Lost and Found -- Parts 5-9 by buttercup

TITLE: Lost and Found
AUTHOR: buttercup
EMAIL: buttercup5150@yahoo.com
WEBPAGE: http://www.geocities.com/buttercup5150/index.html
PAIRING: Sam/Janet, established relationship
CATEGORY: Action/adventure
SEASON: 3
SPOILERS: Just about anything up through the end of third season is fair game.
RATING: R (for violence)
STATUS: Complete
DISCLAIMER: They're not mine, I'm just borrowing them for awhile.
NOTES: Thanks to all the folks on AlternateReality, AlternateRealityfic, and Singularity, as well as those who dropped me notes off my web page, for helpful feedback and encouragement.
SUMMARY: A rescue mission becomes anything but routine when Sam, Janet and Makepeace are trapped inside a pyramid filled with mysterious and deadly secrets.

| Parts 1-4 | Part 5-9 | Parts 10-13 | Parts 14-17 | Parts 18 -Epilogue |


Part 5

Sam hovered nervously at the edge of the medical tent, watching as O'Neill, Daniel, and the two members of Makepeace's team were checked over by one medic. Another attended to Smith, who was laid out on a small cot located in one corner of the makeshift facility.

Normally, O'Neill protested loudly about submitting to any medical procedure, but at the moment he sat silent, deep in thought. She found herself almost wishing he would start complaining; another part of her knew that if he did it would only make Janet's absence even more noticeable. She wasn't sure she could deal with that at the moment.

As if sensing her anxiety, O'Neill suddenly lifted his head, gesturing her over. "Carter, take Wendell and check the perimeter of the pyramid. Check everything. The original survey said there weren't any openings other than that one," he added, pointing over Sam's shoulder to the now-blocked entranceway. "Lets just double check that."

"Shouldn't Daniel come with us?" Sam asked. Daniel, who stood nearby, paused from drinking from his canteen.

"Just don't touch anything," he warned. "Radio me if you find something."

"What do you have in mind, Daniel?" O'Neill asked.

Daniel shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I want to take a close look at the UAV photographs."

"Did we trigger that collapse back there?"

"No, and I don't think Makepeace or Fraiser did when they went in either. Whatever caused the initial collapse has probably made everything unstable."

Sam definitely didn't need to hear that, she thought, as she heard O'Neill mutter "Great, just great." An image of Janet, bleeding and broken beneath a pile of rubble, rose unbidden to her mind; with a shudder, she forced it away. She fiddled with her radio for a moment, attempting to hide a sudden tremor in her hands. "We'll check in every fifteen minutes, Sir," she said, then motioned to Wendell.

Focus

, Sam ordered herself sternly as she and Wendell made their way toward the pyramid. Panicking wasn't going to help anyone, least of all Janet. Doing her job would. Over the comm she heard Ramirez, presumably under orders from O'Neill, attempt to contact Makepeace. As before, there was nothing but static.

She and Wendell began carefully examining the wall of the pyramid near them, as well as the ground beneath their feet. It really was enormous, Sam thought, taking a moment to tilt her head back to look up at the peak far above her. It was also built from enormous blocks of stone, and Sam couldn't even begin to imagine how they had been placed. To distract herself, Sam contemplated the physics of building something like this without the benefits of technology.

The base of the pyramid, as well as the walls as far as she and Wendell could see from the ground were blank and featureless. In addition to looking for seams, cracks, structural weaknesses or hidden passages, Sam kept a careful eye out for any type of writing. But there was nothing, just dusty beige stone that matched the sand around it. The only thing that broke up the landscape were the small, dark brown clumps of scrub brush.

Several hours later, they were, by her reckoning, about two thirds of the way along the far side of the pyramid when her comm suddenly came to life. She had caught intermittent chatter, as well as continued attempts to raise Makepeace. Now, Daniel's voice crackled from the radio, and Sam detected a note of excitement in his voice.

"Did you find something?" she asked, not daring to hope that perhaps he'd found a way in.

"I'm not sure, but the UAV photographs show a small opening about halfway up the opposite side of the pyramid," he said.

"Halfway up?" she asked, her eyes rising involuntarily to look. "Daniel, that doesn't help us very much."

"Jack sent back to the SGC for mountain climbing gear. The opening might not be big enough to enter the pyramid through, but I thought we could send a camera down, try to get a look at the place. With any luck, Makepeace and Janet made it to the central chamber. As soon as Teal'c gets back we're heading out your way."

It was a slim chance, and Sam felt her heart sink when she realized that this was all Daniel had managed to come up with after several hours of studying the photographs. Not, she reflected bitterly, that she had done much better. She and Wendell had turned up absolutely nothing, and her sense of fear and anxiety were growing with each passing moment.

Janet could be dead, a small voice whispered. And now, with nothing to do except sit around and wait for the rest of her team, Sam was having a hard time keeping those thoughts at bay. "Do we know how long it is until nightfall?" she asked Wendell in an attempt to distract herself. Her voice sounded strained to her ears.

Wendell shrugged out of his pack, and pulled his canteen off his belt. "The MALP indicated the days were pretty long. We've got about nine hours of daylight left, I think."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief. At least they wouldn't have darkness to contend with. And then, before she could stop herself, she wondered how dark it was inside the pyramid. "They've got flashlights," she said abruptly, more to herself than to Wendell.

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "If they're smart, though, they'll use 'em only when they need 'em. It's gotta be pitch black in there." He paused, and took another sip. "I sure hope they're alive." He said it quietly, softly, almost as if he were uttering a prayer.

Sam found that that simple statement nearly undid her. Standing abruptly, she moved several feet away from the pyramid, and stood with her back toward Wendell, desperately willing herself not to cry. It took several long moments, but she finally drew a deep, shaky breath. "I hope so too, Sergeant. I'm going to check the base along the rest of this side. Wait here."

She went further than just the remainder of the side they'd been searching, taking the time to check the wall around the corner from them. It gave her something to do, and kept her away from an emotional breakdown she couldn't afford to have in front of Wendell. It was foolish, she knew, to wander off by herself, but she remained in radio contact with Wendell, and was close to his position when O'Neill radioed that they were nearly there.

"Look," Daniel said as soon as they arrived. He held one photograph out and pointed. Looking closer, Sam saw a dark square against the rock.

"What's it for?" she asked.

Shrugging, Daniel folded the photo again. "Impossible to say without knowing more about the people who built it. The Great Pyramid at Giza has openings similar to this that line up with the stars that make up the constellation Orion."

"Oh, yeah," O'Neill said, coming to stand beside him. "I think I saw something about that on the Discovery Channel once."

"Anyway," Daniel said after giving O'Neill a long look, "It won't be easy, but we should be able to scale the side and check it out."

