When You're Not Strong
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
The primordial ground trembled as a low rumble of thunder rolled lazily through the thick, gray clouds. Droves of thickly foliated willow-like trees swayed and shook in the powerful winds, their gnarled trunks groaning loudly in protest. Wave after wave of cold raindrops plummeted from the dark skies above, their hasty journeys coming to a violent end as they met the ground with a muted `sploot.' Sharp, jagged bolts of bright yellow lightening tore across the black sky, twisting and turning as they struggled to find the shortest path to the ground below. Off in the distance, a mountain of immeasurable proportions slept on, impervious to the vicious storm that raged on around it.
In a brush filled clearing not far from the base of the mountain, a metallic clang rang out sharply before being lost behind a deafening clash of thunder. The clanging continued, however, evident only by the warm glow of seven small red triangles that flanked the outer ring of the moon's most curious object. Standing taller than most of the giant willows surrounding it, the massive stone circle had perched prominently atop a simple three-step platform for centuries.
Within moments of the final chevron glowing to life, an explosive force of swirling blue energy burst forth from the center of the giant ring, expanding out several meters before shriveling back into itself to form an undulating vertical pool. Rippling slightly in the storm's wind, the puddle's shimmering surface was abruptly broken as a tank-like vehicle slowly crawled its way down the stone steps and sank slightly into the muddy earth below. No sooner had the puddle recovered from this disturbance did it happen again as four figures immerged from the swirling blue sea and stopped on the platform.
After taking a moment to study their new surroundings, the small group of poncho-clad visitors slowly made their way down the stairs as the great wall of blue energy flickered brightly behind them. It was then without warning that one jagged bolt of lightening found a path to the ground, striking the round pedestal located beside the giant ring and sending several pieces flying into the bushes nearby. Thrown off their feet by the deafening concussion alone, the team quickly found themselves being plunged into near darkness as the iridescent portal literally disappeared into thin air.
"Carter!" Using the MALP to haul himself up from the muddy ground, Colonel Jack O'Neill's bellow was nearly lost in a resonating crack of thunder.
With a disgusted frown, Captain Samantha Carter swiped her muck-covered hands against the sides of her raincoat as she made her way toward the now smoking Stargate controls. Watching as the blue and yellow sparks continued to dance across the faceplate of the DHD, she hesitantly reached out to check it for damage. Just as she was about to make contact with one of the 39 alien glyphs, a darkly colored hand suddenly appeared and wrapped firmly around her wrist. Startled, she looked up to see the serious face of Teal'c, SG-1's loyal Jaffa friend.
"I do not believe touching the Dial Home Device at this time would be wise, Captain Carter," he said, releasing her hand.
Realizing that he was probably right, Sam took out her flashlight and began searching the ground for a small branch. By the time she had found what she was looking for, the others had gathered around to see what she was doing. Quickly stripping the rain sodden branch of its leaves, she took aim and tossed it onto the faceplate of the DHD.
"Whoa!" Jack exclaimed, skirting back a few steps as the piece of wood was instantly consumed by a myriad of colorful sparks before bursting into flames.
"Now what?" Dr. Daniel Jackson shouted, clapping a hand over his boonie hat as a gust of wind threatened to remove it from his head.
"We'll just have to wait until the extra charge dissipates," Sam replied, stomping out the smoldering branch that had landed at her feet.
"Are you saying we can't dial out of this monsoon until the DHD stops this little lightshow?" Jack demanded, his question punctuated by a flash of lightening.
She grimaced. "Yes, sir. That's exactly it."
"Damn, I hate when I'm right."
"What if Earth tries dialing in? Will the Gate still form an incoming wormhole?" Daniel asked, squinting against the rain that had begun to fall.
"It shoul..." her answer was cut short as a deafening crash from above forced everyone to cover their ears. "It should. We've been in situations before where the DHD has been disabled, but we were able to connect from our end just fine."
"We are not due back at Stargate Command for 24 hours. It is unlikely they will attempt to establish contact before then," Teal'c remarked, seemingly unaffected by the cold water that was beating down on his bald head.
"Teal'c's right," Jack agreed. "We need to try to fix that thing before then."
She shook her head. "We can't, sir."
The Colonel sighed and held the bridge of his nose, the familiar ebb of a tension headache already forming between his eyes. "Why not?"
"You saw what happened when that branch touched the DHD. Any attempt to make contact with it while it's still overcharged could be fatal. Besides, I think the Gate activation may have been what attracted the strike in the first place."
"And just how long is this all going to take?" he pushed.
"I'm not sure. It could be a few hours, or it could take days. Even then I can't guarantee I'll be able to fix it," she replied, looking back at the still flickering DHD. "I'm afraid we're going to be stuck here for awhile, sir."
The older man grunted. "Great."
At a momentary loss over what to do, SG-1 stood quietly in the clearing, watching as the storm raged on around them. It was Jack's backpack squishing to the ground that finally broke the silence, his team turning to look as he settled onto it like a bar stool.
"Might as well lighten your loads, kids. Looks like it's going to be a long day."
Daniel's eyebrows shot up over his rain-streaked glasses. "Wait a minute, Jack -- We're not just going to sit around and wait for the DHD to stop smoking, are we?"
"What else did you have in mind, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c inquired, his gold serpent tattoo shimmering in a distant flash.
"Well...I was just thinking, since we're already here, why not proceed with the mission?"
"Might help pass the time, sir," Sam agreed, hoping for some physical activity to help stave off the chills being caused by the cold rain.
Teal'c inclined his head. "I concur."
Heaving a sigh, the Colonel found himself beginning to regret ever agreeing to take what had been simply classified as a "UAV Recovery." Something had caused the unmanned airplane to fail, and now it was their job to find it, secure the data module, and destroy what they couldn't carry back. At Daniel's request, they were also going to stop along the way and investigate an odd grouping of rock piles that the UAV had spotted just before going down.
Noticing her CO's reluctance to leave the area when their only way home was temporarily locked, Sam spoke up. "Also, sir, we should consider that the Stargate is probably the biggest lightening rod on the moon. By staying here..."
"We run the risk of being struck. I realize that, Captain," he uttered, wiping the water from his face with a gloved hand. Taking a moment to mentally weigh their two options, Jack finally lifted his pack from the ground, shook off the excess mud, and settled it on his shoulders. "We're here, right? What the hell."
The archeologist grinned. "My thoughts exactly, Jack."
"The last transmission we received positioned the UAV about 8 klicks north of the Gate, sir," Sam reported, double-checking her notes.
"Then north it is. All righty, folks, let's keep our eyes open for any deep puddles, fallen trees, and wandering land sharks."
Not totally up to par on his Earth culture, Teal'c missed the joke completely. "Did the UAV data not suggest this moon to be uninhabited?"
"As far as we know," Daniel replied, looking back to see his friend's face knotted up in a concerned frown. "He's just quoting an old TV show, Teal'c. There's no such thing as a land shark."
There was a slight hint of disappointment in his voice. "I see."
"Hey! You two coming or what?" Jack shouted from where he and Sam stood at the edge of the woods.
"Coming, Jack!" he called over his shoulder before turning back to Teal'c. "Ready?"
"Good." Taking a moment to readjust his pack, Daniel started off to meet the others with Teal'c at his heels, eager to explore the many secrets and wonders of the new world around him.
Several hours later found SG-1 deep within the alien forest, heavily surrounded in all directions by various species of willow trees. Although the dense foliage made for difficult travel, they were grateful that the tangled leaves prevented most of the steadily failing rain and hail from reaching them. Despite making good time, the team had opted out of their usual rest break in favor of munching energy bars while on the move to keep warm in the damp, chilly air.
Using the UAV tracker as a guide, Captain Carter led the others along a crooked path through trees and shrubbery, relying primarily on the frequent flashes of lightening to illuminate the way.
"Are we there yet?" Jack asked unenthusiastically as he craned his neck back to get a better look at the massive boulder they were approaching. It seemed to be out of place in the middle of a forest, but it was obvious it had been there awhile just by the amount of vines and moss that covered it.
"Not quite, sir," she replied, finding herself becoming bored with bland scenery as well. They had yet to come across any signs that intelligent life had ever inhabited the tree enshrouded world, and it was beginning to look like they never would. It also had her wondering why there was even a Stargate on the moon in the first place. "It's a little less than three klicks away."
"Great..." he drawled, carefully wading through an ankle deep puddle of mud. Pausing to scrape the worst of the offending substance off against a nearby stump, Jack's scowl deepened as he wiggled his toes around in his boots. "God, I hate wet feet..."
"Pretty impressive rock isn't it, Jack?" Daniel asked as he slogged through mud like it was nothing.
Gazing up at the 10-foot high spectacle, the Colonel simply shrugged. "I've seen bigger."
"O'Neill," Teal'c boomed suddenly, his hands pressed against the side of the rock.
"Whatcha got there, T?" he asked, swinging his weapon's light around.
"I believe I have found something that would be of great interest to you."
Cursing softly as he forged his way back through the mud puddle, Jack arrived at the Jaffa's side just as a brilliant flash of electricity tore across the sky. Temporarily blinded by the light, he tripped and stumbled against the gigantic rock, his unprotected fingertips digging into its oddly moist, slimy surface.
"Is that what I think it is?" Daniel's inquisitive voice almost lost in a crash of thunder.
"It sure looks it," Sam uttered, focusing the beam of her light in front of her. Following suit, the others aimed their flashlights at the massive object to reveal what appeared to be a very old, run down shuttle. About the size and height of two buses put side by side, the craft was oddly oblong in shape and seemed to be embedded in hard rock along the base.
Teal'c looked at it thoughtfully. "It appears this craft has not been in service for a very long time."
"Ya think?" Jack muttered, retrieving his combat knife and slashing through the thickly grown vines in search of a way in.
"Sir, this ship doesn't look like anything we're ever come across before," Sam said as she also went for her knife.
Daniel ran his hands over the hull, taking in the rutty surface and odd feel. "This hull - it doesn't feel like metal. It's too rough and it feels wet and sticky."
The Captain scraped her knife through a tuft of dark green leaves. "That could be just from algae and exposure to the...wait, sir, I think I found something."
Sheathing his knife, the Colonel swiped his dirty hands across his pants as he walked around to where she stood. After observing the rectangular outline of a door and small sensor panel beside it, he raised his weapon and prepared for entry. "All right. Everyone keep low and to the side. Who knows what we'll find behind door number one."
Teal'c readied his zat as he positioned himself behind his leader. "It would appear that this vessel contains only a single door, O'Neill."
"Thanks, Teal'c. We ready?"
Sam answered for them all. "Whenever you are, sir."
"Right. On three then. One...two...three!" Finding the sensor panel to be inactive, Jack rushed the door shoulder first and forced all his weight against it. Corroded shut from lack of use, the old door protested loudly before it finally slid open with a grating squeal. Entering the craft on high alert, he quickly swept the searchlight of his weapon around every inch of the dark interior, making note of the single door that was straight ahead. Satisfied there were no immediate threats, he took a step forward and allowed the others to enter. "Clear!"
The first thing that occurred to Daniel as he stepped into the alien ship was how small the interior was. Not much bigger than what he would have considered a spacious bathroom, he found he had just enough room to move around comfortably without bumping into his teammates. Glancing around the room, he reasoned the craft was probably for beings that were of a much smaller stature and was never meant to house three relatively tall humans and a Jaffa.
"Looks like this is the bridge," Sam uttered, nodding towards the two swivel chairs and simple control panels that were nested below a fairly large picture window. Slowly guiding her light along the bridge controls, a slight gasp of shock escaped her when the beam fell on what was slouched in one of the chairs.
"I guess he didn't make it," Daniel muttered, walking over to the grayed skeleton and gazing into its hollow eyes.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Master of the Obvious..."
Ignoring her CO's sarcastic remark, she began to look over the pile of old bones with interest. "Doesn't appear to be trauma of any kind. It almost looks like they just sat down and died..."
Her musings having caused him to take a tighter grip on his weapon, Jack felt a wave of unease wash over him. "All right, Carter, Teal'c, check out and see what's behind door number two. Daniel, you're with me. And be careful."
"Yes, sir," she said, getting to her feet and following Teal'c to the back of the bridge.
Once certain they'd made it safely into the next room, Jack brought his attention back to the team's archeologist. Although Daniel still had his weapon drawn and ready, his boyish grin and wide eyes clearly showed that his mind was elsewhere.
"This is unbelievable..."
"This ship, Jack. I mean, just look at it. It's just so basic, so..." he uttered, his hands gesturing to the control panel. "...So primitive."
The Colonel turned and looked closely at the control panel, noticing how simple it really was for the first time. Rather than the computerized screens, flashing buttons, and multifunction keyboards of their world, he found only basic knobs, switches, and crystals mounted on what looked like a wooden dash. Stepping closer, he reached out and ran a finger between two of the knobs, the surface of the dash feeling exactly like wet, spongy wood. "Huh."
Daniel appeared at his side. "I think Sam was right - we haven't seen a ship like this before."
"The other rooms check out, sir," Sam reported as she and Teal'c emerged through the small door. "I think it's safe to say there's no one on board."
Teal'c nodded his approval. "Nor has there been for a considerable amount of time."
Jack's eyes wandered back to the skeleton sitting quietly in the chair. "Yeah, we gathered that."
"So what did you find?" Daniel prodded, eager to know what he had missed.
"Not a whole lot," Sam began, a hint of disappointment in her voice. "Just a space slightly larger than this one that looks like a crew sleeping area. Other than that, there are your basic onboard facilities, a few storage compartments, and a less than impressive engine room."
Daniel's eyes shown brightly behind his glasses. "This is incredible..."
"Now what?" the Colonel muttered, dropping heavily into the vacant chair beside the grinning skeleton.
"Don't you realize what we've found?"
"We have discovered an abandoned means of transportation," Teal'c replied flatly.
"No, no, no!" Daniel uttered quickly, his hand gestures becoming more animated as he spoke. "It's a new culture to research! New technology to study! New..."
Jack signaled a time out to stop his rant, the old chair creaking noisily under his shifting weight. "Whoa, Danny! New technology? I think it's fair to say that my watch is more advanced than anything on this ship. I mean, just look at it..." Striking out at the nearest wall with his heavily booted foot, the Colonel raised an eyebrow when the resulting moist thud clearly emphasized his point. "Sounds like it's made of wood for crying out loud. "
"Actually, sir, you might be onto something," Sam replied, examining the small splinter that she had just carved out of the wall with her knife.
"What?" The bewildered question coming simultaneously from both Jack and Daniel.
"I think the hull is made out of wood," she said, holding up the scrap for them to see.
Daniel plucked the splinter from her grasp and rolled it around in his fingers several times. "Sure feels like wood."
"If that is the case, than this vessel would have never been capable of interstellar travel," Teal'c interjected from his place by the door.
"Well, could it be a terrestrial transport of some kind? Maybe someone's personal craft?" the archeologist suggested.
Sam shrugged. "Possibly. I mean it's certainly not built for security or hauling large amounts of cargo. And judging by its ungainly shape, I'd have to say it probably didn't move more than a few hundred miles an hour."
The Colonel rested his chin against his hand and gave the others an incredulous look. "You think someone would go to the trouble of hollowing out a tree just to hotwire it? Please."
"On the contrary, O'Neill," Teal'c began, a slight smile touching his lips. "Were the first successful aircrafts of your world not constructed of wood?"
Jack gave the Jaffa a warning glare before turning to meet Daniel's hopeful eyes. "And I suppose you want to study it?"
"The chance to study a potential new race? Yeah - You could say it crossed my mind."
"And who knows, sir," Sam added quickly, eager to poke around some more herself. "We might just find something that's useful," her comment eliciting a sarcastic a snort from her CO.
"Do you not believe in the saying manifestations can be misleading?"
The three humans monetarily exchanged a baffled look as they attempted to decode which clich their alien friend was trying to use. Amazingly, it was Jack who spoke up first.
"Teal'c, it's `appearances can be deceiving,' and yes, I do believe in that. Sometimes."
"It couldn't hurt to look, sir. I mean you never know what you're going to find until you do."
Jack set his jaw in thought and sighed, allowing his eyes to roam slowly over the gray bones of the skeleton that sat beside him. Giving it a dissatisfied frown, he looked up to find the others watching him with eager eyes.
We're here right? He asked himself. What the hell...
"All right," he said, clapping his hands against his knees, the chair creaking loudly as he stood. "I know when I'm outnumbered. Carter, flag this place with a marker so we can come back another time."
"Whoa, wait, Jack!" Daniel exclaimed before the words had completely left the older man's mouth. "We're just going to leave it here?"
"Yep," he replied bluntly, tucking his weapon back under the safety of his poncho in preparation to leave. "It's been here for what, a couple thousand years already? I think it can wait a little longer."
"Ah!" Jack waggled a finger in front of his face. "We still have a UAV to find and that pile of rocks to check out, remember? Let's go."
Daniel watched as he stuffed his soggy ball cap down onto his head before leaving the relative safety of the shuttle followed closely by Teal'c. Although curious about the rock pile located near the crash site, he was still hesitant to leave such a rare find behind without at least taking some notes and pictures for future reference.
"Come on, Daniel," Sam urged as she made her way past him and out the door. "We'll come back later and have a look around."
Frowning, he replaced his own rain sodden hat and paused to take a final lingering look around the small craft. Sighing dejectedly, the archeologist shook his head and started after his friends. How come the most exciting things in life are always just out of my reach?
SG-1 made good time arriving at the crash site, their progress only slightly impeded by the slick footing and steadily driving rain. As they walked, the violent storm raged on overhead, the brilliant lightening providing them with a show more spectacular than anything they'd ever seen on Earth.
To make better use of their time, the team split three ways with Sam and Teal'c going after the downed UAV, Daniel searching for items of interest in the rock pile, and Jack diligently patrolling the short expanse between them. They had been at their separate tasks for nearly 45 minutes when the wind started to intensify and the clouds opened up to deliver a deluge of icy water.
Quickly becoming cold, wet, and decidedly bored, Jack wrapped his arms around himself in an effort to keep his poncho from being torn to shreds by the whipping winds.
"Sir!" Sam shouted, her form materializing out of the heavy rain and appearing at his side. "Have a look at this. I think the UAV was struck down by lightening."
He moved the beam of his flashlight to the opaque object in her hands, recognizing it as a piece from the body of the UAV. "Lightening, huh? In beautiful weather like this? Imagine that! You find all the bells, whistles, and widgets you came for?"
"Yes, sir. Everything else is just melted composite material. Teal'c's taking care of that now." Through the wall of rain, they could just make out three distinct bursts coming from what could only be a zat gun.
He nodded. "Nice."
Lapsing into momentary silence, both officers jumped when a deafening clap of thunder roared overhead, followed by a dazzling bolt of lightening. Not far in the distance, the colossal mountain loomed passively, seemingly impervious to the deadly lightening that danced around it.
"Hard to believe it's over twice the size of Mt Everest," the Captain uttered, shaking her head at the impressive sight.
A wry grin spread across her CO's handsome face. "How `bout it, Carter? Race ya to the top?"
"Sure," she replied. "And I'll even spot you a head start, sir."
His eyebrows rose at her quick comeback. "All righty then."
"Jack! Jack!" Daniel's excited voice came floating through the veil of rain. "I think I've found something! Jack!"
"Oiy," he grumbled under his breath as he began to close the distance between him and the over exuberant archeologist. "What is it, Daniel?"
"It looks like a relic or a religious piece! Or..."
Daniel's shoulder's sagged at the older man's cynical comment, but it was quickly forgotten when his eyes returned to the object at his feet. "Jack! Will you at least help me lift it out of here so I can see what it is?"
"Oh for crying out loud," he muttered, wiggling out of his backpack and tossing his light to Sam before stalking over to the pile of rocks.
Shining the light on her two friends, she watched as both men struggled to lift what appeared to be a fairly large stone from the center of the mound, the rain making the surface of the object slippery and difficult to hold. Shivering slightly in the cold rain, she glanced over her shoulder to look for any signs of Teal'c returning, wheeling back when she heard her CO shout.
"Son of a bitch!"
Swinging the light around, she accidentally blinded him before quickly dropping the beam. "Sir, are you okay?"
Ignoring the question, Jack gave his right hand a hard shake before looking at his palm and uttering another curse.
"Jack? What's wrong?" Daniel called, still clutching the now noticeably smaller item in his hands. He'd felt the hard outer shell of the object starting to crumble beneath his own grasp, but had not been unable to warn his friend in time before a large piece had disintegrated in his hands.
"Let's just get this thing out of here so Teal'c can deal with it!" Jack shouted, reclaiming his grip on the object. Working together, the two men were able to wrestle the awkwardly shaped rock over the unstable and slippery surface of the pile without further incident. By the time they made it to solid ground, Teal'c had appeared beside Sam to watch the proceedings.
"What happened, sir?" she asked, watching as they practically dropped the stone at the Jaffa's feet.
"Damn thing bit me..." he growled, motioning for her to hold up the light for him to use. Carefully tugging off his fingerless glove, Jack grimaced at the deep gash that ran from the base of his thumb, all the way down to his wrist. "Aw, crap..."
Sam paled when she saw the blood and rainwater readily streaming down his arm. "It looks awfully deep, sir."
"Nah, just a scratch," he replied, pressing his hand against his raincoat to staunch the bleeding. "Teal'c, Daniel wants this as a souvenir. Think you can handle it?"
"I believe I can, O'Neill."
"Good. Just be careful. It bites," he joked, missing the perplexed look that crossed the Jaffa's face as left to retrieve his gear. Less than halfway back to where his pack sat slouched in the mud, Jack's brisk pace gradually slowed to a stop, an odd feeling of detachment unexpectedly washing over him. It began with the slight flutter of his heart against his chest and a whirl of dizziness that threatened to send him to the ground. Waves of powerful nausea came next and when he tried to swallow back the rising bile, he found he could not. The terrifying realization that his throat was closing up caused a heavy sweat to break out all over his body despite the chilling rain.
"Sir, Teal'c's got the rock with no problem. We're ready to move out when you... Colonel?" Sam looked up from her gear in time to see her CO drop to his knees, a hand pressed to his throat. For a fleeting moment, her heart stopped. "Colonel, what's wrong?"
"What's going on?" Daniel asked, having heard the change in her voice. Following her gaze, he too felt his heart miss a beat as he watched the older man slowly slip completely to the ground. "Jack?"
"Oh my god..." she gasped and took off running with Daniel not far behind. Skidding to a stop on her knees in the thick mud, she immediately rolled the Colonel onto his back and took him by the chin, trying to force his unfocused eyes to meet hers. "Sir? Talk to me. What's wrong?"
Jack hardly noticed her presence as he struggled to breathe against his rapidly swelling throat. Black spots danced dizzily before his eyes, and the ground beneath him spun wildly like a child's toy that was out of control.
"Jack?" Daniel called out, desperately trying to obtain some sort of response from the wheezing man below him.
"Holy crap..." Sam uttered, suddenly realizing what was going on. Cramming the flashlight into Daniel's hands, she tore back her poncho and began rifling through the small field kit in her vest.
The archeologist was stunned, his hands shaking as he gripped the slippery shaft of the light. "W-what's happening?"
"He's going into anaphylactic shock," she uttered as her hand finally closed around the item she had been blindly searching for. Withdrawing an epinephrine pen from the depths of her pocket, she removed the cap and firmly pressed the barrel against her CO's thigh in one fluid motion. Just able to hear the spring driven needle engage against the howling storm, she held it in place for several seconds before checking for a response. Returning to his head, she lightly slapped his face to try and get his attention. "Colonel?"
"He is not responding," Teal'c declared aloud, having joined the vigil at Jack's side, the massive rock still clutched in his hands.
"No -- It's not working fast enough..." she agreed, observing his rolled back eyes and almost nonexistent breathing. Removing a second pen from her vest, she repeated the same process she had done with the first injection. "Come on, sir, come on. Snap out of it..."
A tense moment passed as the small group waited and watched, each second seeming like an eternity. Just as she was about to consider a third dose of epinephrine, Jack coughed deeply and gasped for air as his throat began to reopen. Firmly pressing a hand against his shoulder, she fought to keep him laying back. "Easy, sir! Just lie still. You're going to be fine."
His face tight with confusion, the Colonel struggled to remain conscious as he tried to figure out what was going on. Taking a few shuddering gulps of air, he jumped as a loud clap of thunder roared overhead.
Sam brushed the rainwater away from his face. "Calm down, sir. You're all right now."
Unable to fight the shock any longer, Jack's eyes fell shut as he finally passed out.
"Is he okay?" Daniel asked, in a minor state of shock himself.
Sam leaned forward and rested an ear against her CO's chest, frowning at how fast his heart was racing. "His breathing's far from normal, but I think he's getting enough air. Yeah, he should be all right in a few hours."
"What caused O'Neill to react in such a manner?"
"I don't know, Teal'c. But we should try to get him out of this storm somehow."
"The shuttle," Daniel suggested, eager to return despite the situation. "It's not far from here and it seemed safe."
She nodded in agreement. "Good idea. Teal'c, can you carry him?"
"I can," he said, immediately settling the heavy rock at his feet. With amazing gentleness for a man of his stature, the Jaffa knelt and carefully collected his friend into his arms, holding him close to preserve his warmth.
Daniel bent down and lifted up the discarded rock with a grunt. "I'll get this."
"Daniel, just leave it here. We can come back..." Sam began, seeing the struggle he was having with its weight.
"No! I've got it!" he insisted, maneuvering the awkwardly shaped item around until he gripped it in a hug. "See? No problem."
Throwing him a "if you say so" look, she turned to check on the unconscious Colonel one final time. Despite their situation, she couldn't help but smile to see her CO looking so relaxed in Teal'c's arms, his head resting heavily on the larger man's shoulder. "All right. Give a shout if he starts to wake up. Let's move out."
After allowing to Daniel struggle by with the rock still clutched to his chest, Teal'c fell into step behind him, taking special care not to jar the precious cargo he supported in his arms.
The shuttle's sleeping quarters were small, obviously built for function over comfort. There was a pair of stacked bunks recessed into the walls on each side of the room, the set up closely resembling the sleeping quarters of a submarine. The passage between the bed compartments was narrow, with just enough room for someone to be able to shuffle through without disturbing the gray privacy curtains that hung from each section.
Captain Carter sat on one of the lower bunks with her legs folded beneath her, tinkering with the computer they had collected from the UAV. She was listening to the quiet hum of the ship's auxiliary power generator that she had managed to find and activate, marveling at how well it worked after being inactive for so many years. Although uncertain as to how long they would have access to ship's lighting and climate controls, they could at least be comfortable for the time being.
As she waited for the next batch of data to load, Sam glanced over at the still form resting on the lower bunk across the way. Having yet to awaken from his encounter with anaphylactic shock, Jack slept, securely wrapped in his heavy sleeping bag. The walk back from the crash site had been uneventful, the team pausing every fifteen minutes or so to check on his condition. Each time they had found him unconscious but stable, safely cradled in Teal'c's protective grasp.
Inwardly wondering if there was anything more she should be doing for him, Sam jumped when the computer in her lap began to emit a high pitched whine. Grimacing at the unpleasant sound, she hastily slapped the power button and plunged the small machine into silence. With a frustrated sigh, she began to search for the reset button, looking up when a muted curse drifted from the bed beside her.
Quickly forgetting the malfunctioning device, she went to her CO's side. "Colonel?"
Slowly his dark eyes opened and searched her face, several moments passing until a look of recognition finally set in. Clearing his dry throat, he attempted to speak. "Ca-Car..."
"Here, drink," she instructed, holding a canteen of water to his lips.
He took several swallows before motioning for her to take it away. "Thanks."
"How do you feel?"
"Tired...what the hell happened?" he asked, examining the heavy bandage that was wrapped around his right hand.
"You went into anaphylactic shock after cutting yourself on an artifact that you and Daniel were moving. We're still not exactly sure what caused it."
The older man grunted. "Not a party then?"
She smiled. "No, sir, I'm afraid not. Once you were out of immediate danger, we decided to come back to the shuttle we found for shelter. You gave us quite a scare."
He shrugged under the blankets. "...time is it?"
"It's just past 1630 - you've been out for a few hours."
"Teal'c's been trying to patch up the few leaks we've found and Daniel's busy bouncing between studying the ship and cleaning up the artifacts he brought back. They've also relocated our resident skeleton outside for now."
Nodding, the Colonel absently rubbed a hand across his face. "Danny must be a kid in a candy store." Feeling oddly relaxed, he took a moment to bury himself deeper into the soft lining of his sleeping bag. He could vaguely recall being cold, wet, and miserable while out at the UAV crash site, but now he was content just to lay back and soak up the comforting warmth that surrounded him.
Resting quietly as Sam rechecked his vitals and the dressing on his wounded hand, an unusual thought slowly seeped into his mind. Since when are wet BDU's this comfortable?
"Ah...Carter?" he asked, suddenly realizing the only thing between himself and her were the sleeping bag and his shorts - both of which were beginning to feel uncomfortably thin.
"They're drying. You were so cold and wet by the time we got here that you couldn't stop shivering. We had to get you warmed up, and we figured a sleeping bag was the fastest way to go."
He shut his eyes, satisfied with her answer. "...tired..."
"You've got a pretty high dose of Daniel's antihistamine in you to help keep the residual reaction at a minimum. Why don't you go back to sleep for a bit? I don't think we're going anywhere tonight."
"Sounds good...Captain," he uttered, already half asleep.
"Pleasant dreams, sir," she said, tucking the sleeping bag in around him before returning to her work and allowing him to rest.
Daniel sat with his back against one of the strangely cool walls of the shuttlecraft with the troublesome artifact tucked carefully between his knees. He'd been working on cleaning it for the past several hours, and had removed a significant amount of hardened clay, rock, and ash. It slowly seemed to be taking shape, and he could identify what looked like two stone spheres - one the size of a basketball, the other a grapefruit - joined side by side.
At the opposite end of the bridge, Teal'c perched on one of the pilot chairs deep in a state of kelnorim. The large man found the muted drumming of the rain against the hull relaxing, and had taken the opportunity to catch up on his meditation.
"Huh - it can't be."
Teal'c opened an eye in time to see Daniel wiping his muddy hands across his pants, a frown on his face.
"You are confused, Daniel Jackson?" he asked, rousing from his meditation.
Daniel looked up, his glasses sitting half way down his nose. "What? Oh, sorry, I was just thinking out loud. The designs I've uncovered so far don't make any sense."
"To what are you referring?"
Taking care not to knock over his partially eaten MRE, the archeologist picked up the artifact and walked over to his friend. "Take a look at these," he said, turning the object around so the larger of the two spheres was visible. Dropping into the seat beside him, he pulled a pencil from behind his ear and pointed out the glyphs painted on the stone.
