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Sam Carter fluttered back to consciousness with the vague thought that she really didn�t want to wake up. As grim and violent as her dreams had been, she didn�t think she wanted to face whatever reality had prompted them. Especially since she had no idea where she was, or more importantly, how she had gotten there.
She remained still for a moment, eyes closed, mind spinning to try and piece together any clues as to her whereabouts. She was lying on something cold and hard, and the knuckles of her hands itched like crazy. She considered that for a moment, trying to decide if she�d been injured. Then she simply lay still and listened. She couldn�t believe how quiet it was�then her senses adapted to the stillness and she could hear soft breathing coming from somewhere to her left.
She tensed, trying to determine whether it came from friend or foe. A moment later, she heard one of the breaths change to a low, pained moan. Sam mentally frowned, knowing the tone was familiar, but unable to make a connection to anyone she knew. The unknown person moaned again, louder this time, and Sam�s eyes popped open in sudden insight and she was in an upright position without being aware how she�d done it so quickly.
She crawled over to Janet�s side and pressed her hand soothingly against the unconscious woman�s cheek. Janet�s face was twisted in pain, though Sam could see no injury. Sam kept one hand pressed to her friend�s cheek, and smoothed Janet�s hair with the other. "It�s ok, Janet," she whispered, having no idea whether that was true or not.
The unconscious woman seemed to register Sam�s presence, her face relaxing. Sam sat down, her hands soothing Janet. She looked idly at her itching knuckles�they seemed red and swollen, but otherwise unharmed.
Sam took the opportunity to glance around the room. The whole damn thing was grey and seemingly seamless. She couldn�t tell what the material was, but then again, she couldn�t see anything that remotely resembled a door, so she couldn�t figure out how they had gotten into the room. There were two beds that looked like hospital beds, but no equipment anywhere in sight.
"Ok, this is a little bizarre," she muttered out loud, hoping that an imitation of Colonel O�Neill would somehow cause him to appear with Teal�c and Daniel and get her and Janet out of�well, wherever they were. Her hope was in vain, not surprisingly.
"What�s bizarre?" came the unexpected whisper from Janet, who had clasped hold of Sam�s hands, her eyes still screwed tightly shut as if not having to look at something would cause it to go away.
Sam smiled down at Janet. In lieu of answering the question, she said, "I�m glad you�re awake. You seemed to be having some kind of bad dreams."
Janet opened her eyes at that and Sam wondered at the grim look in them. She shook one hand free from Janet�s prying fingers, and stroked the other woman�s hair again, hoping to soothe her. "You have no idea," Janet offered in a horror stricken whisper, and Sam felt her heart skip a beat.
"What�s wrong?" Sam asked gently, not sure how to best reassure her friend. "Are you hurt?"
Janet�s response came in the form of hysterical laughter, which soon turned into uncontrollable sobbing. She sat up and grabbed blindly at Sam, holding the blond woman in a vise grip. Sam managed to get her arms free and pull Janet into a fiercely protective embrace. Sam felt as if the world was collapsing as she held the doctor. She and Janet were cut of the same cloth, both amazingly strong, both able to deal with practically any crisis. Seeing Janet this emotional and out of control was proving almost too much for Sam to take, especially since there was nothing she could do to mend things.
After a while, Janet hiccupped and took a deep breath. She pulled away from Sam to look directly at her for the first time. Sam felt a deep sense of tenderness toward her friend as she put one hand on Janet�s tear stained face. She wondered what on earth was going on with Janet.
As if the doctor had read her mind, she said in a hoarse voice, "I wish I knew what was going on. It�s like I have all these voices in my head, and none of them are mine."
Sam whistled�a low, sympathetic sound. Janet took another breath and then snuggled back against Sam�s body, wrapping her arms around the blonde�s waist. Sam could feel Janet�s head move slightly, and guessed the brunette was finally looking around the room.
All of a sudden, Janet jerked out of Sam�s arms and stood up, disbelief radiating out from every pore. Sam scrambled to her feet and moved toward Janet, but the doctor held out a restraining arm. She swept a critical gaze up and down Sam�s body, then surveyed her own self, then let her eyes dart around the room.
"What is it?" Sam pleaded. "Janet, you�re scaring me." This last sentence cost Sam dearly to admit, but she hoped it would somehow bring a semblance of sanity back to Janet.
"No, this can�t be." Janet yelled in response, her voice echoing crazily off the rounded walls.
Sam took a tentative step forward and then suddenly there was a door in the unbroken wall, and then there were men walking into the room. Only two of them, but Sam felt a surge of fear, sensing a power in each of them that went beyond mere physical prowess. And then Janet shrieked in terror and cowered against the wall. Sam looked at her in alarm. There was definitely something very wrong with Janet�the action was completely out of character.
One of the men gave a faint grin of satisfaction as he took stock of Janet. He the looked at Sam and motioned to his companion. The other man walked forward and Sam braced herself in a defensive stance. She was more surprised than anyone when his fist shot out in a blur of speed and sent her sprawling into the far wall.
She scrambled to her feet, and for some reason she couldn�t fathom, decided to launch herself full force at her attacker. She knocked him flat, but then he scrambled to his feet and got in another blow that arced her high into the air, sending her crashing into one of the beds. She groaned as she felt a bone in her left arm move in directions nature never intended, but had no time to even cope with the pain, since the man was coming at her again. The sneer on his face and the grin on the other man�s, combined with the sight of Janet sinking slowly to the floor with her face once again twisted in pain, kindled a blaze of rage in Sam�s chest.
And in that moment, Sam felt her knuckles split open and stared in utter amazement as a set of metallic claws sprang out from each of her hands. The claws were long, with wickedly sharp edges, and Sam couldn�t believe they were real. And then a new source of pain struck her; she realized that she had impaled her left wrist on the claws of her right hand. The blood convinced her that this was real, and not just some elaborate illusion.
The man paused in his advance toward her, and the other man said simply, "It worked. Come."