"Right now, it's our only bet," O'Neill said. "Ready to do a little rock climbing, Carter?" he asked her.

Sam frowned. "Me, Sir?"

"Teal'c thinks you're the logical choice to go with him, since you're the lightest. You'll carry the surveillance equipment up once he's gotten a line run."

Sam didn't need a second invitation. She quickly pushed her pack off her shoulders, then shrugged out of her flack jacket. "Lets go," she said.

"I will go first, Major Carter," Teal'c said as O'Neill helped her into a harness. He was holding a heavy hammer in one hand.

"Lets go," she repeated urgently. If he had an opinion about any of this he didn't offer it; his expression remained as impassive as ever. Approaching the wall, he reached up and used the hammer to drive a heavy spike deep into the stone. Sam watched as he created footholds using the spikes up the side of the pyramid. Once he reached the opening, there would be not only a ladder of sorts leading up to the hole, there would be a line. This was the hard part-when Teal'c was finished, getting to the opening would be relatively simple, though it would probably not accommodate very many people at any given time.

As Teal'c slammed the hammer against another spike Sam had a sudden, horrible thought. She nudged Daniel. "Should he be doing that? It might set off another collapse."

"I thought of that," Daniel said. "But I don't think it's a problem. The stones are pretty thick, and will absorb the vibration. Besides," he added with a shrug, "we don't have very many options. After you left Jack went back into the tunnel to check out the blockage. If they're still alive, we'll never reach them through there."

Sam lifted her eyes up to where Teal'c clung, high above their heads, to the wall of the pyramid. If this didn't work, if the small camera they were going to run into the pyramid didn't show Janet alive, Sam wasn't sure what she was going to do. They didn't have many options left.

Finally, Teal'c radioed down that he had reached the opening and Sam started up. Well, she thought ruefully, it had looked easy when Teal'c was doing it, but she found that pulling her own weight up, even while bracing against the makeshift footholds driven into the side of the pyramid, was more difficult than she had thought it would be. At the edge of her vision, as she concentrated on keeping her balance, she saw Teal'c surreptitiously brace himself more firmly against his foothold and begin to assist her ascent.

With a final tug, she stood next to Teal'c at the opening. Taking a moment to look around she saw that there was nothing but rough desert for miles. Daniel, O'Neill and the rest of the team were small specks below her and Sam was suddenly reminded of how dangerous a tumble down the face of the pyramid from here would be. As if to reinforce her thoughts, Teal'c clipped her tether to a metal ring nearby then tugged on it firmly to make certain it would hold.

It was a little windier up here, but not too much more, and Sam found it wasn't too difficult to reorient her center of gravity to feel fairly safe and well-balanced. Glancing down she examined the opening before them. It wasn't very big, maybe a foot and a half tall by two feet wide, and ran down at a steep angle into the pyramid. Only the first few feet were illuminated by the sun.

She had a sudden thought. "Sir?" she said, quickly thumbing her radio to life. "I think I can fit down this shaft."

Beside her, Teal'c turned his head to fix her with a heavy stare.

"I'll keep it in mind," O'Neill said dryly. "Get that camera down there, and see if you can raise them on the radio."

The camera they were sending down was a small, lightweight, digital camera that could send a wireless signal across fairly substantial distances. With any luck, it would boost any radio signals from inside the pyramid as well. Teal'c tied one end of the rope through a metal hook on top and Sam sighed in exasperation. "I told the guys when they designed this thing to put it on a motorized rod so we could control it, but somebody, somewhere got a little cheap. We're not going to be able to pan it around very easily."

Reaching over, she snapped on the lamp, and Teal'c began lowering it carefully down the shaft. Next to him, Sam watched the camera's progress on a small, handheld monitor. The image was crisp and clear and revealed a blank, featureless shaft. At least it indicated that the shaft was the same size all the way down, she thought, thinking that was a good thing; not only could she probably get down it, but they could get Janet out this way as well.

The image jumped abruptly, and became distorted by static as the camera dropped free from the shaft. Sam watched as the picture wobbled a bit, before gradually stabilizing, though the static didn't go away.

"Whatever's blocking the radio signal is interfering with the camera," she observed, holding out the monitor for Teal'c to see. "Not as badly though." She squinted closely at the monitor image. It was difficult to make out, but Sam thought the camera was dangling inside an enormous chamber. The light on the camera was powerful, but the far walls were only barely visible, and she couldn't tell how far beneath the camera the floor was.

"Colonel Makepeace," she heard Teal'c intone into his radio. She waited with baited breath, hoping that they'd get some signal. At first there was nothing but static. Then they heard a voice, unintelligible and male.

"Lower the camera a little further," Sam said quickly, hoping that that might clear up the signal. Teal'c complied quickly, and they tried to raise Makepeace again. This time, they were rewarded.

"...nee-...here--...Fraise-..."

In frustration, she grabbed the radio from Teal'c hands. "Say again, Makepeace. Your signal is breaking up."

It was like Makepeace hadn't even heard her, she thought. He was shouting into the radio, with only the occasional word coming to those outside. "...RUN! Get-..." Sam heard that word and nearly dropped the radio. Run? Why was he telling her to run?

And then it dawned on her. Makepeace wasn't telling her to run; he was most likely telling Janet to run.

Which meant that she was still alive.

And that something was in there with them.


Part 6

The pistol Makepeace had shoved into her hand skittered across the floor as Janet fell hard across a pile of rubble. The first two times that had happened she'd been lucky, with only a few bruises to show for it.

This time, not only did she lose the gun, she heard the fabric of her fatigue pants tear, and felt something sharp slice into her knee. For a moment she lay there panting, watching the light attached to the front of her chest play eerily across the dark tunnel with each gasping breath she took.

Behind her, she could hear...sounds. Frantically, she willed herself not to try and decipher them any further and instead shifted, her eyes scanning the debris for her handgun. It was wedged beneath a block about two meters from where she now sprawled. She'd have to get up to get it. Normally she hated weapons, even though she'd been trained to use them. Now, she wanted nothing better than to find a secure corner somewhere and cower in it, clutching the hand gun.

First things first, she ordered herself, shifting into a sitting position. With one hand she focused the light on her wounded leg; with the other she pulled the flap of her fatigues to the side. A jagged shard of stone protruded from the soft flesh on the inside of her knee, blood already streaming from it.

She'd left the medical kit behind when Makepeace had ordered her to run. But she still had her field knife attached to her belt, which she used to cut several strips of fabric from the bottom of her tshirt. They were filthy, but they would have to do until she had time to get a proper dressing on the wound. With any luck, the shard hadn't penetrated deep enough to slice any major blood vessels or tendons.