Teal'c tipped his head as he studied the three symbols before him. The first and third symbols were identical in shape: small ovals with sharply tapering ends. The only difference between the two was their coloring; the first being a yellowish white while the other was solid black. In between the two sat what appeared to be a spider, or at least a creature with two round body pieces and eight spindly legs.
"Any thoughts?" Daniel asked, after giving him a moment to think.
"I do not. Perhaps their meaning will become clear as you discover more."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking too."
As the door to the living compartment slid open, both men looked up to see Sam entering the bridge.
"Still a little groggy but he's doing better than a few hours ago. He'll be out as soon as he's finished getting dressed," she replied, noticing the object Teal'c held in his hands. "How's it coming?"
Daniel shrugged and picked at some dry mud under his fingernails. "All right. Although it would be a lot easier if I had my reference material and a lab to work in. The glyphs don't appear to be Ancient Egyptian; at least not like any I've come across before. There's still a lot of packed on clay and ash I have to remove - there might be more left to uncover."
Before she had a chance to respond, a deafening crack of thunder roared overhead causing everyone to flinch.
"The storm appears to be returning."
"The last readings I got from the weather probe on the MALP indicated that the current system is over 150 miles wide and moving at an average of 5 to 10 mph," she explained, leaning her weight against the wall.
"So this thing could last for days?" Daniel asked, gazing out the large window at the storm.
"Actually, if it stays at this speed and in its current circular pattern, it'll be more like weeks."
All eyes turned when the door at the back of the shuttle opened again, this time revealing a pale and tired looking O'Neill.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel greeted, automatically jumping out of his chair and offering it to his weary friend. "How you feeling?"
The Colonel squeezed past the overly concerned archeologist and dropped into the vacated seat with a grunt.
"It is good to see you have recovered, O'Neill," Teal'c said, bowing his head in greeting.
"Thanks, Teal'c," he replied, his voice lacking its usual energy. "So, what did I miss? Anything good?"
"Yeah, actually," Daniel uttered absently as he wandered over to his stuff and picked out a small clay pot. "Teal'c and I found some of these and a few paper scrolls in one of the storage compartments on board. The scrolls are too brittle to work with out here, but..."
Accepting the item, Jack turned the small pot around in his hands a few times and sniffed its interior before looking back to Daniel. "It's empty."
"I know, but look at the designs painted around the outside. Aren't they neat?"
The Colonel raised an eyebrow, but returned his eyes to the object just the same. Upon closer inspection, he could just make out the faint lines of what once was some sort of celestial design. "It's still an empty jar."
"Yeah, but just think about it, Jack," the other man argued passionately. "Why was it made? How was it made? When was it made? Where was it made? Who..."
Gritting his teeth, Daniel snatched the pot out the man's hands and stalked back to his corner, knowing all too well he wasn't going to win the argument.
Wearing a wry grin, Jack turned to Teal'c and noticed the relic resting on his lap for the first time. "Whatcha got there, T?"
"I believe this is the artifact that bit you, O'Neill," he replied, then adding with a slight twinkle in his eye: "Although I have yet to see it act aggressively towards Daniel Jackson."
Sam grinned widely at the Jaffa's subtle joke. "Are you hungry, sir? I can heat something up for you if you'd like..."
"Nah, some water would be good though," he said, not looking up from the relic. He brushed a finger over one of the delicately painted symbols, his forehead creasing in thought. "A spider..."
"That's what I thought too," Daniel agreed, looking over his friend's shoulder. "I've just never come across one in glyph form before. At least not in any of the Earth cultures I've studied."
Jack nodded absently and slowly turned the piece around in his hands to look at it from all angles. While inspecting what he assumed to be the bottom, a white, wax-like plug stuck on one end caught his eye. "What's this?"
"I think it's what you cut yourself on actually," the archeologist replied, removing the wax stopper to reveal two, one-inch long, gold metallic prongs. "I'm anxious to see if there's a design under all that hardened clay that might shed some light on their significance. "
The Colonel snorted, accepting the canteen Sam held out for him. "...Significance. Everything has to have significance with you scientists, doesn't it?" Pulling the cap off with his teeth, he drained nearly half the container of water in one long swallow. "The thing's obviously a weapon of some sort."
"Not necessarily, sir. You could have had a reaction to any number of things: something you ate, an insect bite, a plant you came into contact with, or..."
"Or maybe the rock really did bite him..." Daniel uttered, taking back the mysterious relic and carefully replacing the wax stopper over the prongs. "Can't imagine why..."
Casting the younger man a threatening scowl, Jack stretched his long legs out as best he could in the cramped space. "Carter, remind me again why there aren't any people living on this lovely little planet?"
"Moon," Daniel corrected.
"The geological data we've gathered so far suggests that there was a cataclysmic volcanic eruption about three thousands years ago. We saw the mountain it created- remember the one you wanted to climb back at the crash site?"
"A volcano killed everything?" he asked skeptically.
"Probably not at first. It's obvious that some places weren't affected as much as others because the Stargate is still standing. But with a mountain that size, it's logical to believe that hot ash and noxious gases quickly overwhelmed the atmosphere, snuffing out the oxygen."
"The place looks fine to me. A little wet maybe, but..."
"It's been at least two thousand years, Jack," Daniel argued. "The moon's had plenty time to recover and rejuvenate."
"Do you believe this craft to be that old as well?" Teal'c questioned.
The Captain shrugged. "Yeah. I mean from what I've seen so far, it appears to be embedded in some sort of hardened molten overflow. It's quite possible the ship was caught in the initial eruption."
Jack frowned, his thoughts going back to the skeleton they'd found when they first entered the ship. "So you think our friend Crypty suffocated two thousand years ago during some...massive eruption?"
"Well, it's all speculation, sir, but if the logic fits..."
"Hey, it works for me," he agreed, taking another pull off the canteen. "So, who brought the cards?" he asked when he was finished. "Anyone?"
"Oh, umm..." Daniel muttered and began patting down his pockets. After a moment of searching, he withdrew a battered deck from his vest. "I did."
Jack canted an eyebrow. He'd only been kidding. "Those aren't exactly standard issue, Daniel..."
He shrugged. "So I like to play Solitaire sometimes."
"Of course you do..." the Colonel said, holding out his hand for the cards. "Egyptian Goddess motif - cute. So, what'll be? Poker? Hearts? Black Jack? Fish?"
"I am unfamiliar with any of those terms, O'Neill," Teal'c said, watching in amazement as he shuffled the cards like a pro.
"Well, Fish is probably the easiest one to learn. Why don't we start out with that one?" Sam suggested, settling down on the floor close to the others.
Daniel dropped down beside her. "Sounds good to me."
"All right. Fish it is then," Jack declared, cutting the deck several times to be sure it was well shuffled. "Teal'c, pair up with Carter, she'll show you the ropes."
Moving over to allow the larger man some room, Sam watched as her CO began to expertly deal out the cards, relieved that he seemed no worse for wear after his close brush with death. The man's got nine lives... she thought and settled into play.
Nearly two hours later found the team still sitting in a circle, passing the cards around. Teal'c had caught onto the rules of Fish fairly quickly, and actually seemed to be enjoying himself.
Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his uninjured hand, Jack sighed and shifted around stiffly. He had been steadily growing tired over the past hour, but was enjoying the candid down time with his team too much to excuse himself. Like before, he found that he was feeling unusually relaxed for being stranded off world, something he had convinced himself was a side effect of the drugs Carter had given him.
Taking a long drink from his canteen, he was startled when his entire midsection abruptly began to spasm and cramp.
What the hell? He thought, straightening up in his chair. I've never felt anything like that...
"It is your turn, O'Neill."
"Huh?" he asked, Teal'c's deep voice cutting into his thoughts. "Oh, um, Daniel, any Queens?"
"Nope," he replied, shaking his head. "Go Fish, Jack."
Slowly stretching forward to take a card from the deck, he stiffened when the pain returned, this time coupled with a powerful surge of nausea. Swallowing hard, he let the card slip from between his fingers as he carefully settled back in his chair.
"Colonel?" Sam asked, noticing that all the color had drained from his face. "You okay?"
"Ah...y-yeah...you kids keep playing. I just need to sit...over here...for a minute," he rambled, standing up and handing his un-played cards off to Daniel.
Still unsure what was happening, the others watched in uncomfortable silence as their leader made his way to the back of the bridge on unsteady legs. With his back pressed against the wall, he slowly lowered himself to the floor and buried his face into his hands.
"What was that all about?" Daniel whispered.
Sam looked over her shoulder in time to see her CO shift uneasily and slide an arm down around his stomach. Something was wrong. "I don't know. Here, Teal'c," she said, passing her cards off to the large man seated beside her. "Keep playing for me. Make sure Daniel doesn't cheat." She stood and walked the few steps to his side. "Colonel? What's wrong?"
Jack slowly lifted his face to look at her, his pale skin already shiny with a fine sheen of sweat. "It's nothing, Carter. Just got a little queasy for a second there."
"Do you think you could be hungry? You haven't had anything to eat since we left Earth this morning. If I can find something light, would you give it a try?"
Although the thought of eating anything made the cramping in his middle worse, the concerned look across his second's face made him nod just the same. As she left to scout out a snack, Jack drew his knees to his chest and rested his forehead against them with a low groan. Forcing himself to breathe slow and deep against the unusual pains flaring across his belly, he tried focusing his attention on the two men quietly playing cards several feet away. Comforted by the familiar sounds, he had nearly dozed off by the time he felt Carter slip something into his hand.
"Hope you like graham crackers, sir, it's about as light as we've got."
"They're fine, Captain," he uttered and began trying to open the foil package. When his shaking fingers refused to cooperate, he allowed her to pull it apart for him with a sheepish look. "Thanks..."
She nodded and rocked back on her heels, watching intently as he took one of the square crackers from the wrapper and hesitantly brought it to his mouth. Feeling his stomach lurch the moment the nutty flavor met his tongue, Jack compulsively swallowed against the bile that started to rise in his throat. It was when the nausea returned even more prominent than before that he realized there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable.
"Crap..." Casting the crackers aside, he hastily launched to his feet and stumbled over his friends seated on the floor as he made his way towards the shuttle's entrance. Overcome by vertigo, he just managed to get the door open before landing heavily on his hands and knees in the sloppy mud.
"Jack?" Daniel called, breaking the stunned silence that had fallen over them all.
Sam hurried after him, ignoring the cold rain that greeted her as she left the protection of the ship. "Colonel?"
Too busy fighting his nauseous stomach to acknowledge her presence, Jack began to find it more and more difficult to remain upright, as the ground seemed to dip and twist beneath him.
"Sir, what's wrong?" she demanded, feeling his body tremble as she reached out to steady him.
"Diz..." his response cut short as his midsection clenched again, the sudden, sharp pain causing him to retch.
Grimacing, Sam supported her heaving CO as he forcefully emptied his stomach onto the forest floor. "Colonel?"
Sagging against her grasp, Jack shut his eyes to try and ward off the spots that were blurring his sight.
"What's wrong?" Daniel shouted over the storm as he appeared at their side with a light.
"He's sick," she replied, trying her best to comfort the shaking man beside her. "Where's Teal'c?"
"I am here, Captain Carter."
"Can you help me get him inside?"
"I can." Crouching down in the mud, Teal'c slipped a hand beneath his friend's arm and gently coaxed him to his feet.
"Easy, sir..." Sam uttered, reaching out to help steady her trembling CO when it became clear he was barely able to stand on his own. "Let's get him inside."
Once certain they had things under control, Daniel hurried ahead and met them at the ship's entrance with a blanket. "Is he okay?"
"I don't know," she replied, helping to wrap it around Jack's shoulders.
About half way to the crew's quarters, Jack started to fold up in Teal'c's grasp as his stomach muscles started to clench once again.
"Sir?" she asked, seeing the distress register on his face. "What is it?"
His pained eyes momentarily met her concerned ones before he cried out and sunk unceremoniously to the floor. Hunching forward he began to cough and gag, losing what little liquid remained in his stomach from the previous bout.
"Colonel?" she asked, dropping to the floor next to him and rubbing his heaving back.
"Carter...argh!" he cried, wrapping his arms around his abdomen as the spasms intensified, the pain stealing his breath away.
Alarmed by what she was seeing, Sam frantically racked her brain for a way to help him when he suddenly went limp under her hand. Instinctively catching him so he wouldn't fall, she supported his lifeless body as Daniel pressed two fingers against his throat.
"His pulse is fast but strong. What the hell just happened?"
"It would appear that O'Neill was in a great deal of pain."
"Yeah, but why?" Sam muttered, noticing that the fine lines of pain remained on his face even in his unconscious state.
"Could it have something to do with what happened earlier? When he cut himself?" the archeologist asked, his blue eyes wide with concern behind his glasses.
"Maybe - It's hard to say what's going on," she said before adding silently to herself: Except that he just lost his stomach everywhere and was in so much pain it caused him to pass out...
Puffing out a sigh, she looked down at the floor and noticed there was a pool of rainwater collecting under each of them as it dripped from their saturated clothes. "All right, we need to get him settled and then get out of these wet clothes before we all catch cold."
With Daniel's help, she managed to get Jack on his feet and into the crews' quarters without much of a struggle. While Daniel held him upright, she began unbuttoning his waterlogged over shirt as fast as she could, finding that he was already starting to shiver from the cold. "Teal'c, you want to see if our other uniforms are dry yet while Daniel helps me with the Colonel?"
"As you wish, Captain Carter," he said with a short bow before retuning to the bridge.
Doing his best to hold his friend in a manner that allowed Sam to work quickly, the archeologist frowned at how pale and still he was. "He's going to be all right, though? Right, Sam?"
Kneeling down to work on the muddy laces of her CO's boots, the tone of the Captain's voice clearly expressed her concern. "I sure hope so, Daniel. I really, really hope so."
With a troubled scowl, Daniel removed his glasses with a muddy hand and rubbed at his tired, strained eyes. Squinting at his watch, he saw it was just past 2300; almost four hours had passed since he'd watched one of his best friends suddenly turn ill. After helping return Jack to the safety of his sleeping bag and then changing into dry clothes himself, he had decided to go back to work on the dirt-encrusted artifact to try and pass the time. Teal'c, having double-checked the integrity of the small ship, had returned to the pilot's chair to resume his meditation.
Unable to justify sitting around any longer, the archeologist slapped his picks against the floor with a frustrated sigh.
"Something troubles you, Daniel Jackson?" the Jaffa inquired without opening his eyes.
"I just feel like we should be doing something - anything -- Not just sitting around and twiddling our thumbs."
At this, Teal'c opened his eyes and studied his hands. "What is this `thumb twiddling' you speak of?"
"It's a figure of speech, Teal'c," Daniel replied when he saw the large man rotating his thumbs in small circles. "It means we're wasting time."
"Are you not attempting to excavate your artifact from the rock that entombs it?"
"Yeah - I am."
"Then you are not wasting your time," Teal'c surmised.
Daniel shook his head. "No - I mean we should be doing something to help Jack, not simply sitting like there's nothing wrong."
"What do you propose we do to help O'Neill?"
The younger man thought for a moment before uttering a sigh of defeat. "Other than find another way home - I don't know."
"Captain Carter believes the dial home device will become accessible by morning. It would seem our only logical course of action would be to wait until such time."
"Yeah, well, I don't like waiting. Especially when someone I care about could be in trouble," Daniel muttered, picking absently at a smudge of dirt on his knee.
Realizing that there were no words that could comfort his friend, Teal'c simply bowed his head in empathy.
Daniel wiped a layer of grime from his hands. "I'm going to go see how he's doing. It's almost my turn for watch anyway. You mind keeping an eye on things out here?"
The large man settled deeper into his chair. "I do not."
Forcing a small smile of gratitude, Daniel stood and hefted the artifact under his arm before heading into the other room.
Being as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, Sam sat down on the edge of her CO's bunk and carefully held a strip thermometer against his warm forehead. Looking at his sleeping face, she couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before he awoke again, dazed, disoriented, and in pain.
Concentrating on monitoring the progress of the thermometer, she didn't look up when the door opened behind her.
"How is he?" Daniel asked, dropping onto the bed across from her.
"He's running a fever - 101 degrees," she replied with a sigh. "It's low right now, but..."
"Any idea what's going on?"
"I don't know. It's too soon to be an infection and it came on awfully fast to be the flu - any Earth flu that is. Plus he's the only one who's sick - so far anyway. I just..." she stopped, her shoulders slumping with dismay. "I just don't know."
He frowned, the dimness of the room doing nothing to hide the concern that was written across her face. "Look, why don't you try and catch a few hours rest? Teal'c's keeping an eye out up front and I can sit with Jack for a while."
Although his offer of rest was tempting, she still shook her head. "I really shouldn't..."
Startled, the two scientists locked eyes for a moment, uncertain if the feeble, gravelly voice they'd just heard could have possibly come from their leader.
"Colonel?" she called quietly, trying to position herself so he could see her clearly. "I'm right here, sir, Daniel is too. How are you feeling?"
Daniel's eyebrows rose over his glasses. "Tingly? What's that mean?"
Sam shook her head. "Colonel, what do you...?"
"Watch?" he interrupted, seeming not to have heard her question.
"Watch? Watch what, Jack?" Daniel asked, sliding off the bed and onto the floor so he could be closer to his friend.
"My watch...time for it?"
"Oh, no, sir. You don't have to worry about that..."
"Carter...know the rules. Equal shifts...last one up makes the coffee...oh, god..." his words dropping off in a groan as he rolled onto his side and hugged his aching midsection.
"Easy, Jack," Daniel uttered as he reached up and took the other man's arm.
"My watch?" he asked again, not opening his tightly closed eyes.
"You've already had your watch, sir," Sam told him, hoping she sounded more convincing to him than she did to herself. "Don't you remember?"
"Yeah, that's right," the archeologist joined in. "It's my turn now, then Sam, and Teal'c. You go back to sleep, Jack - we'll wake you up if there's any trouble. Okay?"
Nodding his acknowledgement, he quickly became still once again.
"Wow," Daniel uttered, feeling as equally disturbed as the Captain looked. "He's really out of it, isn't he?"
She nodded almost sadly. "It's going to be a long night."
"Then you definitely need some sleep," he declared. "Use one of the upper bunks if you'd rather not leave. I'll be quiet. You won't be able to help him if you're too tired to think straight."
Knowing he was right, she sighed and nodded reluctantly. "Thanks, Daniel. Why don't you wake me up in a few hours and we'll trade places?"
Smothering a yawn with the back of her hand, she tugged off her boots, grabbed a blanket, and hauled herself onto the top bunk on the opposite side of the room. Positioning herself on the firm mattress so she could easily see the Colonel, she took one last look at his sleeping form before allowing her eyes to shut. With a weary sigh, she forced herself to relax, falling asleep to the sounds of Daniel alternating between scratching at the artifact and trying to soothe their restless team leader with reassuring words.
It was just past 0615 when Sam first began to hear the sounds of Teal'c moving about the bridge, preparing to get an early start on the day's mission. It had been decided that he and Daniel would hike back to the Stargate in order to check the status of the DHD and be present when the SGC dialed in to see why the group had not yet returned. That left her to remain at the shuttle with Jack, her field medical training making her the best candidate for the job.
Perched on the vacant lower bunk, she was quietly searching through her gear when the door slid open, spilling warm yellow light into the room. "Hey, Teal'c."
"Good morning, Captain Carter," he greeted, his raingear squeaking slightly as he moved. "I trust that you rested well?"
Her eyes immediately went to the bed where Jack lay dozing, his face pale even in the dim lighting. "I got a few hours in, but I was up most of the night with the Colonel. He's pretty sick."
"That is most unfortunate," he replied, allowing a somber silence to fall between them for a moment before getting down to business. "General Hammond should be establishing contact at 0900, as we will have surpassed the 24 hour contact time. I believe it will take us approximately two hours to get there in the present weather conditions."
"You'd better wake Daniel then so he can get ready," she said, motioning toward the quietly snoring lump in the bed above her.
As Teal'c proceeded to do so, Sam finally found the bundle of brown packets she had been searching for. Scanning through the labels, she selected and tore open one-marked "electrolyte replacement." Emptying the powdered contents into a canteen of water, she replaced the top and gave it a few shakes as she moved to her CO's side. "Colonel? Can you wake up?"
With a low groan, Jack stirred and slowly opened his eyes, seeking out the person who had disturbed him.
"Hi, Colonel," she greeted, moving forward so he could easily see her. "I'm sorry to wake you, but I want you to try and drink some of this. You lost a lot of fluids last night and this will help keep you hydrated. Think you can do that for me?" Slipping an arm behind his shoulders, she helped him sit up a bit and held the canteen to his mouth.
Grimacing at the sickly sweet citrus flavor, he managed to take a few swallows before coughing and pushing her away. With a sympathetic smile, she eased him back down and watched as his eyes shut almost immediately. "Good job, sir."
Allowing Teal'c to move past her to access the bridge, she began fixing the blankets that covered her CO when Daniel dropped down beside her.
"Morning, Sam," he grunted, running a hand through his unruly hair and straightening his tipped glasses.
"Hey, Daniel," she said, smiling slightly at his ruffled appearance. "Sleep well?"
"Yeah, not too bad," he replied, straightening out his clothes as he looked down at Jack's still form. "How's he doing?"
"His fever's up a little from last night, but he's hanging in there."
"He's too stubborn not to be," the archeologist remarked with a small grin, but quickly sobered when she didn't follow suit. Making his way towards the door, he changed the subject. "I ah, I found another glyph on the larger part of the relic last night."
"Really? What was it?" she asked, following him out onto the bridge.
Daniel picked up his raingear and began to pull it on as he spoke. "Looks like another spider, only this time it was standing on a person that was laying face down on the ground."
"And you sure these glyphs are for real? Maybe they're just for decoration like on that jar you found?"
"They have to stand for something. I mean art's considered a form of communication in most cultures."
She shrugged. "Maybe."
"Do you wish us to relay anything specific concerning O'Neill's current condition?" Teal'c asked as he waited patiently for his friend to finish gearing up.
"Oh, yeah..." she uttered, quickly patting down her pockets before locating a scrap of paper. "I wrote everything down, including what we've done for him. Hopefully Janet will have a better idea of what's going on than I do."
The large man accepted the note and slipped it into his pocket. "Very well."
"What about the DHD?" Daniel asked as he zipped up his heavy raincoat. "How should we check it?"
"Well, neither of you should touch it - it could still be carrying enough of a charge to be dangerous. I suppose you could try throwing another stick at it. It's not the most practical way, but it worked before."
"Sounds good to me," he agreed, double-checking the weapon strapped to his thigh.
Sam watched as both men headed for the door, the sounds of the still raging storm breaking the silence. "Oh, and you might want to stand clear of the Gate and DHD when the wormhole engages. I think that's what caused the DHD to be struck in the first place."
Daniel nodded. "Right."
"We shall contact you as soon as we confer with General Hammond," the Jaffa told her as he placed the hood of his jacket over his bald head.
"Be careful and good luck, you guys."
Daniel gave her arm a quick squeeze and looked toward the room where Jack was sleeping. "You too."
"Thanks," she uttered, opening the door and watching as both men quickly disappeared -- the darkness of the intense storm swallowing them whole.
Very little sunlight filtered through the thick storm clouds that seemed to be choking the sky overhead as the two men trudged along toward the Stargate. They had been walking for nearly two hours, Teal'c in the lead with Daniel not far behind, both finding the going difficult as the condition of the ground had gone from poor to horrible overnight. Although the rain had slowed for the moment, they knew the reprieve wouldn't last as thunder still growled in the distance.
"So, do you think Jack's going to be all right?" Daniel called over the wind as he struggled to keep up with his friend's stronger pace.
"It is hard to say, however, I am hopeful for his recovery."
"Yeah, me too. I mean if you think about it, this whole thing is really my fault."
"Why do you believe that?" Teal'c inquired, glancing over his shoulder.
"It's obvious, isn't it? I'm the one who insisted we carry out the mission even though the DHD was busted. If we'd never left the Gate in the first place..."
"Then we would have never discovered the shuttle craft or the artifacts you have been studying," the Jaffa reasoned.
"That all seems so trivial now with Jack being sick," Daniel muttered, his tone slightly bitter.
Teal'c didn't reply for a moment, as he was lost in thought. "Are we not explorers, Daniel Jackson?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose..."
"And are we not knowledgeable of the risks that come with our occupation?" he continued.
"O'Neill will not blame you for his affliction. He is very aware of these risks of which I speak"
Daniel sighed, understanding his point. "I know...I just can't stop thinking about all the times Jack has pulled my butt out of the fire these past few years. And, for some reason, I just can't seem to stop jumping back in."
"Perhaps our current situation will provide you with a chance to remove O'Neill's posterior from the flames."
"Yeah, maybe," the archeologist said, smiling at the mental picture Teal'c had given him.
"We are almost to the Stargate. Do not worry, Daniel Jackson. If there is a way to help O'Neill through this predicament, it will be found."
Tripping over a hidden stone and stumbling against a tree, Daniel took a moment to catch his breath as he thought about what the Jaffa had said.
If there is a way to help...it will be found...
"Damn right it will," he muttered, pushing himself off the tree and fighting his way through the tangled bushes to catch up with his rapidly moving friend.
Settled into the empty lower bunk of the crew's quarters, Sam stared intently at the small pocket computer she had clutched in her hands. It was remotely linked with the MALP that was stationed back at the Gate, and displayed everything from the current weather conditions to radiation levels and topographical data. She was watching an animated weather map of the storm that was overhead, amazed at how large and encompassing the slowly rotating cloud mass was.
Makes hurricanes on Earth almost look pleasant...
On the bed beside her, the Colonel groaned quietly as he turned in his sleep, his right arm slipping out from under the covers. Setting the computer aside, she moved to the floor and gently lifted his hand, surprised to find fresh blood seeping through the bandage. Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, she began to slowly remove the wrappings when she felt him flinch under her touch. "Hurts, doesn't it, sir?" she asked, looking up to find his dark eyes watching her.
"Mm," he replied with a short nod.
"Let me take a look at it, okay?" When he nodded again, she finished removing the sodden bandage, and was unable to hide the grimace that crossed her face once the wound was fully exposed. What had been a simple deep gash the night before was now inflamed and quite red, the swelling extending deep into the soft tissues of his hand and wrist. Fresh blood mixed with an opaque fluid slowly seeped from the wound, and she could feel the excessive heat radiating off his skin. "I think it's infected, sir."
The Colonel pulled a face and covered his eyes with his free arm. "Great..."
Sam withdrew an antiseptic wipe from her pocket and tore it open before gently balancing his hand against her thigh. She silently apologized for the pain she was about to cause, and quickly passed the pungent smelling cloth over his hand to clean away the discharge.
The disinfectant meeting his raw wound with an audible hiss, Jack inhaled sharply and cursed under his breath.
"I'm sorry, Colonel," she apologized, repositioning his hand as she stood. "I have something that might help. Wait here." As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized just how ridiculous they sounded. Where was he going to go? Expecting her CO to pick up on this as well, she paused in the doorway and braced herself for his sarcastic retort. When she was met with only silence, she looked back to find that he hadn't moved at all.
This can't be good...
With a concerned frown, she entered the bridge and went to her gear, quickly locating the instant icepack she was searching for. Activating it with a sharp twist, she quietly slipped back into the sleeping area and sat down at his side. Taking his hand in hers, she gently wrapped the pack around the worst of the swelling, gripping his fingers tightly when he tried to pull away from the sudden pressure.
"This will help dull the pain, sir. Please, trust me," she said and held his hand steady until she felt him start to relax. A few minutes later, she noticed a few of the lines of discomfort were beginning to fade from his face as the ice worked its magic. "Better?"
"Yeah," he replied hoarsely, allowing his arm to slide away from his eyes. "Danny? Teal'c?"
"They've gone to the Gate to make contact with the SGC when they dial in to check on us at 0900."
"Should have gone together."
Sam shook her head firmly. "No, sir. You're in no shape to make that trip right now and I think you know it too."
A guarded look crossed his face, but it quickly faded into a small grin. "Hate when you're right."
"I know it doesn't happen very often, but..." she said with a smile.
His smirk widened slightly as he sighed and shut his eyes, his energy levels dropping.
"Go back to sleep, Colonel. They'll be back before you know it."
"Yes, ma'am..." he muttered, his long form relaxing as he dropped off almost immediately.
Once certain he was asleep, Sam carefully positioned his hand so the icepack would remain in place before she stood and settled down on the neighboring bunk. Although her hands automatically went for the small computer she'd been working with, her eyes remained focused on the Colonel-- his faster than normal breathing and pallid skin worrying her. Realizing there was nothing more she could do for him, she finally forced her attention back to the small screen and the image of the rotating storm.
Please hurry, you guys...
"How are your supplies holding out, Dr. Jackson?" General Hammond asked, gazing intently at the monitor before him. He had been talking to the two members of SG-1 for nearly 15 minutes, their image fading in and out as the storm raged on in the background. They had already informed him about their current situation, and the fact that his premier team was stranded off world with their leader out of action made the hair on his neck stand at attention.
"We've got enough water and rations to last us another few days, but we're getting low on medical supplies," Daniel replied, nervously ducking as a bolt of lightening cut through the sky above him.
"I think we can help you out with that, son," he said, turning to look over his shoulder when the familiar sound of clicking heels approached from behind. "Doctor."
"What's going on, sir?" Dr. Janet Fraiser asked, having simply been told a team was stranded off world and she was needed in the Control Room. Hammond pointed to the monitor where the two men were waiting patiently. "Daniel? Teal'c? Are you okay?"
"We are fine, Dr. Fraiser," Teal'c answered, his deep voice sounding even deeper through the MALP's small microphone. "It is in fact O'Neill who is not."
"Janet, Jack's really sick. It all started yesterday afternoon when I asked him to help me remove an artifact from a pile of rubble. He cut himself and went into anaphylactic shock and..." the archeologist began, his rambling words showing her just how upset he really was.
"Whoa, whoa! Daniel! Slow down!" she exclaimed, holding her hands up for him to stop. "Now what happened?"
There was a pause as Teal'c reached into his pocket and removed a piece of waterproof paper. "Captain Carter has been tending to him and transcribed everything she has done."
"That's great, Teal'c. Read it to me, please," she instructed. Listening closely as he read off the note, Janet made a mental note to praise her friend for her quick reactions to what had obviously been a very stressful situation.
The General turned to her as the Jaffa finished. "Could this be a residual effect from the anaphylaxis episode?"
"I don't think so, sir. He should be over that by now," she replied, turning back to the screen. "You said he's been having these muscle spasms since last night?"
"That is correct."
"And they seem to be getting worse," Daniel added, his arms wrapped around his chest in a protective hug.