Both men exited the room, and the door disappeared as if it had never existed. Sam blinked hard, and felt her momentary rage vanish as the pain took over. In the instant the anger fled, the claws retracted, leaving her gasping for breath. She idly studied her knuckles�once again they looked red and swollen, but the split skin had somehow sewn itself back together. She curled up on the floor, and promptly passed out.
When Sam woke again, she found herself lying against something soft. She groaned as she struggled to sit up. She felt Janet�s hand press against her chest, pushing her back down. "Don�t try to move yet, Sam."
Sam fought to focus her vision, since everything seemed blurred. She looked up to see Janet�s face, and realized that she had her head cradled on Janet�s thigh. Despite the pain pulsing along her arm, her concern was entirely focused on Janet, since the doctor�s eyes were red and swollen from crying. Sam�s voice was thick as she asked brokenly, "You ok, Janet? Don�t look so good."
Gratitude flooded Sam as Janet managed a crooked grin in response.
The doctor offered a dry, "You don�t look so good yourself."
Sam chuckled lightly, then squirmed out from under Janet�s hand into a sitting position. She winced as her body argued with her, but as usual, she ignored it. She copied Janet�s position, leaning back against the wall next to her friend. Her left arm dangled useless at her side, though she noted her wrist had been bandaged with a strip of cloth from the lab coat Janet was wearing. Sam saw red staining the cloth, and looked quickly away to keep her stomach under control. She reached out with her right arm to grab hold of Janet�s hand, feeling the need to maintain some sort of physical contact to reassure both of them.
"What�s going on here, Janet?" she asked quietly. "I mean, before those guys showed up, you seemed to have this insight into where we were."
Janet laughed bitterly and gripped tightly to Sam�s hand. "Not exactly," she offered. "I mean, I don�t have any idea where we are, but�"
Her voice trailed off and Sam turned to look at her friend. "But?" she prompted.
Janet sighed. "This is going to sound absolutely crazy." She took a shuddering breath. "I feel like I�m losing my grip on reality here. It�s like someone is projecting a massive wave of fear and pain, and it�s taking over my mind." She shivered and refused to meet Sam�s gaze. Her voice barely reached Sam�s ear as she continued, "And I�m terrified that you aren�t really here and that I have gone completely insane."
Sam gave Janet�s hand a squeeze and then, having no idea where the impulse came from, she leaned over and kissed Janet�s temple. "If you have the ability to question your sanity, I�m pretty sure you�re still sane. And believe me, I�m no illusion. Illusions don�t usually bleed much."
That earned a genuine laugh from Janet. "Ok�good point." She paused as if collecting her thoughts, while Sam focused all her attention on the woman at her side, trying her damnedest to send reassurance in Janet�s general direction.
Janet finally spoke slowly. "We seem to have been transformed into something out of a movie. Sam, we are dressed like and responding as if we are characters in the X-Men movie. Your claws, my sense of having people in my head, this room. It�s like we really have been turned into mutants."
She paused and amusement crept into her tone, as if she was trying hard to keep herself from breaking down again. "I mean, I know you�re not exactly into fashion or anything, but you surely noticed we are both out of uniform." The lightness wore off as she continued. "Not that you�ve had time to really pay attention to that fact, all things considered."
Of all the things Sam might have expected Janet to say, the X-Men statement was the next to last one. And the last thing Sam expected was that she had absolutely no desire to argue the point with Janet; her brain had taken the statement as fact the moment it was uttered. That easy acceptance alarmed her more than the actual content of Janet�s sentence.
Having no idea what else to do, Sam stood and began to pace, hoping the action would somehow help her think. Janet rested her head on her knees and watched Sam. After several minutes of silence, Sam returned to her seat next to Janet. "I have no idea why, but I think you�re right. It doesn�t make any sense, but then nothing about this situation makes any sense. Not that I know anything about the X-Team�"
"X-Men," Janet corrected automatically.
"X-Men," continued Sam, not missing a beat. "How did we get transformed, and by who, and how do you know anything about the X-Men?"
Sam turned to face her friend and was relieved to see an impish smile brighten the woman�s features. She had not realized how scared Janet�s emotional state had made her until Janet began acting like more like her normal self.
"I have a teenage daughter," Janet announced grandly, as if this fact was news to Sam. "A teenage daughter who�thanks to her Sam�loves anything having to do with action adventure and science fiction. She cajoled me into seeing the movie with her."
Sam, no stranger to Cassie�s cajoling, simply nodded knowingly. "So, since I�m the clueless one here," she asked, "what�s the story?"
Now it was Janet�s turn to stand and pace as she gave Sam the cliff notes version of the X-Men�their mutations, the differing opinions on the roles of mutants, some of their adventures. She wrapped up her narration with the disclaimer, "Of course, that�s just the bits and pieces I remember. Cassie could give you chapter and verse."
Sam nodded thoughtfully and then posed another question. "So who am I and who are you?"
Janet�s eyes actually twinkled as she squatted down in front of Sam. "Well, given the claws, you must be Wolverine. And I must be Jean Gray."
Sam rolled her eyes. "And that tells me what, exactly?"
Janet sat down and placed her hands on Sam�s knees, as Sam was sitting cross-legged. Sam found herself surprised at the amount of touching the two of them had done since their imprisonment. Usually, they were the epitome of professionals, even in the time they spent together as friends. She resolutely shoved that thought to the side to focus on Janet�s words.
Janet rapped her knuckles lightly against Sam�s knees. "Well, Jean Gray is a doctor�"
"Big surprise there," Sam interrupted.
Unperturbed, Janet continued smoothly, "�who also happens to have some telepathic ability, though she hasn�t developed it to perhaps her fullest potential."
Sam recalled the mask of pain that Janet had been sporting earlier and realized, in somewhat belated shock, that the pain had been entirely mental. She grimaced at the idea of Janet having to cope with outside thoughts and feelings in her head. Though she had never been a telepath, Sam�s brief stint as host to Jolinar gave her a sense of what Janet was dealing with.
"She is also the middle of a love triangle of sorts�she has some sort of relationship with Cyclops, but also seems to have an attraction for Wolverine. Nothing consummated, at least not that I recall, but a strongly hinted interest."
