to the Stargate without being caught? She chanced a glance at Lantash who was standing just outside the barrier talking heatedly with a Jaffa. She couldn't hear their conversation, their words were drowned out by the crying and whimpering that threatened to deafen her.

All of her considerable concentration bent to filter out the extraneous noise, as she strained to hear the angry words flung at the Jaffa. Still unable to discern why Lantash was upset with the bigger man, Janet flinched when a resounding crack echoed in the humid air as Lantash suddenly lashed out and back-handed the Jaffa across the face hard enough to knock the larger man off his feet.

The brutal force of the blow surprised her. She knew that humans blended with a symbiote were much stronger, but she had never witnessed such a display first-hand.

Lantash screamed at him to get up and when the bleeding man stood, Lantash extended his left arm and the hand-held device came to life. Within seconds the larger man fell to his knees gasping and wide-eyed. Blood red droplets trickled from his nose as the crimson beam focused on his forehead. With one final groan, he convulsed and dropped dead at his executioner's feet.

Lantash gestured to two Jaffa standing beside the fence surrounding the corral. "Remove him immediately," he commanded in a voice Janet had yet to hear.

The dead man was grasped under his limp shoulders and then dragged away from the compound.

Lantash addressed the other Jaffa. "Let this be a lesson." His voice, filled with anger, boomed for all to hear. "We do not tolerate impudence and those who dare to disobey Us will be crushed." He clenched his fist in rage.

He was getting better at acting like a Goa'uld. The dead Jaffa hadn't done anything to warrant such a reaction. Lantash needed to keep them skittish and uncertain. He needed the Jaffa to jump at his command and not question why. That way, when he issued a command that seemed questionable, the Jaffa wouldn't think twice and out of fear would follow his every order.

He fixed dark blue eyes on every Jaffa in turn, satisfied to see the look of fear and trepidation reflected back. With the others sufficiently warned, the slender man stomped away, never meeting the penetrating dark brown gaze of the stunned young woman gripping the rail of her prison.

He refused to turn and watch the look of disgust wash over the young brunette. He was on a mission, he reminded himself, a mission that was more important than what the SGC doctor thought of him. But he still felt a wave of guilt at his behavior. Best the doctor realize now what he was truly capable of, because the man had no doubt, she would witness many more atrocities, some by his own hand, before the day was over.

It was a matter of survival. Not necessarily survival of the fittest, but survival regulated by ultimate power and ruled with brutality at its worst. It had worked for the Goa'uld and Tok'ra alike for countless years. Fear could break even the strongest will. Eventually.

The chill night air offered a welcoming contrast to the stifling heat of the day. Most of the young women had huddled together for some human contact and had finally fallen into a fitful slumber. Others sat unmoving with blank expressions, unsure if they would survive long enough to meet the dawn of another day.

One small woman stood out from the rest as she sat with her back against a post that supported the far rail of their prison. Janet shifted slightly, trying to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. She guessed it had been two or three hours since Lantash had run off in a huff. His behavior still rankled her nerves. She was afraid he was close to snapping, or maybe she just didn't want to believe that that was normal for the Tok'ra posing as a Goa'uld.

Blurry brown eyes slowly opened as a soft voice infiltrated her slumber. She had no idea when she had fallen asleep or for how long. She thought she had heard her name whispered, but her foggy brain quickly dismissed the notion and her eyes once again slowly closed.

She abruptly sat up, instantly awake when she heard deep voices at the front of the corral. The force field dropped and a man entered and quickly walked to the back and stood before the brunette.

He crouched on his knees, keeping a respectable distance from the small woman. "I am Kiernen," he said in introduction. "It is time to go." He offered his hand which she hesitantly accepted as he helped her to her feet.

She had no idea if she could trust the young man, but if he was offering to help her escape, who was she to turn him down?

Janet wondered if it would really be that easy, but the Jaffa standing guard never even looked at them as they made their way across the compound. Lantash's earlier behavior flashed through her mind and suddenly she realized why he had acted so heinously. Understanding why he needed to keep control over the Jaffa still didn't excuse his methods. He had killed a man in cold blood without batting an eye. What else was he capable of, she thought, and what irreparable damage was forced on the young man sharing that monstrous union.

She had an obligation to return Elliot to the SGC. The Tok'ra could find a more suitable host for Lantash and then the young lieutenant could begin a recovery, one that may well last the rest of his life.

The doctor was so caught up in her thoughts that she hadn't realized that they had cleared the compound and were now headed towards a small grove of thick trees. Once hidden from view, Kiernen stopped and directed his emerald gaze on the young doctor.

"Where is Faunus?" She had almost said Lantash. Janet was incredibly frustrated. How much did Kiernen know? Was he privy to Lantash's secret identity?

"My Master apologizes for not being here, but he was summoned to duty at the last minute." He looked over his shoulder and cocked his head to the side. Confident that they hadn't been followed, he continued. "We are to rendevous at the Stargate as soon as the next patrol passes by."

"How far is the gate?" She asked in a steady voice that belied her fear.

"Not far," he answered. "Once the Jaffa are gone, we will stick to the tree line and follow that path."

Brown eyes followed the direction indicated by his slender hand. The rugged terrain led away from the compound and ended at the base of a hill. She hoped the climb wouldn't be too steep for her shorter legs.

The young man's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Don't worry. The angle is deceiving, the incline is not as sharp as it appears from this view point."

Figures Lantash would find a lotar with a sense of humor.

Janet sighed and changed the subject. "How long have you been with Faunus?" If she kept him talking long enough, not only would she learn something useful about her liberator, but perhaps her nerves would settle to a more manageable rattle.

"I was raised in a small fishing village many light years away. It was far removed from the main city and we didn't have many visitors. We were self-sufficient and rarely interacted with outsiders, except for twice a season when we traded our commodities with other villages." He picked up a stick near his foot and began to idly trace circles in the dirt.

The doctor intently studied the young man. His voice remained strong and sure, but his body language told a different story. Janet knew she was about to hear yet another devastating tale at the hands of the Goa'uld. She wondered if there was any part of the known universe untouched by their treachery.

Kiernen felt her piercing gaze directed at him and he paused in his story telling. He didn't know why he felt comfortable opening up to this stranger, but something in the brunette exuded trust and compassion and he found himself unwillingly compelled to tell his story.

He didn't fight the feeling, he just continued to unburden his hidden truth. "We may have been isolationists, but we had no reason to fear others. We opened our homes without a second thought when strangers appeared one day. We never thought to ask who these strangers were and more importantly, what they wanted with a simple fishing community." That fateful day would always haunt his memory. "They attacked without warning and killed all the Elders."

"The Goa'uld?" Janet asked in a whisper.

Kiernen nodded. "Once our leadership was gone, the rest of the village folded under the fear of watching innocent men and women butchered like animals. The children and young adults were taken from their families in big ships."

"What happened to the other villagers, to your family?"

Unseeing eyes stared off in the distance. "I don't know." He swallowed roughly and once again gained his composure. "I'll get to the point of my story and answer your question. I was taken and sold as a slave. Many years later I was rescued by the Tok'ra and have worked with them ever since. I have known Lantash for as long as I can remember and it was blind luck to have met him again while serving under Nirrti."

Janet could hear the devotion in his voice when he spoke of Lantash. She wondered how deep his loyalty lay.

Her next question was cut off when he raised his hand for silence. A beat later, four Jaffa warriors marched down the narrow path and continued on without a second glance. Once the hulking figures were out of sight, the unlikely pair made for the Stargate.

Not five minutes into their retreat, the shrill blare of horns carried over the dense air.

Janet knew it had been too easy.

The adrenaline surge coursed through her blood stream as bile rose in the back of her throat and she fought the overwhelming urge to run in ten different directions. Momentarily frozen into inaction, the doctor prayed they were close enough to reach the gate and dial out before they were captured.

Again the horns trumpeted and Janet realized the sounds were moving away from them. The hope of reaching the Stargate undetected vanished when she heard answering horns coming from the direction they were desperately trying to reach.

Off-world, unknown planet. One day ago.

Sam and Teal'c cautiously stepped through the blue liquid of the Stargate. They descended the stairs and then proceeded in opposite directions securing the immediate area. The gate was nestled between a forest and a river with a broad dirt road winding along the muddy banks.

Finding the area clear, Sam jogged over to her companion. "Nothing. I find that rather odd." She didn't know what to expect since Cassie only gave her the gate symbols and nothing else, but she expected something. She wished she knew where they were and what they were up against.

"I concur." His sharp vision continued to survey the broad stand of evergreens. He wrinkled his brow and stopped moving when a reflection caught his eye.

Immediately alerted to his change in posture, the major crouched low to the ground and aimed her zat toward the Jaffa's line of vision. "What is it?" The blonde asked, her voice barely audible.

"I do not know," he whispered.

Sam shielded her eyes against the bright sunlight. "Could just be a piece of metal."

A slight tilt of a bald head indicted his assent. With his staff weapon raised, he slowly walked to the tree line with the blonde major securing his position. Within two steps of the forest's edge, the big man recognized the shiny object. He turned to face Carter. "It appears as though the area has been secured prior to our arrival."

Sam quirked a questioning eyebrow. "Cassandra?"

Her question hung unanswered in the air as they both reached the object in question. Under cover of the thick forest, a Tel'tac vessel was hidden from view. They worked swiftly and quietly to removed the carefully placed camouflage. Someone had gone to great pains to hide the metallic ship.

Once the bulk of the Goa'uld ship was cleared, Teal'c accessed the main hatch. Deftly peering through the open doorway, he ascertained the bridge was clear. They stealthily traversed the distance to the main bulkhead that housed the controls for the cargo bay where in lay the transportation rings.

On Carter's silent count of three, the big man pounced into the room as soon as the door was opened. To their surprise, two very dead Jaffa warriors littered the floor.

"Looks like someone's procured our transportation. I just wish I knew what to do with it." Sam searched the small cargo bay for any sign or hint of where they were supposed to fly the sleek spaceship.

It certainly would be pointless to go to all the trouble of providing a means to get to Janet, only to fall short because they didn't have a map with a big fat X scrawled in the center.

Disappointed at finding the bay devoid of anything useful, Sam ventured back to the bridge and found her friend sitting at the main control panel.

"Find anything, Teal'c?" She asked hoping that he had had more luck. She ran her hand through disheveled blonde hair and exhaled a frustrated sigh.

The dark man shook his head. "Nothing yet." His bulky shoulders twisted as he turned to face her. "I am bringing all systems online now."

Shaking her head, she refused to believe Cassie would have sent them there without a well thought out plan.

"It's here, Teal'c. We just have to figure out what Cassie was trying to tell us."

A shiny, bald head dipped in agreement.

"Let's run a full diagnostic," she suggested.

Both were proficient in Goa'uld technology. If, after running a complete test of all the systems, neither she nor Teal'c found anything, then there was nothing there to begin with.

Once all the systems were activated, Teal'c opened the navigational panel. There, as plain as day, flashed the answer to their quandary. A pre-set course of navigation was plotted into the computer. And a diagram of a natural fortified encampment near the planet's Stargate.

A blonde eyebrow quirked in disbelief. "Well, fuck me," she murmured. "A map with a big, honkin' X." She tilted her head back, shifting her gaze to the ship's ceiling, and silently thanked her daughter.

"Do you recognize these coordinates, Teal'c?" The course was unknown to the astrophysicist.

"I do not." He wrinkled his brow in confusion. "Can you be certain this course was set by CassandraFraiser?"


His eyebrow would have disappeared in his hairline had he had any.

Sam thought of her conversation earlier with her daughter. "I have to trust it to fate." She flashed the Carter grin, absent of late. For the first time in many days, she felt she was close to finding her lover.

"Indeed." His smile matched her own.

They sat side by side, as Teal'c effortlessly guided the Goa'uld vessel from solid ground and eventually into open space.

Sam engaged the cloaking device and leaned back in the uncomfortable chair. Shoulders, stiff from stress and worry, shrugged several times as she tried to relax the bunched muscles. She winced when said muscles cramped with the movement. The blonde rubbed the hard muscle between her neck and left shoulder to ease the sharp pain, absently mimicking the soft ministrations of her lover as she had done many times in the past. Sam sighed. Janet always knew how to relieve the major's tension. A slow smile spread across her face at the memory.

Teal'c shifted his gaze from the viewscreen to look at his friend. He had always admired her courage and resolve. SamanthaCarter was indeed a formidable opponent. He knew the woman to be strong and passionate, but since the doctor's absence, the former Jaffa warrior recognized that her sense of balance was slightly off, as if the part of her that centered her being was missing. JanetFraiser completed SamanthaCarter, and Teal'c vowed to help his friend balance her equilibrium once again.

Hours later, the invisible Tel'tac approached a small planet.

"I'm not reading anything, Teal'c. Looks like we may have lucked out and our approach was undetected."

The viewscreen changed from a field of stars to a grid plotted with Cassie's map. They would need to land many miles away from the compound and traverse the rough terrain on foot. If their luck held out, they would reach the compound by dusk.

The distance would hopefully allow for an undetected approach, but the downside being they would need to cover the same ground after rescuing Janet, with or without a hot pursuit. The transportation rings would have been a better choice, but they would need the ship as a fast getaway since they couldn't rely on the Stargate as a means of escape.

The vessel landed with a small jolt. Teal'c moved from the navigational console and momentarily disappeared into the cargo hold while Sam shut down the engines and then the remaining active systems. There was no need to hide the craft. If they had been detected on entry, they would have already had company.

The cargo bay door slid open and Teal'c emerged carrying his staff weapon and the two zats which he had removed from the dead Jaffa's bodies. He fastened the smaller hand weapons to each thigh and threw a worried look towards his friend.

Sam sat still as stone, her rapid heart beat pounding in her ears. She flinched when a warm hand gently grasped her shoulder.


The blonde stared straight ahead into the blank viewscreen. "What if she blames me." It was more of an agonizing revelation than a question, like the unwanted thought insidiously forced its way to the surface.

"I do not understand."

She finally turned in the chair to face her companion. "For leaving her. I can't help but wonder if she hates me for leaving her there to die."

She had finally voiced the fear buried deep in her subconscious, and now that it was out, her head reeled with the implications. One scenario after another fast forwarded in her mind, each scene worse than the previous conjured nightmare, until she felt like she would overload.

In an uncharacteristic move, Teal'c crouched on the balls of his feet in front of his grieving friend and took her smaller hand in his. "JanetFraiser could never hate you." Large brown eyes bored into her's as he tried to lock onto her wavering azure gaze. "If there is one constant in the universe, it is love."

Okay, now he had her undivided attention as she met his intense stare. A philosophical Teal'c was not something to be ignored.

"JanetFraiser loves you."

She smiled a weaker version of her normal white tooth grin. "Thanks, Teal'c." She squeezed his hand and the silent gesture moved them both into action.

Mengal. One day ago.

Janet and Kiernan exchanged anxious looks as the ground around them started to shake with the pounding footfalls of approaching Jaffa. Sharp, guttural tones preceded the wave of pumping legs and arms as the armored men ran past their hiding place in the direction of the Stargate.

They held their breaths and when it was apparent they had not been found, they exhaled simultaneously expelling the mounting tension.

"What do we do now?" The doctor asked in a hushed voice.

"I would have preferred to wait for Lantash, but I don't think he will be joining us anytime soon." He scrubbed his hands over his moist face, deep in thought. "Something else must be going on. He was summoned away just before he was able to help you to safety, but I couldn't find out why. Someone else must have managed to escape."

Brown eyes flashed with excitement. "Or someone came through the gate."

She could barely contain her enthusiasm. She hadn't allowed herself to think about being rescued, rather she had concentrated all her will on attempting to escape with Lantash's help. But then again. "Maybe it's Sam."

He flashed an incredulous look her way.

"Doctor, she thinks you're dead." He paused for effect. "And even if she somehow knew you had survived, she could not know where to find you."

