| Part 1 | Part 2 |
Janet bit back on a cry as she felt the first chill touch of the gate and then she was falling through a black well of unreality. Unbalanced and dazed, she was jarred back into reality as her shoes hit the stone floor of the gate platform on another world and the creature went wild, nearly dislodging her tenuous hold. "Down," she shouted to Sam as the captain landed a tiny beat behind her. There was no way they were going to be able to hold onto the squirming creature and it seemed better to get it down as quickly and gently as possible. They half dropped, half lowered the suddenly struggling creature to the floor of the platform, then stumbled back. Sam tackled the doctor, ducking a wildly flung dart that flew harmlessly through the now empty ring of the disconnected stargate as she flung her to the ground, half covering her protectively. Spinning to glare at them, the creature hurled another dart harmlessly over their heads, its body heaving as it gasped, emitting tiny squalls of aggressive panic with every exhalation.
Sam rolled, lying on her backside next to Janet, legs outstretched, one hand braced on the floor of the platform, the other held out in what was meant to be a calming pose. She began babbling as soothingly as possible, talking to the creature in hopes of pacifying it. Opening fire on this side of the gate might be preferable to doing so back home, but it was still her least favorite option.
It squalled again, the sound high pitched and angry, but didn't fire any more of the biological darts, while Janet slowly rolled into a sitting position, babbling along with Sam in a voice meant to lull the panicked creature. It calmed fractionally, though its tail remained tense as it swung back and forth, ready to fire.
Sam made a gentle shooing motion with the hand hanging in the air. "Go on home now, Junior," she said hopefully. She glanced down at the MP5 still slung over her shoulder and considered firing a few rounds in hopes of scaring it off, but that was only one step above actually shooting it. "Go on," she shooed more firmly when the creature still hadn't moved.
It backed up a tiny step and let out a tiny, pathetic whimper.
"I don't think it wants to go," Janet murmured worriedly, a sudden vision of it following them back through the gate dancing through her head. Her neighbors would never believe it was just a very ugly dog, though there was a certain grim humor when an image popped in her head of Junior firing its bio-darts at the guy down the block who insisted on mowing his lawn every Sunday morning just before dawn.
Sam muttered a curse under her breath. This just kept getting better and better. "Go home," she snapped at the creature and it backed up another hesitant step, then whimpered softly. Apparently changing its mind, it stepped closer again. The blond flashed a glance at the woman sprawled next to her. "Suggestions?" she asked helplessly.
Janet shrugged helplessly. "Um," she exhaled uncertainly. "I guess you could fire a few rounds in the air ... maybe scare it off."
"Thought of that," Sam admitted. "But I'm afraid I might scare it into attacking." She scanned the bland landscape surrounding the gate platform, but there was nothing moving. Of course, it had been just as still and silent before and they'd still come home with company. "And besides, if there are any more of those things, we might need the ammunition." Left unsaid was the fact that Hammond wouldn't risk sending anyone through the gate to help them. Blue eyes swung back to the doctor. "And we may be here for awhile."
Janet's expression was questioning. "But we just have to dial home--"
"Not exactly," Sam said with a regretful head shake before explaining, "I don't have the G.D.O.. Colonel O'Neill does. I forgot until after the gate closed behind us. They won't open the iris without a signal, so we can't just go back ... and it may be awhile before they send anyone after us."
Fraiser lost all color and muttered a soft imprecation under her breath.
"Precisely," Sam whispered, then nodded toward the creature. It was whining pathetically now and shifting from foot to foot. "We're on our own ... for a little while at least."
"Well," the doctor said softly, "then I guess somebody needs to do something." Moving with controlled grace, she pushed to her feet, slowing when the creature tensed. She kept talking, her voice soft and calming and it didn't fire.
"Janet," Sam whispered tersely and swung her weapon off her shoulder and around so it was pointed in the general direction of the creature, "what do you think you're doing?"
The doctor shrugged. "Junior and I are going to have a talk ... see if maybe I can convince him it's time to go home."
"I'm really not sure this is a good idea," Sam muttered uneasily.
Another shrug. "Which is why you're back there to cover me ... be kind of silly if we traded places, doncha think?" she drawled, making jokes to calm her own racing pulse. "I mean I'm good with a stethoscope, but most people aren't as intimidated by them as you are ... and I'm guessing this little guy wouldn't find it impressive at all."
"Very funny," Sam muttered and scrambled to her feet, weapon clutched tightly in strong hands, ready to fire if need be. "Just be careful."
"Always," Fraiser breathed, crouching down as she neared the low-slung figure that had followed SG-1 through the gate. Beady black eyes carefully tracked her every movement, but it didn't make any hostile motions. "Hi, fella.... We're gonna feel pretty silly if you're really a girl, y'know," she said conversationally as she reached out a tentative hand. Having been tricked once, it reared back distrustfully, but she only scratched its cheek very lightly and kept babbling until it finally relaxed and allowed her to scratch a little more firmly.
"I'm not sure that's that best way to make it want to leave," Carter pointed out practically, especially since the creature was just looking happier and happier with every passing moment.