Makeshift bandage ready, Janet grimaced, then reached down and quickly plucked the shard of rock from her leg, slapping a wad of fabric over it and applying pressure. It stung, but it didn't seem to hurt too badly, though Janet knew the adrenaline pumping through her system was taking care of that at the moment. Tossing the sharp object aside, she checked the wound, which continued to bleed sluggishly, then finished bandaging it.

Before getting up she paused again to listen, hearing stealthy, frightening sounds. For one panicked moment she imagined that they were nearby, moving in her direction and she hastily fumbled for the switch of her light.

Bad idea, she realized, as she was plunged once again into total darkness. But she remained there for a moment, sitting rigidly, holding her breath, listening for even the slightest sound of something coming for her out of the darkness.

As she sat straining to listen she imagined that whatever it was, and she'd only gotten a brief, terrifying glimpse of it before she'd bolted, knew she was waiting for it and had ceased all movement itself. It lived in total darkness, she reasoned. Therefore, it had to rely on other senses. Janet pictured it, hunkered down, supernatural hearing picking up her thundering heartbeat with little difficulty, its heightened sense of smell detecting the tang of fear and blood and sweat as it radiated off her.

That thought was too much. With shaking fingers she snapped her light back on, half-expecting to see some horrifying creature leap out at her as soon as she did so.

But there was nothing, nothing but dust and stone walls, and she breathed a deep sigh of relief before climbing painfully to her feet. A stream of fire shot down her injured leg which she ignored as she bent to retrieve the pistol.

She forced herself to move more slowly, not only because of her leg but because she realized running around in a panic would likely get her killed. She needed to calm down. More importantly, she needed to think.

What would Sam do?

she asked herself. Maybe it would help if she could figure out what a more experienced field officer would do in her place. Granted, she reflected, Makepeace's first instinct had been to order her to run, an order she'd actually obeyed without hesitation. She couldn't decide if splitting up was a wise tactical move or not. On the one hand, since whatever it was had been heading directly toward their position, getting her out of harm's way had probably been a smart move. However, now she was out here on her own and while she had some combat training, she didn't delude herself into thinking she'd been at all adequately trained for this.

Her conversation with Sam about this very topic just a few hours ago flickered across her memory, almost mocking her. Yep, when she got out of this, she'd definitely sit down and have a long talk with the general about training the medical teams. That is, she thought grimly, if she still worked for General Hammond after blatantly disregarding orders. She didn't even bother to ponder whether or not she'd get out of this pyramid; she couldn't afford to think that way. Besides, she thought, allowing herself a small smile, Sam was somewhere outside. If anyone could devise a way to get them out safely, it was Sam. It was up to her to stay alive long enough for Sam to get her out.

Picking her way carefully through the passageway, which Janet noted was becoming more and more clear as she moved along it, she went over her options. She didn't really want to think about whatever it was here inside the pyramid with them, but if she was somehow going to survive this, Janet realized she'd have to. She remembered Sam's voice crackling brokenly over the radio just seconds before...something...had moved into the space near them. They hadn't turned on their lights, Makepeace concerned that the light would give away their position.

Upon reflection, Janet realized that in the total darkness she'd felt something approach their position. Felt it in the displacement of the air molecules around her, in the rise of gooseflesh on her arms despite the hot dry air. Whatever sixth sense humans had evolved to detect someone or something sneaking up on them had kicked in, full force, and Janet felt the familiar discomfort, like a weight, tingle on her back and shoulders.

Then it, whatever it was, had screamed, a protracted, bone-rattling shriek that had overwhelmed the space they were in. The sound, accompanied by a blast of fetid air, had reverberated along the tunnel and she'd clapped her hands over her ears in an attempt to block the sound. But Makepeace had had other ideas. He'd grabbed her hand, slapped his handgun into it and had ordered her to run, giving her a hard shove on the backside with his good leg for added measure.

Janet paused in her trek through the tunnels, the memory causing her fingers to tighten their grip on the handgun. Her palms were sweaty.

She didn't know how she'd managed to avoid the creature. She didn't even recall switching her light back on. Makepeace's push had nearly sent her sprawling onto the floor, but she'd somehow managed to keep her balance. At one point she remembered instinctively ducking and rolling as something swished past her head. Then she'd sprinted, full-tilt, ignoring bumps and bruises from various falls, until she'd hurt her leg.

Janet wondered if the sound the creature had made was an attempt at communication, or some form of echo-location. That brought to mind the picture of an enormous bat, mouth hanging open to reveal sharp, vicious teeth. With a shudder, she forced the image from her mind.

Makepeace must've done something to distract it, she realized, drawn attention to himself so she could slip past it to relative safety. She hadn't heard any gunfire, but that didn't mean anything; she'd been pretty single-minded in her flight, concentrating solely on putting as much distance between herself and it as possible.

Which meant, she realized with a pang now that she had time to think, that she'd left a seriously wounded man to deal with some unknown, and possibly lethal monster. She wasn't combat trained by any stretch, but Janet suddenly felt like a coward.

She stopped, straining to see what was up ahead of her, then looked over her shoulder, back the way she'd just come. Though she'd run pretty blindly, she thought the tunnel had run straight away from where she and Makepeace had gotten caught by the collapse. If not, if there were twists and turns that she'd been oblivious too, she was fairly certain she'd be able to backtrack using her own footprints in the dust.

Turning again, she scrutinized the tunnel ahead. Her light didn't penetrate far, but it looked like it began to slope gently up about five meters ahead of her.

So, the question, Janet realized, was whether or not she kept going forward toward what could possibly be a way out, or turned back and went to see whether or not Makepeace was still alive.

The answer should have been simple. Makepeace was wounded; as a doctor her place was at his side, where she could do the most good, even if that meant endangering herself. She didn't know her way around the pyramid. For all she knew, she could stumble into a trap, or become hopelessly lost, doomed to spend whatever little time she had before dehydration, starvation and infection set in wandering around aimlessly.

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut for a moment, Janet shook her head in an attempt to clear it. God help her, but she really didn't think she had the courage to go back and find out what had happened to Makepeace. Not when that meant the possibility of running head on into whatever it was in here with them.

For a moment, the breath seemed to stick in her throat, as she felt overwhelmed by a wave of despair. Her light cut a bright, dust-filled swath through the darkness around her, but did little to reassure her, reminding her instead of what horrors might be lurking just at the edges of the beam. With a small choking sound, she stumbled backwards, slamming abruptly against the wall. Her fingers shook as she quickly slipped the safety of the gun off, then she held it in front of her with two white-knuckled hands.

"You have to go back," she whispered. "You have to."

Janet repeated this to herself three times, like a mantra, before she was actually able to move. Then, swallowing hard, she forced herself to push away from the wall and turned back. The darkness of the tunnel behind her seemed to skulk after her, and she had to will herself not to whirl around. Her steps sounded preternaturally loud as small pebbles crunched beneath her feet. Her left boot squeaked when she walked, too, she realized. So much for being stealthy.