"The Tok'ra could have contacted the SGC and then together they could have mounted a joint rescue mission."

She tried to keep the whine out of her voice.

She wondered why he was so hesitant to believe the possibility of a rescue. Unless...


The young man stared off in the distance, refusing to meet her gaze.

"Look at me, Kiernan," the brunette demanded.

A penitent gaze met her own.

Groaning, she shook her head in disbelief. "Lantash didn't contact the Tok'ra, did he?" She accused.

"You misunderstand, Doctor. He did speak with his contact, but they failed to see the merit in jeopardizing his mission to try and return you to Earth."

As much as she tried, Janet could not hide her disappointment. She was sorely upset that Lantash hadn't divulged this bit of information, instead opting to keep her false hopes alive. But more pressing, was the absolute feeling of defeat that settled about her like an ill-fitted cocoon that slowly squeezed the life from her.

No. She would not meekly wait for the slaughter. She was a goddamned Major in the United States Air Force and wielded absolute power in her domain. She hadn't earned the nickname of Napoleonic Powermonger on her good looks. She was a tough as nails, no-nonsense officer who was more than capable of pulling her ass out of trouble.

The petite doctor laughed to herself. If she repeated that, maybe a million times or so, she might actually convince herself she was strong enough to endure the worst experience of her life.

Concerned by the young woman's silence, Kiernen attempted to appease her unrest. "I am sure Lantash meant no harm. He is very protective of you."

She wasn't about to give him quarter. "Lantash has had his own agenda from the beginning," she countered.

Off in the distance, the sound of screeching horns echoed once again reminding them they were not alone.

"We can argue about this later," she conceded. "But mark my words, this is not over. I will not surrender without a fight. Not while the means with which to escape is within my grasp and a step through the Stargate will take me home to my family."

The young man bowed his head in acquiescence. What was it about this tiny woman that commanded respect, he wondered.

Again the obnoxious noise infiltrated their hearing, but now much closer than before. In an unspoken agreement, Janet and Kiernen turned in unison and retreated further into the dark forest.

Suddenly, the trees lining the path, not more than fifty feet away from the retreating companions last location, lit up like the Fourth of July. The trees were illuminated with an orange-blue hue from the discharge of staff weapon blasts in quick succession, accentuated by the sounds of cracking branches and the acrid smell of burning wood. Clearly they were aiming at a mobile target, one that ran precariously close to inadvertently flushing out the hidden fugitives.

Janet and Kiernen reflexively hit the ground with their arms flung over their heads in an attempt to shield themselves from the explosions.

The first volley of blasts was immediately followed by several more, each one closer and closer to the pair huddled together on the dry ground.

The air sizzled and the fine hairs on the brunette's neck stood on end. She flinched and turned away from the encroaching inferno in an effort to make herself smaller. The ball of fire swooshed forward and then receded as the energy dissipated, much like the development of a wormhole when the Stargate was activated. Just as the powerful surge of the wormhole activation would destroy anything in its path, the swath of the staff weapon blast scorched all in its wake.

With a momentary lapse in the blasts, Janet lifted her head and perused the area to make sure they weren't in immediate danger. Several branches above her were smoldering as the green leaves smoked and sparked.

"We have to get the hell out of here," she hissed and grabbed her companion by the forearm trying to get the young man to his feet and moving away from imminent danger.

He had a similar thought and within seconds they crouched low to the ground and half-crawled deeper into the forest. Neither stopped until the heat and voices receded in the distance.

Once they felt they had reached a safety zone, they crumpled to the ground gasping for breath.

Kiernen finally broke the silence. "We can't stray too far from the path. We might lose our bearings and never find the Stargate."

Janet agreed with him. "Let's stay parallel to the path and try to reach the gate while they seem to be occupied here," she suggested.

He didn't like the idea of running around in the dark with a horde of blast happy Jaffa in the immediate vicinity, but really what choice did they have? He nodded his agreement and they carefully picked a slow track over protruding tree roots, downed branches, and jutting rocks.

The area was a virtual obstacle course and they had to be very cognizant of the unfamiliar surroundings and not attract any unwanted attention on their quest for freedom.

Crouched behind the base of a large tree and doubled over in pain, the thin man who had thus far eluded capture, gasped for breath. His right side throbbed with each ragged inhalation. His sharp grey eyes darted back and forth as he quickly assessed his surroundings. He was in the middle of nowhere, temporarily hidden from view not more than a mile from the Stargate.

He wasn't sure what he had expected to find once he had stepped through the Stargate, but the two Jaffa that had mysteriously appeared from nowhere had certainly surprised him. His first reaction was to run like hell and he hadn't stopped running until his legs collapsed underneath him. Luckily, he had reached a relatively safe spot to catch his breath.

One thing was certain, he couldn't hide forever. He had effectively backed himself into a corner. With the woods crawling with Jaffa, it would be an impossible feat to avoid capture. If only he had stepped through the gate before the Others had found him.

As much as he loved Samantha Carter, he now knew she would never return his affections. At first he thought with the doctor out of the way, she would grow to love him. But looking deeper and replaying his joining with her over and over again, he knew she would never recover from her lover's death.

He had made a grave mistake, one that not only would effect Samantha Carter, but perhaps humanity as well. He had no way of understanding the magnitude of his actions, but he was afraid he was about to experience the ramifications up close and personal.

He had watched as the Goa'uld carried the dead woman across the field and into his ship.

He had watched as the vessel sped away.

He had watched and he had done nothing.

With a heavy heart, he had vowed to make restitution for his inaction. He had cast his piercing gaze across the battle field. So much blood. Such senseless slaughter. He had mournfully hung his head as he slowly picked his way through the carnage. Just as he had thought no one could have survived, he had spotted a lone Jaffa painfully sucking in gurgled breaths.

He had knelt at the dying man's shoulders and then had placed his palms around his blood-slicked face. With their minds joined, he had learned where the Goa'uld had taken the dead doctor.

He had also learned of their sarcophagus.

He had kept himself hidden until after the last ship had departed. During the time he had wasted silently arguing the merits of what to do or not do, he had sensed the broken body had been given life's breath once again.

He was mystified as to why the Goa'uld had saved her, but knew that even though she was alive, she was not safe. The Goa'uld would take what they wanted and then carelessly cast her aside.

Now that he had had a specific destination, he had moved with a rekindled purpose toward the Stargate and the petite woman who had meant so much to one and who will mean more to so many.

Yes, he was in love with Samantha Carter. In love enough to let the blonde beauty go and give her what she desired most. Unfortunately, that revelation had been late in the making.

The Others had swooped down upon him and stripped him of his Ascended status after he had failed his assignment of keeping Doctor Fraiser safe. The constraining limitations of being a mortal once again was hindering his plans of whisking her to safety.

In the past, the Others had given him a second chance when he had selflessly sacrificed his life to save Samantha Carter. But that, in itself, was the beginning of the end. If he hadn't fallen in love with her, he never would have thought twice about not saving the doctor.

It would have been simple enough to misdirect the staff blast and the young woman would be alive and safe at home. In the arms of Samantha Carter, the same woman he had wanted the first time he laid eyes on her.

How could he have messed up so badly? Jealousy was his only answer.

During his banishment of over one hundred years on a desolate planet, he should have had time enough to think about his past transgressions. Time enough to learn from his mistakes, or so he would have thought.

Yes, he had been green with envy when he had shared Samantha's thoughts. She was in love with another, but not just another. Janet Fraiser, the very same woman he had been directed to shadow and keep safe. Janet Fraiser who was paramount to the continued existence of humankind.

He was not privy to the hows and whys. He had no idea what role she would play in the future. If the Others had deemed it necessary to guarantee her safety, suffice to say it would be something monumental. Or catastrophic if he failed.

While he pondered what course of action to take, his new human form slowly recovered from the harrowing chase. Shaking his head and taking a deep breath without too much difficulty, he shifted his weight onto his heels.

He had two choices. He could stay hidden amid the cover of night, but the Jaffa would eventually come after him. Or he could run again and try to avoid capture.

Being human was harder than he had remembered and his naivety was going to get him killed or worse. He knew of the Goa'uld's predilection for torture.

Heavy footfalls and the sharp snap of broken wood broke his reverie. His pursuers were relentless in the chase.

If he didn't move soon, his position would be compromised.

Fear was a powerful motivator and he wasted no time jumping to his feet and running away from the sounds of pursuit. He had only taken a few steps, however, when he heard several male voices shouting in Goa'uld, and they were much too close for comfort.

Turning on his heels, he reversed his direction and ran as fast as he could heedless of the dangers concealed in the darkness. He stumbled back the way he had come, only to find his path blocked by more of the warriors.

He frantically staggered through the trees as the razor-sharp branches slapped at his exposed flesh cutting thin lines of bright red blood on his face and hands. He ignored the pain and continued to run until his vision blurred and his chest constricted impossibly tight until he couldn't suck in another breath without resting. Finally he collapsed on the ground drenched in sweat and gulping air as his muscles burned and twitched in protest.

He was utterly exhausted. If a Goa'uld stood before him now he would be helpless. His fragile human form had failed him.

His defeat was realized when he heard the Jaffa moving closer and closer to his position until he was totally surrounded by his tormentors. The Jaffa carrying a large horn hefted it to his lips and blew a shrill sound of triumph.

Despite the best of intentions, Janet and Kiernen found it impossible to follow the path since it was heavily watched by a number of Jaffa. Some of the big men were stationed as sentries while others searched deeper and deeper into the concealing woods.

Janet was afraid that if they didn't find a suitable hiding spot and hunker down until the pursuers were gone, then they would surely be caught. She wasn't willing to have gone this far and not reach the Stargate. Capture was not an option.

She caught Kiernen by the arm to gain his attention. "There are too many of them. We need to stop and hide."

He nodded and they both frantically looked around to find a big enough spot to conceal them both.

"If we become separated, wait for either me or Lantash to return for you," he implored the small woman. From what he had gathered from Lantash, and had witnessed first-hand, the doctor was quite headstrong. He was afraid she would take matters in her own hands and try to reach the Stargate without help. The results would undoubtedly be disastrous.

She reluctantly nodded in agreement.

Without warning, the trees and underbrush came alive as four Jaffa warriors crashed through the tangle of branches.

Before the Jaffa made their position, Kiernen instinctively shoved the smaller woman away from him and out of sight behind a huge tree trunk.

The brunette found herself roughly knocked off her feet and the ground all too quickly met her hands and knees just as the Jaffa made eye contact with Kiernen.

The largest of the Jaffa spoke first. "Why are you here?" He accused.

To his credit, the young lotar fearlessly stood his ground.

Before he could respond, a high-pitched whine of the horns filtered through the trees signifying that the quarry was found and the search over. A deep resonant voice bellowed out in the guttural speech of the Goa'uld recalling all the Jaffa back to the compound.

A wicked grin plastered the large Jaffa's face. At last the search was over.

"Praise the Gods," sighed another Jaffa.

"What's wrong, Antan? Afraid your woman's warming someone else's bed?" He laughed and slapped him on the back. "Let us join our brothers and watch our Goddess interrogate the hasshak who was foolish enough to step through the chaapa'ai."

So someone had come through the Stargate.

Janet couldn't contain the small glimmer of hope that Sam had somehow come for her. That happy thought was quickly squelched when she remembered the frantic search and subsequent capture of the interloper. Nor could she forget the predatory gleam emanating from the Jaffa's dark eyes at the mention of Nirrti's interrogation.

The leader of the big men roughly grabbed Kiernen by the arm. "You will return with us."

Kiernen cast an uneasy glance in Janet's direction unsure of what to do. He certainly couldn't resist the Jaffa. He was out-numbered and weaponless. The Jaffa were already suspicious and it would take some fast talking to explain his appearance alone in the woods.

For now he would go with them and hope Lantash could defuse the situation. In the mean time, he willed the doctor to stay put and wait for help.

Janet watched the men disappear through the woods. What the hell was she supposed to do now? She scrambled deeper into the shadows and leaned her sweat-slick back against the smooth bark of the tree trunk. The cool surface penetrated her jacket and offered some relief against her overextended muscles and overheated skin.

Could it really be that simple? All she had to do was wait for the men to leave the area and then she could gate home. Her more pragmatic self argued against the impulsive act. She couldn't abandon Lantash and Elliot, or Kiernen for that matter. The young man had selfishly placed his life in danger to help a virtual stranger.

Perhaps she should give Lantash time to rendezvous with her and then together they could all escape the nightmare. If someone had managed to jump through the Stargate, Nirrti would have it secured tighter than Area 51.

She shivered against the rapidly decreasing temperature and the encroaching darkness. The doctor hoped the night wouldn't get any colder. She didn't want to freeze to death while she waited for her liberators. No, if the night air became cold enough to dull her senses, then she would have no recourse but to chance the gate and the Jaffa alone if need be. If Lantash and Kiernen didn't show soon, they wouldn't be coming at all.

With that plan in hand, Janet drew her small legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around her thighs in an effort to conserve her rapidly decreasing body heat. Sleep was not an option, so the doctor mentally pictured a human skeleton and started to recite all the bones, then moved on to muscles and nerves with practiced ease.

The encampment was eerily silent as the Jaffa triumphantly paraded their prize through the open courtyard. The artificial light cast ghostly elongated shadows across the ground as they made their way to stand before Nirrti.

The prisoner leaned heavily against his captors. He had obviously been beaten. A steady trickle of blood oozed from a cut above his bruised and swollen right eye and down his cheek. An unsteady hand attempted to wipe the blood hindering his sight, but a firm grip on his forearm prevented the movement.

Nirrti stepped closer to the broken man. "What is your name, Tau'ri?"

He blinked the crimson liquid from his eye, trying to get a better look at her. When he didn't answer fast enough, a beefy hand grabbed his hair and sharply yanked his head back.

"Orlin," he croaked. "My name is Orlin."

"Who sent you?" She asked.

"No one sent me," his voice regained some of its strength.

She reached out and grabbed his chin staring intently at his bruised face. There was something she couldn't quite fathom about the strangely calm man. Intrigued, she leaned closer and grazed her fingertips across his bloodied cheek. She rubbed the sticky substance between her fingers as if it could tell her all his secrets.

Lantash stood to the left and slightly behind the Goa'uld as she began her interrogation. Her fascination in the strange man piqued his interest and he found himself propelled forward a few steps as he craned his neck to see what had captured her undivided attention.

Wiping the blood on his gray jacket, she asked again, "Who sent you?" Her piercing stare attempted to intimidate him.

He unwaveringly returned her gaze. "No one sent me," he calmly repeated.

Lantash rolled his eyes. He thought Orlin was a bit off. Either he was just plain stupid or the Jaffa had hit him one too many times over the head. Whatever the reason, if he didn't start cooperating with Nirrti, she was going to put the cranium squeeze on him and permanently scramble what remained of his brains. Not that she wouldn't use the hand device in the end.

"We grow tired of your insubordinate will." With a slight dip of her head, the nearest Jaffa grabbed his arm and twisted until the bone snapped.

Orlin screamed and fell to his knees, but the firm grasp on his broken arm never lessened. The pain dulled his hearing and black spots swam before his blurry vision. His last thought before he mercifully passed out was that he was never going to survive long enough to help himself or Doctor Fraiser.

A commotion at the edge of the woods momentarily diverted her attention away from the form slumped at her feet as Kiernen stepped into the open flanked by two Jaffa warriors. He showed no emotion as Lantash silently acknowledged his unexpected arrival. If Nirrti was surprised by the sudden appearance of the lotar, she did not let on.

Instead she again returned her attention to her prisoner. "Bring him to the lab," Nirrti commanded and walked to the building without waiting for the men to follow.

Lantash didn't know what to make of her apparent disinterest in seeing his servant manhandled by the Jaffa, but wasn't going to squander the opportunity to whisk him away from danger.