"You'd rather I pissed it off and got shot?" the doctor demanded pertly.
"Nice to hear," Janet muttered, though it was obvious from her tone that she'd never thought otherwise. "C'mon, Junior." Moving the scratching to an itchy point behind what appeared to be its ears, she managed to turn it around more or less the same way they had in the gateroom; by leading it along when it followed the pleasurable caresses. That done, she rested her hand lightly on its back at the base of its tail and its back arched into that caress like cat. "You like that, huh?" she murmured as it started purring. "You've got to be the ugliest pussy cat I've ever seen in my life." Urging it along that way, she got it down the first few steps, and Sam was half convinced she might just get it to leave when it suddenly froze two steps from the ground and let out a tiny whimper.
"C'mon, fella ... it's been fun, but it's time for you to go home," Janet soothed, but the creature wasn't going anywhere.
"Janet," Sam whispered instincts suddenly screaming, "get away from there." She felt the very faintest vibration through her boots.
Still half crouched, the doctor sensed the faint tremor as well and rose, swallowing hard as she stared at the surrounding landscape, hunting for some sign of ... something....
And then something rose out of the sand; at least four feet in diameter, rows of articulated filaments covering every inch of visible flesh, its head featureless except for a gaping maw filled with razor teeth. It arced up from the sand like a some mythical beast rising from the sea, screaming as its head swung back and forth.
The creature that had followed SG-1 through the Stargate squalled noisily and dove behind the doctor, while Sam took aim with her MP5. "Don't move," she ordered sharply as the toothy mouth swung back and forth as though it sensed prey nearby but wasn't sure where. That it was carnivorous seemed unquestionable. Herbivores seldom came with dentition like that.
For her part, Janet didn't move a muscle, though it was due less to Carter's hastily given order than her own total paralysis as she stared up into what looked all too much like the jaws of hell, an awful stench filling her nostrils. Suddenly, the little alien pressed against the back of her calves seemed like the most harmless creature in the universe as it quivered and mewled in terror.
The huge, predatory alien reared back, weaving gently on thick neck muscles. And then suddenly it screamed, and Sam saw it start to lunge at the doctor, the mouth wide. She dove forward, slamming into the smaller woman, the impact throwing them both clear. They hit the stairs together, momentarily rolling end over end before tumbling to a stop. Sam rolled and came up into a crouched position at the base of the steps. Aimed high, the large alien had arched right over the smaller creature, slamming into the stairs roughly halfway up. Dazed, it reared back, its head weaving unsteadily while Junior squalled and dove after the two women, apparently convinced they might save it while Sam brought the MP5 up and opened fire.
Bullets tore through the large alien's head from the side, and it screamed in fury and pain, rolling as though to attack again, just as Sam fired another burst, leaving gaping wounds in the creature's head and neck. It surged backwards, moving as easily through the sandy soil as a fish might move through water. Sam emptied the clip and dumped it, then snapped a fresh one home before firing another three shot burst as she scrambled for her feet. She grabbed Janet's upper arm, hauling her to her feet as she rose. "Get on top of the platform!" She thrust the woman behind her as she fired again. The predator snarled, clearly injured by her weapon, but not mortally so, and backed off a little farther, sinking lower in the sand as though contemplating this new prey.
Her MP5 still trained on it, Sam slowly backed up the stairs, reaching the top just as the creature slipped back under the sand, becoming nothing more than a moving trail of sand, like a shark's wake in the ocean. "You okay?" she questioned Fraiser, her weapon and gaze still tracking their assailant.
"I'm fine," Janet panted, while the little alien squealed as though it too was reporting in.
Sam glanced down at the thing. "You're a lot of trouble," she grumbled, though there was no malice in her tone.
"Well, I think we know why it followed you home ... and maybe how," Janet panted, gesturing toward the trails indicating the alien that had nearly had her for lunch. "It probably moves through the ground just like that thing ... except it's designed to move through sand or on top of it ... the equivalent of an amphibian ... whereas the other creature doesn't look like it has the ability to move on top of the ground ... no legs and the muscle structure probably can't support its own weight outside of the sand."
Sam nodded. "The little guy is probably its natural prey," she gasped, then glanced back at the gate. "I doubt it can reach up here, but I don't know how long we can stay here safely." At Janet's questioning look, she explained, "At some point, Colonel O'Neill will remember I don't have the G.D.O. and they'll open the gate ... probably to send a M.A.L.P. through and take a look."
The doctor paled as she realized what Sam was saying. "And if we're up here," she exhaled, sounding nauseous, "we'll be caught in the event horizon." And that would unquestionably be fatal.
Janet peered out at the sand trails lazily circling the platform. It might not be able to reach them where they were, but she was comfortably certain it could reach them anywhere that was clear of the event horizon. "Devil and the deep blue sea..." she exhaled worriedly. "Your MP5 wounded it," she said hopefully after a beat.
"But probably not seriously enough ... and I've only got one more clip after this one is empty, plus my sidearm and two spares for that. I don't think that's enough to stop it."