The small doctor frowned in thought as she motioned her superior to step away from the microphone.
"Excuse us a moment, gentlemen," he said before following her. "What is it, Doctor?"
"Sir, there is definitely something wrong if he's in that much pain."
"What are you suggesting?"
"Well, ideally I need him here so I can see what's causing this to happen."
"But the DHD on their end is still charged from the lightening strike it took over 24 hours ago. They can't get near it."
Janet sighed in frustration. One of the few things she hated about her job was not always being able to get to the people who needed her help the most. With SG-1 literally thousands of light- years away and unable to Gate home, she would have to rely on Captain Carter's note alone to diagnose what was going on with Colonel O'Neill.
Mentally running through a list of possible causes, she absently turned and looked into the Gate Room below. Pausing momentarily to gaze at the shimmering event horizon, she soon found her eyes wandering to a small group of base personnel who were busy loading gear onto a FRED. Slowly, the seed of an idea began to form in her mind.
"General, we can still safely send things to them though, right?"
He joined her at the shatterproof window and nodded toward the small platform vehicle below. "That supply FRED is being loaded for them as we speak. Is there something you'd like to add?"
"Not exactly something..." she began slowly.
"I'm sorry, but I can't risk sending a medical team to M4G-887 with a chance they could be stranded there for days."
She shook her head. "No, sir. I'm not asking you to send a team. I'm asking you to send me."
Hammond drew his head back in surprise. "Absolutely not, Doctor..."
"General, after hearing Sam's note, it's obvious that Colonel O'Neill needs help," the small woman interjected. "We have no way of knowing how long their DHD is going to be disabled and until then, they can't get home. Sir, the Colonel may need more than just a few supplies to help get him through this."
"I need you here in case something happens. Besides, Captain Carter has field training..."
"I'm aware of that, sir," she said, trying to keep herself from bordering on insubordination. "My concern is that this could quickly escalate beyond her level of education. If those spasms continue unchecked and spread to his heart or lungs he could easily go into shock or even arrest and die."
When he still didn't appear convinced, she pressed on. "Doctor Warner is scheduled to come on duty at 1030 and is more than capable of handling anything that may come up in my absence. Please, sir. Let me try to help the Colonel."
The General sighed and looked at the pleading, but determined expression on her face. It was clear she wasn't going to back down, and although he wasn't thrilled with sending his CMO off into a literal storm, he certainly couldn't justify letting Jack and his team suffer either. "Can you be on the ramp and ready to leave in 15 minutes?"
"I'll be ready in 10, sir."
"Then you have a go. Dismissed."
Watching as she made a dash for the exit, Hammond shook his head and turned back toward the front of the room to inform the awaiting members of SG-1 of the new plan.
I certainly hope that this isn't a mistake...
A short time later, Hammond made his way down to the Gate Room, intent on seeing the doctor off in person. It was taking the technicians longer than expected to get the FRED prepared for departure, and he was trying his best to stay out of their way. He found Janet standing at the base of the ramp, her black backpack and green raingear making her look a bit like a turtle. He knew this wasn't her first trip through the Stargate, but he could tell she was nervous just by the mask of concentration on her face.
"Doctor?" he said as he approached, startling the smaller woman slightly.
"General, I didn't see you there," she replied, wobbling a bit under the weight of her pack.
Hammond smiled and held out a steadying hand. "You'll rendezvous with Teal'c and Dr. Jackson as soon as you exit the Gate. From there, they'll take you to the abandoned ship they're using as a camp."
She nodded. "Thank you, sir."
He followed her gaze back up to the rippling wormhole. "Nervous?"
"A little. But to be honest, the butterflies aren't about the trip, they're for what I might find on the other side."
Hammond nodded solemnly. "Just do the best you can, Doctor. That's all we ever ask."
"How much longer?" he asked as a tech hurried by.
"Shouldn't be long, sir."
He looked back in time to see the doctor cringe - she knew they were wasting valuable time and was anxious to get moving. "Why don't you go ahead, Doctor? We'll send the FRED right in behind you as soon as it's ready."
"Yes, sir," she replied. With a calming sigh, she began to climb the ramp, her boots thudding hollowly against the gray metal. She paused when she reached the base of the Gate, running her fingers through its watery faade.
"Good luck, Doctor," he said, and watched as she stepped into the wavering puddle. Satisfied he had done the best thing for the sake of his people, Hammond turned and headed back to the Control Room just as the FRED finally started up the ramp.
As he crested the stairs, a flurry of activity around the monitors caught his attention, as did the now fluxing wormhole.
"Sergeant, what's going on?"
The other man glanced away from the main screen briefly, his eyes wide with apprehension. "I'm not sure, General. We're getting high-energy readings from the moon. There may have just been another lightening strike. The wormhole is failing."
Hammond's eyes moved from the screen that displayed "Traveler in Progress," and back to the Stargate in time to see it sputter and vanish. "Traveler Lost" flashed across the screen. "Did they make it through?"
The sergeant tapped at his keyboard. "It's hard to tell, sir, but I think some of it did."
The General's face went white then red. "Some, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir. The computer indicates that nearly half of the FRED failed to rematerialize on the other side."
A strangled gasp escaped his throat. "D-did you just say the FRED, son?"
"Yes, sir," the sergeant replied with a nod. "Dr. Fraiser exited the wormhole safely several seconds before the instability even began. You didn't think it was...?"
Hammond nodded and heaved a great sigh.
"Oh, General, if I had known that, sir..."
"It's all right, son. Just find out what happened, okay?" he said, resting a hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"Yes, sir," the sergeant answered, turning to watch as a very pale Hammond headed slowly back to his office.
Back on M4G-887, time was passing slowly for the two waiting members of SG-1, the chilly bite of the wind making things even harder to bear. Dark, heavy storm clouds hung low in the sky, their ominous presence a sure sign that the dry lull they were experiencing would be short lived.
Daniel squinted towards the sky. "I don't like the looks of that..."
"The storm is growing stronger again," Teal'c agreed, listening to the thunder as it groaned off in the distance.
"Well, if that's the case, I hope they hurry up with the - oof!" His comment was cut short when a jagged bolt of lightening suddenly slammed into the ground several hundred yards from the Stargate platform. Finding himself facedown in the mud, Daniel assumed it had been the strike that had knocked him off his feet until he found that there was something pinning him to the ground. It was only when the burden began to squirm and shout that he realized what had happened. "Janet?"
"Oh my god! Daniel! I'm so sorry!"
"Doctor Fraiser, are you damaged?" Teal'c asked, offering the small woman his hand.
"No -- I'm fine, Teal'c, thank you," she replied, watching as the large man helped the now muddy Daniel to his feet. "Daniel, I am so sorry..."
"No problem," he replied as he straightened his tipped glasses and shook several globs of mud from his coat. "What happened anyway?"
"It would appear that Doctor Fraiser exited the Stargate at an extreme velocity," Teal'c remarked. "Perhaps it was caused by the lightening strike that occurred mere moments before her arrival."
"Maybe," the archeologist agreed. "But that's really Sam's area of...okay, why is the Gate doing that?"
Turning to see what their friend was looking at, the others were surprised to find that the shimmering wormhole was being to flux with instability. As they watched, the front of the FRED began to appear at the base of the Gate, its platform heaped with supplies. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, the Stargate disengaged, severing the small vehicle in half.
"That's never happened before..." Daniel muttered, watching with wide eyes as what remained of the FRED crashed nosily to the ground.
Janet's face suddenly went pale as the reality of the situation sunk in. "If General Hammond hadn't sent me through the Gate early and I had waited for the FRED..."
Teal'c rested his large hand on her shoulder. "Do not think of such things, Dr. Fraiser. You are here and undamaged. That is all that matters."
The doctor nodded and patted the Jaffa's hand, although her eyes lingered on the inactive Gate for a moment longer. "Thanks, Teal'c, you're right."
"You are welcome."
"I guess we should help Daniel and then get moving, huh?" she asked, the archeologist already picking through the remains of the FRED for salvageable supplies.
"Indeed. O'Neill is in much need of your healing skills."
"Then lets be quick about it," she said, and started off toward the wreckage with Teal'c close behind.
He was trapped. Stuck between oblivion and awareness, Jack fought to make sense of his situation in the brief moments when the pain was tolerable. He knew that he and his team were trapped off world; on some moon deep in space with a map designation tag he couldn't remember. Then there was something about being bitten by a rock, a thought that sounded absurd to him even in his current state. Now they were hiding out in a small ship they had found that Sam thought was made of wood.
Caught off guard by a sudden flare of pain, he was unable to stop the groan that escaped him as another wave of spasms struck. Rolling over to face the wall, he brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his stomach in a protective hug. Never hearing the footsteps that came up behind him, he recoiled when a cool hand brushed the sweat-matted hair from his forehead.
"Captain?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"It's me, sir," she said, sitting down at his side.
"...will this nightmare be over?"
Sam set a hand on his shoulder. "Very soon, sir."
"...hope so...god..." He coughed and heaved, but his stomach was empty; the electrolyte drink he'd been given having come up shortly after the others had left. He curled up tighter as another spasm took hold, the pain beginning to radiate through his entire lower body.
"Easy, sir, help is coming," she said, lightly rubbing his back in an effort to calm him down.
For Jack, time seemed to be standing still. It felt like someone had taken a death grip around his stomach and was slowly clenching it tighter and tighter. He could barely feel his second's hand against him, and her comforting words were lost in the deafening roar that had formed between his ears. Just as he was about to submit to the luring pull of oblivion, he became vaguely aware of another presence entering the room.
"...going on, Sam?"
"It's...again...getting worse ..."
"Colonel?" a new, but familiar voice asked. "Let...at him. Help me...over..."
He groaned loudly in protest as his warm blankets were removed and he was carefully repositioned onto his back. Moments later, the unbearable pain in his midsection became excruciating as small, cold hands began putting firm pressure against the still contracting muscles. Crying out, he instinctually swung a closed fist toward the source of his pain, only to have it intercepted halfway to its target.
"...sorry, Colonel...Won't do that again..." the kind voice said, immediately releasing him from the agonizing pressure.
Gasping for breath as he waited for the remaining pain to abate, Jack returned to his side and buried his face into the mattress to muffle his grunts of discomfort.
"...easy, sir. Sam...the blanket?"
As he felt the sleeping bag being wrapped around his shuddering form, he finally thought he recognized the person who was talking to him. "Doc?"
"Yes, sir, it's me."
"...came through the Gate?"
"I sure did. Just to see you."
He nodded slightly, his body finally starting to settle down. "Nice."
"Can you open your eyes for me?"
Although slow to comply, he gradually opened his dark eyes to see the doctor's blurry form sitting on the bed beside him.
"There you are," she said quietly, resting a hand against his overly warm forehead. "Not feeling too good, are you, Colonel?"
"No," he admitted, completely missing the look of concern that passed between the two women.
"Well, let's see what we can do about fixing that, okay? I just need to talk with Sam for a minute," she said, tucking the sleeping bag around him some more before standing up.
Jack simply nodded and allowed his heavy eyelids to shut against the dim lighting. Worn out and still in a fair amount of pain, he was already fast asleep even before his friends had made it to the back of the room to talk.
"How long has he been that lethargic?" Janet asked as she and Sam ducked into the doorway of the small engine room for privacy.
"All night. It worries you too, huh?"
The doctor nodded and glanced back at the dozing man. "I don't think I've ever seen him this down and out before."
"Do you think this has something to do with yesterday's accident?"
Janet shook her head and began to pull off her mud caked raingear. "I don't know. I'll take a closer look at him, but I don't think I'll be able to tell you much until we get back to the SGC and I can run some tests. Have the spasms always been that severe?"
"Aside from the initial one he had last night, that looked like it was the worst one so far," Sam replied, noticing that the worry was not leaving her friend's face.
"Well, from what I felt his abdomen was as hard as a rock," she muttered, leaning against the wall as she tugged off her boots.
The Captain's face blanched. "You don't think he's bleeding, do you?"
"No, I don't think so," Janet said as she rolled up the sleeves on her baggy green shirt. "This was a completely different feel than you usually get with internal hemorrhaging. It almost seems like the muscles were locked in a hyper contracted state. I could actually feel them becoming tighter and tighter under my hand."
Sam grimaced at the thought.
"It's certainly nothing I've ever come across before and it's obviously uncomfortable for him," she remarked, recalling how close she had come to catching Jack's fist in the head when he struck out in pain. "Oh, and that was a good catch you made a moment ago. Thank you."
"No problem," she said, looking over her shoulder to her dozing CO. "What can you do for him?"
"Let me check him over first and see what I find. I also want to have a look at that wound on his hand and start him on some fluids. You said in your note he was up vomiting a lot last night?"
"During the worst of it. Although it quickly got to the point where there was simply nothing left to come up."
"We'll get him through this, Sam, don't worry," she assured her when she saw the dismay on her face. "Listen, Daniel and Teal'c are sorting through the salvaged supplies sent from Earth. Why don't you go lend them a hand?"
"Wait -- what do you mean by salvaged?" she asked, noticing for the first time how muddy her raingear was. Sam's eyes grew wide as she listened to her friend reiterate what had happened to the FRED back at the Gate. "Oh my god. Are you all right?"
"A little shaken up, but otherwise I'm fine. I'm just grateful Daniel isn't as bony as he looks," the small woman said with a wink.
The Captain smiled and squeezed her friend's shoulder. "I'm glad you're all right, Janet."
"Me too!" she agreed wholeheartedly, then adding as she saw the worry start to return to the Captain's face. "Now shoo. I'll let you know as soon as I'm through in here."
"Yes, ma'am," Sam replied, heading back toward the front of the small room. Pausing at her superior's side, she rested a hand on his blanket, taking in the tight expression on his face. "I'm going to go help Daniel and Teal'c with the stuff General Hammond sent us. You're in good hands now, Colonel."
"Was before, Captain..." Jack said as he looked up at her, his eyes revealing both pain and gratitude.
She offered him a small smile. "Feel better, sir."
"Go on, Sam," Janet said, seeing that she was starting to have second thoughts about leaving. "I've got him now."
With a shaky sigh, Sam nodded and finally turned to leave the room, leaving her CO in the capable hands of her friend.
It had taken them less than an hour to sort through the supplies recovered off the FRED as much of it had been damaged when the Gate disengaged prematurely. There had yet to be any word on the condition of their fallen leader, and the silence from the neighboring room was beginning to take its toll on their patience. Each one worked wordlessly on their own project as they waited, the quiet air filled only with the muted sounds of the continuing storm.
Sam sat closest to the closed bunk area door, surrounded by several pieces of the DHD that had been blown off in the initial strike. Printed plans for the device had miraculously survived the disastrous trip through the Gate, and she was now working on identifying the pieces they had recovered. Daniel was back to work on the large artifact, the gentle scraping sounds of his picks and brushes occasionally heard over the driving rain. Teal'c had positioned himself next to the shuttle's only entrance, and seemed to be completely mesmerized by the game of Solitaire he was engaged in.
"Hey, I think I found another...uh-oh..." Daniel's words dropping off as suddenly as they had begun
She glanced up from her work. "What?"
Looking slightly guilty, Daniel stood up and brought her the awkwardly shaped artifact. "I don't think Jack's going to like this."
Painted on the back of the largest sphere was a glyph depicting an owl holding a key in its talons.
"That is the symbol of the goddess Hecate," Teal'c replied, having abandoned his game out of curiosity.
Daniel adjusted his fallen glasses. "Hecate's the Greek goddess of the underworld, darkness, and witchcraft. She also was known as the goddess of crossroads and change, both for the good and bad."
"So...she's a Goa'uld?"
"She was a Goa'uld," Teal'c explained, his face void of emotion. "Although her reign was brief, Hecate was well revered, protecting those who served her. It was for this reason that she was seen as an outcast among the System Lords."
"A good Goa'uld?"
"Well, that all depends on how you define the word good," Daniel began. "I mean, she did use humans as her personal slaves and ultimately ruled over them with fear."
"Hecate also used her understanding of dark magic to invoke fear in those who would challenge her power," Teal'c explained. "It was said she could destroy an entire harvest with a single pass of her torch, leaving the unfaithful servants to starve. I can recall several accounts of this tactic being employed while I was still in service to Apophis, both towards her own servants and those of other System Lords."
"So what happened to her?"
"The details of her demise are unknown," the Jaffa replied. "It is rumored she was finally overrun by her own slaves in a revolt after she destroyed their yearly harvest when they failed to offer her an acceptable sacrifice."
All heads turned when the crews' quarters door slid open and Janet emerged wearing a bleak expression.
"How is he?" Daniel asked anxiously.
"Asleep at the moment. He slept through most of the exam, actually."
Teal'c frowned. "That is most unlike him."
"Yeah, it is."
"So what did you find?" Sam pushed, moving over to make room for her friend to sit beside her on the floor.
"Well, like I told you earlier, I won't know a whole lot until we get home and I can run some tests, but there's definitely something going on. His vitals are all elevated, and he's running a temperature of around 102. He's got a minor infection started in the wound on his hand, however I'm more concerned about the extensive deep tissue swelling that's surrounding it. As for the spasms he's experiencing, they appear to be concentrated to his abdominal region at the moment, although there are indications that they're starting to spread through most of his lower body."
"What do you perceive to be the cause of this condition?"
"I'm not sure, Teal'c, but if I had to make a guess based solely on his symptoms, I'd have to lean towards exposure to some sort of agent that affects the neurological system."
Daniel snorted. "Neurological? Jack's having bad muscle spasms, not..."
"Something is telling his muscles to contract, and that all starts up here," Janet said, tapping her head.
"Can you help him?" Sam asked, unconsciously wringing her hands together.
"Until I have a better understanding of what's going on, I'm reluctant to introduce anything other than basic saline into his system. If we are dealing with a neurological disorder, anything I give him for pain could potentially make things worse."
"And that means what? He has to keep toughing things out until we get the DHD fixed? Janet that could take days!"
She raised a hand to quiet him down. "I realize that, Daniel, and I am prepared to step in and help if things get any worse. For right now though, he seems to be handling things fairly well on his own."
"Is there anything we can do?"
"I'd like to have someone sitting with him at all times, so I'll definitely need your help with that. Otherwise, just keep working on our DHD problem." The doctor looked at the solemn faces that surrounded her. "I'm sorry, guys. I wish there was more I could do, but..."
"No," Daniel began through a sigh as he rubbed a kink from his sore neck. "Just your willingness to be here is enough. We're just worried, that's all."
The small woman offered her friends an understanding smile as she got to her feet. "Listen, I'd better get back to him in case he needs anything. Sam, if you're up to it, I could use a little help organizing some supplies." After helping her friend to stand up amidst the random pieces of the DHD, she turned to add: "Try to stay positive, guys. We'll get through this."
Neither man said a word as the two women left the bridge, their minds still processing what they had been told. It was Daniel who finally broke the silence with a frustrated grunt as he picked up the misshapen artifact and returned to his corner. "So much for good news..."
"Do not worry, Daniel Jackson. I believe he has the will to survive."
"All the will in the Universe won't matter if we don't get Jack home soon," the younger man muttered almost bitterly.
"Captain Carter has not failed us in the past," Teal'c said confidently as he resumed his abandoned card game. "I am confident she will soon arrive at a solution to our problem."
"I hope you're right, Teal'c," Daniel replied, starting to scrape away the dried mud and ash from the relic once again. "I really hope you're right."
Janet observed Jack with clinical interest as she gently wrapped her fingers around his wrist and began timing his pulse, discouraged by the paleness of his skin. He was finally asleep after having experienced another set of powerful spasms a short time before, his strength reserves all but gone. The painful episode had lasted for nearly 10 minutes, during which time she found the muscles of his lower back and legs to be contracting almost as severely as his abdomen.
Finding his vitals to be satisfactory for the moment, the doctor quickly checked the condition of the IV she had started earlier before turning around to see how her friend was doing. "Any luck?"
Sam looked up, with a shrug, from the DHD plans she had spread across the adjacent lower bunk. "I've managed to identify five of the seven parts that were knocked loose by the strike. They seem to be in good shape too - or at least I can't find any obvious signs of damage."
"Well, that's good," Janet said as she sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up one of the oddly shaped device pieces.
"Yeah, but unless we find a way to discharge the extra energy from the DHD itself, all this means nothing," Sam replied, dropping down heavily beside her. "I mean even if we were able to dial out now, the extra power would probably just cause the wormhole to jump to another destination, possibly damaging both Gates in the process."
"Any thoughts on how to do that yet?"
"Other than waiting for the energy to dissipate on its own, no. And like Daniel said before, that could take days. Maybe longer."
Both turned to look at Jack when he shifted uncomfortably and moaned quietly in his sleep.
"I don't think we have that long..."
"I know!" the Captain nearly shouted, her face immediately turning red with embarrassment for her outburst. Running a hand through her hair, she forced herself to continue in a much quieter tone. "I know. But, Janet, my mind is so full of stuff right now, I hardly even know what I'm doing."
The doctor reached out and squeezed her friend's arm. "Well, I think you're doing a fine job. Everyone's under a lot of stress right now, both with the Colonel being down and dealing with the fact we're stranded on some alien planet. Have you stopped to consider that maybe you're thinking about this too hard?"
"Listen. Why don't you go take some time for yourself? Go sit and listen to the rain, read, take a nap - just go do something other than work on the DHD for a while. You might be surprised what you'll come up with after a break."
Puffing out a sigh, Sam looked at her caring friend. "At this point I'll try anything."
Janet nodded her approval. "Well in that case, I don't want to see you back here for at least three hours. And I mean it, Sam. Doctor's orders."
"Yes, ma'am." Reluctantly moving away from her work, the Captain stood up and slowly made her way toward the back of the shuttle. About half way there, she stopped and looked back. "Oh, and Janet?"
"We're on a moon, not a planet."
Rolling her eyes, the doctor smiled and shook her head. "Get out of here."
With a mischievous grin, Sam pulled open the door that led into the small engine room and stepped inside to enjoy her time alone.
Late that afternoon, Daniel found himself alone on the bridge with his work. He was still picking away at the relic, the small piles of dirt at his feet evidence that he was slowly making progress. Despite the amount of material he was removing, the object's basic, overall shape hadn't changed much. There were still two spheres - one the size of a basketball, the other a grapefruit - that were joined side by side. The larger sphere sported five intricately painted glyphs, while the smaller one remained blank. It did, however, have four golf ball sized spheres attached along one side, and he was quite sure there would be another four along the opposite side. As he worked, he kept thinking that he recognized the shape, but for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.
Hearing the door to the crew's quarters open, Daniel looked over the top of his glasses to see who had entered. "Hi, Janet."
The doctor gave him a small wave as she sat down on the floor beside him. "Hey."
"How's Jack doing?"
"He's recovering from another round of spasms, but they didn't seem to be as bad as the last ones."
"Sam and Teal'c?"
"Teal'c's with the Colonel, and I ordered Sam to take a few hours for herself before she burnt out," she replied, watching as he rubbed his weary eyes and sighed. "And it looks like maybe I should order you to do the same."
Daniel immediately snapped out of his funk at her words. "Oh, no, I'm fine. I've just forgotten how tedious this part of the job can be since I usually have the archeological team back at the SGC do it. It's fun though - like old times."
"What are you doing anyway?" she asked, looking at the dusty object cradled in his lap.
"Slowly striping away this ancient compacted mud and old volcanic ash," he explained, holding up the dental pick he was currently using. "I've got some stuff back home that will soften this stuff right up, but for now, the old fashion method seems to be the best way to go."
Janet reached out and brushed her fingertips across the smooth surface of the largest sphere. "Any thoughts on what it is?"
"No. Not yet anyway. I want to say the shape is familiar, but I just can't quite put my finger on it. And the glyphs, especially the arachnids, have me at a total loss."
"What's this?" she muttered, having found the wax that he'd wrapped around the metal prongs.
"It's what I think Jack cut himself on when he helped me pull it from the pile of ruins," he explained, gently prying the wax off to reveal the sharp points underneath.
"They almost look like teeth or fangs of some sort..." the doctor remarked as she ran her finger along their gentle curve. When her hand stopped just shy of their obviously sharp points, she thought she felt the golden prongs move ever so slightly. "Did you know they were loose?"
"What?" Taking the dental pick, he firmly tapped each one to find it solidly embedded in the stone above it. "Are you sure?"
"I swear I felt them move..." she uttered, rummaging through her pockets and pulling out a pen. Slipping it behind the curve of the prongs, she slowly lifted up on the pen, her eyes widening as they began to move forward. Increasing the pressure slightly, she tipped the fangs further until a thick, opaque substance oozed out onto her pen.
"Hello..." Daniel uttered, just as surprised as the doctor was.
Slowly withdrawing the pen as not to disturb the small droplets of liquid now clinging to it, she carefully handed it off to the archeologist. "Try not to tip it."
"W-wait, where are you going?" he asked nervously as she stood and made her way to the corner where the supplies were being kept.
"To get a culture kit. Just sit tight," she said, kneeling down to sort through her bags.
Swallowing hard, Daniel looked down at the drops of mysterious liquid like they were made of nitroglycerin. He wasn't so much nervous as he was excited, curious to know what it was they had just discovered. "What is it?"
Settling back down on the floor beside him, Janet began to open up a sterile swab to collect the substance. "I'm not sure..." With a steady hand, she quickly touched the tip of the swab to the opaque liquid, the cotton readily absorbing it. "You said this is what you thought Colonel O'Neill cut himself on, right?"
"Yeah," he replied, watching as she deposited the sample into a clean test tube, sealed it, and made note of what it was on the side. "It's the only sharp contact point I could find. Why?"
"Well, this is just a guess, but if he managed to trigger the movement of the prongs and had any of this substance contaminate the wound, it could be what's responsible for making him sick - there might even be traces of it left in the gash..."
He picked up the relic and began studying the prongs more closely. "What? Like a drug or something?"
The doctor shrugged as she returned to her gear to pack the sample away with the others she had collected. "It could be a drug or a poison of some sort. I won't know for sure until we can have it analyzed back at the lab."
"I can't believe I didn't notice that they moved before..." he muttered, his hands getting dangerously close to the sharp points.
"Ah, Daniel, do we have a case or something we could put that in?"
"Yeah, we should. How come?"
"Daniel, I know you're not going to like this, but I don't want anyone touching that relic until we get it back home and under controlled conditions."
The younger man's face fell. He hadn't been expecting her to say that. "What? But, Janet..."
"If there's even the slightest chance that this is what's making the Colonel sick, I don't want to risk having anyone else exposed to it."
"At least let me work on the other side..."
She shook her head firmly. "There could be more of them still hidden under the mud. I realize you're eager to study it, Daniel, but please try to understand where I'm coming from."
His expression solemn, Daniel walked over to the supply corner and found one of the padded cases that had come on the FRED. Carefully placing the relic inside, he gave it a final long look before snapping down the lid.
"Thank you," she said quietly, seeing the disappointment in his eyes. "It's difficult, I know."
"Yeah, but you're right, it could be dangerous. It's no problem, really. I've got other stuff I can work on anyway."
"Good," she said, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. Gathering up the few items she had excavated from her gear, she turned and headed back toward the bunk area, leaving the scientist staring pensively at the sealed box in his hands.
"So even if we knew how the engines were fueled, I still doubt they'd start," Sam explained as she helped her friend unwind the bandage that was wrapped around Jack's hand. She was seated at his side; his wounded hand held firmly between her two gloved ones. "There's so much build up and corrosion around most of the integral parts, I think it would just overheat and burn itself out before it even left the ground."
"Well, that's too bad," Janet replied, adjusting the angle of her portable light so she could see the exposed wound more clearly. "It'd be a lot easier for you to study if we could get it home."
"Yeah, it would," she agreed, trying not to watch too closely as the doctor began to examine the crimson, oozing cut on her CO's palm. "Although I'm not sure how useful anything about this ship could be. I mean there're definitely no weapons and the engines aren't worth much. Maybe as an antique..."
Janet nodded and glanced up to check on Jack when she felt him flinch under her probing fingers. "Well, if it was caught in the lava flow like you believe it was, what do you think prevented it from burning up?"
The Captain cocked her head - she hadn't considered that.
"I should have done this earlier...there's a lot more swelling than before," the doctor muttered as she retrieved two sterile swabs from their wrappers. "Okay, Sam, he's probably not going to appreciate this very much -- are you ready?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam replied nervously as she braced Jack's hand against her leg.
Placing her left hand over his thumb to open the wound as much as possible, Janet slowly guided the swabs in as deep as she could before gently rolling them over the raw surface of the wound.
Uttering a curse from his semi-conscious state, Jack stirred and made a weak attempt to pull his hand away from the new source of pain. When he found that he couldn't, he cursed even louder and began to squirm.
"Almost there, sir..." Janet said, increasing her grip on his thumb to help keep him steady.
Doing her best to hold his hand still, Sam looked away and bit down hard on her lip to keep from succumbing to the dizziness and nausea that was being triggered by his pained shouts.
"Damn...damn it...Doc...stop!" he cried, his tone close to begging. He felt a final grating scrape across the length of the wound before the worst of the pain finally subsided, although his hand continued to throb in time with his racing heart.
"All right, I'm done. Sam, get pressure on that wound," she instructed as she quickly sealed the bloodied swabs in a sterile bag. When her friend didn't move, the doctor turned to see that her complexion had become almost as pale as the Colonel's. "Sam, you okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah - I-I'm fine, Janet," Sam replied in an unsteady voice. "I guess my stomach's just not as strong as it used to be when it comes to things like this."
"That just means you care," she said, offering her a sympathetic smile before motioning toward the wad of gauze she still had clutched between her fingers. "Keep as much pressure on his hand as he'll allow, okay?"
Nodding, she placed the thick dressing over the readily bleeding wound and held it as tight as she dared. Looking up to check on her CO, Sam was troubled when she saw him in obvious distress with his eyes tightly shut, breathing hard, and his face bathed in sweat. "Is he going to be all right?"
Dampening a small cloth, the doctor returned to his side and began wiping down his flushed skin. "Don't worry -- He's just in a mild state of shock. He should come around shortly."
The two women sat in silence as they watched and waited for their superior to show signs of recovering, both of them becoming concerned by how long it was taking. It was a good ten minutes before he began to visibly relax, and an additional five before he began to stir.
"Colonel?" Janet called quietly, hoping to raise his attention. She watched as he slowly opened his blurry eyes and began taking in his surroundings. "You okay?"
"That hurt," he answered, his voice tired and strained.
"I know - I had to take a culture of your wound, sir," she explained, continuing to wipe his face with the cloth. "I'm sorry."
He looked at her for a moment, his dark eyes glassy and unfocused. "S'okay, Doc," he uttered at last, offering her a slight grin to show there were no hard feelings.
"Just try to relax, Colonel," she said with a warm smile. "I'll rewrap your hand in a minute, all right?"