It became painfully obvious that Kiernen was alone when he and the goon squad crossed the compound. He tried not to panic when no one else emerged from the dark forest. Where the hell was the doctor?

The Tok'ra had hoped that Kiernen and Janet would have been able to avoid the mad manhunt, but in all honesty their capture was inevitable with so many Jaffa combing the area. Even so, Lantash had still hoped against hope that they had eluded capture. Things were quickly on the downward spiral and threatening to crash with a resounding splat.

The doctor's absence was puzzling. Kiernan had sworn to protect her with his life if necessary. Lantash had never doubted his friend before and would not start now. Whatever had happened, he was sure the circumstances were beyond Kiernan's control.

The Jaffa marched him toward the main building. When it was apparent they were not to going stop, Lantash moved quickly to block their path.

"Leave Us," he commanded. He needed to question Kiernen without an audience. If the Jaffa suspected any untoward activity, then they both would be in peril.

Unless he could fabricate a reasonable explanation as to why his lotar was out in the middle of the night then Nirrti would surely have them executed. If she found out about Janet, the doctor would be hunted down like an animal, tortured, and eventually put to death.

Before the Jaffa could walk away, Lantash brusquely turned on his heel and made for his temporary quarters planetside. Kiernen obediently followed two steps behind his master.

Once they were safely ensconced in private, Lantash dropped his stoic facade and collapsed into a nearby chair. "Where is Doctor Fraiser?" He asked in a shaky voice.

"We tried to hide from the patrols, but they were everywhere. I couldn't avoid capture, but managed to push her from view." The young man hung his head in shame. "Please forgive me, Lantash. I have failed you."

Facial features, lined with worry, softened at his plea for forgiveness. "You have done nothing of the sort, my friend."

Exhaling a sigh of relief, the young man visibly relaxed his stance, but remained painfully aware of his failure to keep the doctor safe.

"She was unharmed?" Lantash asked. Perhaps he could yet salvage the disastrous escape attempt.

With his eyes averted, Kiernen answered in a defeated tone. "Yes. I instructed her to remain out of sight until either you or I returned for her."

"You are positive the Jaffa did not see the doctor?"

"They did not." Kiernen quickly gave a brief version of what had happened after Lantash was called away.

Lantash sat back in the chair and digested each bit of information. If the doctor was discovered and he couldn't appease Nirrti, then she was as good as dead. "This is what we are going to do. First, if we are caught, I will take full responsibility."

"No," Kiernen said in a raised voice. "I will take the fall. You must complete our mission."

The Tok'ra shook his head in disagreement. "I cannot allow you to do this." He closed the distance between them.

"No," he repeated. "Like it or not, I will claim responsibility. You know it's the only way. Allow me to do this, Lantash. When you accepted my help last year, we both knew my role was dispensable." He implored his friend to see the truth of his words.

The men stared at each other as a silent war of wills stormed behind determined resolve. Both struggled for the other to concede, but neither backed down.

Lantash groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. "I do not..."

The door to his private quarters crashed open as two Jaffa barged into the room.

The Goa'uld's eyes flashed in anger at the blatant disregard for his status. "What is the meaning of this?" He boomed in his best condescending voice. He glared at the men willing them to back down, but he knew if they had the audacity to enter his quarters without asking for permission, then Nirrti was on to them and the Jaffa were only following her orders.

Before the Jaffa could speak, Kiernen set his plan in motion. "I will die before I tell you anything." He defiantly lifted his chin staring eye to eye with his longtime friend. He silently pleaded for Lantash to play along.

Drawing from deep within, Lantash backhanded his disobedient lotar across the face.

Goddamnit! Elliot seethed. How can you allow this to happen?

Lantash ignored his conscience and the angry voice in his head. "Bring him," he commanded as he stormed out the door.

Twin moons cast an eerie glow as shadows ghosted between swaying branches and the ground at their feet playing havoc with Sam's depth perception. To make matters worse, the narrow path, an animal trail no doubt, was marred by sharp roots and tangles of twisted vines that grabbed at their boots desperate to topple and capture the intruders arrogant enough to chance the alien terrain in the dark.

The major cursed as her right ankle cracked hard against a protruding root.

"Perhaps we should rest," Teal'c offered. He knew his companion would not suggest stopping even if both legs were broken. She had to have had suffered as many bumps and bruises as he had, probably more.

The blonde continued on without acknowledging him. She didn't want to waste time by resting. It had already taken them longer to traverse the distance than she had originally anticipated.

"We will be of no help to JanetFraiser if we are both injured."

That stopped the determined blonde dead in her tracks. It was a low blow, but one he was capable of delivering when necessary.

She rolled her neck to loosen the kinks and tipped her head back staring blankly at the stars. She felt like howling her frustration at the moons, but instead took in Teal'c's haggard appearance. He was covered in a thin sheen of sweat and breathing hard.

She could ignore her own pain and exhaustion, but if Teal'c was showing signs of tiring, then she better stop and rest before she dropped.

"Sorry, Teal'c," the blonde flashed a brief apologetic smile. "I'm being obsessive, huh?"

He matched her smile, but held his longer. "You are being...you. I would expect nothing less."

That garnered a throaty chuckle. "Yeah, I guess." She turned in the confining space to survey the area. "We could use a bit of rest." She wearily slumped to the ground hugging her thighs and rested her chin on her bony knees.

Sam turned to her friend after he carefully sat beside her. She winced when he rubbed his legs. Teal'c was so much more resilient than the average human, that it surprised her to see he hadn't weathered the demanding pace much better than she had.

They had set a steady pace from the start. She looked at her wrist and illuminated her watch. She was amazed to find that they had been traveling for more than six hours, no wonder her legs felt like rubber. Somehow, someway, she vowed to make it up to her dedicated friend.

Fishing in her vest, she pulled out two MRE's and tossed one to Teal'c. At least Cassandra had the forethought to include emergency rations.

She didn't bother glancing at the label. No matter what it read, it still tasted like chicken. She took a huge drink of water from her canteen and then nudged his arm and handed it over.

They ate in silence, each lost deep in thought.

Sam was eager to get started again. She found the closer she got to Janet's location, the harder it was to concentrate. She had no idea how she would react to seeing her lover again. She would probably fall into a blubbering heap of incoherence.

She harshly reprimanded herself. She could fall apart after they were home, and not before. She had to be strong. She was a Carter after all, her father had demanded no less. He had set the bar high and she had dedicated her life to meeting that mark and raised it even higher with her indomitable will compounded with a stubborn streak a mile wide.

The big man's thoughts drifted until he reached an abbreviated state of kelno'reem. Even though he no longer possessed a symbiote, he continued the habit of meditating every day.

A blonde head turned in his direction. She was envious of her friend's ability to seemingly shut down his emotions at will. In all fairness, the major conceded that Teal'c was just better equipped to handle the pressure. She could never slow her lightning quick thought process enough to even pretend to meditate.

Not that she hadn't tried. After the forced joining with Jolinar of Malkshur and subsequent death of the symbiote, she felt fractured and unsure of her identity. It had taken weeks for the blonde to separate the two and even then she still felt disconnected to her life, as if she were merely a casual observer in her normal day to day activities.

Janet had weathered the change in her lover admirably, but Sam knew the doctor could keep up the pretense for only so long. When the confusion had threatened to put a wedge between the lovers, Sam had sought out the help of her friend. In the end, she was unable to attain any level of meditation with Teal'c, but instead found an inner peace by finally accepting Jolinar's intrusion and not fighting so hard to deny the memories. Over time, and with Janet by her side every step of the way, Sam had shifted back to normal. Or as close to normal as possible considering the major jumped through an artificial wormhole for a living.

A muffled noise to her right startled Sam. Before her legs were squarely planted on the ground her zat was out and pointed in the direction of the disturbance. Alerted by the noise and Sam's sudden movements, Teal'c quietly stood by her side ready for action.

They waited in silence, straining for any indication that they had been compromised. Just as Sam thought it was nothing to worry about, the underbrush moved again. A small brown animal that resembled a rabbit darted into the open. It stopped in its tracks at Sam's boots, momentarily startled by the interlopers and then pushed off long hind legs and hopped out of sight.

Cursing under her breath, the major fastened the zat to her right thigh. She had been a flinch away from frying the fur ball. She was wound tighter than a drum, and if they didn't find the encampment soon, she was afraid she would burst.

She filled her lungs with a deep breath and held it for five seconds, then exhaled slowly trying to expel her tension. "Are you ready to head out again?" The blonde asked her friend.

Teal'c inclined his head in the affirmative and retrieved her bag from the ground. She accepted it without comment and slung the pack over her shoulders. Pulling the map from her vest pocket, she took one last glance at the route that would lead her to her lost love.

"Hopefully we can get there before daylight." She absently glanced upward through the tree tops. "We could use the darkness to our advantage once we get Janet out of there and then start back to the ship." She hoped it would be as easy as that, but doubted it would be that simple.

Wordlessly, they carefully picked their way through the treacherous path at a steady jog.

The air sizzled with tension as Kiernen and Lantash marched across the courtyard accompanied by the two burly men. Lantash quickened his step and preceded them through the wide doors of the main building. Nirrti was standing behind the main console and Orlin was already encased in the swirling helix bubble. He cradled his broken arm to his chest, but otherwise appeared unharmed.

Lantash assumed his usual position behind and slightly to the side of Nirrti's left shoulder. He decided to wait and see how involved she would become in the questioning of his lotar, hoping she would be much more interested in the little man standing on the raised platform.

If she delegated the interrogation to him, then he would publicly punish the young man and then secret him away at the first opportunity. Kiernen would no longer be safe under the close scrutiny of Nirrti and her Jaffa and the young man deserved better. He could continue to serve the Tok'ra, just not at his side.

As the shifting hues of blue and red crawled across his skin like a million sharp needles, Orlin fought to maintain control over his mounting fear. The prickling sensation intensified until it morphed into an electric current which coursed throughout his trembling body. He wondered if the woman was going to say anything or just kill him outright.

The Goa'uld's face stretched into a thin snake-like smile causing Orlin to shudder. Could this woman, this Goddess, read his thoughts while he was trapped in her web? If so, his knowledge as an Ascended would be her's for the taking.

Nirrti continued to play with her captive, relishing in tormenting him with silence, allowing his imagination to run wild. She was quite adept at manipulating her victims, setting the stage to strike at the most opportune moment. He wasn't ready to break, but soon, very soon the little man would beg for his pathetic life.

Being acquainted with the Goa'uld's tactics, Lantash waited for her to turn her attention elsewhere. Nirrti casually glanced over her left shoulder and he dipped his head in subservience. He hated fawning before her, pretending to follow her without question. Elliot despised her and it was becoming more and more difficult to control his young host's repugnant animosity.

Her obsidian stare moved to regard the young lotar flanked by two Jaffa warriors. He was rather thin with disheveled brown hair that hung just above his green eyes. He was nothing, if not ordinary. She wouldn't have given him a second glance, but for the fact he was now standing before her, waiting to be judged.

"Did you think We would not know of your treachery?" She moved from behind the console to stand in Kiernen's personal space. "You cannot hide from your God."

Chin held high, he boldly refused to avert his gaze.

She was going to enjoy breaking him. Without warning, she slapped him hard across his left cheek, leaving a perfect hand print in its wake.

She grabbed his chin and held it firmly in her grasp, smiling when he flinched at the contact. "What were you doing away from your post? Surely you do not expect Us to believe you were out there helping in the search."

Nirrti withdrew her perfectly manicured hand and turned her back to the young man, briefly capturing Lantash's eye. "Perhaps you were not alone." It wasn't a question.

Fear gripped all three men, Elliot nearly frantic at the implications.

She regarded his silence as an admission of guilt. With a cursory dip of her head, her First Prime appeared seemingly out of thin air. Ensconced firmly in his grasp, Janet Fraiser struggled against him.

Elliot would have fainted had he been in control of his body. Lantash, however, well practiced at hiding his emotions, remained transfixed as if his feet were nailed to the floor.

Brown eyes darted around the room as Janet surveyed her surroundings. Kiernen was more or less untouched, minus the red glow of his cheek, a tale tell sign that Nirrti had already been physical with him. He had bravely, if not foolishly, stood his ground against her. Lantash, as usual, was inscrutable.

Then her gaze shifted to the man stooped in the bubble. He was sweating profusely and his arm hung at an odd angle. She didn't need to be a physician to diagnose the obviously broken limb. His face stirred some sort of familiarity at the back of her mind. She recognized this man, yet instinctively knew she had never met him before now.

"Doctor," Nirrti's voice dripped with disdain. "So good of you to grace Us with your presence once again."

Lantash inwardly groaned at her recognition of the doctor.

"Faunus, release him and place your servant within the circle." Nirrti commanded.

Kiernen shrugged off his attempt to grab him by the arm and walked under his own power towards his doom, silently pleading for Lantash and Janet to play along with him. The next few moments would seal all of their fates. He cared little about his own, not that he had a death wish, but if he could save his friend and the doctor then everything he had done in the name of the Tok'ra would give meaning to his every sacrifice.

The swirling helix disengaged and Orlin crumpled to the floor. His gaze remained transfixed on the small brunette as he met her questioning glance. He thought there was no way she could possibly recognize him, but she continued to stare as if searching for an elusive memory.

Willing his weak legs to stand, Orlin managed to get his feet moving to avoid the Jaffa's firm grasp and descended the few steps away from the raised platform. He remained off to the side away from harm for the moment and watched as another man took his place within the circle.

Kiernen's skin crawled as the machine activated, sending invisible impulses throughout his body. He had never seen the gene manipulator in person, had only heard about the horror stories second-hand when Lantash felt like sharing. Which wasn't very often, but one story was enough to send his night terrors to the deepest, darkest recesses of his unconscious imagination. One nightmare was enough to know he never wanted to be in the position he was in now.

Long seconds segued into a timeless fear of knowing that no matter what transpired next, he would never be the same. Whether the Goa'uld questioned him, manipulated his DNA, or killed him, he would never be the same man he was before he stepped within the bubble. And he was content in the knowledge that no matter what she did to him, however she changed his appearance or scrambled his genes, she could never change his belief that he had always followed his heart and had remained true to his values.

This metamorphosis could never alter the man he had become, and he found solace in his conviction.

Kiernen squirmed as the first sign of physical discomfort materialized in an almost imperceptible change in temperature. Insidious in nature, he was unable to pinpoint exactly where the heat emanated. Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead, brown bangs soaked up the added moisture and stuck to heated skin.

So, she was going to make him sweat. He laughed inwardly at the inane method of torture. She was going to have to do better if she expected him to divulge all his secrets so soon into the interrogation, but he would tell her all she needed to know about his involvement with the Tau'ri healer, exonerating Lantash in the process.

The ploy gave him time to study the others in the room. Lantash's facial features were pinched into narrow lines of worry and fear. Kiernen tried to mentally convey his understanding of his friend's inability to control the situation and give him strength to endure what was yet to come.

They had often spoke of this very circumstance, but the lack of realism and a healthy dose of testosterone had added a sense of false bravado. Now that the worst case scenario was unfolding, the young man hoped he could face his impending torture and, in all likelihood, death with honor and integrity.

Shifting his emerald gaze to the brunette, he was struck by her resolute posture, even though the diminutive woman was dwarfed in comparison by the larger First Prime. Kiernen would have liked to have had the opportunity to know her better and to meet the woman who held such sway over her heart. She must be formidable indeed to counterbalance the tenacious will of the young doctor.

Reluctantly, he looked away from her to finally set eyes on the newcomer. He wondered what this nondescript man was really doing here, how his piece fit into the puzzle. Somehow he didn't believe it was an accidental meeting. He hoped he lived long enough to find the answer to the mystery man.