"I don't suppose you've got a grenade on you anywhere?" Janet asked hopefully and Sam shook her head. A sudden thought struck her and she felt a wave of guilt as she quietly asked, "You think it might go away if it caught something?" She didn't like the idea of handing Junior over to the predator -- assuming they even could manage the trick -- but if it became a matter of survival, they'd have to do it.
Sam sighed softly, not liking the idea any better than the doctor did. "Maybe ... maybe not. I...." She suddenly looked around herself, expression confused.
"Where did it go?"
Sam did a full pivot, searching the platform. Age had softened the edges and worn the sandstone, but it wasn't like there were a lot of hiding places. "Junior ... he's gone," she whispered in disbelief
"That's can't be. Where could it go?" Frowning, Janet spun around, hunting for some sign of the little beast that had created so much havoc, but there was nothing to see.
"I don't know," Sam said, "but it's definitely gone."
Janet stared at the dust and sand strewn floor of the platform and crouched down suddenly as it all fell together in her head. "No, it's not." She rubbed the floor of the dusty sandstone platform, stirring up thick sand and brushing it aside, revealing a depression in the floor. Sam spun around, watching as the doctor continued brushing loose sand aside until she revealed a spiny back and broad frame. Junior looked up as she brushed sand away from its snout and whimpered softly. "That's how it followed you." Janet continued wiping sand aside. "It was probably already on the platform when you guys were ready to leave. Then it just followed you through." She trailed a hand down the broad back. "That must be the purpose of the stingers ... not defense ... but movement. It breaks down rock and allows it to slide through the resulting debris."
Sam straightened, peering out at the surrounding miles of shifting sand. "According to Teal'c, this world was once supposed to have been inhabited ... and had cities built of stone--"
"Not anymore," the doctor exhaled as she realized what Sam was saying.
"No ... there are only a few ruins left...." Watching the circling trail that indicated the hunter, Sam shook her head. "They probably weren't native ... something that came in through the gate and had no real predators." She crouched down, reaching out to scratch the huddled creature behind the ears. "But SG-1 walked all over this area and we didn't see anything ... but that creature popped up the moment you hit the bottom of the stairs." She looked back down. "...And this little guy was standing right behind you."
Janet swallowed hard. "So maybe it didn't really know I was there?"
Sam nodded. "It slowed like it was confused. Probably knew this one was there, but didn't even know what you were."
"So maybe we could step off the platform without getting hurt?" Janet questioned uncertainly.
Sam shrugged. "Now that I've shot it ... I'm not so sure." She ran a hand over her hair, cursing softly as she hunted for a solution.
"What if we hid in the holes this little guy has left in the platform?" Fraiser suggested. Curled tightly enough, there might be enough room. "That way the event horizon would just go over our heads."
Sam shook her head. "Too dangerous. He probably only survived because he was under an insulating layer of sand. We couldn't breathe like that and without it, we'd probably be toast."
Slender shoulders sagged. "Oh." For a moment there, Janet had thought she had an answer to their problem. "So what are we going to do?"
Carter glanced back down at the creature huddled in his hole. "Keep him here." A quick glance back out at the lazily circling hunter and she stood.
"What are you going to do?"
Still watching the sand trail, Sam offered a tiny shrug. "See what happens if I go down there without Junior tagging along." She glanced back at Janet, then undogged her sidearm and handed it over, followed by the spare clips for it from her belt. "Just in case," she said softly.
Janet peered at the weapon and nodded. She dropped the clips in the breast pocket of her labcoat, but kept the weapon in hand. "Be careful."
Sam simply nodded. With her MP5 up and ready, she moved forward on light feet, stepping carefully onto the stairs leading down to the ground. She took them slowly, tensing as the sand wake suddenly disappeared altogether.
"Sam, it went under..." Janet called out in warning.
"I know," Carter responded and took another step down, redoubling her grip on her MP5 as she moved.
Fraiser checked the safety on the pistol and got a firm grip on the neck of the little alien where it had burrowed in, eyes scanning back and forth over the suddenly smooth sand surrounding the gate platform.
Still watching carefully, Sam stepped down until she was almost on ground level, then paused. No sign of the creature now. She glanced back at the doctor, relieved to see she had the pistol gripped tightly in one hand and ready to use, though she was comfortably certain it wouldn't do much against the alien they'd seen before except maybe tick it off. Nothing left to do, but go for it. Taking a deep breath, Sam stepped off the lowest stair, flinching as her boot sank fractionally into the thick, powdery sand.
Still nothing. She carefully lifted her other foot down, half convinced it really wasn't going to pay any attention to her.
And then she felt the earth move -- and not in a good way either -- even as Janet's warning shout echoed in her ears.
"SAM! LOOK OUT!" Janet leapt forward as she saw Sam dive backward, hitting the stairs with a grunt, her weapon coming up as the snake creature surged up out of the sand. It arched, the toothy maw descending toward Carter and she opened fire sending bullets slamming into the open mouth, lead tearing at soft flesh and making it scream in agony as it reared back.