With a nod, Jack draped his free arm over his eyes and sighed deeply, trying to calm his adrenaline fueled body.
"You hanging in there?" Janet asked as she gathered up the items she no longer required.
"Yeah, I think so," Sam replied, her voice slightly steadier than it had been earlier. "I'm sorry, Janet."
"For what -- getting queasy? Don't worry about it, Sam. It happens to the best of us," she said, lightly squeezing her arm. "Besides, you both handled it just fine."
The Captain smiled sheepishly. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, I need to go put this stuff away and grab a few things to bandage his hand. You going to be all right here alone for a few minutes?"
"Great. I'll be right back."
Watching as her friend left the small bunk area, Sam shut her eyes and allowed herself a moment to settle down.
You're getting soft, Sam... she scolded herself. You've got a job to do...you can't be fainting at the sight of a little blood...
But even she knew there was more to it than that. She had been in combat. She had seen and even helped with the casualties and coped better than most.
It's him...for a moment you were part of his pain and there wasn't a thing you could do about it... Suddenly feeling guilty for agreeing to help out with the procedure, she began to rub the back of her CO's hand with her thumb.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said quietly, just as Janet returned.
"Did I miss anything?" the doctor asked, setting down her supplies and readjusting the portable light.
"Nope, not even a peep."
"Good. Now, let's get that wound redressed and than we can..." Her words dropped off as the small light flickered wildly for a few seconds before going out completely. "Talk about impeccable timing..."
"Oh, the batteries just died," she uttered, holding up the now dark light. "Again. I've always thought we'd be better off if we didn't rely so much on mechanical devices..."
"I sure wish the DHD would do that..."
Janet raised an eyebrow. "Do what?"
"Run out of energy. At least then we could use a secondary power source and manually dial out," Sam said, automatically slipping into explanation mode when her friend looked confused. "Basically the DHD is like a big battery that's been overcharged. Now, we need to bleed out some of that extra energy before it'll work again, but we can't even put our hands on it to do that without running the risk of being electrocuted."
"It's too bad you can't get the energy to leave the DHD and go into something else that can safely hold a charge that big," the doctor suggested, locating the room's lighting controls and turning them up slightly.
"Believe me, I've thought through everything - I've even considered throwing sticks at the damn thing just to get it to..." she stopped, an idea beginning to form in the back of her mind. "What did you have in mind?"
"Oh, it's nothing - what you said made me think about how my car battery died last winter and I had to get a jump from a neighbor who had this huge truck," Janet said, starting to clean the dried blood from Jack's hand. "First time I'd been late to work in years."
"High voltage energy leaving one source and safely going into another...Janet, you're a genius!"
"Sam?" she asked, delighted to see the broad smile that had appeared on the young woman's face.
Resting her superior's hand against her leg, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small notebook. "You may have just given me an idea."
"Well, imagine that." After watching her friend hastily make notes in her book for a moment, Janet shook her head and began to work on bandaging the Colonel's hand.
For the first time in nearly 24 hours, things were finally starting to look up.
Several hours later found Sam leaning over the spare lower bunk, the top of it littered with scraps of paper and various drafting tools. She had been diligently at work on the idea that the doctor had inadvertently given her, her mind totally absorbed in its many formulas, notations, and complex equations.
After checking on her sleeping patient, Janet came up behind her friend to see what she was up to. "How's it going?"
"All right," Sam replied with small shrug. "Although the more I try to work this through, the more I think it's going to be a long shot."
"A long shot's better than nothing, Sam," she said before continuing with a smile. "And as a member of SG-1, I thought you'd realize that by now."
"Yeah, I know."
Both officers turned toward the bridge door when it slid open to admit Daniel.
"Hi, guys," he said, mindfully keeping his voice down. "Everything okay?"
Janet nodded. "Seems to be at the moment. How about you?"
"We're hanging in there. How's Jack doing?"
"He's been fairly quiet for the past few hours," she replied, moving aside a calculator and drawing compass so she could sit down. "I hope that he's finally getting some much needed rest."
The archeologist nodded and produced an object that was wrapped in a white cloth from behind his back. "Well, I know you two are busy and I won't keep you, but I have something I really want to show you guys."
"What is it?" Sam asked, setting her work aside and accepting the item for closer inspection.
"What do you think it is?" he questioned, wrapping his arms around his chest.
The two women looked at each other for a moment in question before turning their attention to the surprisingly heavy object. Shaped like a rough rectangle, the artifact was about the size and thickness of a dinner plate, with a slight concave curve. As far as they could tell through the remaining clay, its outer surface was a dark muddy brown with deep, random lines running through it. The inside of the curve was smooth to the touch and colored with a much lighter tan.
"This came from the pile of ruins?" she asked as she passed it over to the small doctor.
"Yeah - I picked it up at the time because of its unique shape. Teal'c discovered the lines when he was clearing away the first few layers of mud."
Janet lifted an eyebrow. "Teal'c?"
The young man shrugged nonchalantly. "He wanted something to do, so I showed him some basic excavation techniques. He's still got a ways to go, but..."
"Well, assuming this is the outside," Sam began, pointing to the brown, rutted surface. "...It almost looks like the bark off a tree."
"Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" her friend agreed, turning to Daniel to discover a boyish grin on his face. "What?"
"I was hoping you'd say that," he said, gingerly reclaiming the still muddy object.
"There were other pieces like this back at the wreckage site - quite a few of them actually. I wasn't sure what to make of it at the time, but then I got to thinking about the uniqueness of the other artifact. What if that pile of rock was once an altar and the relic was some sort of spiritual centerpiece?"
"An altar?" Janet asked. "Daniel, that looks like it came off a tree."
"But what if the altar was a tree? Or, more specifically, a willow tree."
"Hecate!" Sam uttered, understanding where her teammate was going.
"It's a who, actually. Hecate was the Greek goddess of change, life, and darkness. We found her symbol on the relic Daniel's talking about."
The petite doctor shook her head. "I'm sorry, but what does this have to do with an altar made to look like a tree?"
"Like any god, Hecate is associated with certain items or ideas," Daniel explained, his excitement growing as he spoke. "I'd have to double-check my books, but I'm pretty sure she was connected to wild animals, dogs, torches and trees. Willow trees."
"You think the people who lived here were in service to her?" Sam inquired.
"A Goa'uld with her persona, yes. I mean it all adds up: the willow forest, an altar made to look like a tree, a unique relic with her symbol on it... "
"So where is this Hecate now?" Janet interrupted, her interest on the topic building.
"Dead, according to Teal'c. Apparently she wasn't too popular among the System Lords and her disappearance has remained a mystery to them."
Daniel lightly ran his fingers across the textured surface of the artifact still amazed at how much it felt like real tree bark. "Everything we've come up with so far is just speculation, of course. I'm hoping the scrolls we found will have more information about her and the people who once lived here."
Janet shook her head. "You know, I never knew how much a rock could tell you until I met Daniel."
"Hey, don't knock it till you try it. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase `I'm hearing voices,'" Sam added, both women bursting into stifled snickers at his expense.
The archeologist rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks, guys. And to think I actually thought you were on my..."
"Shh!" the doctor hissed sharply and held up a hand to quiet him. Plunging the small room into silence, she focused her attention on trying to determine what had caught her attention.
"What?" Sam whispered just as she picked up on the barely audible moan herself.
Janet's face became heavy with apprehension as stood to check on her CO, already knowing there was something wrong even before she had drawn back the thick blanket that covered his restless form. "Colonel?"
Although Jack was curled up facing the wall, she could still tell he was in a great deal of pain just by his rigid posture and labored breathing. Placing the back of her hand against his fevered face, the doctor grimaced as she felt the uncontrolled tremors that were shaking his body. "What's wrong, sir? Is your stomach hurting you?"
He nodded as he turned his face into the pillow with a muted grunt, another wave of spasms overwhelming him.
Pushing away the blanket, she began to gently feel along his side, back, and legs, disturbed by the speed and intensity of his rapidly tightening muscles.
"What is it?" Sam questioned, hovering anxiously beside her.
"Another muscle spasm -- they're definitely affecting his entire lower body now," she replied, cringing sympathetically when he uttered a pained groan and weakly tried to push her probing hands away. "I'm sorry, sir, I know it hurts."
"Is O'Neill's condition worsening?" Teal'c asked, his sudden appearance in the doorway startling his distracted teammates.
"It looks that way."
"But you're going to give him something, right?" Daniel inquired, occasionally able to see his friend's muscles rippling unnaturally from where he stood. "You said if he got worse..."
Janet sighed hesitantly as she took a step back to allow Sam to sit at Jack's side. "Realistically speaking, I don't know if I can. Should the medication interact with whatever is making him sick, there's virtually nothing I could do to stop a reaction if one started."
As her colleagues continued to converse in the background, the Captain reached out and rested a hand on her superior's arm in hopes of offering him some comfort. Recoiling slightly at her touch, Jack immediately curled himself into a tighter ball and tried burying his face deeper into the pillow. His apparent attempt to hide just about breaking her heart, Sam gathered his fisted hand into both of hers and gave it a small squeeze.
"Colonel, it's me - it's Carter. Can you hear me?" When he didn't respond, she sighed and began to gently rub his hand. "I'm sorry you're in pain, sir. I really wish there was something I could do to help." As she continued to rub his hand, she gradually became aware that something warm and sticky was slowly coating her palm. Lifting her hand into the light, she gasped when she found streaks of fresh blood on her skin. "Janet, he's bleeding."
The first thing that crossed the petite doctor's mind was that he'd reopened gash on his right hand, but all thoughts of this were scrubbed out the moment she saw the worry in her friend's eyes. "What is...? Oh my god..." As she approached his bedside, she felt more then a pang of clinical compassion when she saw what had happened. At some point during the worst of his pain, he had made such a tight fist of his left hand that his fingernails cut deeply into the soft flesh of his palm to create a raw, bleeding sore.
"Janet," Sam said, her voice breaking slightly. "Damn the risks."
The doctor frowned and turned her gaze back to Jack, her thoughts reeling over what to do next. In accepting her role as a physician, she had sworn to help people in need and to ultimately do them no harm. But now, as she watched her CO and close friend struggling against an unidentified foe, she found herself between the proverbial rock and hard place. By administering the drugs to help control his pain, she would be opening the door for a potentially fatal reaction, and that was unacceptable. However, by not doing anything at all, she was allowing someone she cared for to suffer needlessly all because she was afraid to take a calculated risk. She knew all too well that prolonged suffering was harmful to the human mind and body, and in some cases it could even lead to death. This was also unacceptable.
"All right," she replied quietly and ducked out of the room to get her gear.
"Just hang on, Jack," Daniel said, kneeling down beside him as they waited for her to return. "We're all right here with you, okay?"
The older man nodded but made no attempt to look up. He was still in a tremendous amount of pain as his muscles continued to spasm and seize, making him wish for nothing more than the welcoming refuge that only unconsciousness would provide. But for some cruel reason, its beckoning pull would not come.
Janet returned a moment later with a loaded syringe clutched in her hands. "I want to warn you guys that I have no idea how he's going to react to this. You might want to move back." When neither of her friends made any attempt to move away, she sighed and slowly began introducing the drug through her superior's IV line.
At first nothing seemed to happen. Jack remained tightly curled up with his face hidden deeply within the pillow under his head. Several tense moments passed before they could see that the medication was starting to work, his tense body gradually beginning to relax as the severe pain was reduced to a dull ache.
"That's it, Jack," Daniel said as his colleague gave a shuddering sigh. "Just let it help."
"Is his reaction favorable, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c asked, watching attentively as she timed his pulse.
"So far, so good," she said, feeling the rapid but steady throbbing beneath her calibrated fingers. "Can I have some help moving him to his back?"
Trusting the supporting hands of his teammates, Jack gave no resistance as they carefully repositioned him on the mattress.
"He's been crying..." Sam muttered, a knot instantly forming in her throat when she saw the distinct trails of moisture leading from his dark brown eyes. "Colonel, I am so sorry..." she said, gently wiping the sweat and tears from his face. It was the first time in the several years she had been with SG-1 that she'd seen her CO break down, and it was beyond painful for her to see.
Seemingly unaware of the sorry, somber people surrounding him, Jack sniffed and blinked heavily a few times as he began to succumb to the drugs flowing through his body. "I'm tired..." he uttered in a quiet voice.
"Go to sleep, Colonel," the doctor said with a reassuring smile. "Everything's going to be okay."
With just enough energy left to nod, he shut his eyes and allowed himself to drift off, vaguely hearing Janet's final urgent comment to the others.
"We got very lucky this time. We have to get him out of here..."
Although it was nearly midnight, Sam found it difficult to sleep. Sitting against one of the smooth, slightly slimy walls of the shuttle's bridge, she worked diligently on trying to recreate the drawing she had made earlier of what she hoped would be their ticket home. Surrounded by a an odd assortment of materials, including several lengthy pieces of wire, gator clamps, a long metal bar, and some rubber tubing, she was attempting to make what would become a path for the extra energy stored within the DHD to travel out of and into a more stable capacitor.
Sighing quietly and looking around the room, she spied Janet's still form curled up in a sleeping bag not far from the door. Teal'c was near by, seated in one of the pilot's chairs deep in a state of meditation. Once Jack had been declared stable, they had agreed on a three-hour rotation schedule that would keep someone awake and at his side at all times. Even though he had initially tolerated the drugs well, the small doctor became concerned when she found he was much harder to rouse than he should have been. As a precaution, she had ordered his vitals to be taken and recorded every 15 minutes, as they would be the first indicators of trouble.
They had decided to use the bridge as their sleeping quarters, wanting to afford their leader as much quiet and privacy as possible. Daniel had first watch, then she, Teal'c, and finally Janet. It made for a long night for everyone, but there would be no complaints, as they all knew the man they were watching would readily do the same for them if the need ever arose.
Turning back to her work, Sam carefully rechecked the half dozen or so lengths of wire she had been splicing together, essentially creating a durable, homemade cable. Satisfied there were no breaks along the entire 12-foot length, she picked up the role of rubber tubing she had borrowed from Janet's supplies and began to slowly slide the crude cable into it.
Allowing her mind to wander as she worked, the Captain couldn't help but mull over the events of the past 36 hours. The entire mission seemed to be a wash; their string of bad luck having started the moment they stepped through the Gate when lightening struck the DHD. Although the storm was dampening their spirits, it was the slow, steady decline of the Colonel that had them all on edge, especially since they still had no idea what was making him so sick. All they knew was that he had taken a sudden turn for the worst soon after injuring himself on a mysterious artifact, an artifact that bore the symbol of an allegedly well-revered Goa'uld.
Well revered by her servants or not...she was still a Goa'uld. Her possible involvement with this place can only add up to one thing: no good... she thought, feeding the remaining few inches of the wiring through the gum colored tubing.
Once completed, Sam selected one of the gator clamps from the pile on the floor and began connecting it to one end of the makeshift cable. She knew her plan was a long shot, and was quite certain it wouldn't work as well as they needed it to. Her plan was to transfer the extra energy in the DHD through the cable and into the battery cells of the damaged FRED, assuming they were still intact. She was well aware of the dangers involved, but was mostly concerned that there would be a back flow of energy, which if strong enough, could cause irreparable damages to the Stargate itself. Plus the fact she was working with less than adequate equipment that had been scrounged from around the ship didn't ease her mind any.
Looking down at the homemade jumper cable in her hands, her thoughts wandered back to the Colonel and how much it had hurt to find him in tears. Seeing him in pain had greatly shaken them all, and served to compound the need to get home even more. And if her plan to get the DHD running safely didn't work...
I'll have to make it work then... she thought with certainty as she snatched up another gator clamp and began fastening it to the opposite end of the cable. Because "ifs" just aren't acceptable in this situation...
Caught in the restless state of being half asleep and half awake, Janet rolled over in her sleeping bag with an inward sigh. She knew part of her problem was that she'd never been off world overnight before. Added to that were the howling storm and dank, cramped conditions of the alien ship, creating an all around difficult situation. But she realized there was more contributing to her insomnia than simply being uncomfortable. She was worried about the Colonel's worsening condition, and the many `what ifs' they'd face if Sam couldn't get the DHD functioning again.
Rolling over on the hard, damp floor once again, the doctor tried ordering herself to relax. To her amusement, she actually began to feel drowsy and would have drifted off to sleep if a new sound in the room hadn't caught her attention. Slowly opening her eyes, she immediately recognized the large form beside her. "Teal'c?"
"I am sorry to awaken you, Doctor Fraiser," he said in a hushed whisper.
As the doctor sat up and stretched the knots from her stiff body, she glanced around the room to find both Sam and Daniel comfortably curled up in their own sleeping bags. Shaking her head at how easy they made it look, she turned her attention back to the concerned Jaffa. "That's okay. What's wrong?"
"O'Neill requires your immediate assistance."
His response causing an instant knot to form deep in her stomach, Janet quickly unzipped her bag and hurried to her feet. Carefully picking her way over and around her sleeping friends, she felt all traces of sleep dissolve from her mind when she heard a painful, choked cough coming from the bunk area. Rushing into the compact sleeping quarters, she found Jack perched on the edge of the bed with one bandaged hand pressed to his chest, and the other clutching at the mattress for support. Even in the dim lighting, she could see that his face was tight with pain and there was an obvious tremor shaking his entire body.
"Colonel O'Neill?" she asked, grabbing her small gear bag from the floor and sitting down beside him. Brushing a hand across his sweat-dampened forehead, Janet frowned when she discovered it to be significantly warmer than before. "Sir? Can you hear me?"
The older man didn't respond, seemingly oblivious to her presence and touch.
"He has been awake for several minutes. It is when he began to draw insignificant breaths that I summoned you," Teal'c explained sitting on the bunk opposite his friends.
"It's a good thing you did," she said, retrieving her stethoscope from the depths of her bag and settling it in her ears. Pushing the sleeping bag from around his shoulders, she rested the cool metal against his skin and listened closely to the short, rapid gasps he was taking. "Oh yeah...we've definitely got something going on here."
"What do you believe it to be?"
"I'm not sure just..." Her response was cut off as her patient suddenly began to cough, a horrible, strained choking sound filling her ears as he fought for enough air. In all her years of practicing medicine, she had never heard sounds quite like what she was hearing now, and this was something that worried her greatly. Placing a reassuring hand on his back, she continued to listen, trying to figure out what was going on. It seemed that each time he tried to inhale, a spasm from somewhere within his chest would abruptly force all the air from his lungs, leaving him breathless.
"Janet, what's going on?" Sam asked sleepily from the doorway, having been awakened by all the commotion.
"Sam, go to my gear - there's some mini oxygen tanks in there. Bring me one and a mask - they're in the same compartment. Hurry," the doctor ordered, fairly certain that her CO wasn't getting enough oxygen on his own. "Sir, listen to me. I know this is frightening, but you need to calm down."
Barely aware of the small woman beside him, Jack coughed and gasped again, his neck muscles stretched tight in effort. It felt like he was having the wind painfully knocked out of his lungs with each breath he drew, never quite getting the chance to fully recover before it happened again.
"Janet, what is it?" Sam demanded as she burst back into the room with the supplies she had asked for.
"The spasms have spread to his chest," she replied, unraveling the clear hose that was attached to the mask and connecting it to the small, olive green tank. "Turn the air up all the way." Once certain the oxygen flowing through the mask was unimpeded, she reached up and positioned it over the Colonel's mouth and nose before giving his arm a sharp squeeze to get his attention. "Colonel, I need you to take as deep of breaths as possible. I know it's hard, but you have to try. Deep breaths, come on, sir."
Biting at her lip anxiously, Sam could see that her CO was trying his hardest to do as he was told, but his body simply refused to let him.
It didn't take long for the doctor's trained eye to see that he still wasn't getting enough air and she was on her feet heading towards the door, pausing only to address her apprehensive friend. "Stay with him. Talk to him. I'm going to get another shot."
Sam was unsure what to say as she hesitantly sat down on the bed beside him, finding that his choked gasps were even harder to bear up close. Taking one of his bandaged hands into her own, she was shaken to see that his nail beds were tinted pale blue. "Colonel, listen to me. You're going to be fine. You've got to hang on though, all right? Sir?"
To Jack, time seemed to have radically slowed down. He was fairly certain that it was Sam clutching at his hand, or else Teal'c's fingernails were in desperate need of a good trimming. Whoever it was, their words were coming to him all garbled and distorted as if he were hearing them from underwater. His chest felt as if it were on fire, and each strangled breath he managed to take merely added to the intensity of the hot, smoldering flames. Only dimly aware that he was beginning to lose consciousness, he never knew he was falling forward until he heard Sam shout and Teal'c's strong arms wrapping around him.
"You must be calm, my friend," the Jaffa said quietly, sitting down and allowing Jack to lean against his wide shoulder for support.
"I'm taking a risk by doubling the dose I gave him last time," Janet warned as she returned to Jack's side and quickly fed the contents of the syringe she held into his IV. "But we need to get him breathing properly again and fast." Slipping on her stethoscope, she began listening for the slightest sounds of improvement.
Still clinging to her superior's hand, Sam looked up to find Daniel standing in the doorway, his mouth slightly agape as he watched the commotion through sleep blurred eyes.
"That's it, easy, sir," Janet crooned as she finally began to hear his hitching, choked gasps gradually being replaced with shaky gulps for air. "Slow, deep breaths, Colonel - that's right." Several tense minutes passed as she waited for him to calm down even further, allowing time for the drugs to work their magic. Once satisfied that he was out of immediate danger, she took a step back to find his eyes tightly shut and sweat rolling down his face and neck. "Colonel? Can you hear me?"
Only the sounds of grumbling thunder and driving rain could be heard as the cramped room fell silent, the team anxiously waiting to see if their leader would be all right. When a response didn't come, the doctor began to gently wipe the moisture from his face with the damp cloth they had been keeping close by. By the time she had finished, he seemed to be nearly asleep, leaning heavily against Teal'c's arm. "Colonel?"
"...Janet..." he uttered in a mere whisper, his dark eyes finally slitting open to meet her concerned gaze.
With a kindhearted smile, she reached up and smoothed his damp hair from his face. "That was scary, wasn't it?" she asked, her tone sounding more like she was comforting a sick, frightened child rather than a battle honed USAF Colonel.
He nodded and swallowed hard behind the fogged up oxygen mask, his eyes growing heavy once again. "...sleepy..."
"I'll bet you are," she said lightly, turning to look over her shoulder. "Daniel, go grab my sleeping bag for me, will you?"
"I-Is he going to be all right?" Sam asked, just as worried about his passive behavior as she was what he'd gone through.
"I hope so," Janet replied quietly, standing from her crouch as Daniel appeared with her sleeping bag. "All right, Teal'c, I need you to help Sam support the Colonel so Daniel can slide the sleeping bag under his shoulders as we lay him back. Hopefully by keeping him propped up a bit, he'll be able to breathe easier. Now, he's pretty much out of it, but I still want this to be as smooth and painless as possible. Okay?"
The group nodded in understanding, and once Daniel was ready with the sleeping bag, the process began and ended without a hitch.
"Well done, guys, thanks," she said sincerely as she straightened out the tangled IV line before double-checking the placement of the cushion under his back. He had remained quiet the entire time, and now seemed to be resting quite comfortably in his semi-reclined position. "I want to sit with him until that tank runs out of air to be sure the medication doesn't depress his breathing too much. Then I think we need to talk."
Teal'c settled himself on the adjacent bunk. "I shall remain as well."
Knowing there was no use in arguing, the doctor simply sighed and turned to the others who were obviously just as hesitant about leaving Jack as Teal'c was. She was saddened to find Sam still reassuringly rubbing his hand, and Daniel's face as somber and blank as a slate. "He's doing all right, you guys. He just needs to rest. Why don't you two go get some coffee started while I finish up in here? I think we could all use a little lift."
"Yeah, sure," Daniel uttered, turning to leave the room. When his friend didn't follow, he reached out and wrapped a sympathetic arm around her shoulders. "Come on, Sam. It'll keep your mind busy."
Afraid her voice would crack if she tried using it, she simply nodded and replaced her CO's hand on the blanket beside him. With a final long look at his pale, fevered face, she allowed herself to be led out of the room, feeling as though her heart was in her throat.
Taking a moment to breathe in the rich, refreshing aroma that was coming from the coffee Daniel was busy preparing, Sam actually felt a tiny bit of tension fading away. It was early - just past 0430 - but no one was even considering going back to sleep. Once Janet was been certain that Jack was out of immediate danger, the group gathered on the bridge to talk.
Their discussion wasn't pleasant either. The doctor informed them that the Colonel's symptoms were indeed worsening, and that his most recent episode had affected his diaphragm and lungs like a severe, uncontrollable case of hiccups. Although she'd been able to stabilize his breathing with a fairly low dose of muscle relaxants, she feared the spasms could easily spread to his heart next. And while she could help him breathe, she wouldn't be able to keep his heart going for very long.
The decision to go through with Sam's plan of draining the DHD was unanimous. She and Teal'c were to start out for the Gate as soon as they could, while Daniel and Janet remained back at the ship with Jack.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Daniel asked skeptically, watching as Sam carefully stowed the homemade jumper cable into her pack. Even in its finished form, the crude object truly looked bizarre. The gum-colored cable itself was about 15 feet long, with a rusted gator clamp attached to each end. One of these clamps bit firmly onto a 2 foot long corroded metal bar that she had found while searching through the ship's engine room.
"No," she replied, pulling a rain cover over her pack. "But it just has to, Daniel. We can't let ourselves think otherwise."
Daniel bit his lip nervously. "Right."
"I am ready to embark when you are, Captain Carter," Teal'c affirmed, stepping out of the crew's quarters already in his raingear and firmly gripping his staff weapon.
"Good - just one more minute and we can leave," she said as she began to pull on her own gear, allowing Daniel to help her into the equipment laden pack. Everyone froze when a sudden crash of thunder made the ground under their feet tremble, the storm seemingly warning them not to leave the relative safety of the ship.
"I really hate asking you guys to go out in this. It seems to be getting worse..."
The others turned to find the small doctor standing in the doorway, her face clearly showing her unease.
"Do not worry, Doctor Fraiser. Captain Carter's data has shown a break in the storm. It should arrive just as we reach the Stargate. We shall be fine," Teal'c assured confidently.
"Are you sure you guys don't need me?"
"I think we'll be okay, Daniel," Sam replied, quickly checking over her night vision goggles before sliding them on. "Besides, Janet might need help with the Colonel if he wakes up. Okay, Teal'c, you ready to face the music?"
The Jaffa frowned. "Music? I do not recall having heard any sound that resembles music since our arrival."
The three humans exchanged an amused glance before Daniel finally took pity on the confused man and slapped him on the shoulder. "It's just another Earth expression, Teal'c. Don't worry about it."
"I will not."
The scientist smiled and turned to escort his friends to the door. "Well, good luck, you guys."
"And please be careful," Janet added.
Sam nodded and opened the door, the strong winds nearly taking it out of her hands. "We will. Keep the lights on for us!" Holding her hat to her head, she stepped out into the darkness with Teal'c close behind.
Ignoring the cold rain and wind that was blowing through the open door, Daniel and Janet watched in silence as the advancing darkness of the storm appeared to rise up and callously swallow their two friends whole.
A couple hours later found Daniel seated on the bridge with his notebook open and the cargo box containing the relic at his side. Janet had agreed to let him sketch the glyphs as long as he promised to only look and not touch. He was nearly finished his drawings when he heard her voice coming from the next room and he looked up to find her seated at Jack's side. Curious, he set his work down and wandered over to the open doorway just as she was tucking away her penlight and quietly calling her patient's name.
"Can you squeeze my fingers, sir?" she asked, lightly gripping his hands with her own. Although a little slow to respond, Jack finally closed his hands around hers, the doctor frowning when she felt how faint it was. "That was a good try, Colonel. You can go back to sleep now."
"How is he?" Daniel asked, watching as she tucked the blanket in around him.
"He's weak but stable. His blood pressure's lower than I'd like to see it, although, I'm not sure if it's being caused by his condition or the medication I gave him," she replied, increasing the drip speed on his IV slightly.
Daniel entered the room and sat down on the neighboring bunk. "Do you think this is still neurological?"
"I'm not sure what to think at this point, Daniel, especially after that surprise discovery we made involving that artifact of yours," she explained almost sadly. "His symptoms do suggest the presence of a neurological irritant, but without the proper tests, it's still only a guess." She paused to let out a discouraged sigh before changing the subject. "How about you? How's your research coming?"
The archeologist shrugged. "All right. I've just been doing some more thinking on the stuff that came out of the artifact."
"Oh? What about it?" Janet asked, wringing out a damp cloth before lightly brushing it across her patient's overly warm face and neck.
"Well, I've been running with the assumption that this is what's making Jack sick, and it just doesn't make any sense. I mean, why would anyone ever put something so dangerous inside of a religious artifact?"
"Then maybe it's not a religious artifact. Maybe it's a weapon or another means of defense."
Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. "Yeah, I've been thinking about that too. It just all seemed to make sense though: an altar erected to house a culture's central item of worship..."
"The worship of a Goa'uld."
"Yeah - Good point."
As a moment of silence fell in between them, both found their attention drawn to the sleeping man. Although his expression remained pained, he was totally unaware of the current struggles his team was facing, and for that they could almost envy him.
The quiet becoming uncomfortable, Daniel cleared his throat and checked his watch. "Sam and Teal'c should be at the Gate by now. Do you think they made it all right?"
"Sam said they'd contact us or return if they ran into problems. I guess no news is good news in this situation. And Teal'c was right - the storm has let up a bit, so at least they've got that working for them. They're probably doing just fine."
He nodded absently in agreement, still feeling guilty for not going with them to help out. But he understood why he was asked to stay behind, and knew if he had gone and something had happened that the doctor couldn't handle on her own; he would never be able to forgive himself.
Besides... he thought. Sam is going to need all the muscle power she can get out there - Teal'c can give her that. I'd probably just get in the way...
After concluding his private pity party, Daniel looked up to find his friend sitting with her eyes closed and head drooping. "Janet?"
Startled, the doctor's head snapped up, her gaze automatically falling on Jack who hadn't moved. "What...?"
"Everything's all right - you just dozed off."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Daniel..." she uttered, her face flushing slightly with embarrassment. "I just got listening to the rain and that's always put me right to sleep..."
"Listen, why don't you take a break? Get some coffee and something warm to eat. I don't mind sitting with Jack," the young man offered seeing how tired his friend was.
The offer was tempting. "Are you sure? I don't want to interrupt your work..."
He grinned, recalling what Jack had said to him earlier about the ship. "Bah. Those things have been here for what? A couple thousand years? I think they can wait a little longer."