Sam�s mouth dropped open. She suddenly felt as if the fantasies she kept hidden even from herself were coming out in Janet�s voice. Sam�s long buried feelings came rushing into her awareness and she knew that she was attracted to Janet in a way she had never been attracted to anyone before.
She had been aware that she cared a lot for Janet and enjoyed working with Janet, but she had never allowed herself to even ponder anything more than friendship. Judging by the sympathetic look on Janet�s face, Janet was well aware of her feelings. Hell, Sam thought tiredly, Janet--with her newly apparent telepathy�was probably the reason both women were aware of them.
And then Sam noticed that instead of pulling away from her in disgust, Janet was actually still touching her knees. Their eyes caught for a moment, and Sam saw her own desire reflected back at her.
Sam reached out and placed her good hand on top of one of Janet�s. Janet�s hand turned in Sam�s grip, and she stroked Sam�s palm in a manner that could only be described with one word�erotic. They sat in an emotionally charged tableau, almost paralyzed by the intensity of the moment.
Then Janet broke the spell, not moving at all, her fingers still painting knowing pictures on Sam�s calloused palm, but resuming her explanation. "Wolverine is someone whose past is unknown. He was turned into a mutant, given the claws and an adamantium skeletal frame by someone, but he has no memory of who did that to him. He is a very troubled, very moody person. He would have been a mutant anyhow, without the tampering, since he has the ability to heal himself." She paused and her eyes left Sam�s and traveled to Sam�s abused arm. "Unfortunately, whoever did this to us, didn�t quite manage that part." Then, she added thoughtfully, "Oddly enough, they seem to have missed everything but the claws."
Sam found her breath was caught in her throat, and her voice came out low and husky. "We�ll sue them for misrepresentation."
Janet met Sam�s eyes again. "We sure will," she murmured, her own tone pulsing with emotions that had nothing to do with their predicament. "You aren�t really the Wolverine type."
Sam found herself caught in the glowing web cast by Janet�s eyes. She could not think at all straight, which was not surprising since her thoughts were dancing in gay erotic directions. More to keep the conversation going than out of interest in the topic, she whispered, "So who should I be?"
Janet licked her lips as she considered, and Sam found her knees growing weak at the sight. "Good thing you�re sitting down," Janet commented, her telepathy in top form. Then her voice dropped low, ignoring Sam�s question entirely. "We really need to be careful�if we�re under some sort of surveillance�don�t want to give anyone emotional ammunition they could use against us."
The words had the effect of a bucket of cold water. "Right," Sam breathed, glad that thus far they had avoided saying anything incriminating. She had the momentary thought that if any other telepaths were floating around, it would be a moot point at best. Sam resolutely shoved that thought away before it could mire her in depression.
Janet pulled her hands off Sam�s knees and slid back on the floor, sitting about a foot away from the other woman. She folded her knees to her chest and rested her head on them, staring at Sam.
Sam drummed her fingers on her thigh, her thoughts racing around in circles. "Ok, so we have a whole bunch of questions with no answers."
"No kidding," Janet said, doing her own imitation of O�Neill.
Sam shot her a bemused glare, and continued. "Ok, we have to assume that whoever did this to us is from Earth, to know about the movie, the comics, whatever. But then, why would they get some parts right, and completely screw up other parts? And why would they bother in the first place?
"I don�t know of any science that has advanced far enough to actually take us and turn us into real mutants. And if they could do this, why would they do this experiment on you and I? There have to be a whole bunch of other people they could have kidnapped a lot more easily than either of us."
Janet nodded her agreement. "It�s not exactly like either of us could just disappear without it being noticed right away. And for both of us to disappear�"
She left the sentence lying unfinished. Sam picked it up. "Someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble to get us into their little experiment. But who on earth�" (Janet smiled at the unintended pun.) "�would have the capacity to do it?"
She broke off in her pondering and Janet raised a semi-personal question. "Sam, what�s the last thing you remember before waking up here?"
Sam stood at the question and began to pace again, her arm dangling awkwardly. Janet jumped to her feet as well. "Here, let�s take this lab coat and make you a sling." Sam stood still as the other woman ministered to her. Janet pulled back to inspect her work, and Sam got her first good look at the tight, well fitting shirt and pants Janet sported. Her face burned with heat as Janet followed her gaze. Janet leaned up to Sam�s ear and whispered impishly, "Save that thought for later."
She resumed her seat on the floor while Sam resumed her pacing. Forcing her mind back to Janet�s question, Sam finally answered. "The last thing I remember is the two of us in your office looking at�what was it? Some kind of chemical analysis on a new kind of�"
Sam crinkled her forehead with the effort to remember, and Janet jumped to her feet again to put a cool hand on Sam�s forehead. Janet�s eyes closed and suddenly Sam felt a surge of energy from Janet�s hand into her head. She gasped in shock and then her brain was flooded with an array of imagery, swirling in wild and unfamiliar patterns. There were people and places whirling through her head so quickly she couldn�t tell if she recognized any of them. She felt like she was watching a series of ads on extreme fast-forward.
She clutched hard at Janet�s shoulder, willing herself to stay strong with the small part of her mind that didn�t feel like it was spinning into madness. She vaguely heard Janet exclaim an understanding, "Oh my God."
And then the door that wasn�t really a door shimmered into being. Janet removed her hand from Sam�s head, and the images in Sam�s mind fled as quickly as they�d come. She gasped in relief and only remained upright thanks to her iron grip on Janet�s shoulder.
Both women turned with one accord and looked at the door to see Colonel O�Neill and Teal�c walk into the room. Both men moved cautiously and scanned the room, their weapons ready. O�Neill walked up to the women and looked quizzically at them. "You two okay?" he asked.
Sam could feel Janet frozen beside her and turned to once again see Janet�s face glossed over with pain. Sam looked back to her CO, whose face was lined with its usual lack of patience. "Come on, kids," he commanded, "let�s move it before anyone figures out you�re gone."
He backed up a couple of steps, heading for the door, and Sam took a steadying breath, subtly moving forward in front of Janet. O�Neill gave her one of his best glares and growled, "You gonna stand there all day, Carter?" He gestured to Teal�c and the big man moved toward Sam, grabbing hold of her arm.