So much for her hopes that it wouldn't pay attention to her.
Fighting to scramble back up the stairs, Sam emptied the clip, and then suddenly felt someone grab her collar, hauling her back and up. And then Janet opened fire with Sam's sidearm, buying the blond another moment to scramble to her feet.
"Get back up!" Sam gasped as she found her feet and twisted, bracing a hand on Fraiser's upper chest while the doctor kept firing at the creature behind her, pushing her backward in an effort to get them both back to the top of the platform. Instead, something clipped her shoulder, razor teeth slicing through a thick canvas cargo pocket and sending them both tumbling. Bodies impacting each other and bouncing down the stairs, both women hit the ground at the base of the stairs breathless and gasping. As they hit the hot sand, Sam rolled, fighting to drop the empty clip from the MP5 and get a fresh one in place.
The hunter roared, sensing it had them right where it wanted, and started to lunge.
Sam was still shoving fresh clip in place and not likely to make it in time.
And suddenly Junior came screaming to the edge of the platform, howling and squealing, its tiny bio-darts hitting the bigger creature in rapid succession. They showed no sign of melting flesh the way they did cement, but judging by the way it roared and swung its head back and forth, trying to shake them off, they hurt like hell.
It gave Sam the extra moment she needed to slam the clip home. "Go," she snapped to Janet as she pushed to one knee and opened fire.
"Like hell," the doctor growled under her breath, pushing to her feet and firing the freshly loaded handgun over Sam's head at the creature's swinging head, hoping that if they all hit it at once, the thing might either die or run.
Cursing under her breath, Sam emptied her clip just as Fraiser was slamming her last one into place. Junior was still squealing loudly, its tiny darts coming slower now. It had to have some limits. Their attacker roared and raged, anger driving it to hunt blindly for its tormentors. Fraiser had only a few more shots and then they'd be at its mercy.
"Time to go," Sam panted and twisted, getting an arm around Janet's waist as she kicked off, hurtling them both out of the way just before the creature dove at their position. It hit the sand in their wake, then reared up again. "Run!" Carter shouted, shoving the doctor ahead of her, though Janet still had her weapon up and was firing as she backed up the stairs. Sam stumbled almost halfway up, falling into Janet and taking them both down just as the hammer on the handgun clicked, signaling the clip had finally run empty.
Sam could hear the creature at the top of the stair shrieking frantically now, and feel the shape of Janet's body under her own as she sprawled across her protectively, fully expecting to feel razor sharp teeth tear into her back at any moment. Instead, she was amazed to feel nothing but a gust of air as though something rushed past her. The sound of moving sand accompanied a pained bellow that turned into an agonized shriek. She twisted just in time to see their attacker moving away from the platform as though something had in the jaws and was dragging it back. Her eyes swung back up to where the little alien was still crying out, but there was less panic in its voice now. She didn't even begin to understand, but wasn't going to wait around to find out what was happening. "Go," she gasped, grabbing Janet's shoulder as the woman rolled onto her stomach, and shoving her up the stairs. She hit the top no more than a step or two behind the other woman and they both went down in an ungainly sprawl, still half tangled together, winded and badly shaken.
"Are you okay?" Sam panted as she pushed up on one hand and stared down at the smaller woman.
Janet nodded, swallowing hard as she struggled to catch her breath. "You?"
Sam nodded, twisting to stare out at the trails in the sand, hunting for some sign of their pursuer. The creature had disappeared completely in the few moments while they were running for their lives. "It's gone," she breathed in shock.
"What the hell happened?" Janet gasped in confusion.
Sam just shook her head dazedly. "I have no idea." She was breathing hard, her heart hammering violently in her chest. "It was headed for us, but something yanked it back."
The small alien bounded over to them, the sturdy legs allowing it to move surprisingly quickly. Its slimy tongue left a thick trail of drool on Fraiser's cheek as it gave her a friendly lick. Making a face, she pushed the heavy head back. "Thanks, boy." She pushed up onto her elbow, peering past Sam as the blond pushed to her knee. The surrounding landscape was unmoving, the only sign that anything had happened, the random ripples left in the sand.
And then suddenly, their attacker came up out of the sand with a scream, its head flinging back and forth helplessly before it was dragged under again.
The little alien whimpered softly and tried to hide under Janet's arm.
"Something's attacking it," Sam murmured in an awed tone.
Janet nodded. "Something very large," she exhaled, sounding nauseous even to her own ears. If it could kill that thing.... "And hopefully friendly."
Sandy wakes surfaced in the area where they'd last seen the huge predator, but it didn't surface again, and after several moments of rapid churning, the sand suddenly pitted downward, something thick and green soaking up through the ground from below.
Swallowing hard as she fought her own fear, Sam found her feet, reaching down automatically to help Janet up until the doctor was standing next to her. They were both out of ammunition and other than her field knife completely weaponless. She quietly drew the foot long blade and stood waiting.
They were both caught by surprise a moment later when Junior suddenly squealed and bounded down the stairs.