Her trail was ridiculously easy to follow, her boots having left clear marks behind in the dust. That turned out to be a good thing, Janet realized, when she saw a pitch black gap in the wall to her left. So, there was at least one passageway off of this one, she realized. As she neared it, she turned quickly before she lost her nerve, panning her light into the tunnel. It looked the same as the one she was currently in and was, thankfully, empty. At least as far as she could tell.

Nonetheless, its appearance unnerved her. She hadn't even registered it in her flight, and there was no telling how many she'd passed. If there were more, each one was a potential death trap. For a moment her steps faltered, and she seriously considered turning back to try and find a way out.

She was still trying to make up her mind when the ground began to vibrate beneath her feet, sending the small pebbles littering the floor dancing. Instinctively, she crouched to the floor, throwing her arms over her head to shield herself from falling debris.

But there was nothing. After a few moments, the shaking stopped, and Janet cautiously lowered her arms, then rose to her feet. The movement had displaced a few very small stones, but it appeared as though the pyramid had found some structural stability and had stopped collapsing. At least her part of it, she thought with relief, realizing that that might not be true with respect to Makepeace's location.

She'd only moved a few steps forward when a familiar sound make her pull up short, body tensed. It was the same sound of stone slowly grinding against stone that she and Makepeace had heard shortly after she'd set his leg. That had been hours ago, though, but she wondered if the movement had released the monster somewhere deep inside, and it had just taken its sweet time finding them.

Oh God, she thought in panic, what if the pyramid was letting another one out of whatever cage it kept them in? The vibrations must be caused by some release mechanism, she thought, cold sweat suddenly trickling down her back. Breaking into a slow jog, Janet expected to hear that nightmarish shriek again any second.

The increased motion caused her wound to bleed freely, she realized as she felt a warm trail ooze down her calf. But there was no time to stop and check the bandage; she was spurred on by an almost biological imperative to keep moving, as though, if she stood still, bony fingers would clutch at her from the shadows.

Darting past two more openings in the tunnel wall, she doggedly followed the trail of her own footsteps in the dust. She couldn't believe she'd actually come this far, and told herself the trip had probably seemed much shorter because she'd been filled with terror. Not that she wasn't feeling much the same at the moment, she thought ruefully; this was just a slightly more controlled form of terror.

Janet had never considered herself the shrinking violet type, confident in her training and her own sense of duty. But right now she would have been overjoyed to stumble across a very much alive and armed Makepeace. Or better yet, she thought, Sam, coming to her rescue, materializing out of the darkness before her with a way out already in the works. As wired as she was at the moment, Janet thought hysterically, she'd have to be careful not to shoot Sam on sight should she really suddenly appear. Or Makepeace, for that matter.

Without warning, her swinging flashlight beam briefly illuminated a flash of beige directly in her path, just before the light dipped to the floor again. Reflexively, Janet's finger jerked against the trigger, and the shot roared through the tunnel before she was even aware of what she'd done. The recoil nearly knocked her off her feet, and it was several moments before she was steady enough to focus the beam of her light with one trembling hand down the tunnel in front of her.

When she did so, her jaw dropped in amazement, and she stepped forward slowly.

Right where her trail told her there shouldn't be one, there was a solid wall of stone.


Part 7

"God damn..." The wind sent snatches of O'Neill's voice up to Sam as he pulled himself hand over hand up the side of the pyramid. "Son of a..." She spared him a quick glance as Teal'c moved to assist his ascent. "Crap..." she heard him yell loudly as Teal'c hauled him abruptly up to stand just beneath her position. He wobbled momentarily, then found his balance and glared up at her. "Remind me to kick Makepeace's ass when this is all over," he snarled. Then, as an afterthought, he added, "And Doc Fraiser's too."

Despite her worry, Sam ducked her head and smiled, knowing she wouldn't want to be in either Janet's or Makepeace's boots when SG1 succeeded in getting them out of the pyramid.

"Let me see the video," O'Neill demanded. Wordlessly, Sam handed him the monitor, pressing the play button with her thumb. He watched it twice, then handed the monitor back to her. "He's alive, at least."

"I believe Doctor Fraiser is alive as well," Teal'c observed. "That is who Colonel Makepeace was ordering to run."

"Sir," Sam began, "I think something's down there with them," she said.

O'Neill squinted up at her. "How do you figure that, Major? The tunnel could just be collapsing again."

As soon as she said it, Sam felt her face flush. Of course O'Neill was correct that there was more than one explanation for what they'd heard. She was mortified that she hadn't considered that possibility as well. After she and O'Neill had nearly died in the Antarctic she'd thought long and hard about what she could have done to get them out of danger faster, and had realized that if she'd simply tried another address she and O'Neill would have been rescued that much sooner. But fear and worry had locked her into a particular solution and she hadn't been able to break out of it. Had it not been for Daniel, they would have certainly died. Now her concern for Janet was clouding her judgement again, something she couldn't afford at the moment.

If O'Neill noticed her embarrassment, he kept it to himself. "You really gotta stop being such a pessimist, Carter," he teased good-naturedly before leaning down to examine the shaft carefully.

"Sir, we can get Doctor Fraiser out through here," she said urgently. "The radio's no good. Someone's going to have to go in and find them."

Shaking his head, O'Neill looked back up at her. "I don't know, Carter. It looks pretty narrow. Not that you don't do a fabulous job of maintaining your girlish figure, but I don't want you getting stuck."

"I won't get stuck," she said quickly. "Look, sir, the camera's useless," she said, waving the monitor under his nose, "and the radio is dead. Unless you've got a better idea, this is the only way we're going to get to them!" Her voice rose to a shout as she spoke.

"And what if it starts coming down again?" O'Neill yelled back at her. "Then what, Carter? You've been hot to get inside this thing since...since before we left the SGC."

"Shouting will not help Colonel Makepeace or Doctor Fraiser," Teal'c intoned quietly behind her.

"I know that!" O'Neill said loudly, then raised his hands in frustration. "I know that," he repeated quietly. "But people going off half-cocked, without a plan, is what got us into this mess in the first place."

O'Neill was right and she knew it. However, it didn't change things. There was still only one way into the pyramid at the moment.

"So, lets make a plan," O'Neill continued, calmly. "Carter, assuming, just for a second, that you can fit down this shaft, then what?"

Drawing a deep breath, Sam nodded. "Then, I stay attached to the line and scan the immediate area," she said. "The radio should work at the bottom of the shaft, and you can still pull me back up if there's trouble. If everything's clear, I'll start searching for them."

"And send Fraiser up the second you find her."

"The second," Sam assured him, meaning every word. She'd knock Janet out and put her in the harness by force if she had to, she thought.