Janet returned the smile as she stood, reaching out to give his shoulder a small squeeze. "Thank you, Daniel. Give a shout if you need me, okay?"
"You bet." Watching as she left the room for some time alone, Daniel leaned back against the wall and folded his hands behind his head. After a moment of thought, he withdrew his journal from his pocket and began recording all that he and the team had seen, done, and discovered over the past three days -- three days, he knew, that none of them would ever forget.
Although the rain had momentarily stopped, the storm still grumbled lazily overhead, its dark clouds casting an occasional deadly bolt of electricity toward the soggy ground below. A stiff, chilling wind whipped through foliage-laden trees, sending a spray of cold rainwater cascading through the air. In the past just two days, the relatively firm ground the team had found on their arrival had turned to sloppy mud, turning even the simplest tasks into a struggle.
Captain Carter stood on the Gate platform with her back against the wind, watching as Teal'c pushed with all his might against the FRED, literally going nowhere fast. Each time he attempted to move the wrecked vehicle closer to the DHD, the wheels would abruptly lock and sink deeper into the soupy ground. It was only after an intense 45-minute battle that the large man gave up, frowning at the few meager feet he had managed to advance.
"I am sorry, Captain Carter, but I do not believe I can move this vehicle any further."
Grimacing as she stepped off the platform and into the chilly mud, she quickly surveyed the distance between the FRED and DHD. It would be close, but she was fairly certain her jumper cable would just span the gap. "It's all right, Teal'c. I think this will do. Get the battery door off and I'll be right back with the cable."
As she sloshed over to where she'd set down her pack, Sam couldn't help but feel relieved that they'd actually found the FRED's battery cells intact. The wormhole had cleanly shorn off the last quarter of the vehicle where most of the supplies were kept, but all of the machine's integral bits had been spared. So far everything seemed to be working in their favor -- all she had to do now was get her homemade jumper cable to cooperate and they could be on their way home within a few short hours. And, in the Colonel's case, time was of the essence.
Uncoiling the cable as she slowly picked her way back to the work site, she found that Teal'c had been able to pry the FRED's battery door off without much trouble. With the `no guts, no glory' cliche running through her mind, she began to search for the best place to attach the rusty clamp.
"Have you preformed this task before?" Teal'c asked, waiting patiently beside her.
"Well, I used to have to jump start my brother's van when my dad wasn't around so... that must count for something," she said, glancing up at him to find a frown of uncertainty frozen on his face. "I'm pretty sure we'll both be fine, Teal'c."
Although not appearing to be completely convinced, the large man nodded just the same.
"Okay...I think I've got it..." Sam muttered as she quickly rechecked the cable's connection to the battery, mindful that the storm overhead was becoming active once again. "If this works, the DHD is going to start dumping all its energy into these battery cells. We have to be careful not to drain it completely, or we could wind up being stuck here for a very long time."
"How will we know when the Dial Home Device becomes safe to use?"
Satisfied with the connection, she began slowly backing up toward the DHD with the other end of the cable in her hands, carefully stretching it out as she went. "According to my calculations, a seven second power transfer should drain away enough of the excess energy without purging the DHD completely. But it's all based on estimation so we still need to be cautious when we first approach it."
Pausing only to collect a short, stocky branch from the soggy ground, she took a few steadying breaths as she came to a stop several feet from the DHD. "You'll want to stand back," she called over her shoulder. "I have no idea how the cable or those battery cells are going to react to this much energy going through them."
Waiting until Teal'c had disappeared into the dense forest for cover, the Captain took a moment to size up the distance between her and her target. "...Please let this work..." Puffing out a final anxious sigh, she heaved the metal rod toward the DHD and bolted for protection behind the nearby MALP, all in one fluid motion. There was a spectacular explosion of fiery blue sparks as it made contact with the circular faceplate, the terrific surge of electricity causing both the bar and attached cable to shudder and jerk.
Oblivious to the fact that she was kneeling in cold mud, Sam tried to ignore the sizzling and popping in the background as she watched the seconds rapidly tick down on her timer. The moment it reached the five second mark, she was on her feet and taking aim with the branch she had collected earlier. With a determined grunt, she threw the piece of wood as hard as she could at the dancing metal rod, knocking it clear of the smoking faceplate. Momentarily stunned that she had actually made the shot, she jumped when she looked up to find Teal'c looming beside her.
"That was most impressive, Captain Carter," he said with a slight twinkle in his eyes.
"Let's not celebrate just yet," she replied, hesitantly making her way towards the quietly ticking DHD. Leery about secondary shocks, she purposely avoided the smoking remains of her homemade cable as she retrieved another stick and tossed it against the randomly sparking faceplate. To her relief, nothing happened. "Well, that answers the first question..."
Satisfied there was no longer any danger, Teal'c reached out to touch the device.
"Teal'c, wait!" she exclaimed, grabbing his muscular arm just as his hand was about to make contact. "There could still be a fairly strong charge..."
"Do not worry. My symbiote will protect me from the effects of minor electrocution," the large man assured her.
Reluctantly releasing his arm, she took a few steps back as she watched him confidently touch each of the seven symbols for Earth, ending with the ruby colored dome in the center. "The Dial Home Device is approachable once again."
Realizing that the first part of her plan had actually worked, Sam suddenly felt like the entire weight of the moon had been lifted off her shoulders. She knew the victory could be short lived, however, if she had been off in her calculations and had accidentally drained the DHD of too much energy.
Only one way to find out... she thought, rummaging around in her pockets for the DHD pieces that had been blown free during the initial strike. As she set to work reassembling the device, she became aware of an odd ticking sound coming from somewhere behind her. Doing her best to ignore it as she continued sliding pieces into place, she began to get concerned when a slightly acidic smell found its way to her nose. "Teal'c, do you...?" She turned around to find the Jaffa looking curiously at the FRED, a small amount of smoke coming from the battery compartment.
"Should the battery cells be behaving in that manner?" he asked, referring to the ticking that had begun to increase in volume and speed.
"No..." she uttered, watching as blue sparks began to spurt out of the small compartment, filling the air with a thick, black smoke. It was when the ticking stopped that her blood suddenly ran cold. "Teal'c, I think we should..."
Her words had been unnecessary, however, as Teal'c was already herding her toward the DHD for cover. No sooner had he shielded her with his body did the battery cells violently explode, sending a spray of burning metal and flaming sparks showering down on top of them. Her senses greatly overwhelmed by the resulting explosion, Sam didn't know how long she had clung to the stone pedestal for dear life before realizing that Teal'c was trying to get her attention.
"Are...damaged, Captain...?" he asked, though most of his words were lost in the loud ringing between her ears.
While giving herself a moment to recover, she quickly determined that she was still in one piece and accepted Teal'c's helping hand to get to her feet. "I-I'm fine. Thanks. You?"
"I am uninjured as well," he replied, his skin only showing a few minor burns and cuts from falling debris.
"Good, I'm glad to hear...oh wow..." she uttered as she turned to see the small crater where the FRED had been only moments before. By the look of things, the worst of the explosion had luckily gone straight down, creating a hole about the size of a child's swimming pool in the mud. "I guess those cells weren't made to take that kind of charge after all."
"It would appear not."
Smiling meekly at his seriousness, she started to collect the pieces of the DHD she had dropped in her haste to take cover. "Come on. Help me get this thing back together so we can get the Colonel home and feeling better."
Inclining his head, the Jaffa joined his young friend on the ground and began helping her search, the still smoking crater behind them all but forgotten.
Time was moving slowly back at the abandoned shuttle, each minute seeming to take an eternity to finally pass. They had been waiting for over three hours to hear back from their friends, eager to know if the Captain's plan had been a success or not. Failure at this point meant an almost certain death for the team's leader, something neither of them wanted to even consider as an outcome for the mission.
Carefully balancing her cup of coffee on her knee, Janet reestablished her grip with Jack's bandaged hand as he began to grow uneasy once again. His restlessness had started about an hour after his teammates had left for the Gate, and she and Daniel had been doing their best to reassure him back to sleep. It was difficult for the small doctor to hear him calling out to his absent team, sometimes shouting orders at them to get to the Gate or dial out before the imagined Jaffa patrol caught up.
"You're all right, sir. SG-1 is safe," she said quietly, squeezing his hand when she felt it twitch beneath her light grasp.
The older man groaned and shifted restlessly under the blankets. "...They're almost on us...dial us home...Daniel...dial us...no!" Without warning, Jack shot straight up in the narrow bed, his head roughly striking the underside of the low hanging upper bunk. Seemingly unaffected by the abrupt and undoubtedly painful impact, his dark eyes began wildly searching around the dimly lit room for the horrors he'd just been battling in his dream.
Nearly leaping off the bed in fright, Janet completely forgot about her precariously balanced coffee mug as she automatically moved to restrain her panicking CO. "Easy, Colonel. You're all right!"
Recoiling from the doctor's touch, Jack met her anxious gaze with wide, unfocused eyes. "Where...?"
"We're off world, sir. We've taken shelter from a storm on an abandoned shuttle. You've been..."
"Daniel?" he asked, her words clearly not sinking in. "Where's Daniel?"
"He's in the other room trying to reach Sam and Teal'c on the radio..."
"She's gone with Teal'c to the Stargate to try and get the DHD working so we can go home."
"Home..." he uttered, looking at her with a perplexed expression. "Daniel?"
Janet hung her head and sighed at his repeated question, wondering if he really was incapable of comprehending what she was saying, or he just wasn't listening. When she looked up again, she found that he was already beginning to tire; his lean form trembled visibly and beaded sweat rolled freely down his face. "He's still in the other room. Now come on, sir. I want you to lie back down." When he didn't respond to her request, she began to slowly push him back towards the pillows, surprised when he offered up no resistance.
Once he was back in a semi reclined position, the doctor took a moment to pass her fingers through his silvering, regulation length hair to see if he had done any serious damage when he'd struck his head on the upper bunk. Fairly certain he'd have nothing more than a nasty bruise, she picked up the damp cloth and began wiping the perspiration from his skin. "Colonel," she said, watching his face closely. "Are you in any pain?"
She smiled warmly. "That's good. Do you think you can try to go back to sleep now?"
With a small nod, Jack allowed his increasingly heavy eyelids to drop shut as the pull of sleep became prevalent once again.
Confident her patient was settled, Janet carefully drew up his blankets before preparing to tackle the sticky mess that her coffee had made of the floor. Standing with a sigh, she began scouting around for something to wipe up the puddle with when Daniel came bounding into the room.
"Janet, they did it! They fixed...oh, what happened?" he asked, stopping just short of the brown mess.
Having located a wad of paper towels, the doctor dropped to her hands and knees. "The Colonel caught me off guard when he woke up suddenly. Good thing it wasn't too hot, huh?"
The young man nodded as he knelt to help her clean. "Is Jack okay?"
"His fever's causing some pretty vivid dreams. It's to be expected," she explained, watching as his face went somber. "Now, what were you saying about Sam and Teal'c?"
Daniel's eyes widened with excitement once again. "Oh! They did it. Sam and Teal'c got the DHD working again! They've already contacted Earth and are on their way back here now to help with Jack. Sam said we should start packing up the gear and to leave behind whatever we can to lighten the load."
"That's wonderful news. I knew she would figure it out if she just didn't think about it too hard."
"They should be back within a couple of hours," he announced after a quick look at his watch. "Maybe we could have the gear all packed and ready by the time they arrive."
"Sounds good. You want to start out there and I'll get my stuff together in here? I'd like to stay close to the Colonel in case he needs anything."
"You're the boss, Doc," Daniel said with a smirk, before hurrying out of the room.
Shaking her head at his remark, Janet started looking around for a bag in which to stow her gear when she heard Jack groan softly in his sleep and roll over under the covers. Going to his side, she gently rubbed his arm until she felt him start to relax under her touch. "Just hang tight, sir. We're getting ready to go home." Then, adding silently to herself: And not a moment too soon...
It was just past 0800 when SG-1 began to put the finishing touches on their packing, the mood on the ship a bit more upbeat now that the prospect of going home had become a reality. Sam and Teal'c had returned to the ship to find most of the work done, and Jack comfortably dressed in a clean uniform and rain poncho. Now, quietly seated at his side, Sam watched his pale face twitch and frown as he dozed, his head resting heavily on her shoulder.
"How's he doing?" Janet asked, coming into the room with a thermal blanket tucked under her arm.
"I think he's dreaming."
"He's been having some pretty vivid ones lately, that's for sure," the doctor replied, realizing that if it wasn't for his bandaged hands or haggard expression, he would have looked right at home resting against her friend's shoulder.
"Doctor Fraiser," Teal'c said, his large form appearing in the doorway. "Daniel Jackson and I are ready to embark."
"Did you get the field stretcher figured out all right? I know I didn't give you guys much help..."
"It has been assembled per your instructions, Captain Carter. I believe you will be..." The Jaffa's words were lost as a sudden crash of thunder caused the small ship to shudder and tremble all around them. "...most satisfied with our effort."
"That's good because it sounds like the storm's regrouping. We should get moving," she said, a look of urgency on her face.
"All right, let's wake him up - I don't want him to panic when we move him."
Although content with the thought of supporting her CO for as long as necessary, Sam began lightly rubbing his arm to slowly bring him around. "Colonel? You awake?"
"Hmm?" the dozing man uttered without lifting his head.
Janet knelt in front of him and picked up his hand. "I'm sorry to bother you, sir, but Sam got the DHD working and we're getting ready to go home. Teal'c's here to give you a lift into the next room, okay?"
Jack simply nodded, and offered no resistance as the blanket was wrapped around his shoulders and he was moved away from his second's side. It was only when he felt himself being drawn into Teal'c's strong arms that he opened his eyes and uneasily looked around.
"You're okay, Colonel," Sam assured him as she fell into step behind the large man. "Teal'c's got you."
Covering the distance between the two rooms in several ground-eating strides, Teal'c slowly crouched down and gently settled his friend on the awaiting field stretcher they had just assembled.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel greeted, kneeling down to fasten the stretcher's safety belts around his body. "How you feeling?"
"Terrific..." he mumbled, dropping a hand over his eyes to shield them against the bright lights of the bridge.
"Okay, guys, let's get our packs on and get out of here," Sam said once her superior was situated and ready for travel.
As the others moved to get their gear, Janet began tucking a waterproof tarp around the pile of blankets covering Jack. "You comfortable, sir?"
The small doctor smiled and smoothed the hair away from his face. "Well, all I want you to do is just lay back, relax, and try to enjoy the ride, okay? It's going to be a long trip back." She watched as he nodded and settled back into the padding of the stretcher with a small sigh.
"Is he okay?" Sam asked, her friend's backpack at her feet.
"Yeah, he just needs to rest," she replied, looking around at the small shuttle for the final time. They were leaving very little behind: some bulky clothes, basic camping gear, food, and a few broken artifacts Daniel had been willing to part with. Hefting her over stuffed backpack from the floor with a grunt, she allowed Sam to help her into it while the others lifted Jack's stretcher from the floor with ease. "We ready to go?"
The Captain looked around at her slicker clad friends and nodded. "I'll take point if you're okay watching our six? I think it'd be best if Daniel and Teal'c stayed between us with the Colonel."
"Yes, ma'am," she answered with a small grin.
Sam gave her a wink as she headed for the door. "Good. Now let's go home."
SG-1 had been walking for just over an hour when Sam called for a break, the rough, sloppy terrain beginning to take its toll on everyone. The trip was taking far longer than anyone had anticipated as the storm-caused washouts and fallen debris kept forcing the team to seek alternate routes through the dense forest.
"I think this is the driest ground we've seen all morning..." Daniel puffed as he and Teal'c slowly lowered the stretcher to the wet, but puddle free ground. Moving beneath the shelter of a nearby tree, he immediately shed his pack and began trying to stretch out the overworked muscles in his back and arms.
"Indeed. The storm has caused significant damage since our previous journey through this location," Teal'c agreed, observing the vast number of fallen willow trees around them.
After leaving the men in charge of retrieving the group's supply of energy bars and extra water from the gear, the two women set to work checking on the condition of their superior. Carefully peeling back the moisture-laden tarp, both were relieved to find Jack sound asleep, his features actually calm and relaxed.
"Guess he's doing okay," Sam whispered over the quiet patter of the rain.
"It looks that way, doesn't it?" Janet concurred, withdrawing a small equipment bag from under her poncho. "I still want to do a quick check of his vitals - just to be sure. Why don't you see how the others are doing?"
With a nod, the Captain stood and walked over to where her teammates were resting on several large rocks that were sheltered by a bushy tree. She found Daniel occupied with massaging his palms, while Teal'c sat beside him in a meditative posture, his dark eyes closed.
"How's Jack?" the young archeologist inquired when she dropped down on a rock next to his.
"Still asleep. Janet's checking him over right now," she replied, accepting the canteen he offered her. "How are you two holding up?"
"I am prepared to resume my duties whenever you wish to proceed, Captain Carter," the Jaffa never opening his eyes as he spoke.
Daniel self-consciously stuffed his hands under his coat when her gaze came to him. "I'm just a little sore, but I'll be...hey! Ow!"
Not buying his act, Sam grabbed his wrist and tugged his hand out for her to see. "Not with hands like that you won't," she said, relinquishing the squirming man's hand once she'd had a good look at the red, blistering skin. "I'll help Teal'c with the Colonel - you lead for a while. Okay?"
"Fine," he uttered reluctantly, sliding over on his rock to give Janet room to sit.
"Thanks," she said, dropping down heavily beside him and taking the canteen and energy bar that was passed to her. "You guys holding up all right?"
"Daniel's hands are a little raw, but other than that, I think we're all just wet, tired, and cold."
"What of O'Neill's condition?" Teal'c asked, finally joining in on the discussion.
"He's doing pretty good, actually," the doctor said, pausing for a drink to wash down a bite of her energy bar. "He's warm, fairly dry, and deep asleep. His vitals are all a little elevated, which is probably just a response from the stress of the trip. But overall, he doesn't seem to be any worse for wear than when we left the ship."
Relieved to hear his friend was holding his own, Daniel asked the question that was on everyone's mind. "How much further do we have left?"
"Well, assuming there are no more surprise washouts or too many fallen trees along the way, we should be at the Stargate in another mile, mile and a half. It shouldn't take too much..."
Her words were abruptly lost when the sky came to life, a jagged bolt of lightening piercing the dark clouds as a deafening crash of thunder assaulted their ears. Scrambling to get their raingear situated as the light rain suddenly became an icy deluge, all members of the team simultaneously decided it was time to get moving. Once everyone had struggled into their respective packs, Sam handed her weapon off to Daniel before taking up her new position at Jack's feet.
"Is he still asleep?" she asked, watching as the doctor gave him a final look over before drawing the rain tarp over his head.
"Out like a light," Janet replied, her tone doing nothing to indicate whether this was a good thing or not.
Giving her hands a final stretch, Sam knelt and wrapped her hands around the smooth padded handles of the field stretcher. "You ready, Teal'c?"
"I am," he affirmed as both lifted the litter from the ground with ease.
"Where to, Captain?" Daniel called playfully from the front, his arms resting across the butt of her weapon the way he'd seen Jack do for years.
"Well, like the Colonel says, "there's no place like home."
With a mock salute, the archeologist turned on his heel and pointed in the direction of the Stargate. "Next stop: Earth. Land of blue skies, green grasses, and most importantly, dry pants."
SG-1 was exhausted. They had been traveling nonstop for the past two hours, their progress significantly impeded by the steadily worsening storm that seethed around them. They were cold, soaking wet, and plumb worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally. A heavy silence had fallen between them not long after leaving the rest site, everyone deeply absorbed in their own thoughts, fears, and concerns for their downed leader.
This is totally my fault... Daniel thought wearily as he slowly led the team through the thick, boot sucking mud. If I had just accepted Jack's decision to stay at the Gate when it was disabled and waited for Earth to dial in, we wouldn't be going through all this. Why did I have to make such a big deal out of exploring those ruins? What did I possibly think that I could find there that was so important it couldn't wait?
He sighed and looked out through his foggy glasses at the seemingly endless forest that lay ahead. I wish I had never found that artifact - or whatever it turns out to be. And if something winds up happening to Jack...I don't know what I'm going to do. Nobody deserves something like this - especially not Jack. Sure, he can be a hard ass sometimes, but he can't help himself -- that's just who he is. He's helped me out so many times in the past...and all I do in return is keep making things more difficult for him. And I really screwed up this time...I'm sorry, Jack. I really am...
Not far from Daniel's lead position, Teal'c forged on at a steady pace, his arm muscles beginning to burn from bearing the weight of the be stretcher for so long. Although his face was as blank as a slate, he was deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the man whom he considered his brother. Jack was the first Tau'ri to ever trust him with his life, and for this the man had forever earned a special place in the Jaffa's large heart.
For all the good that O'Neill has done in his time, he does not deserve to suffer so. I want to believe he has the will to win this battle, but I fear Daniel Jackson may be correct --all of the Universe's will may not be enough to see my trusted friend through his sickness. I can only hope Doctor's Fraiser's healing abilities are able to restore his strength once again...and that O'Neill possesses enough strength to emerge victorious.
You must be strong, my brother... he silently urged. ...And know that even when the battle seems impossible, you will not be alone.
At the opposite end of the heavy stretcher, Captain Carter was lost deep in her own thoughts and misgivings. She was unsure how much more abuse her body could take as she struggled to keep up with Teal'c's brisk pace -- her arms, back, and legs beginning to feel like they were made of solid lead. It was when she began envisioning that her aching muscles were calling out "are we there yet?" in a childish voice that she realized just how tired and worn out she really was.
The Gate can't be much further...we've been at this for so long...too long. We should have had the Colonel back hours - no days ago. This wouldn't have even happened at all if I hadn't pushed recovering the UAV after he'd clearly made up his mind to stay with the disabled DHD. I overstepped my boundaries and this is what happens, he's the one who suffers. I'm sure Daniel feels he's responsible - and he shouldn't. He was just so eager to explore the ruins by the crash site...but who could blame him?
Readjusting her tiring grip on the stretcher, Sam grimaced as several of the blisters across her palm broke and began to bleed. She thought about changing positions with Daniel again, but immediately dismissed the idea as soon as it entered her mind. This is your job, not his...she told herself firmly. He's your CO, your superior--you helped get him into this mess, now buck it up, soldier, and get your man home.
She stopped her self-lecture when she realized there was more going on than just her feeling soldierly. The only thing that hurt her more than seeing her friend in so much pain was knowing there wasn't a thing she could do to make him better. She knew deep down that she couldn't expect herself to be able to fix everything - especially people. She also knew she was allowing her personal feelings for the Colonel to drive her actions and that was something she couldn't afford to let herself do. You're in charge now, Sam. Think with your head, not your heart. Yes, you care deeply for the man, but this is neither the time nor the place to let that affect your performance. There's nothing you can do for Jack right now other than get him home, and wearing yourself out with all this worrying isn't going to help...
Giving a quick check to the tracking device she had strapped around her wrist, she found they were just entering the last half-mile before the Gate. Oh, thank god...she thought, relief flooding through her aching body as the end of their journey was at last in sight. About to call out the good news to her friends, Sam's wide grin gradually faded when she noticed the movement beneath the tarp covering the stretcher. "Hey, Teal'c, Daniel, hold up a minute."
"What's going on?" Janet asked as she quickly closed the gap between her and the halted procession.
"I think he's awake - he just started moving around."
"Let's set him down," she instructed, unable to stop an apprehensive knot from forming in the pit of her stomach. I knew things were going too smoothly to last... As she knelt down beside the grounded litter, she thought she could hear what sounded like low moaning coming from beneath the tarp. Uh-oh... "Sam, give me a hand with this thing, will you?"
Carefully drawing back the heavy rain cover, the women shared a worried look when they saw the condition of their commanding officer. No longer resting comfortably, Jack had somehow managed to free himself from most of the stretcher's safety belts and curl into a tight ball on his side. He had both arms wrapped around his midsection in a protective hug; his face completely buried in the dark green material of his poncho. Despite the intense patter of the falling rain, they could easily hear his harsh, irregular breathing, and the soft, distressed grunt that often came with it.
"He does not look well," Teal'c remarked solemnly, voicing the opinion that they all shared.
Leaning down close to his trembling form, Janet pushed aside the bulky poncho and rested a hand against his fever-flushed face. "Colonel -- can you hear me?" She felt him barely nod beneath her hand - a response so subtle that she would have missed it had she not been in contact with his cheek. "Sir, are you in pain?" she asked, although the answer was already obvious to her and everyone present.
"Are you able to speak?"
She felt him shake his head no.
"That's okay, sir, we can work around that. I'm going to take a quick look at you to see what's going on - is that all right?"
"Sam," she said as she stood, indicating for her friend to take her place.
This can't be happening... Sam thought as she knelt down at her superior's side, paying no notice to the mud as it began seeping into her clothes. Not now - not when we're so close to the Gate - to home. I really hope the old saying "bad things happen closest to home" isn't always true. He has to pull through this though - he just has...
An anguished cry startled the Captain out of her thoughts. Looking down, she found Jack squirming uncomfortably as he tried to pull himself into an even tighter ball. "Shh, easy, sir," she uttered, taking a reassuring grip on his tense arm. "It's all right, she's almost done. Hey, Janet, he's really getting upset."
With a discouraged sigh, the doctor discontinued her exam and replaced his blankets prior to rejoining the others. Kneeling down in the mud, she took a moment to soothe her distraught CO before turning to address the rest of the team. Even if she hadn't spoken, they all would have known something was seriously wrong just from the look on her face.
"Is it happening again?"
"It looks that way, Daniel. Most of the muscles in his lower body and abdomen are being affected. The fact that some of them are fully contracted and locked makes me think that this has been going on for a while. It also means his condition is worsening again."
"Can you not medicate him?" Teal'c asked, his golden serpent emblem shimmering in a distant flash of lightening.
Janet shook her head. "I used the last of the muscle relaxant I had on the Colonel early this morning when the spasms moved into his chest. And, where his condition is rapidly deteriorating, trying something new in such an uncontrolled environment could be disastrous. I think our best option would be to make a break for the Stargate and get him home as quickly as possible."
Daniel turned to Sam. "How far are we from the Gate?"
"Less than half a mile," she replied after double-checking her tracking device. "We could be there in about fifteen minutes, but the deep footing is going to make it tough."
"We'll have to chance it," Janet said, beginning to fish around in the small gear bag she'd pulled from beneath her poncho. "There's no other way. Daniel, take this..." She pressed the empty medication vial she'd been searching for into his open hand. "I need you to get to the Stargate as fast as you can, and tell them..."
"Whoa, wait...And leave you guys?"
"Daniel, she's right," Sam urged, understanding where her friend was headed. "Go on ahead of us -- dial home and let them know we're coming. We'll be following right behind you."
The doctor nodded in agreement. "If the spasms start affecting his ability to breathe while he's in this condition, every second will count. Please, Daniel - you'll be fine."
But it's not me that I'm worried about... he admitted to himself, watching as Sam tried her best to comfort the older man. "What do you want me to do?"
Relief momentarily crossed the doctor's face. "Dial Earth. Tell them I need a medical team on the ramp and a 10 cc dose of the medication that's printed on the vial I just gave you."
"A medical team and 10 cc's...gotcha," he said, a hesitant look crossing his face as he turned to leave. "Take care of Jack, you guys - and good luck."
"Yeah, you too," Sam replied, watching as he quickly dissolved into the swirling fog of the forest. Her gaze lingered for a moment on the spot where he had just disappeared from; hoping that sending him off into the alien woods alone wasn't a mistake.
"Sam, Teal'c - you ready?" Janet asked as she began preparing her patient for travel.
The Jaffa inclined his head and made his way to his position at the head of the stretcher. "I am."
Following suit, Sam gave her CO's arm a final reassuring squeeze before moving to take her place at his feet.
"Colonel?" Janet said, settling the rain tarp just below his shoulders. "Sir, we're going to start moving again, okay? We'll be going at a pretty good clip so things might get a little rough, but we're going to try and keep it as smooth as possible." When there was no response of any kind from Jack, the doctor shook her head and looked to the others. "Okay, guys - whenever you're ready."
Wrapping her sore, stiff hands around the stretcher's solid handles, Sam prepared herself mentally for the physically demanding journey to come. "Teal'c, ready on three. One, two, three lift!" With only a slight grunt on her part, the two members of SG-1 lifted the litter from the ground with little effort at all.
Despite the warning he'd been given, the sudden upward motion caused Jack to groan and shift uncomfortably beneath the pile of blankets.
"It's all right, Colonel," Janet said, pushing aside the material covering his face and resting a hand against his cheek. "Just hang on, sir. Another fifteen minutes and we'll be home. Things are going to get a little bumpy now, but I'm going to be here with you the whole time, okay?" Feeling him nod a single time beneath her touch, she frowned and looked up to the others. "We need to get moving, you two. Try to keep things as smooth as possible, but we really need to push the pace."
"As you wish, Dr. Fraiser," Teal'c replied, and started off in the direction of the Gate.
Falling into step beside her patient, Janet took a moment to glance back at her quiet friend, finding Sam's eyes focused not on the ground ahead, but on the motionless form of CO. "We'll make it, Sam," she said reassuringly before adding silently to herself: I just hope it's in time...
The situation was teetering on critical. The small group had been on the move for less than ten minutes when they heard the first of the choked, strangled coughs coming from their leader. Without needing to be told, Teal'c increased his pace to a brisk trot and used his strong arms like shock absorbers to keep the stretcher as level as possible. At the other end of the litter, Sam struggled in the deep footing to keep up with the large man, her equipment-laden backpack bouncing painfully against her shoulders.
"Colonel - It's all right..." Janet soothed over the noise of the rapidly intensifying storm. She was also having a hard time keeping up with the Jaffa's hastened pace, all the while trying to maintain contact with the deteriorating officer's hand.
"Captain Carter!" Teal'c's loud voice boomed over the low, dieing rumbles of a thunderclap. "The Stargate lies just up ahead."
Squinting through the driving rain, Sam found that the familiar blue and white shimmer of an active wormhole was now tantalizingly close. Nearly stumbling on a root hidden by the sloppy mud, she immediately began berating herself for not looking where she was putting her feet. Good going, Sam...You do something stupid like falling down now and you'll be hurting a lot more than just your pride...
"Colonel?" Janet shouted, ducking reflexively as a streak of lightening forked violently across the sky. "Stay with me, sir - we're almost home." Unsure if the ailing man had heard her or not, she increased the reassuring grip on his hand as an outburst of short, painful coughs roughly shook his long form. Even without the help of her elaborate monitoring equipment, she could tell the spasms going through his chest were preventing him from pulling in enough air and that he was failing fast.