The creature that rose from the sand at the base of the stairs had ugly cuts on its snout and one shoulder, the brackish blood clotting through thick tufts of pale fur that ran along the crested spine. Its bone structure had narrowed to a more graceful angle with maturity, but it was definitely a very large version of Junior. It slid no more than halfway out of the earth, the heavy front legs bent to rest thick, flipper-like feet on the surface of the sand, then made a delicate crying sound. The nickname Junior suddenly seemed very apropos indeed as the little alien flung itself at the newcomer, mewling happily. It received an affectionate nuzzle in return, followed by what could only be described as chiding sounds and a gentle cuff from a broad muzzle.
"Looks like somebody ran away from home ... and didn't think much of the big bad world," Janet sighed at last. She was relieved in an odd way. She'd been starting to feel responsible for the little guy -- and it had probably saved their lives with its attack on the bigger creature -- so it was good to know there was someone out there looking after him ... her ... it?
Sam slipped her knife back into its sheath. "They're kinda cute in a profoundly ugly way," she murmured wryly.
Janet nodded, still watching as mother and child -- at least she assumed that was what they were -- nuzzled affectionately. "And at least now we know why it followed you home."
Sam looked at the doctor, her expression perplexed. "We do?"
Janet nodded seriously, and then Sam noted a grin sneaking through. The doctor gestured to the tufts of pale yellow fur that ran down the larger creature's back. "It saw all that blond hair and mistook you for its mama--"
"You're so dead," Sam grumbled good naturedly, then glanced back at the gate. "However, in the interests of our survival, I suggest we move the bad jokes off the platform." They'd been there quite awhile and O'Neill wasn't one for patiently waiting. It wouldn't do them any good to survive the sand monsters and get killed by their own people coming to rescue them. She nodded toward the mother and baby whatevers, who were now snuggled up against one another a short distance from the gate platform while the adult washed her injuries and occasionally nuzzled the little one. "My guess is we're safe as long as they're here." She leaned down, retrieving her sidearm where it had fallen during their mad lunge for the top of the platform, then waved Fraiser toward the stairs.
The adult appeared to ignore them completely as they cautiously moved to the bottom of the stairs, ready to bolt back up if it reacted to their presence. "Well, they don't seem to mind us," Janet murmured and peeled off her labcoat, folding it loosely and tossing it aside. She looked over at Sam, her gaze a little worried as she hunted for any sign of injuries. "You okay?"
The blond nodded, reaching up to massage the back of her neck. "A little bumped and bruised, but nothing serious. You?"
The doctor glanced down, noting a few scrapes and feeling a few bruises. "Nothing to worry about as far as I can tell."
"Glad to hear it," Sam murmured, sinking into a sitting position several steps from the ground, her feet stretched out and resting on the bottom stair. She leaned back on her elbows. Blue eyes swung around, tracking the doctor as she took up a similar position on her left side. She unclipped the canteen on her hip and took a long drink then handed it to Janet, who took several long swallows of the lukewarm water before handing it back. "Hopefully we won't be here too long," she mused out loud, wondering how long it would take for the colonel to remember he had the G.D.O..
"Better not," Fraiser teased lightly, "since I'm scheduled to humiliate you at pool tonight."
Sam looked over at the other woman, brows rising in polite disbelief. "Oh really?" she drawled, her own eyes glittering with humor. She was alert to their surroundings and ready to move, but also aware that being grimly serious wouldn't make the time pass any more quickly. "Getting kinda cocky, aren't you?" she riposted neatly.
Slim shoulders dipped in a mocking shrug. "Well, you have to admit...." the doctor drawled.
"No, I don't," Sam disagreed testily. "I was tired last week and I played a lousy game--"
"Actually, you played three lousy games, but who's counting?" Janet laughed as Sam rolled her eyes dramatically.
"Apparently you are," the captain muttered, though her tone was mostly for show. "Though I feel like I should point out that I never claimed to be a pool shark ... I'm an astrophysicist, not Minnesota Fats." She shook her head, then winced as battered neck and shoulder muscles protested the movement.
"Neck spasm?" Janet questioned and Sam nodded, mouth twisting with pain as the spasm turned her neck muscles into celtic knots. She started to reach up in an effort to massage the pain away only to flinch as lifting her arm made the spasm worsen. Janet gently batted her hands aside as she scooted behind Sam. "Here, let me." It was a little bit of comfort they'd gotten used to offering each other when the stress got too intense and, while the brief interruption in their friendship had made them slightly uncomfortable with the intimacy for a short time, they'd gotten back into the habit and it had simply become automatic in the weeks since. Janet slid into position a couple of steps above the taller woman, her feet braced on the stairs on either side of narrow hips. Resting her hands on Sam's shoulders, she pressed her thumbs into taut muscles through the heavy tactical vest. "You're a little tense," she murmured softly.
Sam nodded, leaning forward, elbows resting on her knees. "It's been a long day," she admitted, exhaustion leaking through her voice. And this little lark had just made things worse, especially now that all was reasonably calm and she'd had time to realize that she'd dragged an unarmed officer into a situation that could have gotten her killed. "And all of this was just the crowning glory." She sighed softly, then winced as she leaned to one side and craned her neck to peer back at Janet. "You sure you're okay?"