"We must leave this place, Major Carter," Teal�c said calmly. "It is not safe for us to remain."
Sam�s heart was thudding in her chest, racing along with her thoughts. The whole scene smelled fishy to her, but she couldn�t quite decide whether to trust her own senses. She spared a glance over her shoulder, and found Janet�s eyes. The terror radiating out from them made up Sam�s mind. With a burst of energy, she shook her arm out from under Teal�c�s hand, grabbed hold of the unresisting Janet, and moved both of them away from the Jaffa.
O�Neill sighed in exasperation and moved toward her, his eyes hard glints of steel. He dropped his weapon to the ground and walked over to stand in front of Sam. "That wasn�t very nice, Carter," he commented, in a singsong voice. "You need to learn some better manners."
His hand was a blur as he backhanded Sam across the face. She fell to the floor, gritting her teeth as her arm bounced out of its sling. She looked up and watched in horror as O�Neill backhanded Janet as well, sending her to sprawl on top of Sam. Janet was whimpering, but Sam doubted it was because of the blow.
The adrenaline surged through Sam, enabling her to forget all about pain. She took hold of Janet, whose body felt limp as a rag doll, and sat up with the woman cradled against her. Then she gently laid Janet on the floor. The doctor and current telepath whimpered again and huddled up in a ball.
Sam knew, with a flash of insight that suggested latent telepathy on her part, that there was no way in which Janet could help her in the current fight; the doctor was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions against which she had no defenses. Sam took a spare second to wonder whether the invasion of Janet�s mind was a deliberate attack, or just indiscriminate thoughts.
The small smirk on Teal�c�s face convinced Sam that the mental assault was definitely intentional. Sam patted Janet�s head in a brief show of concern, and then scrambled to her feet.
O�Neill just stood, looking cocky as always, waiting to see what she would do. She stared at him, then at Teal�c, who had taken an impassive seat on one of the beds. O�Neill said, challenging, "Let�s see how much of a bad-ass you really are, Carter."
He stepped forward and Janet whimpered again, and oddly enough, the terrified sound served to focus Sam�s anger. All at once she found the claws springing out from her hands and, knowing what was happening, she managed not to impale herself again. She growled low in her throat and stepped forward, claws poised to strike. O�Neill just stood with a sneer on his face, his hands hanging loose at his side as if he were an old-fashioned gunfighter.
But instead of lashing out with her hands, she jumped up in a sudden snap kick and got O�Neill square in the chest. He flew backwards, sliding across the floor. Sam watched, amazed, as his body blurred, and then changed before her eyes to turn female, blue, and royally pissed off.
S/he jumped to her feet, and then launched herself at Sam. Sam slashed out with her claws, drawing blood where they bit into a forearm, but not enough to slow her attacker. S/he jumped up, whirled around in the air, and lashed out in a kick that caught Sam in the side. Sam flew through the air and crashed into the wall, landing�of course�on her injured arm. She gasped and then heard Janet scream on her behalf. As much to convince herself as to convince Janet, Sam muttered, "Good thing it�s the one that�s already broken."
She hauled herself to her feet. The blue woman laughed and said in O�Neill�s voice. "You want some more?"
Sam glanced over at Teal�c. He sat as still as stone, eyes unmoving. She spared an ounce of attention to wonder what his role in the little drama was, and then was struck by a sudden thought. She had no time to think it through, since a flash of movement caught her eye. The blue woman rushed her and Sam stabbed upward with her good claw, getting a nice portion of her attackers left shoulder. S/he was impaled on the sharp points and Sam did her best imitation of a javelin thrower, sending the blue creature to crash into the wall.
Sam took advantage of the momentary suspension in the fight to send an urgent mental question to Janet. The doctor�s response came in a gasped, "Yes."
Before the blue woman could get a hold of her, Sam raced to Teal�c and stabbed him through the heart with all her strength. She heard an angry shriek of protest behind her, and then felt herself grabbed roughly and kicked hard enough to crack three ribs. She collapsed on the floor as the blue woman raced to Teal�c�s side. The Jaffa shifted form, blood streaming from his chest, turning into an identical twin of Sam�s attacker. The blue woman caught her twin as she fell, and cradled her as she died.
The last thing Sam saw before she passed out again was a blue foot aimed at her face.
Once again, Sam drifted back to consciousness with the awareness that her head was resting on something soft, which given past experience she assumed to be Janet�s thigh. She groaned dramatically as her waking mind suddenly had to cope with pain�lots and lots of pain. A gentle hand patted her cheek as another hand made soft circles in her hair. "It�s okay, Sam," came Janet�s whisper.
Sam groaned again and didn�t try to do anything complicated, like open her eyes. She simply lay as still as she could, enjoying the soothing feel of Janet�s hands.
Silence reigned for long moments. Finally Sam concentrated on opening her eyes, and blinked rapidly, trying to focus. Gradually Janet�s features came together in sharp relief, and Sam noticed that once again her eyes were red and swollen.
Sam swallowed hard and managed to get out, "We�ve got to stop meeting like this."
Janet offered a thin smile, but made no comment. Her hands continued petting Sam, and the blonde just lay quiet, taking deliberate breaths to chase away the pain. She had mostly succeeded when she felt Janet give a deep sigh, as if in relief.
Sam gave her friend a measuring look and then the realization popped clearly into the forefront of her mind. Before she had the chance to say a word, Janet said lightly, "Yes, I have been feeling all your pain." She paused and her tone grew dry. "Apparently I�m highly empathic as well as telepathic."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "Apparently."
Janet gave a genuine smile at her comment, and her voice was warm as she said, "It�s nice to be able to say things to someone who doesn�t need every little thing spelled out." Sam smiled in return, thinking of O�Neill�s easy exasperation with her attempts to explain things to him.
And then, with the thought of O�Neill, the recollection of the fight came back to haunt Sam�s mind, and by extension, Janet�s as well. Sam shivered as she remembered O�Neill changing before her, and as she remembered stabbing Teal�c. She clenched her functioning hand into a fist.