"That doesn't help Makepeace, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. If you can find him at least we'll know he's got air, and we can get supplies to him. He'll be fine until we can dig him out." There was a strange expression on O'Neill's face as he talked about Makepeace, and Sam realized he was looking pointedly at her. She had no idea why until O'Neill added, softly, "We'll get him out, Sam."

It was the uncharacteristic use of her first name that startled her at first, O'Neill's actual meaning taking another moment or two to sink in. When it did, she gaped at him for a moment, her eyes wide. "Makepeace?" she blurted out, without thinking. "You think..." she stopped and frowned helplessly at him. "What exactly do you think?" This was neither the time nor the place to be having this conversation, but she was so taken aback that she couldn't help it. She'd never really thought O'Neill was particularly intuitive about people, but he'd obviously noted her strange behavior since this mission had begun. And, truth be told, he wasn't that far off base with his assumptions. He just had the wrong person in mind.

Before O'Neill could answer her, Sam blinked, then looked away quickly. "Never mind," she said quickly. This was definitely not the place to have this discussion. "I don't want to know," she added, shaking her head. O'Neill was probably basing some of this on disgusting locker room talk that she knew she didn't want to know about.

Teal'c had remained silent throughout the exchange, shifting only so he could attach a rope securely to her harness. "Pull twice on the rope, Major Carter, if you wish me to stop feeding the line," he said, helping her to sit down so that her legs dangled down the shaft. "Pull once when you wish me to resume."

"Take your handgun. We'll send the rifle and your pack down as soon as you get to the bottom," O'Neill said, then fussed over her harness for a moment before straightened. "Be careful, Carter," he added simply. "Keep your radio on and don't take any unnecessary chances. Get in, extract the doc, and get out, is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir," Sam said, then nodded to Teal'c, who shifted until he found a comfortable, but firm stance, and held the rope ready in his hands.

With one hand, Sam reached up and turned her radio on, then clipped a light to her sleeve, snapping that on also. After a quick communications check, she placed her hands on either side of the opening, leaning forward to rest most of her weight on them. Bracing her feet against the sides of the shaft, she slid forward and lowered herself, with Teal'c help, into the shaft.

It was a tight fit, she realized as soon as her pelvis passed through the opening. A very tight fit. If Teal'c slipped and dropped her she'd have some serious scrapes and brush burns on some interesting portions of her anatomy. As it was, her hips dragged uncomfortably against the rough sides of the shaft, her fatigues riding up. There was no room for her arms to rest at her sides, so she wrapped her hands loosely around the rope above her head, ready to signal Teal'c if she needed to stop her descent for any reason.

The flashlight on her sleeve offered some illumination once the tiny amount of daylight that managed to make its way into the shaft had faded, but it mostly cast weird, disconcerting shadows around her, reminding her of just how tiny the space she occupied was. If she didn't end up mildly claustrophobic from this it would be a miracle, she thought ruefully.

Sam wondered if Janet suffered from claustrophobia, and realized that she had absolutely no idea if she did or not. It was something they'd never talked about, and Sam added it to her list of things to discuss once this was over. There was so much she didn't know about Janet...

If the other woman was bothered by small spaces, she told herself, hoping to distract herself from darker thoughts, then she would simply have to deal with it long enough for Teal'c to pull her out of the pyramid. That was all there was to it.

After what seemed like an eternity, an eternity filled with nothing but the rough tunnel wall passing slowly before her eyes and the sound of her own breathing, Sam felt her hips slip out of the shaft. Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, she waited until her body was entirely free of the shaft before tugging twice on the rope. Immediately, her descent halted, and she hung, suspended, in a large chamber.

The air was hot, hotter than it had been outside, and dry. She swayed slightly, her body turning in a slow, lazy circle while she unclipped her light from her sleeve and held it out in front of her. Panning the beam around, Sam saw that she was in an enormous, rectangular room made of the same beige colored blocks of stone that composed the outside of the pyramid. The floor was a good four meters below her, and by her estimate, the shaft opened into the ceiling in the exact center of the room. Openings set into the center of each of the four walls lead out of the room.

"Carter?" O'Neill's voice crackled faintly over the radio, distorted by static.

"I'm in, Sir," she said quickly, hoping he was picking up her signal. "It's an empty chamber, but there are doors leading out of the room. Lower me slowly." For good measure, she tugged firmly, once, on the rope.

As she felt Teal'c comply with her request, O'Neill's voice sounded over the radio again. "Any sign of Makepeace or Fraiser?" She couldn't help but detect the faint note of hopefulness in his voice.

"Negative, sir," she said. "Judging from the dust, nothing's been in this room for centuries. Tell Daniel it doesn't look like a burial chamber."

"Like you'd know what one is supposed to look like," O'Neill said sarcastically just as her feet touched the floor. She waited until she had a good three meters of slack before she signaled for Teal'c to stop.

"Carter, we're going to lower your weapon and pack down, now," she heard O'Neill say. She pulled her handgun out of her waistband. There was nothing threatening in her immediate vicinity, but Sam remembered, with a shiver, that her first assumption had been that something else was in here with Makepeace and Janet. Better to be safe than sorry, she decided.

Looking up, she saw a tiny rectangle of sky far above her head that was all but obliterated when something, presumably her equipment, was lowered into the opening. In a few minutes it dangled a few feet from her, and she hastily unhooked it. Her handgun went back into its holster, and she hastily slung the rifle over her shoulder, feeling immediately better now that she was adequately armed.

Thumbing her radio, she called for Fraiser or Makepeace. No static, but no voices either. It was possible that they had their radios off to conserve the batteries.

"Sir," she said into her radio, knowing he'd heard her failed attempts to contact the missing officers. "Permission to start searching for Fraiser and Makepeace."

"Affirmative," O'Neill said after a long pause. "Be back here in fifteen minutes, though," he added.

"Yes, sir," Sam said. She quickly slipped out of the harness, dropping it to the floor directly beneath the shaft, then turned in a slow circle, looking at the compass on her watch. "North, south, east or west?" she asked aloud as she shrugged her pack onto her shoulders.

"Say again, Carter?" she heard O'Neill say.

"Nothing, Sir. Just deciding which direction to go in, that's all."

"Well, west is best, Carter. Everybody knows that."

"Right, Sir. Heading west."

With one last glance up the shaft at the sky, followed by a last check of her compass, Sam hefted her rifle and began walking west, deeper into the pyramid.


Part 8

For a moment, Janet simply stood staring at the wall that shouldn't be there before it dawned on her that she was effectively trapped in a dead end tunnel. With a horrified choking sound, she whirled around, gun brandished in front of her and stared intently down the tunnel.

There was nothing, no movement or sound. After a few minutes, Janet lowered the gun, her hands shaking, and slipped the safety back on. As jumpy as she was at the moment she realized she'd be more likely to shoot her own foot off than anything else.