Full lips tipped up in a wry smile. "I'm fine." She dug her thumbs into a particularly taut sinew and felt Sam jump. "Possibly better than you are at the moment."
With a soft sigh, Sam leaned more firmly into the soothing massage while watching the strange mother and child. The adult had slipped deeper into the sand, seemingly tired by any efforts to stay on top of the earth, while the little one bounded about, playing and enjoying itself. It wandered over while she was still getting her massage and delivered an affectionate lick to first her boot and then a dangling hand. Sam made a face. "You're right, it's pretty gross," she muttered as she tried to wipe the thick coating of drool off on her pants leg. She smiled as she heard Fraiser's soft laugh.
"Toldya." Janet worked her fingers down the length of Sam's upper back, feeling vertebrae pop and muscles warm and lengthen as she knowingly hit the proper pressure points. "So how long do you think it'll take before they send a M.A.L.P. to check on us?" she questioned after a minute or two of companionable silence.
Sam glanced back. "I'd hoped they'd do so pretty quickly," she admitted, "but General Hammond may play it safe. I considered dialing out to signal them, but for a number of reasons, I'd rather wait until they dial in." She knew the SGC would check on them eventually and without the G.D.O. to contact their people, dialing earth ran the risk of getting certain unwanted responses.
"In other words, we may be here awhile?"
"If they haven't opened the gate by tomorrow morning, I'll open it and try and signal them somehow," Sam assured her. There were some things she could do, but they wouldn't be especially quick or simple and she'd prefer to avoid them where possible.
The doctor absorbed that news silently and without argument. "I'll tell you one thing," she murmured conversationally after another minute or two of friendly silence, "I don't think I'm ever going to enjoy a late night showing of Tremors the way I used to."
Sam chuckled despite herself. "Glad to see you're focusing on the important things in life," she drawled, then asked a question about the possible biology of the aliens that led into a long discussion of how they might have evolved.
By the time night fell and the temperature with it, Janet had moved back beside Sam, her labcoat slung around her shoulders for warmth. The alien creatures had finally moved on shortly before sunset, though Junior had checked in with them one last time before returning to its mother and climbing onto her shoulders, where it tucked into a protected spot behind the crown of her head, riding along as she disappeared back into the sand dunes.
After some discussion on that, Janet leaned back, staring skyward, the night sky not seeming so different to untrained eyes. "So do you know what stars we're looking at?" she asked curiously.
Her gaze following Janet's, Carter shook her head. "I could figure it out with the right equipment, but
just looking at them ... no." She made a loose gesture toward the pale band of light visible across the night sky. "We're still in the Milky Way though."
Janet drew her labcoat more tightly around her and stuffed her hands under her armpits, shivering gently.
"Cold?" Sam questioned worriedly. Dressed in a lightweight summer uniform -- navy blue slacks and a short sleeved cotton blouse -- Janet wasn't ready for any kind of serious temperature drop.
"A little chilly," Janet admitted. "But I'm okay." But it quickly got colder and Sam slid an arm across her shoulders. Under the gentle pressure, she moved closer, grateful for the shared body heat; not that she would have been in any danger of freezing to death without it, but it would definitely have been a lot less comfortable.
They chatted after that, quietly bouncing ideas about what they'd encountered on the alien world, gradually falling silent as they ran out of words and exhaustion reared its head. The desert had chilled considerably and Janet was huddled against Sam's side, her head resting against the other woman's shoulder, half asleep, when a subtle and familiar perfume teased her nostrils. Delicate and faintly floral but tinged with something else soft and sweet, it took a moment for the sensation to sink in and then several more for her to sort it out and place where she'd smelled it before....
Held tightly in the primitive Samantha Carter's arm, pinned against her chest, their bodies molded together, her mouth claimed by demanding kisses....
Janet stiffened faintly and almost pulled back as the memory rushed over her like a physical sensation ... not because it raised ugly associations, but because it didn't. As the truth hit her, she half expected a sense of fear or least discomfort, but it never came.... And that lack of any negative sensation was almost as jarring as fear or revulsion might have been. She tamped that thought down almost immediately. It shouldn't be so surprising. The attack had been an aberration and nothing to do with the very real friendship they had forged since then. The brief physical awareness was meaningless. She'd probably smelled the same perfume a dozen times since and just hadn't been in a position to notice. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. That was it. She'd already gotten through any negative associations without even realizing it. It was just a sign of how solid their friendship had become and how truly unimportant that unpleasant event had been.
The tension was already leaving Janet's muscles when Sam tightened her loose hold on her shoulders fractionally, massaging her opposite shoulder lightly as she murmured, "Go ahead and get some sleep if you want. I'll keep watch." She wasn't terribly worried about threats. They hadn't seen any movement since the two alien creatures had left, and she seriously doubted there were very many creatures of any kind out there. The land just wasn't sufficient to support a very large population of anything.