A change in temperature broke his reverie and he diverted his attention once again to the Goa'uld. Nirrti moved with cat-like grace until she stood at the foot of the raised platform. Once the helix was deactivated, she ascended the steps with ease, her outstretched left arm aimed at the young lotar's head. In a flash the gold device activated producing a narrow orange beam directed between wide green eyes.

Kiernen had witnessed the devastation the handheld device could produce, but he had never had the misfortune of being held under the intense beam. Surprisingly, he only felt a phantom tingling sensation at the base of his skull, but suspected Nirrti would get down to business soon.

Janet flinched when the orange ray shot forth and squirmed trying to free herself from the behemoth's grasp. "STOP!" She screamed. "I'll tell you everything, just leave him alone. He isn't responsible."

Lantash quickly moved from his position behind the console, and before Janet could register his presence, he slapped her across the face. The ferocity of the blow stunned the brunette more than the act itself, but the meaning behind the violent outburst was received loud and clear. Don't interfere.

The brutal treatment of the healer amused Nirrti, but she still remained suspicious of Faunus, suspecting him of being implicit in the Tau'ri's escape. With her attention fully focused on the young man once again, she intensified the beam and watched with delight as the emerald orbs fluttered and crossed as a blinding sharp pain stabbed through the middle of his forehead and then cascaded around his skull, squeezing like a tight band of steel until Kiernen thought his head would pop.

Despite his desire to remain still and not give the Goa'uld the pleasure of watching him break, Kiernen couldn't suppress a whimper as it escaped from his mouth.

"Why did you help the Tau'ri healer?" The Goa'uld demanded.

Refusing to answer right away, he bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, groaning as the pain slowly intensified. He didn't want to appear overly eager for fear that she would suspect that he was telling a well-rehearsed lie to clear Faunus from any wrong-doing. He still wasn't sure if any amount of lying would help the doctor.

Nirrti reveled in his misery, enjoying each new gasp and groan wrenched from the young man.

Janet was beside herself, seething with fury at Lantash as he stood by and allowed his longtime friend to be tortured. She knew she shouldn't, but when had that stopped her in the past? "Goddamn you!" She cursed through clenched teeth.

The outburst earned her another crack across the face, this one harder than the first. If Lomar hadn't held her in a death grip, she would have been knocked to the floor. As it was, the brunette staggered and clumsily leaned against the First Prime. The large Jaffa warrior laughed as she shuddered at the unwanted contact, pushing away from his body as if stung.

Blue eyes flashed as he raised his right arm again, only Elliot's cries stayed his hand at the last second.

Visibly shaken, Lantash backed away from the smaller woman as his host continued to curse his existence.

Both host and symbiote willed the recalcitrant doctor to stand down. "Be silent," he commanded. Neither man knew who had actually spoken the words out loud.

With one last glance at the brunette's swollen face, his vision fixated on the trickle of blood dripping from her lacerated lip. She was bruised and bloodied by his own hand, and he had struck her without forethought.

How could you? Elliot screamed in his head. I hate you. I hate what I've become.

The Tok'ra closed his mind to the host, effectively silencing the young man, destroying the trust and camaraderie the two had forged over their forced symbiosis. Lantash would deal with the repercussions later. He caught Janet's eye and tried to convey his disdain for his own actions, but on the other hand, he needed her to understand his position. Lantash was relieved when she remained silent and didn't contest him further.

Janet momentarily held his azure gaze and then turned away in disgust, focusing her attention once again on Kiernen and Nirrti.

The Goa'uld had disengaged the golden torture device while she had watched Faunus punish the doctor. No longer held within her grasp, Kiernen had slumped to his knees, shaking and gasping through clenched teeth. He hadn't witnessed the attack, but once the lotar's vision cleared, he followed Nirrti's line of sight and was shocked to see her bruised and bloodied face. He was upset with his friend for striking her, but also relieved that he was going along with their original plan.

Nirrti smirked as Janet wiped the blood from her chin, nodding in approval at Faunus's actions. Perhaps he would prove to be trustworthy after all.

Now that the mini-diversion was over, Nirrti turned on the man kneeling at her feet. How appropriate, the god thought. "Look at Us," she commanded.

With more effort than he showed, he slowly lifted his chin until he locked eyes with the Goa'uld. He tried to speak, but uttered an unintelligible groan as the movement caused a sharp, stabbing pain behind his eyes.

The Goa'uld's eyes flashed in anger. "Why did you help the Tau'ri healer escape?"

He swallowed the bile rising in his throat and closed his eyes in an attempt to ease the pain in his head. He knew Nirrti was not a patient woman.

"She was very convincing," he began. "She offered to take me with her through the chaapa'ai."

"Why would you defy your God?"

"Faunus is not my god." He looked across the room to where his friend stood, silent and unyielding. "And you," he defiantly met the black eyes of the irate Goa'uld, "are not a god."

The blow was so swift, and before Kiernen could brace himself, he was knocked to the floor. The physical contact had surprised him, he had thought she would finish him with the hand device.

The force of the single blow, aided by the enhanced strength of the symbiote, shattered his jaw on impact. Flat on his back, Kiernen helplessly watched as she towered over his body. The thick heel of her boot repeatedly crashed down onto his chest. Once, twice, a third time, until his ribs cracked under the pressure. His body instinctively curled into a fetal position.

The doctor could no longer be silent, no matter the consequences. "STOP!!!" She shouted. "Please stop." Janet pleaded. "You're killing him."

Before Faunus could react, Nirrti twisted around so she could address the brunette. Her cobra smile, accentuated by her hideous make-up, snaked from ear to ear. "That IS my intention, Doctor," she hissed.

The look of pure evil silenced the brunette.

Unable to take a deep breath, Kiernen's body heaved as he struggled to replenish his oxygen supply, managing only a few shallow gasps. The room began to spin and he fought to remain conscious. His vision blurred until a dark curtain obscured all sight and sound.

Content in the knowledge that he would be incapacitated from the intense pain, Nirrti directed her glare to the brunette once again. "Perhaps, Doctor, you could enlighten Us."

"I'm not telling you a damned thing until you let me help him." Janet indicated to the unconscious form laying on the floor. The doctor didn't wait for permission, she quickly ran up the stairs and began to assess her friend's condition. What was Nirrti going to do to her, torture her, kill her? Like anything Janet did or said could sway the Goa'uld into doing anything but what she intended in the first place.

Nirrti regarded the flippant woman with interest. This one had attitude, but her mouth was going to be her undoing. She had demonstrated a blatant disregard for authority the last time they had met. The brunette had yet to pay for that transgression.

Gently cradling his head in her capable hands, she pressed her fingers to his neck, his carotid pulse slow, but steady. His pupils were equal, but sluggish to respond to light. She then methodically assessed his skull and facial bones before proceeding to his cervical spine and shoulders. The doctor sighed in relief when her palpating hands found no obvious fractures other than a broken jaw, however, judging from the blood oozing from his ears and nose, some internal damage had been inflicted by the powerful energy beam.

Biting down on her lower lip, Janet gently unbuttoned his shirt and blinked back tears as perfect heel marks marred his chest. Bloodied and bruised, his chest moved paradoxically with each shallow breath, the unnatural movement signaling that he had several fractured ribs on the left side of his chest and quite possibly pulmonary and or cardiac contusions judging by the proximity of the bruises.

She carefully pressed down on his chest, the broken bones shifted under her fingers, eliciting a moan from the injured man. His ragged breathing could be attributed to the broken ribs and nothing more serious, such as a punctured lung, but she couldn't be certain without x-rays. He exhibited no signs of a pneumothorax, his trachea thankfully midline. The broken ribs hadn't lacerated his lungs, but with movement, the displaced bones could easily shift and injure the soft tissue protecting his lungs or other vital organs.

Janet shot an accusatory glare at Nirrti, but held her tongue. Before Nirrti tired of her playing doctor, Janet quickly finished her assessment. Unknown brain trauma, a flail chest, possible cardiac and pulmonary contusions, possible internal bleeding, and a very obviously fractured mandible. Most of the injuries could prove fatal if not treated immediately. Brown eyes implored the lithe woman standing before her.

Amused at the smaller woman's helplessness, Nirrti laughed. "We believe, Doctor, that We have been here before," her black eyes sparkled with gratified pleasure.

The emphasis on her title was an intended barb against her failure to cure her gravely ill daughter, only Nirrti's intervention had saved Cassandra that day. This diminutive woman may be a healer among her people, but she was nothing compared to a God.

The Tau'ri healer and Nirrti had history. Oh yeah, did they have history.

Several years ago, the Goa'uld had covertly followed SG-1 through the Stargate after they had discovered her hidden genetics lab deep below the surface of Hanka. Cassie had been seriously ill and Janet could do nothing to help her. Nirrti, on the other hand, after staring down the barrel of Janet's hand gun, had reluctantly agreed to help the teen in exchange for safe passage through the wormhole. The poser had also wanted a sample of the teenager's blood to further her genetic experiment, but after being flatly denied, O'Neill had irreverently kissed her on the forehead and sent her on her unhappy way.

Nirrti would certainly want to punish the Tau'ri, and more specifically the brunette, for her audacity.

Janet realized that the Goa'uld had not allowed her to exam Kiernen out of the goodness of her heart, but only because she wanted to remind the doctor of her limitations, that she was utterly helpless to save him.

It wasn't beneath the healer to beg for his life. "Please, you can heal him." Janet stood within a foot of the taller woman. "I will do whatever you want, just help him. It was all my fault, I tricked him into helping me." She implored the Goa'uld to believe her.

Janet didn't want anyone else to suffer because of her. She should be dead, none of this would have happened if she hadn't danced with the devil and won. Some things were meant to be, no matter how difficult the outcome.

"You will do what We want whether he lives or dies." Nirrti turned her back to the smaller woman. "Lomar, remove the shol'va and place him in the hole." She turned her attention to Janet. "Step within the circle. It won't hurt. Much." A grotesque laugh erupted from her throat.

Once the Goa'uld was behind the console she again addressed her First Prime. "Alert Us if he dies." The snake-like smile slithered from ear to ear. "We still have plans for him." She watched as two of her Jaffa warriors carried the unconscious man out the door.

The machined hummed and Janet found herself engulfed in a rotating blue and red helix bubble. When she was a little girl, an impromptu rain storm had caught her unawares in the cow pasture of her parent's farm. Blind luck had saved her from a lighting strike not more than a few feet away from where she had stood. The residual electrical charge had set her hair on end and her skin had tingled for hours after the fact. The machine was producing the same effect, but she doubted she would be as lucky today.

The scientist in Janet curiously cataloged each minute change, wondering what the residual effect would eventually do to her delicate physiology. She chuckled to herself despite the dire circumstances. She had chided Sam countless times for losing herself in the moment, without regard to her safety. Given the chance, she would have to apologize to her lover, curiosity was not something easily suppressed, even when faced with death.

The thought of her lover brought her reminiscence back to the here and now. The heat in the room had definitely turned up a notch. An image of Alabran popped unwanted into her mind as he writhed and screamed on her stretcher right before he exploded into a wave of liquid, splashing his essence all over her and the people hovered around him. Nirrti had been responsible for his death and the death of Lieutenant Colonel Ivanov in the same graphic manner.

Despite the hot rivulets of sweat sliding down her skin, Janet violently shivered as she remembered the one other member of the P3X-367 mission that had almost succumbed to the same fate. Sam's guardian angel had certainly been watching over her that day, as she had on many other occasions. Janet hoped the invisible benefactor would continue to do so since she would no longer be there for her.

She wondered if she would be able to tell when her DNA was altered or if it would insidiously change over time. Perhaps Nirrti wasn't interested in manipulating her gene bank at all. The speculations were enough to unnerve the brunette, the wait just pissed her off.

"Let's just get this over with, shall we." Janet huffed, intending to sound indignant, but her voice wasn't cooperating. The statement, meant to anger the Goa'uld, instead inspired Nirrti's patent smirk. How Janet wanted to slap that smile off her face.

"Patience, patience," she chastised. "First, you will tell Us why you are here." She was taking entirely too much satisfaction from provoking the healer.

Brown eyes rolled toward the ceiling. "You know damn well why I'm here." When Nirrti didn't comment, the young brunette continued. "Your," she jabbed an accusatory thumb in the general direction of the Jaffa stationed around the room and then settled on Faunus, "your Jaffa stood by and watched as Anubis and the SGC forces decimated each other on that godforsaken planet."

She fleetingly closed her eyes to the memory of the gore, the repugnant smell of burned flesh and dead blood not as easy to blink away. When she opened her eyes once again, Nirrti was inquisitively watching her.

"We are curious as to why you specifically were there. We know of the Tau'ri's aversion of placing certain key figures in danger. We are given to understand that you are highly regarded among the Tau'ri. So, We will ask once again, what were you doing amongst the battle?"

"Everyone is expendable. We were taking heavy casualties, and the field medics had their hands full. I jumped with an extra medical team to help triage and treat the most seriously wounded."

The seasoned trauma doctor didn't share that she had been scared spitless that she would find parts of Sam scattered across the ground. As soon as she had cleared the gate she instinctively sought out the familiar shape of her lover and the piercing blue of her eyes assuaged the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach until she transformed into the CMO, and every thing personal took a back seat to the job at hand.

"I made my way over to a fallen soldier. He was bleeding profusely and in shock. I remember holding pressure over his wound and then was knocked to the ground." She unconsciously ran her right hand over her chest, the wound should have been fatal. Had been fatal, she reminded herself. "Then I woke up in that goddamned coffin and spent the rest of my time on my back in that pig's bed."

The daggers she shot toward Faunus left no room for misunderstanding, his lascivious leer was icing on the cake.

Nirrti had already been apprised of the series of events leading up to the Tau'ri's death and imprisonment. Satisfied that the healer was at the wrong place at the wrong time, she decided to finish the interrogation so she could move onto more pleasurable torments. She expected the beautiful brunette would add a certain panache to the dull test subjects that her Jaffa had been acquiring of late.

"And the lotar, how did he fit into your plans?" This was where the Jaffa's account had ended. Supposition inferred sexual favors were offered in turn for the chance of freedom. Nirrti wondered if the healer would be so forthcoming with the truth.

"I did what I had to to get away. I saw Kiernen watch us and knew it would be easy to get him to help me."

Janet had been mad as hell at Lantash's consort cover story, but it had come in handy at the most opportune moment. Janet held her breath, she was a terrible liar, but well practiced in the art of misconstruing the truth to offer hope to patients and families when hope was all that was left after her medical knowledge had been exhausted.

"Your candor surprises Us. It must be difficult for you to admit to whoring yourself to achieve your goals."

She waited for the insult to sink in, laughing once again at the indignance washing over the Tau'ri's features.

"We are not so different. The Goa'uld feed off of ignorance and supplication. You do the same, but rationalize your debauchery to ease a guilty conscience. The difference between our species is we have no guilt and willingly take what we want."

Janet knew the woman was trying to goad her, and she was doing a damn fine job. Her experience with arrogant superior officers, the downside of a career choice rife with a chain of command, kept her most insulting retort unspoken.

Instead she fired a taunt back at the overbearing woman. "That difference makes us better than the Goa'uld. You intimidate people into worshiping you, not because they adore you, but because they fear you."

Nirrti's eyes flashed in anger, her delicate wrist manipulated the machine before her.

Damn, Janet thought. Yep, she had pushed the wrong button, it was inevitable after all.

"We will show you fear," the Goddess promised.

The diminutive woman may be as stubborn as a mule, but her momma didn't raise no fool. If Janet couldn't gain some semblance of control soon, she would undoubtedly be a puddle dripping down the steps to pool under the Goa'uld's shiny golden boots. Nor did she want to become an altered version of her former self.

Death had to be preferable over mutation any day.

"Look, Nirrti, we both know you have the upper hand here, why don't you stop stalling for the fear factor and kill me." The strength of her voice surprised her, the doctor didn't think she could remain so brazen when faced with her mortality once again.