"What was that blue�thing�I was fighting?"
Janet offered an abrupt laugh, which was completely devoid of humor. "Mystique. Shape shifter. Definite bad guy�gal�whatever. She can turn herself into anyone. I�m a little confused as to why there were two of them; the movie only had one." She laughed again, still humorless, "Whoever did this is really screwing up the details."
Sam did an unconscious imitation of Teal�c as she muttered�in response to Janet�s first statement, "That is certainly ominous."
Janet kept her hands busy caressing Sam�s cheek and hair. Sam closed her eyes again, trying to stop her thoughts from running around like spooked kittens. She was suddenly--and achingly--aware of how her confusion was keeping Janet off-balance. Their assailants had effectively killed two birds with one stone by making Janet a telepath. In order for them to find a way out of this mess, Sam knew she had to keep her thoughts under control.
"That would certainly help," Janet breathed, as if she was scared that anything more than a whisper would sound accusing to Sam�s ears.
Sam simply nodded, eyes still closed, and concentrated again on breathing. When she finally opened her eyes, she noted that Janet�s face seemed less strained. Janet had closed her eyes and Sam reached up carefully with her good hand to rest her fingertips against Janet�s wrist. Her touch was light, to avoid startling the doctor.
"Janet?" she began cautiously.
Janet gazed down at her, eyebrows raised in a knowing look, as if she was ready to answer the unspoken question. Sam grinned and proceeded to ask anyway, hoping the sound of her own voice would help keep her thoughts in some semblance of order.
"Right before the Co�before those two�before that last fight, you seemed to have some idea what was going on. There were all those weird images in my head and then you acted like you understood something. What was it that you figured out?"
Janet sighed, frustration edging her face. "I wish I knew," she said seriously. "I had it all figured out and then those�people came in and incapacitated me with�"
She broke off, chewing her lip, and Sam slid her fingers over Janet�s hand, twining their fingers together. She lay very still and tried to mentally project a sense of strength for Janet to draw on. She had no idea if it would work, but given Janet�s sensitivity to her emotions, Sam figured it couldn�t hurt to try.
Janet squeezed Sam�s fingers in a silent "thank you", and then continued with her explanation, or more accurately, with her lack of an explanation.
"Well, I don�t really know what they did, but it was a deliberate overload of negative images and emotions," Janet said simply, as if a more in-depth description would do nothing to clarify things. Sam gave a brief nod, her memories of Jolinar coming back to fill in the blanks.
The conversation stalled for a moment and Sam decided it was time to sit up and get her body used to moving again. Before she could ask for help, Janet was already putting supportive hands on Sam�s shoulders. Sam stifled several groans as she managed to get herself upright. She could feel every bruise from the last fight, and was aware of her arm throbbing dully. She took a series of deep breaths, trying to get the pain under control before it overwhelmed Janet. Luckily, success came quickly.
Sam sat right next to Janet, so that their bodies were pressed together. She felt herself drawing strength simply from having contact with the doctor. And the touch seemed to soothe Janet as well; she rested her head on Sam�s shoulder. Sam shifted around, wincing a little, and slid her right arm around Janet�s waist, pulling the brunette closer to her. Sam laid her head against Janet�s, while Janet�s arms circled Sam in a light embrace.
After a while, Sam let another thought enter the silence. "The thing that bothers me�well, ok, one of the things that bothers me, is the time factor. Someone had to get into the complex with sufficient security clearance. Then they had to get both of us out without being seen. Then they had to keep us knocked out long enough to do some pretty in depth surgery--particularly on you--without anyone finding us, and you know O�Neill and General Hammond would have been pulling a lot of high level strings to get us found."
She paused and Janet finished the thought. "You�re right. It doesn�t feel like we�ve been gone for the amount of time it would take to do this to someone. We barely understand how the human mind works; how the hell would someone be able to turn me into a telepath that quickly?"
Both women pulled back from the embrace, stared at each other, and started to say, "What if�?" when the door appeared again. O�Neill and Teal�c walked in, weapons ready, and made a cautious sweep of the room.
"You guys okay?" O�Neill asked. "We�d better get out of here, those guards aren�t gonna be out for too much longer." He reached out a hand to help Carter off the floor, frowning when she turned to Janet.
"What do you think?" she asked the doctor, since Janet had no immediate negative reaction to the appearance of their teammates.
Teal�c spoke. "We do not have time to discuss these matters at present. We must leave this place."
Janet cocked her head to the side and answered in a measured tone. "I can�t sense anything from them." She looked meaningfully at Sam. "You, however�"
Sam, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, knew exactly what Janet meant. She glanced from one man to the other.
O�Neill didn�t bother to hide his impatience. "You gonna sit there all day, Carter? Let�s get your ass in gear. You too, Fraiser."
Janet put a hand on Sam�s arm. "I don�t see how it can hurt. Maybe we�ll find some answers." She struggled to her feet and leaned over to help Sam up. Sam groaned as her body protested the movement. As if oblivious to the entire exchange, O�Neill and Teal�c led the pair out of the room.
They stepped out into a featureless corridor, made of a material that looked like a cross between metal and plastic. Sam was leaning on Janet, but abruptly Teal�c picked her up off her feet and slung her over his shoulder effortlessly. He strode down the corridor and Sam raised her head from his back to see O�Neill reach out for Janet, as if to assist her.
The minute he touched her, Janet cried out in protest and shoved him away. He muttered several choice words including, "damn half-assed shielding". He raised one arm to strike Janet and pulled his gun from his holster with the other. As she watched the scene unfold, Sam�s claws popped out with a sharp clang. Sam could almost see her own anger as an aura radiating outward from her body.
And suddenly Janet sprang to life with the force of Sam�s anger. The half-assed shielding O�Neill had cursed served to protect her from the force the men�s minds could assert, allowing her to access Sam�s emotions freely. She kicked the apparition of O�Neill viciously between the legs. He yelped and crumpled in a useless heap on the ground. Janet gave a hard hit to a sensitive spot on his neck, leaving him gasping. Sam, for her part, raked her claws down Teal�c�s back, and then elbowed him in the back of the head.