It was then that the dense, willow dominated forest gave way, the small group bursting through the tree line and into the sloping field that surrounded the Gate. All eyes fell on Daniel who stood beside the motionless MALP, frantically waving his arms around to get their attention in the swirling mist of the storm.
"Hey, guys! Over here! I just talked to General Hammond! They're waiting for..." Daniel's shout was abruptly cut off as a thunderous roar rolled through the clouds, immediately followed by a deafening crash as a dazzling bolt of lightening impacted the MALP.
"Daniel!" Sam cried, watching helplessly as the concussion knocked her friend from his feet and threw him back several meters into the mud.
"Keep going! I'll check on him!" Janet ordered, leaving her place at Jack's side. Putting a wide berth between her and the now flaming MALP, she rushed over to where the archeologist was just sitting up. "Daniel! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" he shouted, holding the sore spot on the back of his head where it had abruptly met the ground. "Go with Jack! I'll be right behind you!"
"Go!" He watched as the doctor hesitated for a moment before turning on her heel and hurrying off to rejoin the others. With a loud grunt, Daniel forced himself to his feet and started off toward the Stargate as fast as his tired legs would go. Concentrating on remaining upright in the deep mud, he failed to notice the progress of his friends and by the time he was able to look up again, Sam's backpack was disappearing through the open Gate.
Running on pure adrenaline, Daniel forced his body to move faster and reached the Gate platform just as another thunderous crack filled the sky. With scarcely a look back at the alien landscape or flaming MALP, the archeologist clamored up the stone steps and launched himself through the event horizon, barely missing the bolt of lightening that slammed into the platform where he'd stood only moments before.
Sam Carter felt sick. Standing between Daniel and Teal'c at the top of the ramp, she watched through tear brimmed eyes as Janet and her team fought to bring Jack's contracting muscles under control. No one had even considered the possibility that their brief trip through the Stargate would adversely affect his condition and they were all surprised to hear his strangled coughs and cries of pain when they emerged on the other side.
Over five agonizingly long minutes had passed since Janet had ordered the stretcher to be set down on the ramp, trapping the remaining members of SG-1 at the top where they had little choice but to watch and listen as the med team worked to stabilize their leader. Although adrenaline had allowed him to resist the medics' help at first, his condition rapidly deteriorated, leaving him barely conscious and scarcely able to breathe on his own. Left feeling completely helpless and frightened, the tightly bonded team could only stand back and pray that they'd made it in time.
Daniel watched through slanted glasses as yet another injection was administered to his failing friend. "Come on, Jack...Fight it..."
"O'Neill will make it," Teal'c said with unyielding confidence. "He is strong."
Sam simply nodded in concurrence, afraid her voice would break should she try to speak aloud.
A tense moment passed as everyone - base and medical personnel alike -waited to see if the SGC's much respected second in command would be all right. Nearly all activity had stopped in both the Gate and Control Rooms, no one daring to make a sound as they watched the situation unfold through anxious eyes. So intent was their attention that virtually everyone jumped when Jack abruptly stirred and began to cough, the spasms in his chest finally starting to subside.
"Easy, sir. You're all right," Janet said, releasing the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. "Just relax."
Agitated, disoriented, and still in a fair amount of pain, Jack protested loudly when he was prevented from shifting onto his side to escape the discomfort.
Acknowledging his distress, the doctor turned to the nurse at the base of the ramp. "Let's try another 5 cc's of diazepam," she called, turning back just in time to catch her patient's hand as he attempted to push the hissing oxygen mask from his face. "Ah-ah, leave it, Colonel." Maintaining a firm grip across his fingers, she watched him closely as the additional dose of medication quickly began taking effect.
"That's it, sir, let it work," she uttered, oblivious to the others in the room as she continued to speak quietly and stroke back his sweat matted hair. "Just take your time. You're going to be okay." Several minutes passed before he finally puffed out the deep, exhausted sigh she'd been waiting for, all of his muscles seeming to relax at once. "Keep it up, sir. You're doing fine."
"Doctor, the Colonel's heart rate and blood pressure are stabilizing," the medic in charge of monitoring said a short time later.
"All right. Let's move him," she said as she stood. "Daniel, Teal'c, can you lend a hand?"
Without a moment's thought, the two men shed their packs and immediately stepped forward to help. Still in a state of shock, Sam slowly made her way down beside the doctor and watched as the med team quickly organized the various leads and lines that were connected to their patient. Although her primary concern was for the Colonel, she couldn't help but steal an occasional glance at Daniel whose face was still ghostly pale. As if the close call with the lightening hadn't been bad enough, something had caused the Stargate to malfunction while he was en route, and caused it to prematurely disengage. When it did, the archeologist had hardly cleared the wormhole when it shut down, taking nearly a quarter of his backpack with it. The look on his face had been nothing short of pure terror.
"Sam? You okay?"
She blinked. "Huh? Oh, yeah, Janet, I'm fine...All things considered anyway..."
"Of course," Janet replied, her face clearly showing the concern she had for her friend.
Puffing out a shaky sigh, Sam looked back to the activity surrounding her CO, the group having successfully moved him onto the awaiting gurney. "Janet, what happened? What made him react like that?" she asked, the sound of his pained cries still echoing in her head.
"I don't know," the doctor admitted honestly as she began making her way down the ramp, careful not to trip over the bits of paper, plastic, and cut clothing left behind by the medics. "It could have had something to do with the reintegration process and its effect on the human body, or maybe the sudden rush of adrenaline he got caused the spasms to sharply intensify. Truth is, we may never know."
"Could I see him before you take him away?"
"Sure, real quick," she replied, turning to a nearby tech to pass off some samples she'd collected for the lab while on the moon.
Sam stepped over to her superior's side and carefully took one of his limp, bandaged hands in her own. Aware of the numerous other officers still in the room, she made a conscious effort to keep her emotions in check as she watched him doze. "You're going to be okay, Colonel," she said quietly, lightly rubbing her thumb across his fingers. "You're home now, sir. You're safe. We're all safe."
"Sam?" Daniel said, wrapping a comforting arm around her back. "It's time."
Reluctantly, she gently placed Jack's hand by his side and allowed Daniel to draw her away, watching as the medics began wheeling the gurney toward the door.
"We'll get him through this," Janet assured her with a small smile as she left with her team through the sliding blast doors and out of the Gate Room.
Making no effort to move out of her friend's consoling embrace, Sam shut her eyes and tried to clear her mind of all they'd been through.
"General Hammond!" she exclaimed, abruptly wheeling around and straightening up from her slouch as the stocky man appeared from behind. "I'm sorry, sir, I didn't know you were..."
"At ease, Captain, please," he said, his voice mellow and full of concern. He'd had a clear view from the Control Room of the medical team as they worked with Jack, and the sight had left him feeling almost as drained as the present members of SG-1 looked. "What the hell happened out there, Sam?"
"It's a long story, sir," she replied, looking up to find a weary Daniel and Teal'c nodding in agreement.
"I understand. And it's one I'd really like to hear."
"A-about that, General..."
Sam gave him a questioning look. "Sir?"
"I've already postponed SG-1's debriefing until 1630 hours to allow you all some time to get cleaned up and settled in. Hopefully Dr. Fraiser will be able to join us by then as well."
"Thank you, sir."
"Thank you, General Hammond."
"You're welcome," he said, smiling broadly at the chorus of gratitude that came from the small, muddy group. "Now, go get yourselves into some clean clothes before you track any more of that mud through my base."
Sam ducked her head in embarrassment when she noticed the murky puddles that had been forming beneath them all. "Yes, sir," she uttered and headed for the door with both men trailing silently behind her.
It was quarter of five by the time Dr. Fraiser was able to step away from the infirmary, leaving a very sick Jack O'Neill in the capable hands of her staff. She was late to the debriefing with SG-1, but she'd spent the last twenty minutes soothing her patient through a fever induced nightmare and hadn't felt comfortable leaving until she was certain he had settled down.
Heels clicking loudly against the concrete flooring, she double-checked the contents of the folders she had tucked beneath her arm. The past few hours of steady testing had revealed very little, and what she did have wasn't exactly encouraging news.
There are only a few things I dislike about this job... she thought as she began to ascend the open well of stairs leading up to the briefing room. ...And admitting that the situation is worse then you initially thought is one of them...
"...I'd have to run a full Gate diagnostic to be certain it wasn't a glitch on our end, but it sounds like lightening was to blame for both instances. When it struck the second time, the Gate's capacitors overloaded and abruptly terminated the wormhole's connection," Sam was deep in the midst of explaining as the doctor reached the landing.
"But why didn't the wormhole jump like it has in the past?" Hammond asked.
"Probably because it wasn't a direct hit. When a nearby object is struck, the energy would have time to dissipate before reaching the Gate itself. If that's the case, sir, then we're looking at an isolated incident."
"I'd like you to run your diagnostics just the same, Captain. I want to be damn certain this was a freak accident and not something more serious," he said, turning his attention to the petite woman by the stairs. "Doctor, please join us."
Janet made her way over to the paper and artifact-strewn table and settled into a seat beside Sam. Jack's usual chair - she noticed - had been left empty out of respect for the missing officer. "Thank you, sir. I'm sorry I'm late."
The Captain read her troubled expression like a book. "Is everything all right?"
"The Colonel is still experiencing some pretty vivid nightmares. He's very restless and has awoken several times since our return in a fairly agitated state. I didn't feel comfortable leaving the infirmary until he had settled down."
"That's understandable, Doctor," Hammond said, noticing that the small physician wore the same tight expression of fatigue and concern as the others around the table. "What can you tell us regarding his condition?"
"At this point, sir, not a whole lot. I'm still waiting to hear back from the lab on a number of things, however it has been confirmed that the Colonel is suffering from the effects of a very potent neurotoxin."
"Oh god..." Sam uttered under her breath.
"MRI results show that no physical change has occurred in the brain or nerve structure, but his blood work is telling us a completely different story," the doctor continued. "As far as we can tell, the toxin attaches itself to red blood cells as a means of transportation throughout the body. When these cells pass through a vessel supplying a muscle, the toxins leave the cell and adhere to the nerves that are controlling it. When enough of the toxin has accumulated, the nerves become overwhelmed and unnaturally stimulated, which causes the muscles to contract far beyond and longer than what they're safely meant to. Several of his muscles have already torn from the prolonged stress."
"And you're certain this is being caused by a neurotoxin?"
"Yes, sir, very certain. I have a young man on my team who did some field work in Australia, and he mentioned that the Colonel's symptoms seemed to be similar to several arachnid venoms found here on Earth. However, it's going to take a more comprehensive analysis before we know how comparable they really are."
Daniel's eyes rose from his notes. "Wait. Did you say a spider?"
"That is impossible," Teal'c declared. "We saw no insects of any kind whilst exploring M4G- 887."
"Except the ones embossed on the relic..." Sam added.
The General drew his head back. "Well, if there were no insects in a physical sense, then how was he exposed?"
"The relic bit him..." Daniel uttered to no one in particular.
"I beg your pardon, Dr. Jackson?"
"Huh? Oh, I was just thinking about the joke Jack made when he cut himself while helping me lift this artifact from the rubble," he said, idly tapping his pen against the thick plastic case that now housed the object. "He said the rock bit him. That stuff we found coming out of the relic - it's what made him sick, isn't it?"
Janet nodded. "I had the sample of fluid we collected from the artifact compared with the culture I took from the injury on his hand. There was still a substantial amount of the toxin in the wound even though it had been thoroughly flushed several times."
"And there is nothing you can do to help O'Neill recover?"
"I won't know until the complete chemical breakdown of the toxin comes back from the lab. For now we're treating his symptoms and providing as much support as necessary to keep him comfortable. Since I'm able to monitor him correctly, I've got him on several strong muscle relaxants to try and alleviate, if not eliminate, the spasms altogether. Other than that, there's nothing else I can do until we know exactly what we're dealing with."
"Does he know?" Daniel asked.
"I've told him everything I know, however I'm not sure how much he understood," Janet replied solemnly. "This toxin is affecting him mentally as well as physically. You've all witnessed the compliant, sluggish, and at times almost fragile behavior - which are all very uncharacteristic for the Colonel."
Sam shifted uneasily in her seat. "Is there anything we can do?"
The archeologist jumped at the opportunity. "We could start by checking out the artifacts we brought back. I mean it's probably a long shot, but they might shed some light on things. Maybe even explain what's going on and how to correct it."
"I have no problem with you studying the scrolls and smaller artifacts, Dr. Jackson, but as for the relic..."
"But, General, that's the one we need to study."
"It's also proven to be the most dangerous," Hammond contended.
"I promise I'll be careful. I'll work around the part Jack injured himself on."
"There could be more points of exposure that you don't even know about. I'm sorry, son. I can't risk another person being poisoned."
Sam watched in silence as the two men argued over the table, finding validity on both sides. Daniel was right to suspect that the relic could hold valuable information about Jack's condition, but the General's caution was equally warranted as well.
There must be another way... she thought, her gaze being drawn to several MRI films that Janet was busy sorting through. That's it...
"Sir, what if I could make the artifact safe for Daniel to handle?"
"How?" the question came simultaneously from the still quarrelling men.
"Well..." she began, turning to the doctor beside her. "Can we borrow your MRI machine for a few minutes?"
"I guess so, but..." Her eyes suddenly lit up. "Oh! I didn't think of that."
"Think of what?"
"We can use the MRI to get an inside view of the artifact without needing to handle it directly. It'll clearly show us if and where any more of the prongs are hidden, even beneath the hardened ash and clay."
Daniel pounded an elated fist against the table. "Yes! Sam, that's brilliant!"
"But that still doesn't prevent accidental contact with the toxin," Hammond pushed, although sounding a little less reluctant than before.
"Then we'll find a way to extract it," Sam said simply. "I mean there must be something here on the base we can use."
"I may have something right in the infirmary. Besides, having a larger sample of the toxin to work with would help us in our research, General," Janet added.
"Although there are risks, it may be in our best interest to discover the purpose of the artifact and perhaps even a way to help O'Neill."
Hammond gave the Jaffa an astounded look. The normally stoic man was starting to get in on the act too. "All right," he conceded with a sigh. "I see your point. There are risks, but there's too much at stake not to take them. You may go ahead and try to remove the toxin from the relic, however, if at any point I see that the risks start to outweigh the potential gain, I will put a stop to your efforts. Understood?"
Daniel spoke first, answering for them all. "Yes, General. We understand. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now if there's nothing else, then I suppose I should let you people get to work," he said, meeting each gratified gaze in turn. When nothing more was said, the General nodded, gathered his mission notes, and stood. "Very well. Good luck in your efforts and please do be careful. You're dismissed."
What am I going to do with you, sir? Janet asked herself as she skimmed through the additions that had been made to his chart during her absence. Aside from a slight increase in temperature, she found that nothing much had changed since she'd left for the debriefing. He'd remained restless despite her team's best efforts to keep him quiet, and it concerned her that even with the help of medication he was unable to relax enough to sleep and recover. And that's exactly what he needs the most right now...
Returning the chart to the foot of the bed, she took a moment out of clinical interest to observe her patient. What she saw left no doubt in her mind that the man occupying the single hospital bed was extremely sick. If his pale, almost translucent skin pallor didn't give it away, than the amount of monitoring and support machinery that surrounded him certainly did. And amidst the jungle of assorted leads and lines, Jack O'Neill lay twitching in his sleep as he battled demons that only he could see.
"I wish there was more I could do for you, sir," the doctor said quietly as she straightened out the tangled mess he was making of his blankets. "We're working on it though. You just have to hang on."
His body gave a sudden jerk.
"Colonel?" she called, her hand immediately reaching for the call button.
"No..." he uttered and began to shift uneasily beneath the covers, his bandaged hands locking into tight fists. "Gate...go..."
The doctor relaxed as she realized he was only dreaming and not starting to seize as she had originally thought. "You're all right, sir. You're home now -- you're safe."
"Get to the Gate...hurry...coming..." He jerked again, the sudden movement causing several of the monitoring units to screech. "Daniel, dial home...Teal'c...cover fire..."
"Easy, sir," she soothed, passing a cool cloth over his face. "You're okay."
"No..." he groaned and shied away from her touch.
"Janet, what's going on?"
She looked over her shoulder to find the other members of SG-1 gathering in the doorway of the isolation room, the same look of apprehension stamped across all three faces. "Great timing, guys, he's dreaming again. Come here, all of you. Talk to him - let him know you're all right. Maybe you'll have better luck at getting through."
"Jack?" Daniel was first to his bedside. "It's okay, Jack. We're all here - Sam, Teal'c, and I. We're all fine. You got us home safe and sound."
"...Cover the Gate...Go...go!"
"Colonel, please wake up," Sam pleaded, picking up his hand. "You're having a bad dream. We're home, Colonel, we're all right."
Teal'c's eyebrows rose. "I am the only Jaffa present, O'Neill. And, as always, I mean you no harm."
At the large man's reassurance, Jack seemed to relax, and a collective sigh of relief passed through the room's occupants. The small group stood in silence for a moment, content just to listen to the fast but steady beep of their leader's heart monitor.
"Is it over?" Daniel asked hesitantly. "Is he asleep?"
"It looks that way," Janet replied, equally uncertain. "Thank you, you three. I'm sorry you had to..."
"No!!" Jack shouted, catching everyone off guard as he suddenly shot upright in bed. With wild, unfocused eyes he frantically searched around the room, his chest heaving as he drew in panicked, ragged gasps of air.
"Colonel? Take it easy, sir. You're all right," the doctor said, hastily turning down the volume on several of the now shrieking monitors. "Daniel, Sam, watch yourselves. Just give him some room."
"What is causing this most disturbing behavior?" Teal'c asked, allowing a hint of concern into his voice.
"The toxin," she replied as she surveyed the damage he'd caused, finding that he had only dislodged one of the IV lines and several EKG leads. "It's messing with his brain chemistry."
"Jack? Can you hear me?" Daniel asked, his arms wrapped insecurely around his chest.
"Yes, Jack, I'm right here. Are you okay?"
He slowly shook his head. "No...I'm so sorry, Danny. I tried...I tried to hold them back...I really did..."
"Sir, what are you talking about? Hold back who?"
"Carter?" He turned toward the sound of her voice, his bleary eyes seeming to look through rather than at her. "Is that you? But the...how...?"
The Captain took a tentative step forward, wanting nothing more than to be able to get through to her confused and obviously frightened CO.
"I'll be careful, Janet," she assured her, deliberately reaching out and touching his trembling shoulder. "It's really me, sir. See? I'm really here."
"But how? You and Teal'c - I couldn't hold them back. They were waiting for us...I'm sorry..."
"It was a dream, Jack," Daniel calmly insisted. "A horrible, hellish dream. But it's over now. We're all home - all safe."
The sick man's gaze softened as reality returned and he actually "saw" his team standing around him for the first time. "Dream?"
The Jaffa inclined his head. "Indeed."
"But I thought I lost..." Jack clutched his face with bandaged hands. "Oh god..."
Sam's heart welled into her throat as she watched a tear slide down his cheek. Without a second thought, she slipped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him into a hug just as he'd done for her on many occasions. "You're okay," she whispered, gently rubbing his back as he sobbed softly against her uniform. "It's all right, Jack, it's over. You're okay now."
As visibly shaken as her friends, Janet took a deep breath to compose herself before going to her patient's side. "Colonel?"
"Janet, he's tight as a knot."
With a concerned frown, the doctor went to the supply cabinet and expertly drew an opaque liquid into a syringe. Forcing out the air, she slipped the needle into one of the remaining IV lines and depressed the plunger. Within a matter of seconds, he began to relax.
"Colonel," she said, approaching him once again. "Can you look at me, sir?"
With a little coaxing from Sam, Jack slowly lifted his head from her shoulder and turned his unfocused gaze toward the doctor. Her heart aching with sympathy, Janet reached up and gently wiped the moisture from beneath his reddened eyes.
"Do you hurt anywhere, sir?"
He blinked sleepily against the medication and shook his head.
"That's good," she replied, offering him a warm smile. "I am so sorry you had to go through that, Colonel. What I just gave you will help you rest without those dreams coming back, okay?"
He managed a partial nod before sagging heavily against the Captain's arm.
Janet shut her eyes and tried to rub out the knot of tension that had formed at the base of her neck. "All right, can you help me get him settled?"
With the four of them working together, it wasn't long before the sleeping man was situated and reconnected to the equipment he had torn free. Having secured a nasal cannula beneath his nose, the doctor briefly rested her hand against his overly warm face. "The meds should help him sleep comfortably for a few hours at least."
"Thanks, Janet," Daniel said. He turned and offered his hand to a very pale Sam. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just a little shaken." She fingered the damp patch on her uniform left by her superior's uncharacteristic tears. "I've just never seen him like that before."
"I don't think many have..."
"Sam?" Janet lightly touched her friend's arm. "I hate to push but I'd really like to get you set up with the MRI machine so we can get a scan of that artifact. There's a few SG teams due back first thing in the morning and it'll be tied up for hours once they do."
"Sure. I'll go get it," she uttered and quietly left the room.
"I should get to work trying to open those scrolls we brought back," Daniel said, although reluctant to leave his friend's side. "They might be able to tell us more about what's going on. Teal'c, since we are dealing with a Goa'uld here, I could probably use your help with the translations."
"Will you be needing my assistance immediately, Daniel Jackson?"
"Um - no. Probably not for a few hours..."
"Than I shall remain here with O'Neill until my presence is required."
"Oh, Teal'c, you don't have to do that. The Colonel's going to be asleep for quite awhile and my staff will be..." Janet realized her words were fruitless when the Jaffa settled himself into a plastic chair beside the bed.
"I wish to remain."
"All right...I'll let my people know to expect you here then," she said with a small shrug before excusing herself to prepare the MRI scanner.
With a disheartened sigh, the linguist returned to Jack's side and gave his limp hand a squeeze. "Hang in there, Jack. We're all pulling for you out here." He looked to Teal'c. "Keep an eye on him. I'll call when I need you."
The Jaffa inclined his head and watched as he left for his lab. Once alone, Teal'c turned to the bed and rested a large hand on the human's shoulder. "Do not let your dreams trouble you, my friend, for you are not alone."
Sam puffed out a fatigued sigh as she pushed the safety goggles from her face and rubbed her tired eyes. She'd spent the last hour peering through a backlit magnifying glass, willing her hands not to shake as she carefully siphoned the toxin from within the relic. Using the MRI scanner had worked out well, confirming the metal prongs were the only point of exposure and providing a clear picture of the small reservoir that housed the toxin.
The whole process had gone quite smoothly thanks to the syringe and impossibly slender tubing Janet provided her with; the syrup-like poison and the first and second rinse solutions now safely contained in their respective jars. Perched beside the jars was the partially excavated artifact, its golden, fang-like protrusions glinting under the lights of her lab.
It all just looks so simple...a simple piece of art...completely harmless... she mused, absently rubbing the light bandages that covered the open blisters across her palms. Her thoughts turned bitter as she slid her gaze over to the clear fluid trapped within the confines of the three glass containers. Yeah... about as harmless as a loaded gun in the hands of a... Stop it. Don't go there, Sam.
She propped her elbows against the bench and buried her face in her hands. You're overtired, frustrated, and worried. Thinking like that isn't going to help you any, and it certainly won't get the Colonel back on his feet faster. The important thing is the artifact is now safe for Daniel to finish...Daniel...
Sam directed her attention toward the far side of the room where Daniel stood with his back to her, awkwardly hunched over a low table. He had come to her lab for the supplies as much as her company, but neither had spoken a word since delving into their separate tasks over an hour ago.
She stood and crossed the room. "Hey, Daniel. What are you doing?"
"Shh. Wait...wait just a..." he uttered, his thought left incomplete as his focus returned to his work. With tweezers in one hand and a bone folder in the other, he began to gently manipulate the delicate scroll he had soaking in a shallow pan of archival solution.
Peering curiously over his shoulder, she watched silently as he scrupulously pushed, poked, and blew on the brittle, ancient paper. Slowly - painfully -- the scroll began to open, gradually revealing an intricate design drawn in fading black ink. Working with increased urgency, Daniel held his breath as he placed small weights along the outer edge of the yellowing paper to help retrain it to lay flat. With the last weight finally in place, he took a step back, waiting to see if the arrangement would hold. It did.
"Oh, thank god..." he muttered, his rigid posture abruptly relaxing as he collapsed onto a nearby stool. With a clearly relieved sigh, Daniel used a wrinkled shirtsleeve to wipe the light sheen of sweat from his forehead.
The young man looked up at her as if he were seeing her for the first time. "Huh?"
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah...just great. Why?"
"Because you look like you've just run a marathon," she replied, fixing the lopsided glasses on his nose. "Yet you haven't left that spot for over an hour."
"Opening a document that's been rolled up for thousands of years has got to be one of the most stressful parts of archeology," he said before adding with a smirk. "But it's also one of the most exciting."
"So what did you find?"
"Don't know." He rubbed his hands together eagerly. "Let's see." Adjusting the aim of the table lamp as they approached, Daniel felt his heart thudding wildly against his chest in anticipation of the information the ancient scroll possibly hold. Hunched shoulder to shoulder in front of the low workbench, both scientists eagerly swept their eyes over the faded document.
What had probably once been an impressive piece of artistic expression was now reduced to a collection of faded black lines and odd symbols arranged on a tattered scrap of paper.
"Hey, this design's on the relic too," Sam said, recognizing the outline of a rearing spider perched triumphantly atop a prone human form.
"Yeah, it is." He gestured toward the writing scrawled at the bottom of the page. "Some of this writing looks familiar too - almost like a really old form of Greek, but some of the symbols are a little off."
"Can you read it?"
Daniel ran a hand through his short hair. "Umm...well, I think this first part says `death of...' no, wait...maybe it's `killer of the...' something. I'm not sure what that last symbol means."
"Death? Killer? It all sounds pretty grim to me," she muttered with a frown. "What about the second part? Recognize anything there?"
"Just the two middle words: `of ` and `our.' I'm not sure of the rest. I might have something I can cross reference it with back in my lab though."
"What about Teal'c? Maybe he's seen something like this before."
"It's worth a shot, I guess," he said, a mix of disappointment and frustration on his face. "But by the looks of things, I doubt there's anything here that's going to help Jack."
"At this point, Daniel, I think anything that offers insight as to what's going on will be a huge help," Sam told him, hoping her words sounded more convincing to him then they did to her. "We'll get through this."
The young man nodded, although his face remained clouded with doubt. "Thanks, Sam."
She gave his arm a reassuring squeeze before returning to the bench where the jars of toxin sat patiently waiting. "Listen, I need to head over to the Infirmary to drop this stuff off with Janet. You want me to send Teal'c up?"
"Sure. I'll get the next scroll soaking and then check out some of the references I..." his words trailed off as the relic perched on the side of the table caught his eye. He took a hesitant step toward it. "Is it safe?"
"Yup. She's all yours now," she said, glad to see a hint of enthusiasm return to his eyes as he carefully lifted the object into his hands. "Just watch your fingers, the prongs are still pretty sharp." Depositing the jars and all the equipment she'd used into a small crate, Sam slipped on her dark blue over shirt before turning to leave. "I'll send Teal'c up right away, okay? Daniel?"
When no response came from her friend, she turned back to find him already working on the relic, totally lost in his own world of old rocks, small picks, and stiff brushes. Smiling, she shook her head as she stepped out into the narrow hallway.
He brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "a one track mind..."
Listening to the soft thud of her boots as she wandered along the nearly empty halls of the SGC, Sam began to feel her energy reserves slowly dropping off. Checking her watch, she discovered it was only 2025 - still early by her standards - but the fact she'd been awake for the majority of the last 48 hours was finally beginning to take its toll. This had been proven when she'd tried to open the elevator doors several times before realizing that she was putting her ID card into the reader backwards.
She knew she was doing herself no favors by denying her body the rest it so badly needed, but she also knew her conscience would give her no peace until the Colonel was either back on his feet or, at the very least, on a definite road to recovery.
In the small crate she held cradled against her side, the sealed glass jars of toxin clinked together softly as she rounded the final corner that led to the Colonel's private room. Still under the assumption that he would be asleep for some time yet, she was surprised to hear the hauntingly familiar sounds of him struggling to breathe drifting down the hall. Almost afraid of what she would find, Sam braced herself for the worst and peered cautiously through the open doorway.
Propped up in bed between several large pillows, a very pale and visibly weakened Jack fought desperately to draw in enough air to fill his lungs. At his side, Janet was doing all she could to keep her patient calm while throwing increasingly worried glances at the shrieking monitors behind her.
"Easy, Colonel. You're going to be all right," she soothed, rechecking the placement of his clouded oxygen mask as his breathing became even more ragged and strained. "Teal'c, give me a hand. I want to try sitting him up some more."
Using the utmost care, the large man slipped a muscled arm beneath his leader's shoulders and gently sat him up, Jack groaning softly in protest.
When the change in position didn't help, Janet turned to the assisting nurses. "Let's go ahead with that dose of epi, and put a respirator on stand by. We may have to step in if the meds don't jumpstart things." As the nurses complied with their orders, she picked up a cloth and started blotting away the perspiration that was trailing down his face. "You're okay, sir. You're doing fine. Just relax."
"Epinephrine is in, doctor."
Acknowledging the nurse with a nod, she continued to wipe down her patient's face, watching for even the slightest hint of improvement. "Come on, sir," she urged. "Fight."
Teal'c carefully adjusted his grip to better support his tiring friend. "His strength is failing."
"I know it is," she uttered, glancing up to see something - sadness maybe - briefly flicker through the Jaffa's dark eyes. "All right. It looks like I'm going to have to..."
She hadn't even finished her thought when Jack's chest gave a sudden heave and he began to cough deeply as the drugs finally kicked in. Afraid he would hyperventilate, she started rubbing his back and speaking rapidly to hold his attention. "Easy, sir, take it easy. You're okay now - just relax. You need to slow down your breathing, sir. Take slow, deep breaths. Come on now. Slow down."
With the sounds of his own thundering heart and abrasive breathing resounding between his ears, Jack found it impossible to make out the doctor's words, so he instead focused on her kind touch and reassuring tone. Although there was still an occasional hitch in his chest, he was now at least able to draw an adequate amount of air into his burning lungs and fuel his oxygen-starved body.
Continuing to comfort the Colonel as he slowly recovered, Janet looked up to see Sam hovering in the doorway, her expressive blue eyes wide and brimming with tears. She offered her friend what she hoped was an empathetic smile before returning her attention to Jack who had unexpectedly gone limp in Teal'c's arms.
"Colonel?" She checked his pulse and flashed the beam of her penlight in his eyes. "He's unconscious."
Teal'c lowered him back against the pillows, a deep frown of concern on his face. Janet felt a pang of guilt as she brushed Jack's sweat matted bangs away from his forehead. Even at rest, the man was clearly exhausted. I let you go too long, sir. I'm sorry...