"We have no intention of killing you, you're too valuable of a specimen." The Goa'uld had learned much in a short time while she had Major Carter in her gene manipulating machine. "In fact, Major Carter was an epiphany of sorts. The unique physiology of her previous blending set Our experimentation on an all together different tangent. The results were most enlightening."

Janet's imagination soared into hyperdrive. What had she done to Sam? The doctor was positive there were no lasting effects of Sam's time in the helix bubble. She had ordered test after test, and when they had all come back negative, she had ordered them again to be sure. What had she missed, or was Nirrti playing with her head?

The exotic brunette tilted her head slightly, deep in thought. "You are undoubtedly wondering if We have done something to the beatifically gifted major. Something, perhaps your antiquated tests may have missed." Or was there something more? When the doctor had held the weapon on her, she had seemed to respond to the blonde more so than to her superior officers. A very interesting turn of events.

Trying without success to hide her feelings, Janet winced as Nirrti smirked once again. "Tell Us, are you more upset because Major Carter may be carrying a retrovirus akin to the Hanka girl, or are you angered because it is Major Carter that I speak of?"

Stamping down on all of her emotions, Janet fought to stay in control. "Major Carter is vital to the SGC." When Nirrti merely stared at her without answering, the doctor continued to try and convince the woman that Sam was just another officer. "I was just as concerned about Jonas Quinn. You had him in that machine longer than Major Carter."

Nirrti intently studied the bio readouts on the console. "Your heart rate, blood pressure, and respirations are all elevated," she stated. Nirrti had definitely hit a nerve with the good doctor.

"Because I'm being held against my will and you are re-writing my DNA for your amusement," she hissed, attempting to anger the Goa'uld and steer her away from any other thoughts that she and Sam may be more than friends. Not that it really mattered. Sam had no idea that she was still alive and Nirrti would not have the opportunity to use the information against them.

"Odd that you responded more intensely to the mention of Major Carter than to the prospect of dying."

Interesting indeed, even more interesting was the strange little man's reaction to their conversation.

The Goa'uld regarded him for a few silent moments. His appearance there was not happen stance. He had an agenda that was yet to be discovered. She could almost accept the Tau'ri's presence as bad luck, Anubis had been in a ferocious battle with them, but add the stranger into the mix and coincidence was definitely not the outcome.

The swirling blue and red helix suddenly disengaged, the atmospheric change startled the young woman who had been held captive in the bubble for over an hour. The momentary sensation of weightlessness passed as quickly as it was registered. Wide brown eyes waited for the next phase to begin.

"Don't worry, Doctor. As We have stated, you are too valuable to kill. We have much to learn from you." The Goddess nodded to her First Prime and he helped her down from the platform.

"You," she indicated to Orlin, gesturing to the platform. The Goa'uld contemplated sending the healer away so she was not privy to the man's interrogation, but an instinct, one her host had learned to listen to, swayed her hasty decision.

Two beefy Jaffa manhandled him until he was securely standing dead center within the circle. Wasting no time, the helix came to life and he was once again at her mercy. Nirrti was extremely curious about this strange man, a man who seemed unphased by his unfortunate state of affairs.

She wasn't the only one interested in his story. Janet had finally recognized the man as Orlin, an Ascended Being who had attached himself to Sam and had willingly given up his Ascended status because he had fallen in love with her. Janet had never met him in person, but had learned to despise him nonetheless for placing her lover in danger.

Something was terribly amiss, and she intended to find out why of all places in the universe, this nondescript man stood before one of the more powerful System Lords. Surely he had been aware of who and what she was doing sequestered away on this barren planet.

The last time Sam had seen him, he had been Ascended once again. The obviously bruised and broken man was no longer non-corporeal. What indiscretion had he committed this time, the brunette wondered.

The first time Nirrti had held him in the helix she had only tried to frighten him, now she would find out what made this man different, what set him apart from all the rest. He had piqued her interest in a manner she had never encountered before. It was as if he radiated a certain aura about him, a sense of control and regal bearing camouflaged among a series of emotions he wasn't accustomed to feeling.

As the machine scanned and processed his DNA, she found herself mildly excited by the fact that she may have stumbled upon yet another missing link, like the accidental revelation learned about Major Carter, that would bring her that much closer to creating the hok'tar.

So far, the results of her experiments enhanced with her new found knowledge had yet to prove fruitful, but Nirrti was closer now than she had ever been, even the Hankan experiments couldn't compare.

With the initial scan completed, the Goddess barely managed to contain her disappointment. He was no different than the rest, a male with the same DNA of the Tau'ri from Earth. Now to see how he responded to the addition of extra chromosomes. Like the others before him, he squirmed under the increased body temperature as the re-writing sequence began to alter his genes. Seconds into the procedure, his body temperature returned to normal. Twin brows furrowed in consternation. Interesting. That had never happened before, reaffirming her belief that this man was different, but yet to find out exactly how and why.

Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, Nirrti's hands gracefully flew over the controls, each move to change his structure deftly countered as his DNA returned to normal. She was accustomed to failure, but not at the inability to manipulate any species' gene bank at will.

The Goa'uld redoubled her efforts and then improvised until piercing screams filled the room. Orlin was shaking and red in the face from the alternating sensations of heat and cold that battled within the bubble.

"Please, stop!" He rasped in a voice hoarse from screaming. It was the most emotion he had shown, short of passing out after the Jaffa had twisted and broken his arm.

It was quite apparent to the doctor, that Nirrti had not received the expected results of her manipulations.

Unceremoniously, the Goa'uld stilled her hands and Orlin breathed a sigh of relief at the respite, no matter how brief it should prove to be.

A single, slender finger tapped against her lips as she decided what to do about this conundrum. "It appears We cannot alter your DNA code, yet you bleed and beg for mercy like the rest of the Tau'ri." She directed her gaze around the room, taking the time to think of her next move. Once she settled her dark orbs on the strange man, she sported an evil grin.

She spoke over her left shoulder. "Faunus, heal the Tau'ri's injuries," Nirrti commanded as she dropped the helix bubble.

He quickly removed a healing device laying on a lab table behind him and in several long strides he stood before Orlin. He slowly moved the handheld device over his broken arm and within seconds the fractured bones responded to the healing touch. Faunus then motioned the device over his other injuries, and they in turn, were good as new.

Orlin smiled his thanks as he maneuvered his arm back and forth, grateful to be pain-free again. Faunus, stone-faced, descended the steps and headed in Janet's direction, purposefully avoiding looking at Nirrti. Elliot's pleas to heal Janet reverberated in his head until he could barely think clearly.

The Goa'uld waited until Faunus had reached an outstretched arm toward the young brunette and then commanded in a loud voice, "Stop. Not the healer."

The piercing azure gaze of the young man Janet had know as Elliot pleaded for her to forgive him. Faunus quickly took over and without hesitation stepped away from the small woman. His obsequious manner irritated Elliot to no end.

"Stand before Us," she addressed Orlin.

He moved slowly, as if he didn't believe his legs would hold his weight. Four steps and four paces later, he stood a foot away from damnation.

"What are you?" She asked.

"I am Orlin."

"Yes, We have already established your name, little man." She roughly grabbed his chin and jerked his head up to look in her deep, brown eyes. "What manner of creature are you? We have lived for centuries and have never encountered a species such as yours."

"I am human, just like Doctor Fraiser."

Oh, shit! Thought Elliot. How in the hell does he know her? He is going to get her killed!

Lantash couldn't have agreed more. Her name was never uttered in his presence, yet he somehow knew Janet Fraiser. Why hadn't she said something?

Before or after you bashed her? His host mocked.

Point taken.

The last pieces of the puzzle were slowly locking into place. Orlin's slip of the tongue had surprised Nirrti, but she should have expected a connection to the two seemingly unrelated events. Taken separately, each could have been explained away by mere coincidence, but together, they meshed and intertwined to form a perfectly fitted jigsaw.

Convinced a bond existed between the two Tau'ri, the new information enraged the Goa'uld that her secret base had been so easily infiltrated. The task at hand remained, who was this Orlin and why was he so compelled to follow the healer here at such personal injury?

The tall woman casually walked around Orlin, his bland outward appearance hiding the riddle buried deep beneath the surface. Her usual scientific methods had failed her this time, but she could always fall back on her old reliable tactics of torture. They were much more preferable, and she admitted, more enjoyable.

After silently studying the thin man, the Goa'uld shifted her dark gaze to the only other woman in the room. "There are many questions that need answers. It may take time," she tilted her head towards the Jaffa guarding the door and uttered a command in the guttural speech of the Goa'uld.

They moved in unison and within a matter of minutes a hidden wall was pushed forward, revealing a large extravagantly furnished room, complete with a stereotypical throne. Nirrti wasted no time in claiming the chair as her own. Back ramrod straight, the Goddess reclined with her arms draped over the opulent armrests and crossed her slender legs at her knees.

She studied Orlin with intense dark eyes. "You are human, yet clearly you are not what you appear." Nirrti stopped speaking, yet she frantically accessed her vast genetic memory for anything remotely resembling the strange man. Convinced that the answer lay within her grasp, she just needed a bit more information to jog her memory.

Nirrti gestured for Orlin to come closer until he stood within five feet of the Goa'uld. "Kneel before your God," she commanded.

He impassively remained unmoving.

A silent command knocked the small man to his hands and knees.

"You will show Us respect, or suffer the consequences," she threatened.

"I am not afraid," Orlin countered, straightening his back until only his knees remained in contact with the cold stone floor. "I will tell you nothing."

"Bring the healer before Us." Swinging her leg impatiently, Nirrti waited until the smaller brunette was within an arm's length away.

Janet refused to look at Orlin kneeling to her left, instead the Goa'uld held her undivided attention. Something big was about to happen, Janet could feel the air vibrate like a live wire.

Nirrti regarded the doctor with a mutual respect, the woman would make an admirable host if she hadn't already had her sights set on another. The hok'tar was, in all practicality, years in the making, and her current host had not benefited from the life prolonging powers of the sarcophagus as she once had. Soon she would be compelled to take another host until the perfect body became available. Even now she felt fatigued, but forced herself to endure the exhaustion for a little while longer.

"How do you know the healer, little man?" The Goddess demanded.

He refused to answer.

Dark eyes flashed in anger. "How did you know where to find her? She was taken from another planet and you could not have traced her by way of the chaapa'ai."

Orlin remained expressionless, totally apathetic to his surroundings.

Lomar closed the distance and loomed menacingly over the kneeling figure, ready to do his Goddess's bidding.

"If he doesn't answer, break the healer's arm." Her voice diffident and uncaring. "How do you know her?"

Elliot willed the man to tell her everything she wanted to know.

Grey eyes, wide with terror, twitched as Orlin cast an unbelievable expression towards the woman sitting in the throne. He used every bit of will power to avoid looking at the doctor. He refused to believe Nirrti would hurt Doctor Fraiser, she had said so herself. The woman was too valuable to kill.

Beads of perspiration formed on his forehead and trickled down the back of his neck. Calling her bluff, he steeled himself for the next move and remained silent.

Grabbing the small woman by her right arm, Lomar jerked her off her feet and in one fluid motion the large man twisted her forearm like wringing out a wet cloth.

A muffled groan immediately preceded the loud crack that filled the room followed by a much more vocal scream. The attack was so swift that Janet hardly had time to register the pain before she was unceremoniously dumped back to the floor. Inhaling deeply through her nose, she stood on wobbly legs, but stood nonetheless. It would take more than a broken arm to keep her down.

So much for bluffing.

"How do you know the doctor?" She demanded again.

"I don't know her," he answered, hoping to appease the Goa'uld. It was the truth after all.

"Wrong answer," she stated, her head cocked to the side.

"Please, don't..." His plea was interrupted by the big man's sudden movement. He was deceptively fast despite his massive bulk.

The First Prime struck the brunette just below her breastbone, hard enough to forcefully expel the air from her lungs, but not enough to do any permanent damage. The result, however, was the same. The small woman fell to the floor and curled into a tight ball, gasping for breath.

Strangely, Nirrti eyed Faunus for his reaction, still not convinced he hadn't played some role in the little drama unfolding.

A litany of curses and ultimatums vied for dominance as host and symbiote fought an unspoken battle. Lantash won in the end, as usual, as he was the more powerful of the two. He had sensed Nirrti's silent perusal and was determined to remain impassive. Once Elliot realized his impotence, he withdrew with one last curse, and helplessly watched as Lomar assaulted the doctor.

With lungs expanded to full capacity, Janet's breathing eased and she slowly moved into a sitting position. Without preamble, she cradled her broken right arm to her burning chest and pushed off her uninjured left arm until she once again stood before the Goddess.

Nirrti chuckled. Maybe she should rethink taking Major Carter as a host, the more time she spent in the doctor's company the more she couldn't help but admire her strength of character. The symbiote had always preferred taller women, and hadn't been blonde in several hundred years. Fraiser's good fortune, Carter's bad luck. The choice was a win-win situation whichever way she looked at it.

Orlin stared at the injured woman with a renewed appreciation. If he hadn't witnessed Samantha's thoughts first hand and hadn't known exactly why she loved this woman, he would have found himself unwillingly drawn to her strength and determination.

Many adjectives could describe the obstinate young woman, and he was willing to bet any one of them was going to contribute to her death. He turned a blind eye and deaf ear to his own contribution to the doctor's state of duress, quite content to place the blame on the Goa'uld and away from his inability to perform his duty.

The stubborn brunette swayed as weakened muscles threatened to collapse beneath her. It hurt like hell to take a deep breath and her broken arm throbbed in syncopation with her rapid heart beat, not to mention the pounding headache thanks to Lantash's strong backhand. She doubted she would be able to withstand another attack, but would try her damnedest to do so.

"Do you believe the healer can take much more? Are you willing to take that chance?" Nirrti found his weakness distasteful, he didn't deserve to be spared the torture endured by the doctor; however, once he had answered all the questions to her satisfaction, he would beg for mercy...and then some.

The Goddess posed the same question again, but her obsidian gaze held the smaller woman's and not the pathetic loser hovering at her feet.

Before the Jaffa could reach for her again, in a rushed voice Orlin said, "Yes, I know her." He looked between the Jaffa and the Goa'uld. "Rather, I know of her. We have never met in person before today, but I have been following her for some time. You must believe me, she has had no prior knowledge of my movements."

Incredulously, Nirrti did believe him. Judging from the look of utter amazement emanating from the healer, she had no choice but to believe the veracity of his claim.

Both women waited for Orlin to elaborate, neither was more surprised than Janet. She had thought Orlin's accidental appearance years before had more to do with his infatuation with her lover than anything else. It seemed she was about to learn the hidden truth behind his clandestine trip to the SGC.

Intrigued, the lithe Goa'uld leaned forward and patiently waited for his story to unfold. Patience was not normally one of her virtues, but she instinctively knew this was worth waiting for.

All or nothing. "I was once an Ascended Being," he stated in his patent monotone.

If Nirrti leaned forward any further she would have fallen out of her chair.

"Ascended?" The just out of reach feeling came crashing down. Anubis. Orlin had reminded her of her enemy. "Why would the Ascended have any interest in a mere mortal?" She wondered out loud.

Nothing could have prepared Janet for his next words.

"Doctor Fraiser plays a pivotal role in human history. I was given the task to shadow her and keep her safe." He ducked his head in humiliation. "I failed because I became personally involved with the humans and was unable to fulfill my task."

Holy shit! What do we do now?

Lantash mentally shushed the younger man, he didn't want to miss a single word of the bizarre confession.

"Which was?" Nirrti prompted the man.

"I have already told you everything I know. I was supposed to keep her safe. I failed."

"You will have to do better than that, little man. What makes the doctor so important that the Others found it necessary to become involved in matters that are beneath them?"

The Goa'uld had known of the Others for millennia. They had tolerated each other, until Apophis and his queen, Amaunet, conceived the forbidden harsesis child. It was rumored that Oma Desala, a supreme Ascended Being stepped in and destroyed the child. Nirrti had her doubts, but the child had all but vanished from existence.