Reluctantly, she turned back and examined the wall that now blocked her path. It was made of dusty, rough-hewn blocks identical to the ones that formed the walls to either side of her. Were it not for her footprints in the dust, including one cut in half by the wall, she might have been able to convince herself that she'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. But unless there was someone else, aside from Makepeace who couldn't even stand much less run anywhere, wearing government issue combat boots running around this pyramid, she thought ruefully, then these had to be hers. Just to make absolutely certain, she carefully checked her new footprints against the ones she'd been following. They were a perfect match.

Determining this didn't make her feel any better, Janet realized. Makepeace was now effectively trapped between this wall and the debris blocking the tunnel, wounded and with his air supply potentially cut off. That was assuming he was even still alive, she thought grimly.

To distract herself, she carefully examined every inch of the wall, attempting to find a release mechanism. This wall moving must have been the grinding sound she'd heard just after that last tremor, she realized. Whatever was causing the pyramid to shake was setting off whatever defense mechanisms the builders had put into place.

All her search revealed, however, was the chip in one of the blocks caused by the bullet she'd fired at it in her panic. After a few minutes she gave up.

Running one hand through her hair then rubbing the back of her neck, she drew a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. As she dropped her hand, it snagged on the antenna of the radio attached to the front of her vest. For a moment, Janet stared down at it as if she'd never seen one before, then looked up and sighed in exasperation.

It was a long shot, she knew. The radio hadn't worked when O'Neill had tried to contact them from outside the pyramid. But maybe, just maybe, she thought hopefully, whatever was causing the interference wouldn't affect the radio from inside. There was a chance she could raise Makepeace. She'd feel better knowing that he was still alive, at least.

With one hand she hastily turned the dial. The small radio instantly came to life and she felt a burst of sheer joy run through her as she heard Sam's voice.

"-peace. Makepeace, can you read me?"

"Sam!" she said into the unit, wincing at how loud her voice sounded in the enclosed space.

"Janet?" Janet could plainly hear the relief in Sam's voice. "Janet, are you all right?"

"It's good to hear your voice. I'm fine," Janet reassured her hastily. "I have a minor leg wound, but I can walk. Makepeace is badly injured though. A broken leg." Then, before Sam could reply, a horrible thought occurred to her. "Sam, are you inside the pyramid?"

"Yeah, I came in through a small shaft-"

"Sam, you've got to be careful. There's something else in here. I didn't get a good look at it, but it came at us."

"All right," Sam said, and Janet could hear her trying desperately to reassure both of them. "Stay with Makepeace. I'll find you, OK? Just stay put."

"I'm not with Makepeace," Janet countered, ignoring Sam's order to stay put and began walking forward. "He ordered me to run, which...I did. After I fell and hurt my leg I decided to go back for him, but the way is blocked."

"Another cave in?"

"No, a wall." During this entire conversation she hadn't heard a peep from Makepeace. He'd had his radio on when she'd last left him, so he was either unconscious or...

"I have to check in with O'Neill," Sam said after a few moments, and Janet was grateful to her for cutting off that train of thought. "As far as you know, you're still in the main tunnel, right?"

"As far as I can tell, yes."

"Ok, just stay where you are. Leave your radio on, OK?

"All right," Janet said, stopping. She knew Sam would leave her radio on as well, and suddenly felt immeasurably better at just having voice contact with someone else. It was kind of like wanting Makepeace to stay awake and keep her company in the dark, she realized. There was nothing worse than feeling completely alone.

"Don't worry, Janet. I'll find you, I promise."

"I know you will," Janet said softly. She didn't add that she hoped Sam would find her before whatever was in here with them did. At the thought, Janet felt her throat tighten slightly. "Just...just be careful, OK?" She'd never forgive herself if anything happened to Sam because of her.

"You too," Sam replied.

The radio fell silent. After a few moments Janet leaned against the wall, feeling suddenly very drained of energy. To give herself something to do, she checked the bandage on her leg, noting that the bleeding had slowed down again. And it was beginning to throb painfully, she realized. It was hardly surprising; the sudden fatigue and the pain meant that whatever adrenaline rush she'd been operating under had finally worn off.

After about five minutes her radio came to life again abruptly, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Janet listened to Sam report in, smiling at the side of the conversation she could hear as Sam declined to relay some choice comments from O'Neill once he found out she was probably listening. As far as she was concerned, she could wait, knowing both she and Makepeace were due for a few well-deserved reprimands.

It was quiet again, and Janet assumed Sam was making her way back deeper into the pyramid. Janet could picture her, weapon clutched in her hands, making her way cautiously through the tunnels. She nearly smiled at the thought, telling herself that any second now she'd spot Sam's light bobbing in the distance.

"Janet, you still with me?" she heard Sam say softly over the radio.

"I'm here," she replied quickly.

"Small consolation," Sam said, and Janet could almost hear her smile. "But I think the Colonel wants you out of here almost as badly as you do."

"I'll bet he does," Janet muttered. "Can we talk about something else? I'd rather not have to deal with that until I have to."

Sam chuckled. "OK, pick a topic?"

"I don't know," Janet began. "What do you think is blocking the radio?" she asked, glancing around.

"The Colonel asked me the same thing. I have no idea, but there must be something in the outer walls of the pyramid that interferes with the signal. Some kind of shielding or something."

"Shielding?"

"Yeah, just on the outside, though. Otherwise, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The question is why?"

Janet smiled to herself, listening to the excitement in Sam's voice as she tried to solve the problem. "Maybe they didn't want their teenage daughters tying up their phone lines," she offered with a chuckle, thinking about the arguments they'd been having recently with Cassie about that very subject.

She heard Sam snort with laughter. "Actually that may not be very far from the truth," she said. "Your signal was really distorted when we tried to raise you from the Stargate. And even when I spoke with Colonel O'Neill just a few minutes ago there was a lot of static. Whatever it is, it pretty effectively blocks signals from going in or out, even at very short ranges. Even the video signal from the camera we sent down first was affected."

"So this whole place is one big trap," Janet observed, not feeling at all comforted by Sam's analysis. "Between the moving walls and the shielding, it's designed to keep whatever gets caught inside it completely cut off from the outside."

"Well, Doctor Glass-half-empty, it could also have been designed to hide something."

"Oh yes," Janet said sarcastically. "A giant pyramid right next to the Stargate is so inconspicuous."

"There might be pyramids all over this planet, for all we know," Sam said. The UAV didn't show anything, but its range isn't that--"

"Shhh!" Janet said suddenly, her body tensing. She'd heard a sound in the tunnel ahead. "Sam, stop walking for a minute," she whispered, tightening her grip on the gun. Hopefully, when Sam stopped the noise she was hearing would also stop, indicating that Sam was close by.