She turned to her staff. "Let's get him sponged down with cool water and change out this sweat soaked bedding."
Leaving the nurses to their work, she joined Sam at the room's entrance.
"W-what's going on?"
"O'Neill was unable to adequately draw breath once again," Teal'c replied solemnly as he approached.
"How bad?" she asked, although she was pretty sure she already knew what the answer would be.
Janet drew both her friends out into the hall to allow for privacy. "Pretty bad. The spasms only seemed to affect his respiratory system this time, but his oxygen levels dropped dangerously low before the drugs kicked in."
"Did you not say before that you could prevent such suffering?"
"That was never a definite, Teal'c. The medication I've been giving him is meant to relax the skeletal muscles without compromising the respiratory system. It might be preventing the full body spasms from occurring, but it's still leaving several of his systems vulnerable. And while I was able to help him through this latest bout without invasive intervention, if it happens again, I don't..." She stopped and sighed. Saying anything more on the matter would be detrimental. She nodded toward the crate in Sam's arms. "What's that?"
"Oh, it's...ah...what I extracted from the relic," she said, the sudden change in topic jarring her thoughts.
"Already?" The doctor reached out and selected the jar labeled "Toxin M4G-887." Holding it up to the light, she watched as the scant quarter cup of clear, syrupy liquid sloshed around inside. "This will definitely help us out in the lab. Thanks, Sam."
"Has Daniel Jackson experienced similar success?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, actually. He managed to open the first scroll before the relic claimed his full attention. In fact, he was wondering if you'd be willing to swing by and take a look at it. I guess he has a few questions that he hopes you can shed some light on."
"I am more than willing to try and illuminate the answers to his concerns on this matter."
The two women shared a smile. "I left him in my lab picking away at the relic. I'm sure you can convince him to take a short break in order to show you the scroll."
"Are you in further need of my assistance, Dr. Fraiser?"
"I think we're all set for a little while, Teal'c, but you've been a tremendous help," the small doctor said. "I can't thank you enough."
He inclined his head. "You are most welcome."
Sam waited until the departing Jaffa was out of earshot before trying to elicit more information from her friend. "Okay, Janet. What's really going on?"
"At this point, Sam, you know everything I do. I'm still waiting for the secondary blood work and complete toxicity reports to come back from the lab. Until then, there's nothing more I can do. And to be perfectly honest with you, I'm concerned about exhaustion right now more than anything."
"What do you mean?"
"It's taking longer and longer for the Colonel to recover from the spasms he's having. Even with the tranquilizing properties of the muscles relaxants he just can't settle down. Not to mention the fact he's metabolizing medication at an alarming rate. His fever won't break, and that's only adding more stress that his body doesn't need to be dealing with right now. I don't know how much longer it's going to be before he simply doesn't have the strength to fight through the pain and physical symptoms this toxin is causing."
Sam's eyebrows rose suspiciously. "And...?"
A nurse appeared at Janet's side before she had a chance to respond. "Excuse me, ma'am, but Colonel O'Neill is starting to come around."
"Thank you, Captain," she said and gestured for Sam to hand over the crate she was carrying. "I need this taken over to the forensics lab and given to Dr. Braddick. Tell her it's the solution recovered from the artifact found on M4G-887 and to include it in her analysis. And please be very careful on your way there. The liquid inside those jars is extremely dangerous."
"Yes, ma'am," the young officer said and quickly left the area.
Although she followed her friend into the isolation room, Sam timidly hung back in the entryway, uneasy with seeing her superior so vulnerable.
Wearing the most reassuring smile she could muster, Janet patiently waited until the attending nurse had finished remaking the bed before approaching Jack's side. Leaning over the guardrail, she watched him for a moment, taking in his pale complexion, irregular breathing, and sweat- dampened skin. She also noticed a new patch of black and blue forming along the right side of his rib cage, a colorful indication that yet another muscle had given way under the stress. "Colonel?"
His dark eyes slowly fluttered open and briefly met her gaze before shutting again against the bright lights.
"Welcome back, Colonel," she greeted warmly. "I was worried when you left me for a while. How are you feeling?"
His hushed reply was almost lost in the hissing oxygen of his mask. "Tired."
"Your body's going through a lot right now. But we're going to help you get through this, okay?"
"I know," she said, wringing out the cloth that was soaking in fresh water beside his bed and draping it across his forehead. "You've got a fever, sir. It's how your body is trying to fight off the toxin you were exposed to. Do you remember me telling you about that?"
He didn't respond.
The older man grunted softly and opened his eyes. "Teal'c?"
Janet winched. "He's gone to help Daniel, but Sam's here." She motioned for her reluctant friend to come over. "It's okay. Come say hi."
She approached awkwardly, trying in earnest not to look as worried as she truly felt. A small grin appeared on Jack's face as his glassy gaze met hers.
His smile was contagious. "Hi, Colonel. How you doing?"
"Good..." he replied, his eyes sliding shut again.
"He just needs rest," Janet assured when she saw the concern flare through Sam's eyes. "Listen, I need to go check on a few things, do you mind staying with him till I get back?"
"Um...sure...I mean I guess..." she rambled, accepting the face cloth that was held out for her to take.
"Great. Try to keep him cool and just let him rest, okay? I'll be back in a bit."
She watched the doctor leave; listening as the sound of her clicking heels gradually disappeared down the hall. With a nerve-steadying sigh, Sam pulled up a chair and refreshed the small cloth before finally settling down. Passing the cloth across his face, she couldn't help but smile sympathetically when he nestled into its coolness.
"Just hang in there, sir. We're going to figure this out."
Teal'c had arrived at Sam's lab to find it looking more like an archeological library than a room for scientific study. Books of all sizes, lengths, and stages of disrepair were scattered about the small space, Daniel having clearly made himself at home. Standing quietly with the patience of a saint, he watched as his friend methodically picked away at the crusted dirt that encased the alien relict.
Glasses perched atop his head, Daniel practically had his nose pressed against the backlit magnifying glass he was looking through, his eyes wide and scarcely blinking. Using an eyedropper, he carefully dripped a small amount of a clear solvent onto the hardened matter he wished to remove. It hissed and bubbled on contact, softening the material beneath enough to be gently scraped away with a blunt metal probe.
"Would submerging the relic in the liquid not be more productive, Daniel Jackson?"
The young man jumped at his friend's deep, rumbling voice, having completely forgotten that he wasn't alone in the room. "I don't want to risk the solution inadvertently damaging the glyphs or the relic itself."
"Just let me finish up this one section...there." Daniel straightened his stiff back with a grimace and lifted the relic up for the Jaffa to see. Although nearly half of it was now free of dirt, it was still impossible to tell what shape the object truly was. At first he had assumed the two joined spheres represented a planet and its neighboring sun or moon, but after uncovering four, three- inch long cylinders attached to the side of the smaller sphere, he wasn't so sure. "God, I wish I knew what you were..." Shaking his head, he returned the relic to the table and looked up at Teal'c. "So, you still want to see the scroll?"
"Good." He snapped off the light and made his way to the workbench at the back of the room. "I started soaking the second one, but it's going to take longer since it's more brittle than this..." He stopped when he noticed that Teal'c wasn't behind him and turned to see him staring curiously at the relic. "Teal'c? You okay?"
"I was unaware that this relic possessed a power source."
Daniel blinked. "A what?"
"It is glowing."
Skeptical, Daniel followed his friend's gaze to the largest of the stone spheres where a small glowing patch immediately caught his eye. "What the hell...?" Mesmerized, he bent over the relic for a closer look. "It's one of the glyphs. The light colored oval with the tapered ends. I wonder what's making it glow?" He reached out and turned on the nearby lamp, spilling bright light over the surface of the table.
The glowing stopped.
He switched the lamp off.
The glowing started.
"It appears to respond to the absence of light."
Nodding, Daniel turned the light on again and brought the magnifying glass into position over the relic. "Looks like it might be some form of crude luminescent paint...huh, I didn't see this before..."
"What is it?"
"I don't know," he muttered, retrieving a small brush from his tool kit. "Looks like some sort of pattern..." He gently ran the stiff bristles over the glyph to reveal a circle within a circle. "You know, it almost looks like an eye."
Teal'c peered over his shoulder. "I agree."
"But a glow-in-the-dark eye...?"
The Jaffa's jaw clenched. "A Goa'uld."
"Hecate." Working on a hunch, Daniel ran his brush over the other tapered oval, revealing a similar pattern. "Another eye - only this one's completely dark."
"A dead Goa'uld."
"Dead? That doesn't make...or does it?" Abandoning his brush, the young archeologist got to his feet and went to where the first scroll lay drying. Focusing the magnifying glass on the prone person beneath the triumphantly rearing spider, he noticed for the first time that the figure was unquestionably female. "Damn..."
"I do not recognize several of these symbols," Teal'c said, indicting the ones Daniel had identified earlier as Greek.
"Well, if my translations are correct, this group here says `killer of the...' and this other set says `...of our...' You ever come across these others before?"
"It is a very old form of Goa'uld," he replied, studying the symbols carefully. "I have not seen it used in many decades. But I believe you will find they represent the words gods, ender, and time."
"Gods, ender, and time. Gods, ender, and time..." Daniel uttered, putting the phrases together in his mind. "So `Killer of the Gods' and `Ender of our Time?'"
Daniel frowned. "What the heck does that...no...oh no...no way, that's impossible."
"What do you believe to be impossible, Daniel Jackson?"
"Assuming our translations are right, I think whoever made this scroll was trying to say that a spider killed their god. Their female god. Hecate."
"A Goa'uld would not allow themselves to be defeated so easily. How could this be possible?"
Daniel shrugged. "Um - well, all spiders found here on Earth are poisonous, some to the point of being hazardous to people. What if this spider's venom was strong enough to kill a Goa'uld?"
A shadow of doubt remained on the Jaffa's face. "What of the second half of the inscription?"
"`Ender of our Time?' I'm not sure. How about you? Any thoughts?"
"I do not."
Daniel silently mulled over the second phrase for a moment before giving a frustrated snort - an ironic thought having crossed his mind. "You know, even if we are right about all this, we're still no closer to finding a way to help Jack."
"Perhaps the answers we seek reside within the remaining scrolls."
"Yeah, maybe," he uttered, taking off his glasses and rubbing his tired eyes with the heels of his hands. "I just don't want to think about what's going to happen if they're not."
"Then do not think of such things."
Daniel looked at his friend through blurry eyes. He knew Teal'c was right and had long ago learned there was no arguing with Jaffa logic. Stuffing his glasses back on his face, he picked up his trusty bone folder and focused his attention on the roll of ancient, yellowing paper soaking in the tray before him. He had a job to do. Questions to ask. Answers to find. And, more importantly, a friend to save.
`Today's Hot Styles at Yesterday's Cool Prices!' Well, ain't that just the bee's knees... Sam thought indifferently as she read the title of the article she'd just flipped to. Although appreciative of the duty nurse that had offered her something to look at, she had to admit that the stack of fashion magazines she'd received wasn't exactly her idea of a good read. With a disinterested sigh, she thumbed idly through the pages of beauty accessories and potent perfume samples, looking up when a quiet groan came from Jack.
"You're okay, sir," she said softly, casting the flowery scented magazine aside and sandwiching his hand between hers. It wasn't the first time he had stirred during the hour she'd been sitting with him, and she'd found that a reassuring word and touch was usually enough to settle him down. Whatever he was dreaming about obviously frightened him, and it hurt her to no end knowing there was nothing she could do to help.
"I wish I knew how to help you, Colonel. I really do."
When he groaned again, she reached up and began to gently pass her fingers through his silvering hair, silently willing him to trust her and relax. She knew what she was doing was potentially risky, and if the wrong person saw the almost intimate contact she was having with her CO, there would be serious questions to answer later on.
Screw the risks... she thought, feeling the stress slowly leaving his body. "You have to fight this, Jack," she said quietly, closely watching his fevered face as he slept. "I know it's getting hard, but you've got to fight. We still need you out there."
Sam's hand paused mid-stroke when she heard someone approaching from down the hall, but she instantly recognized the clicking heels as Janet and picked up her comforting efforts once again. The weary looking doctor appeared several moments later.
"Hey, Sam. How's it going?"
"All right. He's been pretty restless though," she replied, unconsciously smoothing out his rumpled hair and returning to her seat. "He seems to respond to touch the most so I..."
Janet smiled knowingly as she retrieved her stethoscope from her pocket and warmed the metal disk against her hand. "How's his breathing? Any coughing?"
"A little." She sat quietly as the doctor listened to his breathing, trying to read the odd expression on her friend's face.
"Respirations are a little shallow, but his lungs are clear, so that's good," she replied and moved her hand to his forehead. "Still awfully warm though." She sighed and looked up at her friend, exhaustion and concern evident on her youthful face. "How about you? How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine," she said with a noncommittal shrug. "Just worried, that's all."
"Listen, I know this isn't the best time to be asking for favors, but..." she paused to pick up the soaking face cloth; expertly folding it into fourths before passing it over Jack's flushed skin.
"What do you need?"
"I was planning on staying here at the base tonight in case the lab reports come down. I was wondering if you'd be willing to head up to my place and check in on Cassie? Maybe stay and keep her company for a while? Or the whole night?"
"Janet, I don't..."
"Please, Sam? She was home alone last night and I feel awful having to leave her again. It would mean a lot to her to have you there. And me too."
Sam frowned. Normally she would jump at the chance to spend time with the young girl, but she was reluctant to move from Jack's side -- let alone leave the base entirely - for fear that something terrible would happen during her absence. But then Cassie didn't deserve to be left alone either. "All right," she said at last. "I guess I can swing by and check on her."
Relief crossed the doctor's face. "Thank you, Sam. Cassie not being alone will be one less thing I have to worry about."
"No problem." She reluctantly stood and turned toward the door.
"Oh, wait a second," Janet uttered, hurriedly searching through her pockets for something. She finally produced a crumpled twenty-dollar bill from her lab coat and crammed it into her friend's hand. "There's not a lot to eat in the house, I had planned on doing my shopping today. Why don't you pick up a few pizzas and a movie on your way there? Have a girl's night in."
Sam forced a smile, realizing the doctor was just trying to keep her mind busy. "Sounds like fun. Thanks." Gazing back at the bed, she took a final lingering look at Jack who had remained oblivious to the conversation around him. "Feel better, sir," she said and quickly turned to leave the room before she could change her mind.
Janet stared down at the file on her desk through sleep-deprived eyes and fought to keep herself from nodding off. It was when the words in front of her blurred for the umpteenth time in the past five minutes that she gave up and returned the report to its appropriate folder. Cracking a yawn that threatened to dislocate her jaw, she shifted her attention to the silent black-and-white monitor at her side. Pictured on the 13 inch screen was a clear view of the Colonel, an expression of discomfort and fatigue fixed across his face.
You're putting up one hell of a fight, sir. More than I ever...
A shout from down the hall startled the petite doctor from her thoughts. A moment later, an overenthusiastic Daniel came bounding through the door with the ever stoic Teal'c not far behind.
"Janet! Where's Sam?" he demanded, his eyes and boyish grin equally wide. He had something small and dark clutched tightly in his hands.
"I sent her to my place to check in on Cassie. Why? What's the rush?"
"Daniel Jackson believes he has discovered the meaning of the artifact which damaged O'Neill," Teal'c explained, also holding something.
"Yeah - check this out."
Her breath caught in her throat as he placed the deceptively heavy object on her desk. "Oh my god..." she uttered, tentatively leaning in for a closer look. No longer entombed within a mass of hardened ash and mud, the alien relic was truly a piece of art. With its metal prongs, two joined spheres, and now eight small cylinders - four on either side of the small sphere - there was no doubt in her mind what she was looking at. "It's a spider."
"Yup - a meticulously carved representation of an ancient species of alien arachnid," Daniel replied, resting his elbows on her desk as he sat down across from her. "Complete with five glyphs and eight precious gem eyes." He tapped the tiny, ruby colored stones embedded at the top of the smaller sphere.
"As is the tale that is recounted in the scrolls," Teal'c added, arranging the three opened scrolls - now encased in clear, protective boxes -- on the desk for her to see.
"With Teal'c's help I was able to get what I believe is a fairly accurate translation of the first three documents," Daniel began, automatically slipping into lecture mode. "Two of the scrolls turned out to be part of a personal journal that belonged to one of the moon's native inhabitants, and had details about a ceremonial feast called a Hecate Supper."
"Such events were held annually in honor of the goddess and her loyal dog, Hermes. According to the scrolls, this feast was to be Hecate's last."
Janet's eyebrows rose with interest. "They killed her?"
"Not exactly. See, according to the author, some of the fruit that was used in the rite could only be found in a specific grove deep in the forest. It had to be collected by specially appointed journeymen and brought back to the village in time for the feast. Anyway, at some point during their fruit gathering expedition, one of these journeymen unwittingly picked up a passenger and brought it back with him."
Daniel nodded. "It was during the festival when Hecate was selecting the best fruit for herself that she was bitten. Her eyes flashed with rage and she condemned the entire village to a slow, insufferable death for their deceit of faith toward her."
"That definitely sounds like a Goa'uld," she muttered, staring at the unfamiliar characters neatly printed in black ink across the scrolls. "What did she do to them?"
"Nothing. Apparently she collapsed in the middle of her threat and went into some sort of violent seizure before finally dying several minutes later."
The doctor shook her head. "That's amazing."
"It also explains this - or at least part of this," Daniel said, sliding the case holding the first scroll toward her. "One of the inscriptions reads `Killer of the Gods.'"
"Never before has there been such a cunning and effective method of destroying a Goa'uld symbiote," Teal'c added, a glint of satisfaction in his eyes.
"What happened after that?"
"Well, understandably there was mass panic, disbelief, and confusion. Everything these people had lived and worked for, a person they believed to be all-powerful and possessing eternal life had simply dropped dead right before their eyes."
"Without an icon to guide them, they did not know how to proceed."
"That is until a child found the body of the spider - or arachni -- among the remaining fruit. The author says the child presented the spider to one of the village elders, and asked if it - the killer of the gods - should become their new divine leader as it had sacrificed its own life to reveal the true nature of their former god. To make a long story short, an assembly was called and the elders agreed. The word was quickly spread and the majority of the people readily accepted the spider as their new god."
"The relic was crafted in stone to harbor the spirit of the deceased arachni once its power had been harvested."
The doctor blinked. "Excuse me?"
"We think they're referring to the spider's venom since that's what actually killed Hecate," Daniel explained, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "The third scroll touches briefly on the removal of a clear substance from the creature's fangs. Apparently they diluted it in some sort of "holy water" before transferring it to the relic."
"Daniel, I don't know," Janet began, her expression becoming doubtful. "I mean this all makes for a good story and all, but..."
"Do you not believe these documents to be truthful, Doctor Fraiser?"
"Oh, I believe there's some truth in them, Teal'c. Just not a whole lot of it."
"What's giving you doubts?"
"You said the scrolls indicated Hecate died a short time after envenomation, correct?" she asked, continuing after the archeologist gave an affirmative nod. "Well, if the recount was true and these primitive people really did manage to transfer the spider's venom into the relic, then why didn't it kill the Colonel immediately after he was exposed?"
"O'Neill became extremely ill after injuring his hand on the artifact."
"He went into anaphylactic shock - a massive overreaction of the body's immune system. Now with what we know about Goa'uld physiology and their advanced healing capabilities, such a reaction would never occur."
"Okay, so there's still a few factors missing," Daniel pushed, unwilling to drop his point. "But think about it, Janet. How else could the poison have gotten inside a solid piece of stone?"
"I...I don't know."
To Daniel, the doctor suddenly looked beyond exhausted, and he felt a sharp pang of guilt for having been so insistent. I guess trusting the words of a 300-year-old journal is difficult when someone's life is on the line... He reached out and rested his hand on top of hers. "Look, I should have done some more research before I dumped all this on you. I'm sorry."
She smiled. "No - I'm just tired. Lack of sleep tends to narrow the mind, you know?"
He nodded and allowed the office to fall silent for a moment, his gaze drifting to the small monitor on the desk. "How's Jack doing?"
"He seems to be holding his own at the moment, but he's in desperate need of recuperative rest. I'm hoping he'll sleep soundly through the night, but..."
"Would my presence at O'Neill's side be of any consolation?"
"Sure -- if that's something you'd like to do, Teal'c. It might help ease his mind knowing there's someone's with him."
The large man tipped his head and quietly left the room.
"So, you going to be okay?" Daniel asked once they were alone.
"Me? Oh, I'll be fine. I'm just going to finish up here and then try to catch some sleep. I want to stay close by in case something changes."
"Okay." He gave her hand a light squeeze before standing to gather up his artifacts. "Listen, if you need anything, I'll be in my office. I'm hoping to find the answers to a few questions before tomorrow's briefing."
"Well be sure to get some sleep yourself. I don't need two of you to look after," she said with a ghost of a grin.
"Right. Have a good night, Janet."
"You too," she said, releasing a weary sigh once he had gone. Picking up the report she had abandoned earlier, she stole a final glance at the isolation room monitor to find that Teal'c had already settled himself at Jack's side. Satisfied that her patient was doing as well as to be expected, she turned back to the lengthy medical file and began to read.
It had been just after 2130 by the time Sam arrived at Fraiser's house, her side trips to the local pizza shop and video store having taken longer than she had anticipated. Cassie had been elated that she'd come to visit, and the two enjoyed a late dinner of pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Still distracted with thoughts of what was happening back at the base, Carter had remained unusually quiet; content just to listen to the young teen prattle on about her eventful day at school.
And now, with the dishes done, both sat snuggled together in the den watching the movie she had brought, Cassie's dog dozing contentedly at their feet.
I can't believe I just let myself leave... Sam thought ruefully, resting her chin on the plush throw pillow she clutched to her chest. I should have stayed with him...or at least been on hand to help the lab technicians with the toxin's chemical analysis. Daniel could have easily come to check on Cassie. Why did I let myself say yes? What if something happens and I'm not there? Would Janet really call me if something goes wrong? What if there's no time? What if he just suddenly...I wouldn't get a chance to say goodbye...
Cassie looked away from the television screen when she heard a small sniff come from the direction of her friend. Even in the dim lighting, she could see Sam's eyes were brimmed with unshed tears and that she was trembling slightly behind the pillow she held. "Sam? Are you okay?"
"Huh?" She jumped, having completely forgotten about the young girl seated beside her. She looked down to meet Cassie's concerned gaze. "I'm sorry, sweetie, what?"
"I asked if you were okay."
"Me? I'm fine, Cass." She fished a napkin from her pocket and quickly blotted away the few tears that had escaped down her cheek.
"It's a sad movie."
"It's Black Beauty, Sam. It ends happy."
"I know," she uttered, pressing the damp napkin against her lips.
Possessing the same perception as her adopted mother, Cassie reached for the remote and switched off the TV. "Please tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."
"I'm afraid there's nothing you can do. And it's looking like there's nothing anybody can do."
Sam hesitated. What should I say? "Someone's sick."
"Is that why mom's still at work?"
"Yeah. She's waiting for some lab results to come back."
"Is it someone I know?"
She nodded and held the pillow closer.
"Is it Daniel?"
Sam shut her eyes and swallowed against the rising lump in her throat. "Yeah."
"What's wrong with him?" Cassie demanded, the sharp rise in her voice abruptly waking the dog. "Is he going to be all right?"
"Cassie..." Sam ran a hand nervously through her hair and took a shuddering breath. What do I tell her? The truth will just upset her...but she's smart enough to know when I'm lying... "Your mom says he's been exposed to some sort of alien neurotoxin - a dangerous chemical that affects how the brain and nerves work. He's very sick right now and she wanted to be there for him."
"I-is he going to...die?"
"No, of course..." She had to stop and turn away when she saw the pleading look on Cassie's face, unable to tell her something that she didn't readily believe herself. "I don't know. He's just so sick and I don't..." Her voice broke at last and she couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Cassie," she uttered between sobs. "I'm just so worried..."
Greatly sadden by the news and her friend's unbridled tears, the young girl began to cry too as she wrapped her arms around Sam in a comforting hug. For several minutes, the two simply held one another and cried, their hearts aching for the man they both cared deeply about.
When she was finally able to bring her emotions back under control, Sam gently pulled Cassie off her shoulder and gave her a small smile. "Thank you."
"For what?" the girl sniffed.
"The hug. The past couple of days have been rough. I needed that," she said, gently wiping the tears from Cassie's face. "Now listen to me. I know you care very much about the Colonel, and it's okay to be worried. But we both have to remember that he's in your mother's very capable hands right now, and I can't think of a better place for him to be. Can you?"
"And the Colonel's a fighter - if there's anyone who can get through something like this, it's him. Right?"
Cassie slowly nodded. "C-can I see him?"
"I don't know, sweetie. He's awfully sick right now and he needs to rest."
"But I promise I won't bother him. I just want to see him in case...in case he..." Tears began to well up in her eyes again.
"Cassie," she uttered, pulling the girl into another hug. "How about I give your mom a call in the morning and see what she says, okay?" She felt her nod against her shoulder.
"Thanks, Sam," she said, sitting up and wiping her eyes.
"Sure. Now, why don't you go get ready for bed and I'll come up in a few minutes and tuck you in?"
Cassie slid off the couch and gathered up the blanket she had been wrapped in. "Are you staying?"
"I think so. Now scoot, it's getting late. Janet will kill me if she knows how long I let you stay up."
With a wide grin, Cassie headed for her bedroom with the dog following sleepily at her heels, leaving Carter alone in the darkness of the den. With a final somber sniff, she stood and began to straighten up the sofa, unable to stop her hands from shaking as she worked. Oh god, please let him be okay...
Thunder roared deafeningly overhead. Jagged bolts of lightening tore through the cloud- blackened sky. The wild wind whipped and the icy rain poured. Beneath it all, in a vast field flanked by sagging willow trees, two beings squared off in a battle that was sure to rival the storm itself.
An ageless goddess - beautiful, young, and proud - stood tall atop a newly fallen log with her arms raised toward the violent sky. "You dare challenge Hecate?" she demanded, her voice strangely deep and hollow against the raging storm.
Her adversary, appearing to be nothing more than a massive piece of dark stone, made no reply.
"I command you! Reveal yourself to your goddess!"
Again the boulder remained still, bolts of lightening reflecting off its perfectly smooth surface.
"Fool! Your insolent silence brings you no protection. I AM YOUR GOD! " Hecate's eyes flashed with anger as she displayed the ribbon device she wore on her hand. "Prepare to meet your end." Splaying her fingers wide, she shot a wavering beam of golden energy from her palm crashing into the side of the rock.
At first nothing happened. It was only once the beam had started to erode away the rock's polished surface that it finally moved. Swaying slowly from side to side, the massive stone began unfolding itself from its defensive ball, its hinged joints creaking and grinding as they came to life.
Stunned by the creature's enormous size, Hecate dropped her hand and took a step back, shielding her eyes against the driving rain. Using the brief flashes of light from the storm, she watched as the giant gradually took shape and effortlessly lifted its round, bulky body from the ground on eight jointed legs. Eight gleaming red eyes penetrated the darkness while two golden, tree sized fangs shimmered in the sparse light. Although she did not know the name of the creature she faced, she could sense it was dangerous and posed a threat to her power. Such things could not be allowed to happen.
Squaring back her shoulders, she remounted her fallen log and aimed the ribbon device at her massive opponent.
A piercing tone escaped the beast as it hammered its front legs into the ground, the resulting tremor nearly knocking Hecate off her feet.
"How dare you threaten me!" she roared, an energy beam shooting from her palm and slamming into the living stone.
Unfazed by the effects of the glowing weapon, the creature reared into the air, its first two sets of legs nearly scraping the storm clouds above.
For the first time in her eternal life, Hecate actually felt fear. "Bow before your goddess and I shall consider sparing your life!" she cried, her voice trembling.
Ignoring the vain plea, the creature flexed its substantial fangs as it began to slowly cant its body forward.
Terrified, Hecate jumped from her log and started to run. "No!"
A back leg came down and shook the earth, dropping the fleeing goddess to the ground.
"I command you...stop!"
It was no use. With an overwhelming burst of speed, the creature slammed itself fangs first into the ground, completely crushing the vulnerable woman beneath it. The reign of Hecate was over.
Freeing its lethal fangs from the earth, the living rock reared into the air, its shrill voice ringing triumphantly into the night.
Janet shot up in bed with a startled yelp. Clutching the blankets anxiously against her body, she fervently searched her dark office for the source of the sound that had awoken her.
Is it here? The spider? Could it really be in my office? How would that be...?
She barely held back a frightened cry when the noise occurred again not far from where she sat trembling like a child who was afraid of the dark. Realizing this was no way for a military doctor to behave, she took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down and think rationally as she had been trained to do. There was simply no way a mountain-sized spider made out of solid stone could fit inside the SGC, let alone her closet sized office. So what else could be making that horrible sound?
Her senses still foggy from sleep, she looked around the small room until a familiar blinking red light on her desk caught her eye.
It was at that moment she felt like a complete and utter fool.
You're losing it, Janet. Only you could turn something as innocent as a ringing phone into a ridiculous doomsday monster...
Shoving the blankets off to the side, she swung her feet over the edge of the small cot and slapped on the lights. Squinting against their harsh brightness, she made her way over to the desk and picked up the phone.
"Fraiser." She was surprised to hear the voice of the night duty nurse on the other end. "No no, it's okay, Captain. You just woke me up from a rather bizarre dream, that's all. What's going on?"
She rubbed at her tired eyes as she listened. "How much difficulty is he having?"
The response immediately cleared her mind of all traces of sleep. Even with the little information she'd just received, it became unquestionably clear that Colonel O'Neill was headed for trouble. "Okay. Go ahead and give him 15 cc's diazepam. I'll be right down."
Hanging up the phone, she took half a second to gather her thoughts before scouring the floor for her shoes. Stepping into the low heels and shrugging on her jacket, she took a quick swallow of cold coffee and took off for the Colonel's room - her bizarre dream all but forgotten.
Janet hurried into the isolation room just over a minute later, nearly colliding with a very distraught Daniel.
"Janet, it's Jack. He's not doing good..."
"I know. I'm going to see what I can do. Just stay right here, okay?" she said, wishing she had more time to comfort the distressed younger man. Leaving Daniel to watch from the doorway, she turned around to find her team already working hard to bring the situation under control. Jack was flat on his back and unnaturally still, half his face hidden beneath a blue ambu-bag that two nurses were using to force air into his lungs. Amidst the organized chaos, she could hear several monotone alarms sounding loudly in the background, their distinct calls telling her that the older man was in trouble.
She caught sight of the officer in charge. "Captain Rhodes, talk to me. What's going on?"