"I was told to protect her, it was not my place to ask why."

"We do not believe you." She nodded once again to her First Prime.

Lightning quick, his fist met her delicate chin, sending the doctor flying backwards, where she fell unmoving.

Orlin reached for the fallen woman, but Lomar roughly grabbed him by the arm. "I told you everything I know, why do you continue to hurt her?" Grey eyes flashed in anger, his voice carried across the room louder than normal.

"So, you can be provoked." Nirrti smiled at him.

Janet moaned and rolled onto her left side. She couldn't see anything from her angle on the floor, but she heard the anger in Orlin's voice and wondered why he cared.

Leaning back, Nirrti tapped her fingers on the armrest. His motives baffled the Goa'uld. He clearly had possessed the power to prevent the healer's death. So why was he here now? Second thoughts, perhaps, or was there more yet to be uncovered?

"You were punished by the Others," Nirrti stated.

"Yes." He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "I am mortal again."

"And yet here you are, trying to salvage your mistake."

"I realized too late that my motives were no longer valid." Orlin studied the brunette on the floor. "They never were."

Pain be damned, that last comment forced Janet to turn her head and look at him.

"I am sorry, Doctor Fraiser," he apologized. "For everything."

Janet stared at him, incredulously wondering if he really expected her to forgive him.

"This is all very touching," Nirrti smirked. She hopped out of the chair and paced back and forth between the two prisoners. "But you still haven't answered the question."

Unable to stifle her fear, a small moan emanated from the tiny figure curled on her side. She didn't know how much more she could take.

"Don't hurt her anymore," he begged. "I don't know what makes the doctor so special, you must believe me."

Perhaps he was telling the truth, but then again. "Lomar, take the healer to the prison." She turned on Orlin and raised her left hand, engaging the device and directing the orange beam between terrified, grey eyes.

The Goa'uld Goddess concentrated on the small man, ignoring the doctor as she was roughly scooped off the floor and carried out of the lab.

"What makes the healer so important?" Nirrti asked. Although the orange beam glowed, she had yet to activate the painful ray.

"I have already told you everything I know," he sighed in frustration. "I was assigned to watch the doctor."

"But you allowed her death." She tipped her head slightly to the side. "Why?"

When he didn't answer, she intensified the beam and his head felt like is was on fire. He tried not to scream, but the pain was too much. He screamed and convulsed until he suddenly collapsed onto the floor.

Nirrti stood over him, the beam no longer active. "You will answer Our questions, Tau'ri." Dark eyes flashed in anger as she activated the device again.

Flat on his back, he had nowhere to go as the energy beam seemed to slice a crevice into his forehead. His body stiffened and then convulsed as the torture continued. As an Ascended, Orlin was incapable of feeling pain. As a human, he was reminded just how fortunate he had been all those years.

Suddenly, a mind numbing sensation replaced the pain as a sense of euphoria washed over Orlin. Relieved beyond reason, he would do anything to keep the pain at bay.

He felt disembodied, floating alone in his mind until he felt another presence. Fearing the consequences of refusing to answer the whispered questions, he opened his mind and gave them freely.

She relinquished her hold and stepped over his unconscious body. He had been telling the truth, he didn't know what role the Tau'ri healer would play in the future. He had told her everything, starting from the moment he had met SG-1 on Velona until, Ascended once again, he had rejoined the Others.

Nirrti could conjecture all she wanted to about the importance of the healer. The Others were a strange species, and their nebulous views were hard to grasp. As a member of the SGC and a gifted healer, Doctor Fraiser's expertise could be involved in numerous ways, too many for the Goa'uld to worry about. Once she engineered the perfect host, she would crush the Tau'ri planet and put an end to the healer and the SGC once and for all.

The Goa'uld couldn't contain her excitement as a huge smile plastered her face. Orlin had revealed another secret, the healer was Major Carter's mate. She dipped her head back and laughed at her good fortune.

Once her fit of laughter passed, she addressed her First Prime. "Lomar, after the Jaffa make their last sweep around the compound, recall the patrols and have them return to the ship to continue their mission." Orlin's appearance was a fluke, the arrogant Goa'uld felt certain no other infiltrators could find her secret base.

"What of the chaapa'ai?" He asked.

She tilted her head to the side, deep in thought. "Continue to guard the gate." She wasn't stupid and didn't want anymore surprises appearing through the gateway.

He bowed his head, "Yes, my Goddess."

The cell was dark and damp from the constant drip of filthy brown water flowing over the jagged bricked walls. Add the breath stealing humidity and unbearable heat, and the Goa'uld had one hell of a torture chamber, but Janet knew the real torture would start with Nirrti's next interrogation.

So far she had been roughed up by the Goa'uld's thugs. Certainly her broken arm and bruised chest and chin throbbed in pain, but the brunette knew the worst was yet to come. The Goa'uld handheld device, at first glance, appeared to adorn the hand as an exquisite piece of jewelry, but Janet knew the device to be a powerful weapon of torture and death.

She had been on the wrong end of the handheld device once when she had accompanied Sam and Daniel to Egypt and they were attacked by Osiris. The powerful energy surge had rocked her small frame and slammed her into a wall, luckily she had only sustained a strained back. The doctor knew she wouldn't be so fortunate this time around.

A glance around the small room revealed a bed of sorts in the far corner and nothing else. Cradling her broken arm to her side, she walked over to inspect the pile of rugs and turned up her nose at the filth and smell. She would have to be practically unconscious to sleep on it, surely the floor was less of a health risk.

Crouched in the corner furthest away from the foul smelling bedding, the lonely brunette centered her being and tried to meditate just as Teal'c had taught her. It was difficult to clear her mind of the all the terrifying events coursing through her thought process, but one bright flicker helped to keep her centered. A beautiful blue-eyed blonde filled her every thought and calmed the maelstrom of frayed nerves and pain.


The fresh smell of vanilla filled her senses with the memory of holding the blonde in her arms, snuggled in their big warm bed as they made love in the early morning hours. If Janet had known she would be shot and killed, only to be resurrected, she would have stayed in bed and worshiped her lover's body until neither she nor Sam had had the energy to move.

She couldn't allow regret to cloud her memory, so she instead concentrated on sights and sounds of her beautiful lover. The tiny whimpers and moans she made as Janet kissed her way from luscious lips, over rounded breasts and hardened nipples, down past her muscled abdomen, until she settled between long legs which eagerly opened to accept her mouth and fingers. Her unique smell intoxicated the smaller woman and the more Janet devoured her lover the louder she expressed her pleasure until the blonde writhed beneath her and screamed her name over and over as she came.

Sighing, the petite woman pushed thoughts of her lover away so she could concentrate on the immediate task at hand. Specifically, how she would deal with a very pissed off Goa'uld.

Several minutes later, she was no closer to developing a plan. Finally succumbing to pain and exhaustion, she shifted her feet and carefully sank to the floor and rolled onto her side. Soon the brunette slipped into a restless slumber.

Mengal. Present day.

The first visages of the new day peaked around the large mountain looming in the near distance. The blonde major cursed her luck. Darkness would no longer be a tactical advantage, but on the other hand, she and her companion could use the light to cover a greater distance at a faster pace. The treacherous terrain had slowed them more than she had first anticipated.

As the path became more visible, Sam increased her pace and Teal'c easily matched her stride for stride. Soon they approached a fork in the path they had been following for hours. The one to the right narrowed and disappeared into thick trees, the left fork widened and faced the west.

They briefly slowed and Teal'c studied the tracks leading into the woods. "Fresh footprints," he informed the major. "Jaffa." He followed the trail to the left for fifty yards and returned with a scowl on his face. "Many Jaffa have passed here recently."

The blonde sniffed the air. "You smell that?" She asked and sniffed again. "Smells like a campfire, only bigger."

"I concur." The big man studied both paths. He pointed to the wider, more traveled path facing the west. "I believe we should take this trail, most of the Jaffa's tracks lead in that direction."

Sam nodded in agreement and unholstered her zat.

Twenty minutes later, with the sun shining on their backs, a very familiar object glinted in the morning light. They exchanged a knowing glance and proceeded with caution. The stargate was a pleasant surprise, the gateway had been omitted on Cassandra's map.

Two Jaffa warriors stood with their backs to the base of the massive ring, staff weapons at their sides. Closer inspection of the area revealed no other threats. The sentries could be eliminated before they knew what hit them.

"Can you tell which Goa'uld they serve?" The blonde major whispered as blue slits squinted for better focus.

She couldn't see the tattoos emblazoned on the their foreheads. She wanted to know who they were up against, any surprises right now would not be appreciated. Sam had hoped to use surprise to their advantage, not the other way around. The experienced soldier sensed that they would need all the help that they could muster before all was said and done.

"I cannot." Teal'c whispered back. "The compound must be close by, the Goa'uld would not be far from a quick escape." He knew them well, cowards quick to turn tail and run when any situation turned against their favor.

A wide, toothy grin graced Sam's drawn features. "Great, we can gate out of here as soon as we find Janet."

They quietly left the gate and stealthily entered the edge of the forest, following the path, but just out of sight. The acrid smell of burned wood assaulted their senses, much stronger than before. A few more steps and they could see the smoldering remains of some of the treetops and underlying brush.

Teal'c, bent on one knee, studied the trampled area. "Smaller prints are visible here, the stride is long as if they were running."

Momentarily frozen by the thought of Janet being pursued and shot at by Jaffa, she blinked back tears of anger and helplessness before she leaned over her friend's shoulder. "How small?" She asked, not sure if she was ready for the answer.

Without looking at his friend, he answered her unspoken question. "They do not belong to a woman as small as DoctorFraiser, nor are they Jaffa unless recruiting requirements have changed drastically since I've been away."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Sam quietly laughed. Humor had been a difficult concept for the former Jaffa warrior to comprehend, much less attempt. She had to admit though, over the years he had developed a subtle, dry sense of humor, easy to understand since he'd spent a great deal of time with Colonel O'Neill, master of sarcastic wit.

The major tapped him on the shoulder and they continued their trek. It was necessary to sidestep several Jaffa patrols, a sure sign they were very close to the compound. They climbed a short incline, and as expected, once Sam and Teal'c reached the top, they could see the encampment ensconced below.

The area was fortified all around by a barrier of dirt, trees, and boulders. It had an unnatural appearance, as if the area had been blasted from space, making an artificial protective ring, easy to defend and able to withstand an attack from any angle.

Perched high above the secret camp, concealed amongst the natural camouflage, they laid on their stomachs watching every movement below.

Several buildings of different shapes and sizes made up the perimeter of the camp, a small courtyard settled in the center. Sam bristled at the sight of the corral full of bodies, some sleeping, others pacing the length of the confined space. Only one Jaffa could be seen near the cordoned off space, more than sufficient since a force field clearly shimmered, keeping the occupants prisoners.

On closer inspection, Sam soon discovered that the large corral was divided into two distinct areas. The male and female prisoners were segregated and then separated by a fence, fortified by the force field.

The major quickly disregarded the male pen and concentrated on the one holding the females. Many different ethnic groups represented the imprisoned women. Dark skin, light skin, blondes, redheads, and brunettes completed the mix. She focused her attention on only the petite brunettes, realizing that Janet's smaller physique may make it more difficult to locate her.

After several minutes of searching, Sam shook her head and whispered to her friend, "I don't see her." The bitter disappointment sour against the hope of a speedy rescue.

Sam had set all of her considerable energy to one and only one conclusion, finding her lover and taking her home. Now that the blonde's trek was over, without any sign of Janet, she wondered if she was too late and her lover was truly dead. Cassandra hadn't mysteriously appeared from thin air to offer assistance.

Blonde bangs ruffled in an annoying puff as she exhaled her frustration. Rolling onto her side, Sam stared into the dark brown eyes of her friend. A friend who was more than willing to drop everything in a second, defying direct orders, and join her in her mad dash to save Janet. Friends like Teal'c were extremely hard to come by.

Despite her dour mood, Sam smiled at the big black man. "Thanks, Teal'c."

He dipped his bald head and smiled in return. No words were necessary, he understood the sentiment. He had an uncanny knack for reading people. Usually MajorCarter was difficult, she bottled most of her emotions deep inside, but when it came to her feelings about her friends, and most especially JanetFraiser, the tall blonde was an open book.

"Perhaps she is being held in one of the buildings," he offered.

This time a blonde head nodded in agreement. "That's what I'm afraid of." How the hell were they supposed to gain entrance to the buildings with so many Jaffa around, add one or two Goa'uld and the task became much more complicated.

They laid shoulder to shoulder watching the camp below, frustrated at the turn of events. Even if they knew which building Janet was being held in, it would be impossible to reach her in the glaring light of day. They would have to wait for the cover of night to attempt a rescue.

Content for the moment, they studied the camp below as it came alive with the bustle of mid-morning activity, hoping to find some sign of the doctor. Most of the prisoners were led into the largest building, while the remaining few were paired and led into a different, smaller building. None of the prisoners resisted the Jaffa, instead they followed like sheep led to the slaughter.

A large Jaffa warrior lumbered across the compound shouting commands at the other warriors. "Return to the ship and rendezvous with Lord Quen'tn and continue to gather more warriors for our Goddess's army." He blew the horn he kept at his side and several horns answered in the distance.

Jaffa patrols emerged from the forest and marched across the compound. Four Jaffa stood not more than twenty yards below Sam and Teal'c's hiding place. A familiar humming sound vibrated the ground and a prism of light reflected off the rings as they appeared and engulfed the big men before disappearing.

Sam stared at the empty space that seconds before had held the ring transporter. That was the break the major was waiting for. The Jaffa were leaving, making her task of finding Janet less complicated.

Several minutes later, the Jaffa were gone, leaving the camp eerily quiet. The big man in charge, a First Prime judging from the gold emblem on his forehead, strode through the camp and returned to the main building.

Sam studied the area below. "One Jaffa with the prisoners outside, two with the Stargate, and the First Prime here make the odds much more favorable."

"We don't know how many, if any, Jaffa are inside the buildings," Teal'c said.

Sam rolled her eyes. "Think positive, Teal'c, think positive." Pearly whites flashed in a brief smile, not quite the Carter smile, but a smile nonetheless.

The big man chose to refrain from commenting.

A muffled scream echoed across the enclosed area, instantly setting the two into combat mode. It was difficult to pinpoint the exact location, but the screams seemed to come from the vicinity of a long, narrow building.

Adrenaline coursed through Sam's veins, heightening her senses, preparing her for battle. She took several deep breaths in an attempt to slow her body's response, afraid she might hyperventilate until she passed out. The seasoned soldier in the desperate woman searching for her lost love stepped in and regained control until the major once again emerged.

Sam and Teal'c, ever diligent, watched and waited for any sign of Janet Fraiser.

The large room was in chaos. Women in various stages of pregnancy stared wide-eyed at the young woman writhing in pain. A river of bright red blood flowed from between her legs, saturating the white linen beneath her despite the frantic attempts of the midwife to stop the bleeding. Her screams echoed off the cold, sterile interior terrorizing the other pregnant women waiting their turn at childbirth.

With her attention firmly placed on the hemorrhaging woman, the midwife addressed a young boy standing near the door, as far away from the bloody mess as possible and still able to be at her beck and call. "Tomas, fetch Lomar," she shouted.

Wrinkled hands, surprisingly agile, moved with practiced ease as the older woman quickly removed the pressure dressing to examine the extent of the damage. The flow of blood slowed to a steady trickle allowing the midwife an unobstructed view of the emerging round head pushing through the vaginal vault.

"Everything is going to be fine," she reassured the panting young woman lying on the bed. She carefully grasped the baby's head and spoke in a soft voice, trying to put the young mother to be at ease. "One more big push, Tessa, and then you can meet your beautiful baby."