She cried out as he threw her off of him, sending her into the wall. He whirled around, the rage on his face convincing her that this was not her Teal�c�even at his most emotional, she had never seen a look like this on the Jaffa�s face. She lay winded and he walked forward to tower menacingly over her.
But then Janet was there and she jumped in between them, getting in a vicious kick to his groin as well, and he joined his companion in floor warming. Before Sam could even muster an out-of-breath "thanks", Janet had picked up Teal�c�s energy staff and fired on each of their non-teammates. Both men jerked under the bolt, and both lay unconscious.
Clutching the staff in one hand, Janet pulled Sam to her feet with the other. Sam retrieved O�Neill�s gun from his unconcerned hand, and leaned against Janet as they scurried down the corridor.
Sam and Janet huddled against each other as they listened to footsteps pass by their hiding place. They had stumbled into a den of sorts, and found a tiny closet concealed behind a bookshelf. It just managed to hold the two of them.
"Outside!" yelled an angry voice. "They must have gotten out of the house somehow; we�ve searched everywhere!"
The two women sat perfectly still as the footsteps increased in number, and then receded. After what she deemed to be a safe amount of time, Sam moved cautiously out of her hiding place and into the den. She risked a peek out the window, and saw an entire army of blue creatures methodically searching the grounds.
"Janet, come here. You�ve got to see this," Sam whispered. The doctor moved gingerly out of hiding to join her companion at the window. Janet started in amazement at the sight of multiple Mystiques, and then both women slid quietly into sitting positions under the window ledge.
"I don�t understand this at all," Janet complained softly. "It�s like someone took great pains to turn us into mutants, and place us in what must be an alternate reality, and then screwed up all the details."
Sam jerked in sudden recollection of the thought the two had shared before the apparitions of their teammates had appeared. "Janet," she said urgently, "this isn�t an alternate reality�"
Before she could finish, Janet stepped in, reading Sam�s thoughts. "It�s virtual reality."
Not missing a beat, Sam picked up the trail of words. "We haven�t really been transformed into mutants; we just have been programmed to think that we have. None of this is real."
Sam set down the gun she�d picked up in the last fight and ran her hand through her hair, giving a tired sigh as she realized the implications of what she�d just said.
For her part, Janet set down the energy staff to grab hold of Sam�s good hand. The doctor amended, "Well, nothing�s real except the two of us." Her tone grew dry. "You are real, aren�t you?"
Sam smiled at that. "I sure hope so. How about you?"
Janet raised an eyebrow and the look of mischief Sam had grown to love crept across the brunette�s face. "If I�m not, then this little discovery of our mutual attraction is going to make you feel very awkward when you return to the SGC."
Sam couldn�t help laughing at that, despite their predicament. Her laughter proved infectious, and despite the need for silence, they couldn�t stop giggling like two teenagers.
Neither woman was particularly surprised when two blue twins burst into the den, heavily armed. "On your feet NOW," snarled one.
Janet, still overcome with mirth, and perhaps feeling like there was really nothing to lose by being incorrigible, asked, "Why? Are we late for a hot date or something?"
One blue twin stalked forward, eyes glowing an eerie red. "I wouldn�t suggest being a smart-ass. You�ll pay a high price for it."
Sam started to pull her hand out of Janet�s grasp, to reach out for the gun she�d set aside. But she discarded the idea of shooting the Mystiques as quickly as it had occurred to her, realizing she and Janet would be hopelessly outnumbered before they could escape.
Sam left her hand in her friend�s grip, and then another thought occurred to her. Sam turned over an option in her head, and then spoke quickly. "There�s nothing more you can do to us. This isn�t real. You�re not real. Nothing that happens here is real. I don�t believe in this reality!"
Janet�s head snapped around to stare at Sam, and then she too refuted the existence of reality�well, of the reality that was being projected around them.
The blue twins threatened the women, and when words didn�t work, they resorted to violence. Sam and Janet didn�t offer any resistance to the blows raining down. They simply sat holding tightly to each other�s hand and repeating, "This is not real."
A bright flash�
A sense that the world itself was spinning�
Another bright flash�
And Sam opened her eyes to find herself sitting in a chair, electrodes strapped to her. The electrodes were connected to wires, which were in turn connected to machines humming quietly in the background. She shook her head, trying to jar her thoughts into some semblance of order.
She glanced to her side and saw Janet in a chair similar to hers, wires hooked to the same machinery. Janet, too, was shaking her head, as if to clear it.
With a grimace of distaste, Sam removed the various electrodes attached to her, and shrugged herself out of the chair. She staggered over to Janet and started removing electrodes, helping her free herself.
Ever the doctor, Janet observed quietly, "It�s nice to see your injuries were all virtual."
Sam regarded herself with some surprise, noticing as if for the first time that her arm was no longer broken and her bruises had faded to a memory. She helped Janet out of the chair and asked, "How about you? Still picking up unwelcome thoughts?"
Janet stepped close to Sam and whispered suggestively in her ear, "They weren�t all unwelcome, you know."
Sam bowed her head in a futile attempt to hide the blush she could feel spreading across her cheeks. Janet laughed lightly and laid a reassuring hand on Sam�s arm. Answering the actual question, she said, "I can�t sense anything from you. Or from anyone else for that matter."
Sam nodded and looked thoughtfully around the room. It was white and virtually empty with no windows, but was made out of good old-fashioned concrete. And there was a door, one without any means of opening from their side, but a door nonetheless. There were ugly metal spikes around the door edges, as if to somehow deter any prisoner from an escape attempt.
"Ok, so we�re out of virtual reality," Janet pondered aloud, watching as Sam went to examine the door. "We still have no idea why we�re here, or how to get out of here."
"Don�t forget we still have no idea who did this, or how they got to us," Sam tossed out, as she finished examining the hinges and then leaned over to look at the opposite side of the door. And then, unexpectedly, the door was thrown open, catching Sam on the side of the head and knocking her flat, the metal spikes cutting an ugly path into her flesh.