Janet glanced up and realized that Sam thought her sudden tension had come from efforts to stay awake. "Thanks," she mumbled uncertainly and didn't protest when Sam gently tugged her head back into place against her shoulder. Sighing softly, she nuzzled into a reasonably comfortable position. It was just a good friendship ... nothing to worry about there. In moments, she was dozing lightly.
Tired and half asleep, Sam felt the woman resting against her side relax, her breathing deepening. She glanced down, noting sleep softened features with a hint of a smile, then looked back out at the surrounding desert. A trio of brightly gleaming moons hung high in the night sky overhead, casting more than enough light across the sandy desert to leave her certain she'd see any sign of wakes moving over the earth. It didn't guarantee their safety, but it was all the protection she could offer.
She was on the verge of nodding off and fighting it several hours later when Janet reached out and shook her knee lightly. "Go ahead and get some rest. I'll keep watch."
Even though her eyes kept sliding closed despite her best efforts, Sam shook her head. "M'okay," she mumbled through a yawn.
"You're exhausted," Janet disagreed patiently, feeling better now that she'd rested for a little while. "I can keep an eye out while you get some rest." Sam drew breath to argue, but a gentle finger landed on her lips, silencing her before she could get the words out. "We may need you at your best in the morning," the doctor reminded her firmly. Signaling the SGC to let them through without the benefit of the G.D.O. might take some thought.
A beat passed and then Sam nodded, seeing the wisdom in what Janet was saying. "All right," she exhaled, hunkering down and adjusting herself as best she could into some kind of comfortable arrangement, her head drooping as she slipped off until it was resting on the doctor's shoulder, her forehead just touching silky hair.
They were still like that shortly before dawn when the Stargate roared to life, the event horizon momentarily lighting up the surrounding landscape like a small explosion. Both women snapped instantly to their feet, any sleepiness disappearing in the flood of adrenaline that followed the sudden burst of sound and energy.
Sam bounded up several stairs as the effect died away, leaving the watery smooth surface of the open gate in its place. She waved to Janet to stay behind her, hand resting lightly on the hilt of the knife sheathed on her belt. It was probably their own people, but it never paid to assume to much when dealing with the gate. She heaved a sigh of a relief a moment later when a M.A.L.P. rolled through, a camera and spotlight mounted prominently on the front. "Hi, guys," Sam said as she stepped forward, waving at the camera with a wry smile. "Can we come home now?"
The camera did a slow pan without answering the question, taking in the entire platform before it finished.
"Sorry about the delay," Jack O'Neill apologized as he stepped through the gate moments later, the rest of SG-1 only a step or two behind. He had the good graces to sound mildly embarrassed as he continued, "I ... uh ... forgot you didn't have the G.D.O. ... didn't realize it was in my things until just a little while ago." He eyed the entire platform a little nervously. "Sooo ... anymore dart shooting alien badgers running around?"
"No, sir," Sam assured him. "But don't go badmouthing that little guy. He probably saved our lives."
O'Neill looked doubtful, but didn't argue. "Ah huh," he drawled, peering at Sam. "I guess your efforts to export feminism across the galaxy are showing some signs of success then?" he teased, grinning as he got an eye roll from his second in command.
"So can we go home now?" Sam verbally ignored the dig as she questioned him through a yawn, too tired to come up with a clever comeback. She reached up to massage the back of her neck as the doctor stepped up beside her, drawing her labcoat more tightly around herself for warmth.
"Possibly before I turn into a popsicle?" Fraiser added hopefully. Without the shared body heat, she was rapidly approaching miserable, more tiny shivers rattling through her with every passing moment.
O'Neill noted her discomfort and nodded. "Sure thing." He looked at Carter, any attempts at humor gone. "Anything else we need to do here?"
She shook her head as she glanced back over her shoulder. "No ... let's just put this one on the list of places not to return to and go."
O'Neill scanned the surrounding desert, noting the empty brass glittering under the bright spotlight. "Looks like things got a little exciting." He looked at the two women, a worried frown that hadn't been there when he thought they'd simply been sitting and waiting creasing his brow. "You two okay?"
Both women shrugged in stereo, trading off details as they stumbled toward the gate. "Tired," Sam began.
"Cold," Janet added helpfully.
"Hungry." It was Carter's turn again.
"Sore," Janet said when it was her turn.
They kept it up until they disappeared through the gate. After they were gone, O'Neill turned to look at Teal'c and Daniel who stared back at him. Daniel offered a small shrug. Teal'c's eyebrow twitched fractionally ... or maybe it was just a trick of the light. Jack was never one hundred percent certain. "I really can't think of a thing to say," he murmured at last, "though I'm betting the debriefing may be interesting." His teammates simply nodded, and then with a last glance at the alien world, they headed back through the gate.
* * * * * * *
"My god," Sam drawled, her tone one of mock amazement as she entered Isolation Two, "you're actually more of a workaholic than I am." They'd been back for a couple of hours, long enough for a complete medical checkup, a debriefing, a shower, and apparently some work.
Janet looked up from the computer screen she'd been studying intently and smiled. "Actually, I was just about to shut down and head home," she said a little defensively.