She pushed with the last of her energy reserves and screamed as an intense pain engulfed her lower abdomen. The narrow shoulders popped free and the slick, little body quickly fell into the waiting hands of the midwife.

Gently cradling the slippery body to her chest, the old woman methodically cleaned mucus and blood from the newborn's mouth and nose, anxiously waiting for its first life-giving breath. When none came, she offered a silent prayer to the gods. The midwife unknowingly held her own breath while waiting for the baby to show any sign of life.

Just as she began to panic, the baby gasped once and then announced its presence to the entire room. The midwife sighed and then smiled as the baby continued to cry. She silently thanked the same gods for the first successful live birth since the conception of the plan to genetically engineer the hok'tar.

She methodically assessed the small child...ten fingers, ten toes, and one penis. All of the babies that had been born from Nirrti's manipulations had been male, and all had died either before birth or within seconds of being freed from the womb. Some appeared normal, as did this child, others had been born with hideous birth defects. This child had defied all odds and the older woman hoped he was but the first in a long line of viable births.

Once she was fairly certain the baby was going to survive, the midwife turned her attention to the mother. She was covered in blood from her waist down and her pallor matched that of the white sheets beneath her head. The midwife's young apprentice was already up to her elbows in crimson, trying to staunch the bleeding by applying pressure to the blood flow.

Marum knew it would be in vain, she had lost too much blood.

Twin sets of alert eyes watched as the doors to the long, narrow building burst open and a young boy ran into the adjacent main building. The screams, no longer enclosed by the barrier, pierced the otherwise quiet courtyard.

Soon the young boy returned followed by a younger woman, the First Prime, and two more Jaffa. Something about the younger woman's movements looked familiar to Sam. As she closed the distance, Sam recognized the tall, thin brunette.

"Fuck," the major hissed through clenched teeth.

"Indeed," agreed her companion.

They watched as Nirrti and her entourage crossed the threshold and entered the building. Sam had been so involved in her own thoughts about the Goa'uld that she hadn't noticed that the screaming had stopped.

Whatever had prompted the cries of the unknown woman, Nirrti seemed compelled to deal with it in person.

"What the hell is she doing here? I thought she was dead," Sam grumbled.

The last time she was face to face with Nirrti, the blonde major had had her DNA scrambled. SG-1 had jumped to P3X-367 after one of its residents pleaded for help. They had inadvertently stumbled upon a race of people who had been genetically altered by the Goa'uld. At first, Nirrti was worshiped by the genetically enhanced populace, but they had discovered her treachery and she was killed by a telekinetic snap of her neck. One of the mutants had read Nirrti's mind before she died and used the machine to reverse the changes made to Sam's genes.

"We need to get a closer look." Sam started crawling down the hill before the words left her mouth.

Teal'c followed the major as they slowly made their way down the slope. They stopped just short of the building, far enough away to remain concealed, but not close enough to see inside.

The screams started again, much louder this time, whether the increased volume was due to their proximity or the intensity of the pain, Sam couldn't guess. She was, however, certain that the screaming woman wasn't her lover, but that didn't mean Janet wasn't in danger if she was inside.

Sam hated to idly sit by while the woman screamed in agony once again, but she didn't have much choice. Bolting to her rescue would be suicide. Instead she crouched next to Teal'c, hidden amongst the rocks and trees, and silently prayed for the screaming to stop.

The door banged open, startling the women, as the female Goa'uld briskly walked over to the older woman cradling the newborn in her arms. Her Jaffa guards stood just inside the door, while little Tomas worked his way between the large men and ran across the cavernous room waiting until he was needed again.

Brown eyes quickly assessed the situation and then smiled, obviously pleased that the wriggling baby appeared alive and well. The midwife turned to face her Goddess and offered the naked child to her, but Nirrti shook her head.

"You have done well, Marum." Nirrti praised the midwife.

Stunned by the compliment, Marum beamed and bowed her head, clearly happy to finally be able to please her Goddess. Her head whipped around when a loud moaning filled the room. She wanted to put the baby down and attend to the dying young woman, but was uncertain what to do. She took a hesitant step in the direction of the young mother, but a firm hand on her shoulder stopped her progression.

"The baby is your only concern now." Nirrti reminded her.

The groaning changed in pitch into a scream so loud and full of pain, even the callous Goa'uld found her gaze directed to the death bed. Nirrti quirked an inquisitive eyebrow and Marum silently shook her head.

With one final wail, the woman exhaled her last breath and slumped into the sheets drenched in her own sweat and blood. There was nothing Marum, or anyone for that matter, could do for the young woman. She simply bled to death serving her Goddess, just like the others before her, but not before delivering what might be the hok'tar.

While all the attention was centered on the dying mother, the baby convulsed as a spasm rocked his tiny frame. It resolved as quickly as it came, quick enough to be witnessed only by the woman holding him. Marum closed her eyes and prayed. She looked over at Nirrti and once she was convinced the Goa'uld had not seen the seizure, she cast her glance around the room.

Satisfied she was the only one privy to the potential problem with the baby, Marum laid him in the small bed and began to wash off the blood and fluids so she could get a closer look at him. He appeared to be in perfect health, a strong steady heart beat with lungs clear as a bell. Just as she was about to convince herself the spasms were nothing, the baby began to cry and shake.

Before the piercing wail could gain Nirrti's attention, Marum called out to her. "My Goddess." Concealing the deteriorating condition of the baby would be a death sentence.

Nirrti turned and walked over to the bedside. Her smile immediately disappeared as the baby convulsed once again. "What is happening?" Nirrti angrily demanded.

Beside herself with worry for the baby's health and a growing fear of the Goa'uld, Marum ran her hands over the small body and listened to a steadily increasing heart rate. "I don't know, my Goddess. His heart rate is dangerously fast," she felt his forehead, "and he is burning with a fever." She didn't mention that his breathing was becoming more and more labored, it was more than obvious to everyone in the room.

Marum barked orders at the nearest women. Within moments the baby was wrapped in cool compresses, if the fever could be broken then perhaps his heart rate and breathing would return to normal. Conventional Goa'uld technology had proven useless in the past, much to Nirrti's consternation. Not even the sarcophagus could raise the dead.

The Goa'uld had taken that as a sign. The hok'tar would survive by its own accord. If the baby needed a helping hand to live, then the life was inferior and not worthy to be host to such a powerful symbiote as Nirrti.

Within moments, the seizure stopped and Marum breathed a sigh of relief. The bluish tinge around his lips receded, his breathing less pronounced. The skilled midwife felt his brachial pulse, still elevated, but not dangerously so.

"What is wrong with the infant?" Nirrti demanded.

"I cannot be certain. He is breathing easier now and his heart rate is almost back to normal." Marum gently rubbed his red cheek. "Maybe he merely suffered shock after the difficult birth and now has stabilized," she added as an afterthought. Her guess was as good as any.

Nirrti didn't share the optimistic view, but conceded that the baby seemed to be doing much better. Questions remained, and questions needed answers.

"Bring the Tau'ri healer," she commanded.

She thought perhaps the healer could offer some insight into the condition of the baby. He appeared to be in perfect health, but appearances could be deceiving, as the Goa'uld had learned in the past. Even so, never before had Nirrti been so close to actualizing her dream of creating the perfect host. If the healer knew of some simple remedy to keep the infant alive, then she may bend her rules to fit her purpose. Nirrti was a god after all, and nobody was going to question her actions.

Lantash ran across the compound as quickly as his legs would take him, the healing device concealed within the folds of his robe. If Nirrti expected the doctor to save the child then her injuries would need healing before he returned with her to the infirmary.

"Open the door," his commanding voice boomed. He never slowed his stride and the Jaffa guarding the prisoner yanked the door open just as he stepped through the archway.

It took a few seconds for his vision to adjust from bright sunlight to the dark interior. Disgusting smells and sights assaulted his senses, more so the further he ventured into the one room prison. Huddled in the corner with her back to the door, the small woman whimpered at his presence.

Without turning Janet couldn't be certain who had barged into the room, but no matter their identity, the intruder was surely there to take her back to Nirrti, or worse. The reality of being a prisoner of war was utmost in her mind. She had spent many a sleepless night worrying when SG-1 had gone missing, knowing that Sam was a perfect target for sexual assault, and had been in the past. She hoped she would be as strong as her lover.

The brunette jumped when she felt a strong hand grasp her bruised shoulder. She didn't think she could withstand another round of torture.

"Doctor Fraiser." Elliot gently shook her shoulder when she didn't respond to his voice. "Janet?" The young lieutenant whispered her first name, hoping to bring the traumatized woman out of her protective shell.

A small hand reached over her shoulder and laid it over his. Without turning, she asked, "Elliot?"

"Yes, ma'am." He crouched low to the ground and gently guided the broken woman around so they were eye level. "Nirrti wants you in the infirmary." A slight arch of a brown eyebrow prompted him to continue. "A baby was born, but is having some complications."

The doctor had to squelch an overwhelming desire to run to the baby's aid, but instead held her ground. "I'm not going anywhere until I see Kiernen."

Blue eyes rolled and he blew out an exasperated sigh. "For Christ's sake, Doctor, Nirrti will not hesitate to punish you if you don't do what she wants."

Janet refused to acknowledge him.

Those same blue eyes now glowed and flashed in anger. "This is not negotiable, Doctor. You will come with me," Lantash commanded, grabbing her by the shoulder again, attempting to pull her to her feet.

She held back a scream as his heavy hand bit into her swollen flesh and steadfastly refused to budge. "NO!" She hissed through clenched teeth. "I want to see Kiernen now, and I mean alive, Lantash." She shrugged his hand off her shoulder in a move to distance herself from him, but only managed to cause more pain to her damaged arm.

He shook his head in disbelief. "This is not a debate. You will come with me."

"Over my dead body." The doctor had drawn the line and she dared him to cross it.

"So be it," Lantash huffed.

Janet flinched as he reached into his robe. She fully expected him to pull out a hand device and render her unconscious. Instead, he firmly grasped a healing device in his right hand. "May I?" He asked.

Once her injuries were healed, Lantash and Janet made their way to another prison. This one much worse than the previous.

Sprawled face-down on the dirt floor, Kiernen struggled to breath. Janet immediately ran to him and knelt down beside him. Gentle, experienced hands turned him onto his left side to ease his ragged attempts at breathing.

A small hand gently caressed his cheek. "Kiernen," she called to him.

The warmth of her hand and her gentle voice pulled him from the depths of near oblivion. Emerald green peaked through slitted eyelids and came to rest on the beautiful brunette crouched before him. Kiernen couldn't help but smile, even though his facial muscles strained with the movement. He tried to speak, but the words fell unspoken, he had used all his energy on the smile.

"Shh," Janet soothed. "We're going to help you."

While Janet spoke softly to the broken young man, Lantash moved closer and placed the healing device just above his injured chest and slowly moved it back and forth. Each successive pass eased his breathing until Kiernen could take a deep breath without pain.

Feeling stronger, he looked up into the very concerned eyes of his friends. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice hoarse from the torture.

Lantash continued to wave the device over the rest of his injuries and glanced at the doorway where a Jaffa stood still as stone.

Kiernen followed his line of sight. "You're not here to rescue me, are you?" He watched as Janet and Lantash exchanged a worried look and noticed the slight twitch in the Tok'ra's right eye, an affectation he knew all too well. Lantash was not happy with the turn of events, whatever they happened to be.

"We are not," Lantash said. Finished with the healing device, he placed it in his robe and extended a hand to help Kiernen off the floor. "I will explain the situation as we walk."

Kiernen stood on unsteady feet, the Goa'uld device had healed the majority of his injuries, but he would need time to recover completely from the trauma inflicted by Nirrti.

Janet grasped his forearm gently and smiled at him. The radiance of her smile made him feel better than any healing Lantash had done.

Once Lantash was certain his young friend could stand and walk without assistance, he led them out of the dark cell with the Jaffa guard taking up the rear.

The screams no longer filtered from the building and Sam wondered about the woman's fate and hoped it wasn't a bad omen of what was yet to come.

Movement from across the compound caught the trained eye of the blonde soldier. "Teal'c," she whispered and nudged his broad shoulder.

The big man leaned closer to the blonde and then followed the slant of her slender finger pointing below. Four figures appeared from the far side of the clearing and quickly made their way across the courtyard. Their approach brought them within shouting distance of their hideout and Sam could clearly see the group consisted of three men and one woman...one small, brunette woman.

The ground shifted beneath Sam as she fought against an overwhelming urge to run down the slope to get a closer look at the woman. She couldn't be absolutely certain the brunette was Janet at that distance, but deep down she knew the woman was indeed her lost love. She could feel it with every fiber of her being.

"Janet," the blonde whimpered. Unconsciously, her slender body slowly eased forward as if pulled from an unseen magnetic force until Sam was a full body length ahead of her companion. Her forward progress slowed as a big hand grasped her ankle, preventing her from tumbling the rest of the way down the slope and out into the open.

"Let me go," she hissed and kicked her foot several times, trying to free herself from the powerful grip. When his strong fingers tightened around her ankle, Sam shot ice blue daggers over her left shoulder. "God dammit, Teal'c. Let me go."

She reached out with her right hand, desperately grasping at the empty void slowly collapsing between her relatively stationary position and that of the moving brunette. "Jan," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion. "I need...to get...to her," she grunted in between kicks. If she thrust her leg harder, maybe her foot would slip out of her boot and she would be free to...then the ground suddenly shifted and Sam stiffened in response.

Although the blonde remained motionless, the ground precariously moved once again, this time sending several small rocks and clumps of dirt tumbling down the slope. Sam held her breath and hoped she wouldn't be next. Luckily, the movement went unnoticed by the approaching entourage and the ground finally settled beneath her.

The gap closed and Sam watched as a man in flowing blue robes lead the brunette, who had her hand on a young man's arm as if helping to steady him, and a large Jaffa who marched a few steps behind them, a staff weapon at his side.

As they passed by, the brunette was positively identifiable as Janet. Sam heaved a sigh so deep and full of relief that the emotions rolled off the tall blonde like a palpable force. The grieving woman had bottled all of her feelings inside, feelings of love for Janet and a growing deep seated fear that she would never see her again. Sam had adamantly refused to acknowledge that fear, in turn admitting to the inarguable truth of her lover's death.

Sam knew that the colonel, and everyone else for that matter, couldn't understand her stubborn reluctance to accept Janet's death and move on. She also knew without a doubt, if she ever surrendered and gave up hope, Janet would be lost to her forever. Sam was unwilling to take the chance.

Cerulean blue eyed the petite woman, taking in every measured step and sway of familiar slim hips. A myriad of feelings assaulted the blonde's senses at the sight of her lover, alive and unexpectedly unharmed. Happy to have finally found her, determined to do whatever it took to get home, and proud of her lover's ability to endure and survive in the face of adversity.

Janet's sudden appearance had surprised them, but the identity of the Goa'uld shocked both Sam and Teal'c. They had known a Goa'uld was involved, but neither could have guessed it would be a familiar face.

"Lantash," they said together as the friends shared an incredulous glance.

First Nirrti and now Lantash. It seemed the Goa'uld and Tok'ra both had an affinity for self-preservation. What the hell were they doing here together, with Janet no less? Could Lantash be the Goa'uld responsible for taking Janet away from P3X-666 and if so why?

Sam chanced a small movement and glanced over her shoulder. "You can let go of my foot now," she said, disgusted with both the situation and her previous actions. If Teal'c hadn't stopped her, she would have...well she wasn't exactly sure what she would have done, but it would have proved ill advised if not fatal for all concerned.

Now that she was free to move and mindful of the loose earth beneath her, Sam carefully twisted around to face her friend. With Janet out of sight, the blonde had already begun to second-guess her decision to wait. If something bad were to happen to Janet now, after finally finding her unharmed, Sam would never forgive herself.