Janet immediately ran to her, and helped her sit up. "So much for getting out of here without injuries," Sam moaned, holding her bleeding temple.
Janet shot back neatly, "Doesn�t seem to matter which reality you�re in; you just can�t seem to stay out of trouble."
Any further conversation was stopped dead at the sight of the two figures that burst into the room. Sam and Janet looked up at O�Neill and Teal�c, and then stared in frozen shock at each other.
"Alright kids, as glad as I am that we found you, we don�t have a lot of time until the guards wake up from their little naps, so we�d better get a move on," O�Neill announced, leaning down to offer a hand to Carter.
"Oh my God," Sam whispered, her eyes still glued to Janet.
O�Neill hauled her to her feet and smirked at her statement. "No need to worship me, Carter, just doing my job."
Janet scrambled to her feet, and stood right beside Sam. The blonde pulled away from O�Neill and surveyed him, feeling Janet�s hand pressing into the small of her back. Then Sam noticed it wasn�t just their two teammates in the room�there were ten other people, all in military uniforms, all armed.
Teal�c paced over to the two chairs. He reached out to touch the wires and Janet yelped, "Don�t!"
He cocked his head to the side quizzically, but held his hand back. O�Neill shot a questioning look at the doctor. "What are those things, Doc?"
It was the use of O�Neill�s nickname for Janet that shook Sam out of her state of shock, to accept that this wasn�t simply a continuation of their previous nightmare. Before Janet could reply, Sam offered the explanation. "Virtual reality devices. We were trapped in virtual reality."
Janet must have sensed Sam�s shift in mood via her hand on Sam�s back because she moved forward and said quietly, "We haven�t been exactly sure what is real and what isn�t."
O�Neill gave a low whistle. "Gonna be a hell of a de-briefing."
As if O�Neill�s recollection to duty prompted the Jaffa, Teal�c stated, "We must discuss this later. The guards will awaken at any time."
"Right," came the Colonel�s response. "Need any help, Carter?" he asked, seeing the way she was bleeding.
"I�ll be fine, Sir," she managed, as Janet slid an arm around her waist.
O�Neill nodded and pointed his team out of the room. Janet and Sam followed the group, with Teal�c and O�Neill bringing up the rear. Sam noticed that the building they were in looked like old military barracks. They moved quickly down a narrow corridor and emerged into an open courtyard.
The group in front broke into a run, heading for a grove of trees fifty meters away, and Sam and Janet followed suit. Sam could hear O�Neill and Teal�c right on her heels. Then she heard a less welcome sound: namely gunshots.
"Shit!" snapped O�Neill, before ordering, "Teal�c, with me�everyone else, move it!" Sam sensed, rather than saw, her teammates drop down to their knees to return fire. She continued running, now supporting Janet. They reached the safety of the trees and one of the men pushed Sam and Janet into the back of a waiting military truck.
Sam peered out from her position, watching as a covering fire was laid down so Teal�c and the Colonel could make it to safety. As soon as they�d cleared the trees, the truck engine roared and twelve people essentially flew into the back of the truck to join Sam and Janet. With a lurch, the truck sped off, untouched by the gunfire following in its wake.
Sam sat on the edge of an infirmary bed, waiting impatiently for Doctor Matthews to finish bandaging her head. He had already run all his post-mission tests on her, and was now re-cleaning and re-bandaging the cuts left by the door spikes.
"Any dizziness or nausea?" he asked, for what Sam estimated was the thousandth time.
"The answer is still no," she said through gritted teeth. He was a fine doctor, but as he lacked Janet�s sensitivity, he had a tendency to poke and prod with a bit too much enthusiasm. As if her thought of Janet was a summons, the brunette appeared in the doorway.
"Are you about done here?" she queried of Matthews. "We�re due at the de-briefing in fifteen minutes."
He slapped a last layer of adhesive tape on Sam�s skin, completely oblivious to her wincing. "Ok then, that�s it. And if you do start experiencing dizziness or nausea�"
"I know, I know--come see you," Sam finished for him quickly before he could continue offering instructions.
He waved a dismissive hand, but there was a smile on his face. Sam wasted no time in jumping off the exam table and escaping with Janet.
The duo walked down the hallways of the SGC, and Sam, at least, felt a surge of relief at being back on familiar ground. She spared a look at Janet and noted the doctor seemed to be thinking the same thing.
Janet looked up to meet her gaze, and Sam felt her heart flutter and her cheeks grow flushed at the warmth written across the other woman�s face.
She took a deep breath to regain her equilibrium, all too conscious of the omnipresent security cameras. Janet smoothly covered the moment by asking, "How�s your head feeling?"
Sam found the wit to say something entirely appropriate to the situation, no mean feat considering that her heart was still fluttering and her thoughts were a world away. Janet arched an eyebrow at her, looking--no doubt--like a very concerned doctor, but Sam could read the amusement flickering in the chocolate brown eyes.
They broke the gaze, eyes filled with awareness of how careful they would need to be in the de-briefing to not give away the secret of their mutual attraction. They walked on in silence.
As de-briefings go, it had been fairly smooth. General Hammond and the other members of SG-1 had listened thoughtfully as first Sam, and then Janet, had given their respective versions of events. Sam had felt her stomach churn as she described the fights with the Mystiques wearing the faces of O�Neill and Teal�c. She noted that Teal�c did not seem perturbed by her account, but O�Neill looked shaken by the thought of someone else wearing his face and attacking his friends.
General Hammond cleared his throat meaningfully. "It sounds like you�ve been through quite an ordeal, so I�ll try to keep this brief. But I think you deserve to know what we�ve found, and what happened while you were gone. For starters, this may come as a bit of a shock, but you�ve been missing for over a month."
Sam turned to Janet, and saw her own shock reflected on the other woman�s face. Janet�s mouth hung open and she asked quickly, "How�s Cassie holding up?"
The General smiled. "You�ll be happy to know she�s doing fine. She�s been staying with Lt. Saunders and his family. She�s been worried, of course, but she never doubted that we would find you. In fact, by the time we�re done here, she and Lt. Saunders will be waiting at your house for the two of you to arrive. She�s anxious to see the both of you."