Sam grinned, leaning forward, her elbows braced on the table across from the doctor. "Wouldn't want you to go against your baser instincts," she teased lightly.
"I really was going to shut down and go," the doctor insisted, then gestured toward the computer screen. "I just got a little delayed. They got the first results in on the venom ... it's absolutely fascinating." She rested her hand lightly on the mouse at her side to bring up a fresh screen. "Plus some very preliminary DNA results on Junior's saliva samples ... and some interesting information on a blood spatter we found on your uniform ... it most likely came from the thing that attacked ... when you shot it...."
Curious now, Sam nodded and stepped around the table to peer at the computer over the doctor's shoulders. "And?" she prompted, frowning as she studied the screens sitting side by side on the monitor. She knew enough to recognize what the tests were, but not enough to interpret what she was looking at.
Janet glanced back, an excited smile playing about her mouth. "And I may know why Junior ... or maybe I should say Juniorette," she mused out loud, "didn't like the guys."
Sam nodded at the screen. "From that?"
A quick nod and then Janet was studying the results again. "Yep ... this and some of the other tests. Unless there's a lot of contamination of the samples -- which is possible, but I don't think so -- Junior and the creature that attacked us are from the same species--"
"But they didn't look anything alike," Sam argued.
"That may not mean anything for some species ... particularly when you're talking aliens on the other side of the gate," Janet pointed out. "But there are definitely some major genetic similarities ... we'll know more after we've done more tests, but even these are pretty conclusive ... the difference is that Junior appears to be female ... judging by the hormones we found in the saliva ... whereas our assailant leaves a testosterone trail a mile wide."
Sam frowned, considering what she'd been told. "So it's a male and they kill their own young?" she questioned uncertainly. Seemed like a recipe for extinction to her.
Leaning back in her chair, Janet offered a small shrug. "Lots of species on earth do. Generally when males do it, they kill any young that aren't their own, then mate with the females." Another shrug. "It's a way of ensuring their genes are propagated."
"It's still..." Sam trailed off, hunting for the right word to describe the shudder of revulsion that slid through her at the thought.
"Yeah," Fraiser sighed after a moment, her expression twisted by distaste. "Makes your skin crawl." She shook off the repugnance. "But it may explain why Junior was so aggressive where they were concerned. It's probably a defense mechanism ... the babies natively fear males since they're a primary predator." Technically, she knew she was theorizing. Practically speaking, it made sense based on what they'd seen.
Sam let out a tiny whistle. "Fascinating. Let me know what you find as you get more information."
"Sure thing," Janet assured her, then she sighed softly and reached out to shut off the computer. "However, I promised myself I would go home once I saw those results." She had her lecturing voice on now, though Sam noted it was self-directed. "And the rest won't be in for several days anyway." She took a deep breath and pushed to her feet. "And I am not a workaholic," she added, her tone making Sam smile. "I'm just responsible."
"Uh huh," Carter responded knowingly, one eyebrow climbing toward her hairline. "And you think I'm going to believe you because..." she enquired politely.
Janet started to argue, then her shoulders sagged, a wry smile touching her mouth. "Shoulda known I couldn't fool you," she sighed.
"C'mon," Sam invited. "I'm on my way out to my car. I'll walk you. We can bolster one another into not falling off the wagon and staying."
Brown eyes rolled back. "I'm not that bad."
"Uh huh ... sure you're not," Sam drawled as they kept easy pace. She waited while the doctor stopped by her office, gathering her things together, asking questions about the samples that showed a fair understanding of genetics and nodding as the doctor explained what she'd seen in more detail.
Minutes later, Janet found herself briefly distracted when they entered the elevator and she suddenly realized that in the close confines, she could smell that same soft perfume of Sam's even more distinctly than she had before. She shook the thought off -- it was meaningless, a tiny bit of left over sensory memory -- then looked up as she realized that Sam had said her name. "Wha', I'm sorry. I drifted for a moment. What did you say?"
"I asked if you think you can synthesize whatever it is in the venom that breaks down rock and cement?" Sam repeated.
Offered a scientific problem to escape more personal questions, Janet tackled it, grateful for the mental subject change. "That could get tricky. Scientists have been trying to synthesize spider webs for years and haven't even come very close." She shook her head. "I'll know more when we see the rest of the test results, but I'd be a little surprised if it's easy or simple."
They chatted about the possibilities during the rest of the elevator ride, separating to go their cars when they reached the parking lot. As she reached the driver's side of her Celica, Janet glanced back, noting the lanky figure of the blond as she wove between various vehicles, her attention focused on a point somewhere past and slightly to the left of infinity. A gentle smile touched her mouth as she watched for a moment. For all of her practical abilities, Sam Carter wasn't a woman with her feet on the ground ... which was probably part of her appeal ... as a friend.
Just a friend, but--
A sharp breath and she cut that thought off right there, her hands only slightly unsteady as she climbed in behind the wheel ... but that was just exhaustion.
Or at least that's what she told herself as she pulled out of the parking lot.