"I don't know whether to shoot you or thank you," she sighed as she wiped her forehead with the back of a very dirty hand leaving a black smudge mark in its wake.

Teal'c had fleetingly entertained the same thoughts, but surmised with so much at stake, the blonde would not jeopardize the doctor's life in such an impetuous manner. He decided to ignore her first inclination. "You are most welcome." His deep voice pitched low enough for her ears only.

Blue eyes cast toward the sky as Sam tried to settle her emotions. Running after Janet certainly was not her best thought, but her deep, desperate emotions warred with her sensibilities...and just barely won. Actually, her emotions stomped all over her senses and threatened to control her actions until a voice of reason stepped in and literally held her dangling over the precipice. It wasn't the first time she had silently thanked her friend, and it wouldn't be the last.

She leaned back on her hands and tipped her head back, formulating the next move. Soldier Sam knew the chances of retrieving Janet were slim at best. There would be no turning back, either they all got out or they would die trying.

Sam questioned her selfishness for a few seconds, Cassie didn't deserve to lose her parents again, but the blonde knew she would survive with the help of Janet's mother and the guys. Cassandra was an amazingly resilient young woman and Sam was proud to parent her along with Janet. Between them, they had helped nurture a shy, frightened little girl to become something even Sam couldn't guess.

The encampment below had taken on an eerie atmosphere. The Jaffa were all but gone, the prisoners were sequestered away in the buildings, and Janet and Nirrti had entered the very building that housed the screaming woman. The continued silence of the woman led Sam to believe she was dead. The appearance of Nirrti led credence to that belief. The Goa'uld had left a path of murder and mayhem in her wake, no reason to believe this was any different, except that Sam was determined to stop her once and for all. She would not have another opportunity to threaten her family again.

She had to wonder if Nirrti was privy to Janet's role in the future and if this was why her lover was taken in the first place. Sam really couldn't believe that idea, Nirrti had had the opportunity and means to do whatever she wanted in the past, so perhaps it was all a coincidence and nothing more. Whatever the circumstances, Nirrti would pay for her part in Janet's absence, and she had better pray to whatever god, if any, she believed in because there would be hell to pay if she had laid a hand on her lover.

Teal'c dipped his bald head, silently indicating the far building where the prisoners had disappeared earlier. "I believe Nirrti has established another planet with which to continue her experiments." Like Hanka was left unsaid, but they both thought it nonetheless and wondered if Janet had spent time in the helix.

Fear coursed through Sam's veins and pumped adrenaline throughout her body. She knew first-hand how terrible the manipulations were, she had felt like she was turned inside out and all her nerves raw and exposed to the outside. Luckily, she was returned to her original DNA designation, at least she hoped so. Sam really didn't spend much time pondering what if. If she had been changed somehow she surely would have felt the effects by now, and Janet hadn't been able to find anything wrong with her.

If Janet had been changed, there would be no mutant mind reader to save the day. Sam needed to believe Nirrti hadn't changed Janet yet and find solace in the fact that she was there now and would do everything in her power to prevent anything bad happening to her lover, but time was ticking against them.

"We need a plan." Sam needed to redirect her thoughts into a concise rescue operation and stop worrying about things she had no control over. "We're not waiting for nightfall. Janet doesn't have much time."

"It would be unwise to attempt..." His voice trailed off when the blonde sent a withering glare his way.

"Yeah well, I'm not always the brightest crayon in the box," she quipped.

"Indeed." Teal'c didn't understand the phrase, but the meaning behind it was received loud and clear. "What do you propose?"

The large room was poorly illuminated from within, but several large windows allowed the bright sun to provide a more favorable light. Once Janet's eyes adjusted to the darker environment, she immediately spied the young woman sprawled on the blood soaked bed. She was obviously dead, all of the blood not withstanding. Her vacant gaze and pale complexion was something she as a physician could never forget.

Her obsidian gaze then settled on an older woman hunched over a small bed obscuring the brunette's line of sight. She noticed all eyes in the room were riveted to the spot, their entrance had gone totally unnoticed.

Nirrti had been leaning over the older woman's shoulder while she spoke in the guttural tongue of the Goa'uld.

Obviously sensing the close scrutiny, Nirrti tore her attention away from the baby and locked eyes with the smaller brunette. A smile formed on her lips, but quickly turned to a frown when she realized the Tau'ri healer was not alone.

"What is the meaning of this?" The Goa'uld hotly demanded and turned on the newcomers. At first she wanted to know why the traitor had been brought along with the healer, but once she approached them she noticed they were not as injured as before.

Lantash and his companions remained motionless, waiting for the angered Goa'uld to make the next move. They were, after all, at her mercy. Nirrti knew it, they accepted it. For now.

"We wanted the healer. We did not give you permission to bring the shol'va."

"The doctor refused to cooperate unless I freed him," Lantash responded. "And I knew how imperative her presence was to help the infant." He quickly added to defuse her mounting anger.

"And what of the healing?" Her eyes burned with anger. "We suppose she demanded that as well?" She set her jaw and clenched her teeth, looking between the two captives and then held Lantash's gaze with an unwavering stare.

Nirrti's sarcastic tone eased his nerves somewhat, Lantash knew he had won this battle by reminding her of the baby's precarious condition and the doctor's ability to offer assistance. He had no doubt that Nirrti would not be so forgiving if Janet couldn't save the newborn.

While the two Goa'uld waged their silent war, Janet moved to the midwife's side. Her first unobstructed view of the baby laying on the bed told the experienced physician that he was in trouble. His tiny chest retracted with each deep breath as he used his accessory muscles to pull more oxygen with each gasp. She placed a fine boned hand on his flushed skin and gently caressed his dry, warm cheek. A quick glance into the older woman's resigned eyes told the doctor everything she needed to know. The midwife had already given up on the baby.

Janet addressed the woman at her side. "Where is the resuscitation equipment?" She looked around the room and was stunned to discover it devoid of anything resembling medical equipment. She leaned over the baby fully intending to start rescue breathing for the infant, but a firm hand on her shoulder prevented the movement.

Marum frowned at the question and the smaller woman's actions. Again the brunette moved to lean over the tiny body and the midwife looked to her Goddess for guidance. Nirrti inclined her head and curtly shook her head once.

The confused older woman instantly stopped the smaller brunette from placing her mouth over the tiny mouth and nose. "You cannot contaminate him with your breath," she stammered.

Nirrti may have been prepared to accept the assistance of the Tau'ri healer, but to allow her impure breath to touch the potential hok'tar was more than she was willing to bear.

An arched eyebrow disappeared beneath brown curls as she incredulously stared at the woman. Thwarted in her attempts to breathe for the struggling baby, Janet shifted and gently lifted his tiny eyelids revealing big blue eyes. They were a beautiful ocean blue and reminded her of her lover's eyes. She momentarily closed each lid and then quickly opened them to assess the too large pupils.

As she suspected, the pupils were sluggish to react to the change in light and the right pupil was larger than the left. The doctor didn't need her penlight, the ambient room light was adequate to ascertain the shape and reaction of the blue orbs. The newborn was suffering from some neurological damage in addition to his respiratory failure. Janet suspected if she had an MRI or CT scanner, she would find a multitude of birth defects.

During her examination, Janet failed to register Nirrti's approach until she brushed against her hip and shoulder. The contact surprised the doctor, but she refused to cower to the Goa'uld. "Why haven't you used your superior knowledge and technology to save him?" She emphasized the word superior in an almost childish challenge.

The sarcastic comment hit right on target and Nirrti flinched as if the smaller brunette had physically struck her.

Despite the circumstances, Janet couldn't hide the smirk that momentarily reached her lips.

Lantash, Elliot, and Kiernen shared an eye-rolling groan.

Nirrti stifled an angry retort and simply sneered back and demanded the healer do something or she would be put to death.

"What the hell am I supposed to do when you won't let me ease his breathing?" Janet demanded hotly. She was more upset about feeling helpless than the threat itself. She wasn't sure she could do anything to stall the inevitable even if they were back at the SGC and she had all of her fancy medical equipment at her disposal.

It broke her heart to watch the little boy struggle to breath and she could do nothing to prevent the impending respiratory failure and eventual death. His breathing became more labored and each ragged inhalation was accompanied by a high-pitched wheeze. It was the first sound emanating from the newborn since his initial squeals moments after his birth. He simply couldn't expend any energy on anything other than breathing.

"What is wrong with him?" Nirrti demanded.

"His airway is collapsing, depriving him of oxygen." Janet ran smooth hands over the infant's face and rubbed his stomach in a futile attempt to offer some human contact. She cooed soft words to the dying baby boy as his breathing slowed and then finally ceased all together.

Janet closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She cursed her helplessness. Brown eyes opened and she cursed Nirrti out loud. "Goddamn you," she swore. "Goddamn you and your god-complex."

The grieving doctor turned her back on Nirrti and gazed upon at all the young women in various stages of pregnancy. Each stared wide-eyed at the dead baby and his mother, frozen with fear, knowing they would be next. Janet silently shook her head and wondered how many innocents had already given their lives and how many more were yet to be sacrificed in the Goa'uld's megalomaniacal need to create the perfect host.

Nirrti was incensed at the baby's death. She had dared hope he was the one since he had survived the delivery. He had appeared as if in perfect health, even now looked as though he was asleep. She knew she was close to creating the hok'tar, she just needed the right combination of DNA and wouldn't stop the experiments until she was successful or she exhausted all of her subjects trying.

Now that she no longer needed to concentrate on the baby, she turned all of her considerable anger and frustration to the traitor and the Tau'ri healer. She planned on killing them both, but wanted to derive as much pleasure as possible by first torturing them mercilessly.

Wanting to distance herself from her failure, the tall brunette motioned to her First Prime. "Bring the prisoners," she curtly commanded and hastily left the mess behind her.

Once again, Janet stood within the helix circle wishing the Goa'uld would do something. She had been standing and waiting for the torture to begin, but instead watched as Nirrti approached Lantash, fire burning within her dark orbs.

"We cannot help but question your loyalty, Faunus." The Goa'uld simply stated, the venom behind her words carefully hidden, as if she were trying to solve the puzzle before Lantash could offer the answer. "We can see the attraction," she admitted as she turned and leered at the doctor, "but you could have had her without acquiescing to her demands."

The slender Goa'uld slowly walked around Lantash, who kept his gaze averted. He didn't know what Nirrti planned and he didn't want to push her over the edge by appearing insubordinate. He held his tongue and tolerated her close perusal. She would unveil her thoughts when she was good and ready and not a second sooner.

The Tok'ra hoped he could dissuade Nirrti from hurting the doctor anymore, there was no need for Janet to suffer for his mistakes. He never should have allowed her to talk him into healing Kiernen and taking the lotar with them to the infirmary.

He surmised she was more upset with the death of the baby and not the doctor or his lotar, but Nirrti was in an unforgiving mood and someone would pay retribution for her failure to produce the hok'tar. Since the doctor was held within the helix, Lantash feared Janet would suffer the consequences and be executed for her inability to save the dying infant even though her hands were tied by the limitations placed by the Goa'uld, not that Lantash had thought the infant or the doctor had had a chance in hell.

"Forgive me, Goddess." He lowered his head even more. "I was only focused on bringing the healer as soon as possible." He chanced a quick look at her eyes to gauge whether his groveling was sufficient to appease her ego. "Please forgive me," he begged and averted his gaze once again.

His offered apology almost worked. Nirrti raised her hand against the young man who too willingly took the blame, but instead of striking him, she roughly grabbed his chin.

Cerulean blue blinked in confusion when the expected blow didn't materialize. His surprise was not lost on the Goa'uld.

"Did you expect to be punished, Faunus?"

His chin moved slightly in her clammy hand as he nodded his head in affirmation.

"As you have so eloquently stated, you were only doing as We commanded." She trailed the fingers of her hand that held his chin down to his chest. "And We know how much you enjoy pleasing Us." She licked her too thin lips and smiled.

Lantash had no idea what she was doing, but he knew it couldn't be good. He decided to play along with her in hopes of uncovering her little game. "It is an honor to serve you, Goddess."

"And you have served Us well?" Nirrti asked.

"Yes, Goddess." Lantash was confused with her line of questioning.

"Since you are so devoted to your Goddess," the Goa'uld placed a finger under his chin and tipped his head slightly so they were looking into each others eyes. "Then you will have no compunctions about killing the traitor," Nirrti smirked.

It took every last ounce of reserve to stand his ground and not react to her command and the hurried whispers of his host.

Don't you dare, Lantash! He blocked out Elliot's pleas until his voice screamed so loud he was sure the irate young man could be heard in the room. Don't you fucking touch him! I will make your life a living hell!

Ignoring the silent escalating threats and curses, Lantash acknowledged the Goa'uld with a nod and slowly walked toward his friend. Elliot's pounding screams grew in intensity until Lantash found it difficult to think straight. Once he reached his destination, the throbbing headache was more than he could take.

Enough! He berated his host.

Shocked at Lantash's mental outburst, Elliot remained silent.

Do you really think so little of me? You share my thoughts. Look deeper beyond your own feelings and know my agony. Kiernen has been my friend longer than we have been together. Who are you to judge me when we have done worse.

Sufficiently chastised, the young man withdrew. He may be in a symbiotic relationship, but he damn well wanted Lantash to know he didn't approve of him or of his murderous intentions.

The tension in the room was palpable. Kiernen stood tall and faced his executioner without malice, he even managed a slight smile when Lantash raised his left hand adorned in the gold handheld device.

Lantash had been forced to kill in the past, all for the Tok'ra cause, but never before had his conscience weighed so heavily upon a broken heart. He would perform his duties, just as Kiernen accepted and carried out his own.

As Nirrti, Janet, and the entire room watched, the orange beam engaged and shot forth to emblazon a fiery path between wide emerald green eyes. Even though the young lotar had been prepared, the energy and pain emanating from the device shocked him.

Kiernen rocked back on his heels in an attempt to remain standing, but then the light intensified and within a matter of seconds blood began to ooze from his nose, eyes, and ears and then he crumpled lifeless at the Tok'ra's feet.

If Lantash could do nothing to prevent his demise, he could at least provide an ending as quick and painless as possible under the circumstances. He needed to find solace in the one last favor he could offer his friend.

Elliot had watched the entire scene unfold, helpless to prevent it and unable to turn away. Lantash was correct, Kiernen had chosen his alliance with the Tok'ra of his own free will and he deserved the respect and admiration fitting a fallen hero. Elliot begrudgingly respected Lantash for his ability to perform in the face of adversity, but could not find it within his heart to forgive him.

Nirrti broke the silence. "Well done, Faunus. Our faith in you is restored." She turned her attention to the small brunette who had fallen to her knees and wept for Kiernen. "Do not be afraid, Healer. You will not meet his fate."

Appalled that the Goa'uld had mistakenly assumed she was worried for her own life, Janet attempted to scream at her. "I hate you," her voice lacked volume, but dripped venom nonetheless. "I hate you both." The last statement was directed at Lantash, who was uncertain if the grieving doctor referred to Nirrti or Elliot.

Elliot had been just as confused. The sound of weapons fire interrupted his thoughts followed by a sharp command from the First Prime.

"Jaffa, kree!" Lomar shouted as he took position in front of Nirrti with his staff weapon raised and ready to fire. He nodded in the direction of the door and two Jaffa warriors quickly disappeared outside.

Within moments, the door burst open and the Jaffa threw a body onto the floor in the center of the room. Lomar toed the figure over onto its back revealing an unconscious blonde woman attired in a very familiar SGC uniform. The First Prime bared his teeth in a leering smile and kicked her hard in the ribs. When she didn't respond he crouched low and grabbed a handful of blonde hair, pulling her into a semi-recumbent position.

A gasp filled the silence. "Sam!" Janet jumped to her feet and ran to the perimeter of the helix field. She slapped her palms against the energy barrier to no avail. "Sam," she cried.

To Be Continued

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