"What is it?" she heard Sam ask urgently. In front of her, Janet could hear clicking and shuffling moving in her direction. "Janet?"

"Shit, oh shit," Janet said frantically. She had to get to one of those side tunnels she'd passed earlier. If she didn't, she'd be trapped. There was no telling what might be waiting for her in those other tunnels, but it was better than waiting around like a sitting duck in this one.

"It's coming, Sam," she said, breaking into a run.

Without warning, that horrible shriek reverberated around her. Pouring on an additional burst of speed she hadn't known she was capable of, Janet sprinted forward. Her light swung crazily in front of her, and she nearly missed the side tunnel, her feet almost slipping out from beneath her as she took the right turn as quickly as possible. She was dimly aware of Sam shouting something at her.

Janet heard it move into the tunnel behind her, heard its clacking, flapping sounds of pursuit. It was faster than she was. She sensed rather than heard it closing in on her and knew with a horrible certainty that she would not be able to outrun it.

Another turn up ahead, she realized, catching sight of the wall in the arcing beam of her light too late to effectively negotiate the corner. She bounced roughly off the wall in front of her, angling left and slamming into the opposite wall before spinning around to face the way she had just come.

It was in that moment that Janet caught her first real glimpse of what was chasing her through the dark and sincerely wished she hadn't as fear sweat immediately broke out all over her body. Her legs gave out beneath her and she slid helplessly to the floor.

It was an insect, she thought wildly, her mind almost unable to comprehend its size. Its bulk nearly filled the tunnel and it looked like a cross between a beetle and a praying mantis. Unable to tear her eyes away she used her legs to push herself away from the monstrosity. But it moved almost faster than she could see, leaping forward to land on top of her.

Its abdomen pinned her legs beneath it as serrated forelimbs landed on either side of her head. She was screaming now, trying to bring the gun still miraculously clutched in her right hand up to defend herself. An enormous triangular head swung forward, just inches from her own, and she realized with horror that its jaws were working rapidly, a vicious vertical slit for a mouth oozing saliva as it leaned over her.

Just as her fingers found the safety on her weapon its jaws retracted abruptly to reveal a black, lolling tongue. The shriek this time was deafening. And accompanied by a fine mist which sprayed into her face, stinging her eyes and mouth and nose with needle sharp pricks.

Venom, she thought as she felt her awareness start to slip away almost immediately. It was killing her, Janet thought. It was probably going to eat her. She forced her numbing lips to move one last time as the tunnel, as the horrible vision wavering above her, began to fade away. "Get out, Sam," she mumbled. Sam had to get out; she had to save Sam from this, she thought. Janet wanted to say more, so much more, all the words of love and commitment that she'd always meant to say but somehow had never gotten around to actually speaking, all those cliched phrases that now seemed so true and so important.

But the poison was spreading quickly; it was difficult to breath, impossible to speak. She could no longer move.

The last thing she was aware of was the sense of motion, of the ceiling sliding away just as her eyes closed.


Part 9

Get out, Sam!

The passage she was walking along curved gently, and sloped perceptibly down. The ceiling, a good meter above her head, and walls were made of the same featureless beige stone she'd seen on the outside of the pyramid. The floor was composed of densely packed dirt, a small trench worn by the passage of many feet running down the center.

Get out, Sam!

She tightened her fingers around the barrel of her gun and squinted ahead, trying to see as far down the tunnel as was humanly possible. It occurred to her that she should have asked O'Neill to send down a pair of night vision goggles, and Sam made a mental note to do just that when she checked in again.

Get out, Sam!

With a frustrated sigh, Sam reached up and pressed her thumb against her radio. She'd been trying to raise Janet for nearly five minutes with no results. The radio was still working, of that Sam was certain. Erratic tapping and shuffling noises echoed from it, sounds that weren't helping Sam's imagination.

Get out, Sam!

Despite her best efforts, Janet's last words kept replaying in her head. Her scream, followed by another, unworldly shriek that must have come from the creature in here with them had been unnerving enough. But not nearly as unnerving as the slurred, mumbled, yet no less urgent plea from Janet.

Sam knew, with an absolute certainty that was based on nothing more than a deep-seated instinct that Janet had warned her away because she'd been dying. Or thought she'd been dying, Sam stubbornly corrected herself. She hadn't come this far to give up hope now, she reminded herself.

As if to reinforce her determination, Sam picked up her pace, determined to examine as much of the tunnel she was in as possible before turning back to report in. As tempting as it was, Sam didn't dare miss the check-in; maintaining her escape route and her contact with the outside were vital, especially if Janet had been injured in some way. A little bit more than five minutes remained, and she decided she could double-time it back to the chamber.

By her reckoning, she hadn't actually moved very far away from the check-in point, since she'd stopped moving for a few minutes when Janet had been attacked. A quick glance at the compass on her wrist confirmed the gentle turn of the passageway she followed, since the needle now pointed southwest; it had been pointing due west when she'd first started out.

With a reluctant sigh, Sam pulled up short, and decided to turn around, breaking into a trot. She'd fill O'Neill in, then ask to increase the check-in time. If she had to keep running back every fifteen minutes she'd never find Janet.

Given the length of the days the initial MALP survey had indicated, Sam guessed the pyramid was located somewhere near the planet's equator. It was doubtful that they were north or south of that and that the planet was very large because the gravity was essentially the same as earth's. Being at or near the equator also explained the heat, Sam thought. And, unlike most of the ancient pyramid builders on earth, Sam realized, the builders of this pyramid had aligned theirs to the magnetic north, rather than true north. Unless, Sam thought, the planet had a perfectly vertical axis, in which case true north and magnetic north would be exactly the same.

She'd have to remember to mention all this to Daniel, noting that while this information was interesting and might potentially be useful in orienting herself inside the pyramid, what she was really doing was finding a way to occupy her mind. It definitely beat worrying to death about Janet, which was the only alternative.

Before she could wonder if Janet had a compass on her, she felt a familiar vibration pass through her legs. She stopped abruptly, pressing against the wall and looking up warily at the ceiling. This tremor was much subtler than the one she'd felt outside, though it went on for several long seconds before subsiding. Thankfully there'd been no further collapse, at least at her location, though she wondered about other, less stable areas of the structure.

Looking at her watch again, she realized she had less than a minute before she was supposed to be back in the chamber to contact O'Neill. The length of tunnel she was currently in looked indistinguishable from other sections, but she was certain she was near her starting point. A quick check of her compass indicated that she was now facing almost due east. The doorway should be just up ahead.

Well before she reached it, however, she knew she was in trouble. Janet had mentioned that her way had been blocked by a door that had suddenly appeared. Now, Sam suddenly found herself in exactly the same predicament.