At his words, Sam let out a breath she hadn�t been aware of holding; beside her, Janet did the same. "Thank you for making sure she was taken care of, Sir," Janet said, her eyes filling with grateful tears.
It was O�Neill who responded. "Well, you know, we are good for something around here."
Daniel jumped in quickly, "It was really no trouble. Lt. Saunders says she spends most of her time over there with his two daughters anyway. Said she�s a lot easier to handle than his own teenagers."
Janet managed a smile at that. Sam reached out surreptitiously under the table and patted the doctor�s thigh reassuringly.
Hammond cleared his throat. "Back to business people. Colonel, why don�t you tell them what�s been going on here on our end of things?"
Before O�Neill could say a word, Sam blurted out, "We really have been gone for a month? It didn�t feel like we�d been gone any significant amount of time."
O�Neill spread his hands wide in a gesture of "beats the hell out of me".
Daniel scratched lightly at his head. "Well, I�ve given that some thought. You had probably been in various virtual settings as a way of testing the machines. In order for each experience to seem real, you would probably have had your previous ones erased somehow, retaining only the last virtual scene you were in�so you would understandably not feel like you�d been gone as long as you have been."
Teal�c cocked his head to the side and quirked an eyebrow; O�Neill glowered his incomprehension; General Hammond�s forehead wrinkled in thought.
Sam, however, nodded thoughtfully and glanced at Janet to find her doing the same. As if they were once again the only two people in the room, Janet whispered, "That makes as much sense as any other explanation I can think of."
O�Neill cleared his throat self-consciously. "Yeah, what Daniel just said."
Sam jerked her gaze away from the doctor and focused in on the Colonel. "You were saying, Sir?"
O�Neill sat forward in his chair, hands folded on the tabletop. "We didn�t even know you�d disappeared at first. I mean, you both went off to that conference thing�"
Sam raised an eyebrow and glanced back at Janet, who was biting her lip in an attempt to recall what the Colonel was talking about.
Daniel noticed the exchange, and sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers as he spoke. "It was the Scientific Ethics Conference. You both were supposed to be panel members for a discussion on the right to keep research private versus the right of the public to know about it."
Janet�s tone echoed Sam�s incredulity. "We were?"
Hammond frowned. "Are you telling me you don�t remember this?"
Sam licked her lips and shook her head. She glanced at Janet and noticed the doctor frowning.
"Well, Sir, I don�t remember any of this," Janet began tentatively, "but I suppose I shouldn�t be surprised.
"If we were conditioned�so to speak, brainwashed--so that we would believe in the virtual worlds we experienced, I would not be surprised to find that the events occurring just prior to the virtual reality experience have become tenuous and diluted into just another bit of that experience in our minds. And considering that we barely remember any of our experiences during the past month, it�s hard to say exactly what period of time has been essentially erased in our memories."
O�Neill, Teal�c, and Hammond exchanged confused glances, while Daniel�s eyes widened.
Sam jumped in to translate. "She means that we may have some gaps in our memories because we might be thinking that some actual experiences were virtual experiences, since they happened so close in time to our�"
She trailed off, not sure exactly what term to use.
"I believe �kidnapping� is the correct term, Major Carter," Teal�c offered. "That is, however, an odd term to employ, as neither of you are children, nor were you sleeping."
Daniel broke in. "It�s just a figure of speech, Teal�c. Anyway, I agree with Doctor Fraiser. Probably all the events right up to the kidnapping will be foggy, at best, in their memories."
Sam looked again at O�Neill. "So who did this to us? And how did you find us?"
She and Janet sat spellbound as O�Neill described the month-long search and the lengths SG-1 and General Hammond had gone to in order to find them.
Finally he concluded his summation. "To be honest, it was a lucky break. One of the guys over in Research and Development was here working on a project, and he was plenty pissed off about something. I took him out for a couple of drinks and he ended up telling me that he couldn�t handle kidnapping good military officers to use as unwitting test subjects.
"When he sobered up, I took him to the General and he confessed everything to us. Maybourne and his crew were running virtual tests to see how people would handle being turned into mutants, because human mutation is one of the things they are working to make a reality.
"They seem to think that mutated humans will stand a better chance at fighting the Goa�uld, and they�ve been ordered by their superiors to get all the details ironed out before they start actually turning people into mutants. They kidnapped you, so that they could get realistic reactions from people who didn�t know it was just a test."
Sam�s jaw dropped open in shock and she could only stare as Janet asked, "Why would they kidnap us?"
It was Hammond who answered. "According to our source, it appears they wanted to gauge the reactions of people who are used to dealing with unusual situations�which the two of you are given your work here--and with the two of you being out of the mountain, you were easy to get to.
"We are attempting to substantiate the information and file charges, but the facility from which you were rescued has no actual ties to Research and Development�nor do the hired guards we captured--and the man who gave us the information has vanished without a trace, so for now we simply have to be content to have you both back safely."
Sam felt a surge of anger at the utter audacity of Maybourne and his team; though given her past interactions with the man she had no difficulty believing him capable of such tactics. She looked idly down at her hands as if she was still half-expecting the anger to make claws pop out of her skin.
Beside her, Janet�s tone conveyed Sam�s emotions. "What a horrible, horrible price to pay for an accurate experiment. Especially one whose very premise is flawed."
The General agreed, and then they discussed the situation a bit more before he concluded the de-briefing. "Ok, that�s enough for now. Frankly, you both look exhausted, and Cassie is waiting to see you. I�d like you both to come in and meet with myself and a psych team tomorrow afternoon."
The two women nodded in unison and Hammond dismissed his group.
Sam offered a "thank you" to her teammates, who shrugged off the sentiment.
O�Neill squirmed uncomfortably and spoke for all of them. "Yeah, well, we�re just glad you�re both back. Things just don�t run as well when you�re gone."
Janet�s face was a study in amusement, and Sam offered a broad smile. Any further discussion was forestalled by the arrival of a driver to take the two women to Fraiser�s house, where Cassie was waiting.