Her light illuminated the wall of blocks from several meters away, but she walked cautiously forward anyway, glancing warily around. When she was within a few feet of it, she reached out and pressed the tips of her fingers against it. She hadn't really expected it to be a hologram, or something insubstantial, but it had been worth a shot.

But it was a wall, a real, solid, impenetrable wall. Or a force field that damn sure felt like a wall, she thought irritably.

"Damn!" she exclaimed, exhaling sharply. "Colonel?" she called into the radio. "Colonel O'Neill, can you read me?"

Nothing, just the same disconcerting sounds she'd been hearing since she'd lost contact with Janet.

"Damn!" she said again. After a moment, she gave the offending wall a good, solid kick for added measure. "This is just great," she said aloud, turning back the way she'd just come. Now she was trapped in here along with Janet and Makepeace.

And a rampaging monster, she thought ruefully, resting her finger on the weapon's safety.

"I guess that solves the check-in problem," she added, knowing that O'Neill was going to go ballistic when she failed to signal him. She now had time to search for Janet as long as she wanted. Of course, with no way out it didn't really matter.

Sam was suddenly, horribly reminded of Jolinar, of the sickening sense of being trapped, of being cut off from everyone and everything. At the time, she'd screamed and ranted and raged against Jolinar, trying desperately to free herself from the prison her own body had become. But Jolinar had refused to yield, had snapped short answers to her frantic questions, taking whatever information from Sam's mind that she needed with no permission and little effort.

With a shudder, Sam closed her eyes, swallowing against the tightness suddenly constricting her throat. This was not the same thing, she told herself. Then, she'd been helpless, completely and utterly helpless, dependent on the Colonel and Janet to save her. Here and now, she had choices. She wasn't helpless. She was armed. She could move freely. And most importantly, Janet needed her, needed her to be strong and smart and in control, not mired in choking fear and lingering despair.

It was too bad, she mused bitterly, as she turned and started back down the passage, that she didn't have more ready access to Jolinar's memories. Most of the time the thought of one of the Tok'ra's hidden memories popping up filled her with a sick sense of dread, no matter how helpful the information might be. But at the moment, rather than simply remembering the fear and the helplessness that had overshadowed her brief stint as a host, she desperately wished that experience would provide her with something useful.

Like a ready-made map to the inside of this pyramid, complete with a "You are here" red arrow and illuminated exit signs, she thought. The mental picture made her smile grimly as she continued forward.

Striding down the passageway again, Sam forced her attention back to the tremor she'd felt just before discovering she, too, was trapped. It could have been seismic activity, as Daniel had surmised. Perhaps there'd been an earthquake, and they were experiencing increasingly milder aftershocks.

But the suspicious appearance of a wall blocking her way out told Sam that the tectonic plates of this planet were probably not the culprit. There must be some mechanism at work, she surmised, operating on a timer or tripped by some unseen trigger. She'd have to ask Janet if she'd felt any tremors before her path had been blocked.

She'd made a note of the time when the last tremor had occurred; she'd need at least another two to determine whether or not they were on a timer. And even if she did manage to work out the schedule, that wouldn't really tell her much about where blockages were likely to occur since she had no real sense of the pyramid's internal structure. And two more avenues cut off could only mean being more trapped, she decided.

First things first, she ordered herself. She needed to find Janet as quickly as possible. Not just wanted to find her, needed to find her. Sam needed to hold her tightly, feel the heat of her body and the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed, needed to run her fingers through Janet's hair and hear the sound of her voice. The need for all the tactile reminders of life was physical, beyond companionship or loneliness or being afraid of the dark.

The passage was beginning to straighten, the gentle incline flattening out. It was becoming wider, too, Sam noted, panning her light along the walls and ceiling, though the construction remained exactly the same as everything else she'd seen. It was a good sign, she decided, even though a part of her knew she was grasping at straws.

The shallow path continued down the center of the passageway, but Sam instinctively kept near the wall. She felt less vulnerable with the bricks protecting her right side.

"Colonel?" she called again into the radio, hoping that the change in the pyramid's internal structure might allow a signal through. "Janet?" There was nothing but silence from the radio; even the strange noises had ceased.

The walls on either side of her suddenly sloped away and she found herself standing on the edge of a large open space. Pointing her light up, Sam saw the ceiling slope up and away from her, as if it were domed. The walls on either side appeared to curve in the distance.

With her field knife, Sam made an X in the wall nearest to her, then began walking the perimeter of the open space. Sure enough, the room curved around, and after a few minutes, Sam found another opening, similar to the one she'd entered the area from. A quick glance at her compass showed that this opening led east into the pyramid. As she expected, she found similar openings leading north and west, and finally ended up at the south entrance, where she'd come in. This circular chamber was considerably larger than the rectangular chamber above.

Leading out from the center of each entrance was that shallow trench, each one running into the center of the room like a guide. Sam found it oddly comforting to find a chamber that mirrored the exits of the room at the bottom of the shaft. It didn't really help her much, but she was hopeful that one of the other passages would take her back up to the chamber where she could contact O'Neill.

Standing still at the south entrance for a few moments, Sam strained her ears for any sound, knowing that there would be no cover the minute she ventured away from the wall. Hearing nothing, she shrugged and decided to take the chance. She'd check out the center of the room, then take the north passage to see where it would take her.

She'd only stepped a meter or two toward the center when her light revealed a tall, wide, stone column. Four paths lead directly to it. Walking slowly around it, Sam was amazed to find a narrow opening on the path leading from the north entrance. Cautiously, she leaned forward and peered in.

The inside of the shaft was hollow, and lined with gleaming metal. She was delighted to discover that the reflective surface augmented her small flashlight beam, illuminating a large section of the shaft. A narrow circular stairway spiraled down the center, accessible by a precarious walkway leading from the entrance. Twisting, Sam panned her light over her head. The steps ended a few meters above, into open space. The shaft, however, continued above that for many meters.

Turning to look down, Sam clutched the edge of the doorway. The shaft seemed to spin down forever, twisting into inky blackness that not even the mirror-like metal could help to illuminate.

With a sigh, she stepped back. It was tempting to investigate where the stairs led, but she decided it would be more prudent to investigate the other passages leading from the room first. It would take precious time, and there was no telling what further tricks the pyramid makers had up their sleeves to trap and confuse unwanted visitors. By the time she finished exploring the other passageways she might not be able to get back here either.

But looking down at the depressions worn into the floor, Sam suddenly had the oddest feeling that all the other passages would be similarly blocked, as if the pyramid itself were guiding her steps and wanted her here at this spot. It was a foolish notion, she told herself. She'd been hanging around with Daniel for too long.

With a final glance back at the stairway and a small prayer that the doorway into the shaft would miraculously remain open while she was gone, Sam turned and began walking north.

Continue to Parts 10-13

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