"We got a call from Dr. Jackson about 10 minutes ago saying the Colonel was having difficultly breathing. When we arrived, he was showing signs of advanced respiratory distress and his oxygen levels began to steadily drop. We've been trying to keep him oxygenated but now his heart rate and blood pressure are starting to fall as well," the young woman replied as they walked across the room.
"Is he breathing at all?"
"Sporadically - three, maybe four times a minute. There's been no response to the diazepam and the spasms are getting so frequent we're not having much luck with the bag either."
Janet took a hurried glance at the monitors as she moved to her patient's side, immediately concerned by the dangerously low numbers that were displayed across the screen. Jack was fading fast.
"Let's get another 10 units diazepam and .3 epi into him and I want 3mg succinylcholine put on stand by. I'm going to try to intubate." She wasn't comfortable with the idea of introducing a chemical paralytic into his system - there were still too many unknowns surrounding the alien neurotoxin and that made her nervous. She feared the complications of a potentially severe reaction would prove fatal in his weakened state, but she also knew if the less aggressive drugs didn't stop the spasms soon, then she wouldn't have much of a choice.
When a tech bearing a tray with the items needed for the emergency procedure appeared at her elbow, Janet motioned for the two nurses working the ambu-bag to stop. Stepping into position, she took a moment to give Jack's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Just hang in there, sir," she said, gently tilting his head back and opening his mouth. Although the bluish tint that had settled around his lips was a concern, it was the strangled, almost nonexistent gasp that was his attempt to breathe on his own that troubled her most.
"Medication's in, Doctor."
"Thank you, Captain," she replied, taking the metallic guide tool from the tray and activating its bright light. Carefully sliding the curved blade down his throat, she was surprised when he grimaced and moved slightly beneath her hands. "I know. I know. I'm sorry, Colonel," she uttered quietly, realizing that for as sick as the man was, he was still somewhat aware of what was going on.
With the blade in position, tube insertion went quickly, and she stepped away to allow the nurses to reconnect the ambu-bag.
"Use short, rapid compressions on the bag. If you meet resistance, release pressure and immediately try again," she ordered, double-checking the tube's placement and giving the final go-ahead to start ventilating. "Captain, I need to know the instant there's a change in his O2 levels - both up and down. If he dips below 65 percent, we're going to have to go with the succinylcholine."
I just hope to hell it doesn't come down to that... she thought as she repositioned her stethoscope on Jack's fevered skin and began listening for signs of improvement. Over the stressed, thready beats of his heart, she could clearly make out the rhythmic hiss of the ambu- bag, and the distinct, hiccup-like thumps of the spasms as they forced air from his lungs.
"O2 level is 69 percent," Captain Rhodes reported.
That's the wrong way, Colonel... Janet's frown of concentration deepened as the spasms continued unchecked, seemingly unaffected by the high dose of relaxants and adrenaline coursing through his veins.
"Damn it, Jack, stay with me..."
It was then that she heard it -- a subtle, almost indiscernible change in the intensity of the spasms. With her heart in her throat, Janet listened as the hitches gradually began to slow and weaken until they finally seemed to stop. Seconds later, her ears filled with the sounds of rushing air as the ambu-bag was at last able to fully inflate Jack's lungs.
"The Colonel's O2 levels just jumped to 71 percent," the Captain announced. "73 percent...74...77..."
Okay, this is good. This is exactly what we want to see... the doctor thought as she began reassessing her patient, her mind already formulating what to do next. She knew he was far from being out of the woods, but this latest battle proved he was still willing and able to put up one hell of a fight. You may have won the battle, but do you really think you can win the war...?
The anxious tone in Captain Rhodes's voice pulled her from her cynical thoughts. "What is it, Captain?" she asked, moving past the bed to join her in front of the monitors.
"The Colonel's heart rate and blood pressure are continuing to recover, but his oxygen levels aren't rising past 83 percent."
Janet felt her reserved optimism rapidly fade. This was something new. Even as severe as the previous bouts had been, his vitals had always quickly rebounded to be within acceptable limits. But this time was different - something was wrong.
Feeling as equally frustrated as she was concerned, the small doctor returned to his side. "You're just not going to get a break, are you, sir?" she asked quietly, resting a comforting hand against his arm. Deciding to rule out the most obvious cause for his troubles first, she returned her stethoscope to her ears and began reevaluating the placement of the ET tube. As she listened to the slow, rhythmic puffs of air entering his lungs, she found herself studying the expression on her CO's face.
To the untrained eye, the slight tightening of the man's features whenever the ambu-bag was compressed would have seemed trivial or even been passed over entirely. But for Janet, this subtle change spoke volumes, providing her with an important clue as to what was going on.
"Okay..." she began, turning back to Rhodes. "Let's get him ready to move down to radiology. I'd like to get a CT scan of his chest - there's a few things I want to rule out before we do anything more."
"Yes, ma'am," the young Captain replied, and set to work on her orders.
Releasing a tense sigh, she left Jack in the capable hands of her staff and went to see how Daniel was holding up. She found him in the doorway where she had left him, his arms clasped tightly around his chest and a fist pressed against his lips. "Daniel?"
"He's still with us. Still fighting," she replied, watching him closely. "You okay?"
The archeologist nodded and gave a shaky sigh. "I-I think so. That was just hard to..." He absently plucked the glasses from his face and began to clean them against his shirttails. "...H- how's he doing?"
Janet hesitated a moment, unsure what to say or how to say it. "Not so good," she finally admitted, deciding her friend deserved the truth. "This latest attack really wore him out. His oxygen levels just aren't recovering and he seems to be experiencing pain whenever the ambu- bag is compressed. We're getting ready to take him down for a CT scan to try and find out what's going on."
"What could it be?"
"Any number of things. I won't know for sure until I get a look inside."
He frowned and began to rub his lenses even harder.
"Listen, Daniel, I'm sorry you had to see all this..."
"I should have called for help sooner. I should have known he was having more than a nightmare..."
"No, Daniel, this wasn't your fault," the doctor said firmly, grabbing his wrists to stop his compulsive cleaning. "My entire medical team could have been here and it still would have happened. The Colonel just doesn't have the strength needed to endure the effects of the toxin alone anymore."
"And if it happens again?" he asked, returning the dark rimmed glasses to his near colorless face. "Then what?"
"Why don't you let my team and I worry about that, okay?" she said with a warm smile. "The important thing to remember is that as long as he's with us, then there's still a chance we can beat this thing. All right?"
Daniel nodded and managed to force a small smile, appreciating her attempt at cheering him up. But even with her reassurance, he just couldn't shake the sick feeling from his stomach knowing that he'd almost witnessed the death of one of his closest friends. And what a horrible way to go too...
"Dr. Fraiser?" Captain Rhodes said quietly as she approached. "We're about ready to transport the Colonel to radiology."
"Thank you, Captain."
"C-can I come or do you want me to wait here?" Daniel asked quietly as the nurse returned to her duties.
"I want you to go to your quarters and get some rest."
"Ah!" She put a hand up to stop him. "I'm not going to argue with you. You're exhausted physically and emotionally, and you need to take some time out for yourself."
Daniel's shoulders slumped. This was not what he wanted to hear. "But Jack shouldn't be..."
Janet knew exactly what was coming next. "He's not going to be left alone, Daniel. If I can't be with him, then a member of my staff will be. He'll never be by himself. I promise." She watched as he mulled over her words for a moment, hoping he would understand her reasoning. At last he nodded, and she gave his hand a light squeeze. "You want to see him?"
"Please." With her small hand still wrapped tightly around his, Daniel slowly approached his friend's bedside, almost afraid of what he would see.
Looking even sicker than before, Jack lay in a deep state of unconsciousness, completely unaware of the solemn group of people surrounding him. Dark circles beneath his eyes stood out in stark contrast to the ghostly pallor of his skin, while fine lines of exhaustion made him appear older than he really was. A nurse stood at his head, her face serious with concentration as she slowly compressed the ambu-bag that was feeding oxygen directly into his lungs. Portable monitoring equipment had been attached in preparation for travel, and despite his persistent fever, he'd been draped with a light blanket to ward off any chills.
"My god, Jack," Daniel whispered, reaching out to take his friend's hand. "My god, you don't deserve this..." He still couldn't believe this was happening -- that the weak, vulnerable man before him could be the same one he'd come to trust, respect, and admire despite their many differences. "No...you don't deserve this at all..."
The click of the final bed wheel lock being released prompted a deep, shaky sigh from the archeologist. Preparation was over - it was time for them to go their separate ways. Without looking up, Daniel replaced Jack's hand at his side before abruptly turning away and retreating to where he'd been working at the back of the room.
"Captain, go ahead and take Colonel O'Neill over to radiology - I'll be right behind you," Janet said, concerned by his behavior. She waited until her entire team had left with the Colonel before she approached her friend who was standing with his back to her, his nose in a book. "Daniel - you okay?"
He snapped the heavy volume shut with a hollow thump. "Huh? Oh, Janet...umm...just give me a second. I'll get my stuff and leave..." he muttered, and began hastily gathering his research materials.
"No, that's not what I..." her words fading off when he suddenly stopped, braced himself against the table, and hung his head. "Daniel?"
"I've never seen anyone that sick before."
"It's hard - especially when it's someone you care about. You handled it well though. You stayed strong, and that's exactly what the Colonel needs right now - strength from his friends."
"He was so pale...so still..." He swallowed hard and set his jaw. "If I had just listened to him in the first place, left that damn rock alone, none of this would have even happened."
"Daniel, this wasn't your fault. You had no idea what was inside that rock or that it was going to break. It was an accident. They happen everyday all across the galaxy, and there isn't always someone at fault. And there doesn't have to be. Blaming yourself won't make Jack better. Hell, if it was that easy, I'd be out of a job."
Daniel snorted and shook his head. He knew she was right - just as the others had been all along - but he still couldn't help feeling responsible for his friend's condition. It was something he'd have to work through eventually, but at least for now, he saw that there were more important things at stake than finding fault and placing blame. Besides, there was still a lot of work to be done.
Straightening up from the table, he walked over to the small doctor and put his hands on her shoulders. "Thank you."
"For what?" she asked, gazing into his brilliant blue eyes.
"For putting things into perspective. I guess I forget how to do that sometimes."
"I think we all do."
A genuine smile broke out on Daniel's young face for the first time in days. "You'd better get going -- Jack needs you. I'll finish picking up here and then try to get some sleep."
"Good. And I don't want to see you back here for at least six hours."
"Six hours? But, Janet..."
"Ah! Don't make me confine you to the Infirmary." Her tone may have been light but the look in her eyes told him she wasn't kidding around. "Six hours."
Daniel sighed and tipped her a playful salute. "Yes, ma'am."
She flashed him a wide grin as she turned to leave the room. "Pleasant dreams," she said and disappeared into the hall.
0745 found Janet restlessly pacing the hall just outside the isolation room, nervously awaiting the arrival of her adopted daughter. Sam had called about an hour before asking if it would be all right to bring Cassie in to see the Colonel, and while she had agreed at the time, she was beginning to have second thoughts. She'd been purposely vague when Sam had asked how he was doing, not wanting to upset her friend too much before the drive in. She knew the Colonel's sudden deterioration would come as a huge upset to her, and could only imagine how Cassie would take it.
"Mom!" The familiar shout and sight of her daughter running down the hall immediately brought a smile to the doctor's face.
"Cassie! Oh, I missed you so much!" she said, grabbing the girl up in a warm hug. "Did you have a good time with Sam?"
The young teen nodded vigorously. "Ah-huh! We stayed up late and had pizza!"
"Oh really?" Janet stole a glance at her friend whose eyes had gone wide.
"A-ah, well, it w-wasn't that late..." Sam stammered, her face flushing with embarrassment.
"We stopped at the toy store on the way here and look..." Cassie wiggled out of her mother's grasp and unzipped her jacket, revealing a large plush goldfish tucked inside. "I got him for Uncle Jack."
"I'm sure he'll love it, Cass," she said, delighted by the stuffed toy's bright colors. "I bet it even makes him feel a little better."
Cassie's proud smile abruptly faded, her mother's words reminding her of the bittersweet reason for her visit. She pulled the goldfish out of her jacket and cuddled it reassuringly against her chest.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Janet asked, seeing the sudden change in her daughter.
"Sam and I talked last night, about the alien chemical and what it's doing to Jack. She said he was really sick."
"I'm afraid Sam's right, sweetie," she said, kneeling down to her level. "Jack is very sick."
"He's going to get better though...right, mom?"
The doctor sighed and briefly shut her eyes, the imploring look on her daughter's face enough to bring her to tears. "Cassie, listen to me..." she began, trying hard to keep her voice steady. "We are doing everything in our power to help the Colonel through this, but I can't give you any promises. I'm really sorry."
Cassie quickly looked down at her feet when she felt her eyes starting to fill with tears. Although she and Sam had briefly discussed the matter the night before, hearing her mother confirm it now was like a cruel slap in the face.
"How did he do overnight?" Sam asked, stepping up behind the saddened girl and gently rubbing her shoulders.
Janet sighed and slowly stood from her crouch, not looking forward to delivering even more bad news. "That's something we need to talk about, actually..." she replied, speaking more to her friend than her daughter. "It, ah...it happened again."
I knew I should have never left...she thought, her stomach clenching into a tight knot. "H- how bad?"
"Very bad -- easily the worst attack he's had so far. By the time I got down here, he was essentially in respiratory arrest and not responding well to medication. I had no choice but to step in and help. He's on a respirator now. "
"Oh my god..." Sam uttered, instinctively drawing Cassie in closer for comfort. She fought hard against the tears that were already blurring her vision, trying to remain strong in the presence of her young friend. "So...so was it caused by exhaustion or is he getting worse?"
"Both, actually. It wasn't until the drugs finally kicked in and he began to recover that we noticed his oxygen levels were remaining low, and that he was showing signs of discomfort whenever we tried to ventilate him. I ran a CT scan and found a significant amount of bruising on both his lungs, undoubtedly caused by the force and strain of the spasms he's been having. And unfortunately, there's not much I can do for him other than control pain, swelling, and the depth of his respirations."
"So what does that mean?" Cassie asked, looking worriedly from Sam to her mother. "He's not breathing?"
"No, sweetie, he is breathing," Janet insisted, kneeling back down and taking her hand. "Just not as much as he should be. Jack's really tired right now and his lungs are very sore. We're just giving him the extra help he needs to keep going." She saw a tear slide down the girl's young face and she gently wiped it away. "We're not letting him go without a fight, Cass."
Cassie sniffed and scrubbed a hand across her face. "Can I see him now?"
Her mother nodded and stood, still holding onto her small hand. With a reassuring smile, she began leading her daughter down the hall toward the Colonel's room with Sam following close behind. Once they reached the doorway, she dismissed the attending nurse with a nod and turned Cassie toward the bed at the center of the room.
To say that Cassie's first glimpse of her adopted uncle was painful would be an understatement. Gazing up through the bed's guardrail at his unnaturally still form, it was hard to accept that this pale, sickly man was the same one she'd come to love and look up to over the past year and a half. But one look at the tired, flushed face told her exactly who it was.
"Oh god..." Sam breathed as she stepped over to the bed. "Oh, Colonel. I'm so sorry..." It was heartbreaking to see him like this; so sick, so vulnerable. She could only hope that he was out of pain, and unaware of the true gravity of his situation.
Cassie watched as her friend reached out and gently passed her trembling fingers through his silvering hair. Still in too much shock to fully react herself, she simply stared at Jack's sleeping face, her eyes locked on the tube that passed through his almost translucent lips. This wasn't the first time she'd been exposed to someone who was critically sick; she'd seen it countless times before while watching TV with her mother. But she never thought she would witness any of her close friends in this situation - especially not her Uncle Jack.
Janet gave her daughter's arm a reassuring squeeze when she couldn't decipherer the odd look on her face. "Cassie?"
"The tube," she began, her voice barely above a whisper. "Does it hurt?"
"Nope, not at all," the doctor replied, glad to see she was relaxing enough to ask questions. "He probably doesn't even know it's there."
"Will he wake up?"
"I doubt it, sweetie. He's got a lot of medication in him right now to help him rest comfortably. I'll bet he knows you're here though."
"C-can I touch him?"
Reaching timidly through the guardrail, Cassie gently wrapped her small hand around Jack's limp fingers; mindful of the white bandages covering his palm. "He's so hot..."
"He has a very high fever. It's how his body is trying to protect itself."
"And it's not working?"
"No, I'm afraid it's not," Janet replied softly, saddened by the disappointment on her daughter's face. "But we're working hard to find something that will, okay?"
Cassie nodded and swallowed forcefully against the lump that was forming in her throat. She was fighting hard to keep her emotions under control, wanting to be strong for her ailing uncle during his time of need. But as she stood lightly passing her thumb across the back of his hot, lifeless hand, she found herself quickly losing the battle.
Hoping to borrow some strength from a friend, the young girl looked up to find Sam with her head bowed down and her eyes tightly shut. She was holding onto Jack's broad shoulder with one trembling hand, while rubbing at the trails of fresh moisture on her face with the other. The painful sight was more than Cassie could take, and she made no attempt to stop the tears once they began.
"Please don't die, Uncle Jack," she said quietly, carefully lifting his hand through the guardrail and gently hugging it to her cheek. "You can't die. You promised you'd teach me how to ski this winter, remember? And how to skate backwards, and build a really cool snow fort..."
She paused when her voice began to waiver, her mother coming to her side and lightly rubbing her back. "Sam told me about the stuff that's making you sick...you have to fight it, Jack. Please fight it. I want you to take me fishing again. I know I said it was yucky and smelly, but I really want to try it again. And I promise I'll be quiet this time, so maybe you'll catch something. Please, Jack. Don't give up. Please." She clutched his hand tighter as she began to cry in earnest, her entire body shaking with each sob.
"I know, baby, I know. It's okay. Just let it out," Janet soothed, drawing her into a tight hug. She held her hurting daughter close for along time, trying unsuccessfully to keep her own tears at bay. She knew she was letting her personal feelings get in the way of her professional ones, but seeing Cassie so upset made it near impossible for her to remain neutral. Since day one, the Colonel had played a pivotal role in her acclimation to life on Earth, and having him around had meant an awful lot to the young girl. And to me too...
Nearly fifteen minutes passed before Cassie was able to lift her head from her mother's shoulder, her eyes red and swollen from crying. Without letting go of Jack's hand, she reached into her jacket and withdrew the stuffed toy she'd had tucked under her arm. "I g-got you something, Uncle Jack," she said with a sniff. "He's a goldfish. S-Sam and I named him Tangerine because he's orange, b-but you can call him what you want. I thought he could keep you company and maybe...maybe help you feel better."
She carefully nested the fish against his black-and-blue side before guiding his arm through the guardrail and onto the mattress. "I hope you like him."
Still holding his hand, Cassie shut her eyes and bowed her head, mimicking what she had seen her friend do earlier. She remained like this for several minutes, content just to revel in her uncle's natural presence and offer him what comfort she could. When she looked up again, she found Sam at her side in place of her mother, who had stepped away to answer the phone.
Cassie nodded and wiped a few stray tears from her cheeks.
"You're being awfully brave about this, Cass," Sam said, her voice still unsteady from crying. "It's very hard to see someone you care about when they're this sick. I'm proud of you."
"That makes two of us," Janet said, returning from her phone call. "And I dare say the Colonel would be too." She watched as a ghost of a smile appeared on Cassie's face for the first time since they'd entered the room.
Sam nodded in agreement. "Most definitely."
The doctor lovingly rumpled her daughter's hair. "Listen, kiddo, that call I just got was from Dr. Braddick. The Colonel's detailed lab work is finally in and she needs me to meet her as soon as possible."
Cassie perked up. "So you might be able to make Jack better now?"
"We're going to try."
"Can I stay with him?"
Janet cringed at her daughter's request. Normally she wouldn't mind letting her stay as there was always a nurse nearby, but until she was confident the Colonel's symptoms were under control, the short, supervised visits would have to do. "Oh, Cass, I don't think so. Not right now. We really need to let Jack rest so he can conserve what strength he has left. Do you understand?"
Although not the definitive answer she was hoping for, Cassie nodded just the same.
"That's my girl," Janet muttered as she kissed the top of her head. "Is there anything you want to say to Jack before we go?"
Cassie thought for a minute and then nodded again. "But I need Sam's help."
"You bet. What can I do?"
Janet watched curiously as her daughter whispered something into Sam's ear, a wide grin spreading across her lips.
"Ooh, I think I can do that," she replied, lifting the young girl into her arms and stepping over to the head of the bed. "Boy, you're getting big..."
Keeping one arm wrapped securely around Sam's neck, Cassie carefully leaned forward until she was almost face to face with her sick uncle. She watched his sleeping features closely as she reached out and lightly touched his thinning face, his tight, almost pained expression never changing. He looks even worse up close...
With a heavyhearted sigh, she stretched out and placed a gentle kiss on Jack's fevered brow. "I love you, Uncle Jack," she uttered quietly, taking a last, long look at his face before letting Sam set her down.
Janet quickly caught a tear as it began to slide down her cheek. "That was very nice, sweetie," she said, deeply touched by her daughter's actions.
"Yeah, it was," Sam agreed, fighting back tears of her own. "Very special."
Cassie shrugged shyly and cuddled against her mother. "Mom, I don't want to leave him."
"I know, Cass," Janet replied, smoothing out the tangles in her long hair. "But we need to do what's best for Jack right now, and that means allowing him to rest, okay?"
Sam saw the disappointment in her friend's face and knelt down to her level. "Hey, I know. Why don't you and I head to the Commissary and see what we can find for breakfast while your mom goes to her meeting? You must be getting awfully hungry by now."
"A little..." Cassie looked over at Jack and then to her mother who gave her an encouraging smile. With a hesitant nod, she reached up and took Sam's proffered hand.
"Atta girl," Sam said as she began to gently steer her toward the exit.
Sandwiched between her mother and friend, Cassie reluctantly allowed herself to be led from the room, praying that this would not be the last time she'd get to see Jack alive.
Nearly two hours later, Dr. Fraiser stepped off the elevator and headed briskly toward the Briefing Room. She'd just come from the consultation with Dr. Braddick and was now on her way to share the results with General Hammond and the three healthy members of SG-1. The meeting had gone well; Braddick - the specialist in charge of the SGC's chemical analysis team - had been thorough in her explanations, covering everything from the toxin's makeup to possible treatment options. Now it was up to Janet to decide what to do next, a decision, she hoped, that the General and the rest of SG-1 could help her make.
Janet paused at the base of the stairs that led up to the conference room, hesitant to continue. Although informative, her meeting with Braddick had not yielded the results she'd been hoping for, making this the second briefing in less than 24 hours where she had little good news to report. There were no magical pills, potions, or remedies that would miraculously cure the Colonel, and the few options they did have were risky long shots at best.
With a discouraged sigh, she began making her way up the metal stairs, the hushed tones of voices from the room above growing louder as she went.
"...I felt so helpless just standing there. I didn't know what else to do..."
"According to Dr. Fraiser, there was nothing more you could have done. Nobody is questioning your actions, son. You did the right thing."
Janet crested the stairs just in time to see Daniel shift uneasily in his chair, the General's words doing little to ease the guilt he was still feeling.
"Doctor, please join us," Hammond said, spotting the petite officer as she stepped into the room. "Dr. Jackson was just telling us what happened earlier this morning. I'm sorry to hear Jack's condition is deteriorating."
She settled into a seat beside Sam. "Thank you, sir. This morning's events were unfortunate, but thanks to everyone involved, we were able to keep the Colonel with us," she replied, making a point of looking at Daniel as she spoke. The young archeologist appeared no better than when she'd sent him away over eight hours before, the dark circles under his eyes made more prominent by the room's florescent lighting. She suspected he had continued to work despite her orders to rest, and made a mental note to question him about it later.
"How'd the meeting with Braddick go?" Sam asked, eager to hear the results of the lab's comprehensive analysis.
"The meeting itself went fine - I think a lot of good information came out of it."
Teal'c's deep voice rumbled from across the table. "Then the consultation revealed a sufficient treatment for O'Neill?"
"Umm...no...not exactly..." the doctor began slowly, trying to decide how to best present the information to her friends. "Not a definitive one anyway." She paused again, briefly searched her notes, and decided to start from the beginning. "Chemical analysis has confirmed that the substance we're dealing with is an organic compound, or, more specifically, a form of arachnid venom. Carbon dating revealed it to be between 2500 and 3000 years old. Dr. Braddick did some cross referencing, and has determined that it could be distantly related to the Latrodectus genus found here on Earth."
Daniel's eyebrows sharply rose. "Did you say Latrodectus? That's Latin. It means "Widow Spider."
"That's the one. The Colonel's symptoms - although much more acute -- are similar to what you'd expect to see in a severe envenomation case here. The lab's analysis estimates the alien spider's venom to be at least 15 times stronger than that of an Australian Red Back."
"Are there not treatments for the venom of Earth arachnids?"
"We have anti-venom for some, but they don't always work," Sam explained. "And in rare cases, they can trigger an even worse reaction."
"Well, if the venom is similar to that of a Widow, why can't you just find the closest match and use that?"
"Anti-venoms are species-specific. Administering the wrong one could be fatal," Janet explained, watching as disappointment crossed Daniel's face. "Besides, the venoms are only symptomatically similar. Chemically, they're totally different."
"Then we must procure the correct anti-venom."
She shook her head. "I wish it were that easy, Teal'c. Synthesizing an anti-venom from scratch requires a great deal of time and resources. Neither of which we have a lot of right now."
"Then what do you propose we do, Doctor?" Hammond asked.
This is it... she thought as she straightened up in her chair. Decision time...
"We discussed several options and came up with two possibilities, both of which have sizable risks. The first is we do nothing. We trust that the venom is close enough to that of a widow spider and hope it proves to be non-lethal. There is a chance it will just run its course and then be metabolized by the body."
"I ah...I-I don't think Jack has that long," Daniel stammered quietly, his thoughts returning to what he had witnessed earlier that day.
"I concur," Teal'c said, tipping his head in agreement.
"The only other option we came up with involves inducing a coma and providing the support he needs until his system is clean."
Hammond frowned. "What good would that do?"
"Aside from affording him some much needed rest, it would also allow for the majority of his muscles to become completely relaxed," she described, launching into explanation mode. "Based on observations and test results, Dr. Braddick and I believe the venom is attracted to the nerve impulses that a muscle generates as it moves. Now, since I began treating the Colonel with strong relaxants that primarily target the skeletal muscles, the spasms in his stomach, back, and legs have been significantly reduced. With these muscles mostly out of commission, the natural progression of the venom carried it into his chest and diaphragm."
"That makes sense," Sam muttered, the puzzle slowly coming together for her. "Spiders use venom to first immobilize, then kill their prey. The spasms in the Colonel's body were meant to disable him, while the ones in his chest were meant to kill. When we stopped the first phase of the reaction with drugs, the spasms "naturally progressed" into his chest to finish him off."
"Right. That's what we came up with too," Janet agreed with a nod. "We also believe that the mental deterioration we've seen is a result of prolonged exposure to the chemical. Nothing that would have been considered natural prey for the spider could have ever survived this long."
"What sort of risks are we looking at, Doctor?"
"Well, sir, we'd be essentially shutting down several of the Colonel's major systems. He'd become dependant on life support and with that comes its own unique set of risks. Our goal is to minimize all involuntary muscle function and the nerve impulses they generate. We're hoping that this lack of stimuli will eventually cause the venom to destabilize and become vulnerable to the defenses of his immune system," she explained. "The biggest initial risk would be a negative reaction to the anesthetic, however we think we've found a combination that he should tolerate quite well. There's also the chance that the venom could shift toward his heart or brain, but intensive monitoring would alert us to that the instant it started."
The General sighed and rubbed his hands together in thought. Sounds like solving one problem could potentially create even more...but what choice do we have?
"H-how long would it be for?" Sam asked.
"A few days, a few weeks. There's no way to know for sure."
Daniel looked up from studying his hands. "What would happen if you decided to do this? What would Jack go through?"
"The Colonel probably won't feel anything. Even if he were awake at the time I administered the drugs, he'd start to feel drowsy and then simply drift off. It's a lot like going under general anesthetic only a much deeper level of unconsciousness is achieved. Once completely asleep, life support will take over, and we'll just need to continue monitoring him and offering support whenever needed."
"This condition would be reversible?" Teal'c inquired.
"Completely," she replied with a nod. "If and when he recovered, we'd stop the sedation drugs and administer a reversal. He'd start to come around within several hours, and would be fully conscious in six to eight hours after that."
"And you feel this is the best option for pulling our man through?"
"Yes, sir, I do.
Hammond sighed and looked around at the others at the table. Although there was still some uncertainty on all their faces, it was the spark of hope in their eyes that helped him make the decision.
"Very well. If there's a chance of getting Jack back on his feet, then we owe it to him to try. Make your preparations, Doctor, and alert me before you begin. I'd like to be there for him along with the rest of his team."
Janet nodded, touched by his request. "Certainly, sir."
"I know these are hard times, people, but we're going to do our damnedest to get through them one way or another," he said as he rose from his chair. "I'm proud of the effort you've been putting into this, and I feel confident in saying Jack would be too. He's held on this long for us, so I think it's time we give him the rest he deserves. Dismissed."
Daniel drew in a deep breath as the elevator doors began to open, hoping to calm the anxious butterflies that were fluttering around in his stomach. The team's trip to the Isolation Ward had been a quiet one; each person lost in his or her own thoughts and misgivings about what was to come. It wasn't that they didn't trust Janet's judgment - they had nothing but faith and admiration toward the small doctor as both a physician and friend. It was wondering whether or not they were about to do the right thing that had them all at a loss for words.
What if we're wrong? He thought, blindly following his two friends through the brightly lit halls of the level. What if we're wrong and Jack gets worse? An image of how far gone his friend had been mere hours before flashed into his mind. He cringed. Not that he can get much worse. I just hope...oh god, please don't let him suffer...
They entered the Colonel's private room a moment later.
"Hey, guys. Come on in," Janet greeted quietly, glancing up only briefly from her patient. "We're about ready to start, but there's someone here who wants to see you first."
Sam's teary eyes widened. "He's awake?"
"According to my team, he's been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past half hour or so," she explained as the group gathered around their leader's bed. "I'm not sure how much of a response you'll get from him, but he does know you're here."
Swallowing hard against the lump that had been lodged in her throat since the briefing, Sam reached through the guardrail and gently lifted her CO's hand. "Colonel? Can you hear me, sir?" At first it appeared that he'd lost consciousness again as there was no response to her voice or touch. But an instant later she felt it - a slight fluttering of his fingers within her grasp. "Colonel?"
With obvious effort, Jack slowly opened his dark eyes and found himself surrounded by the concerned, sympathetic faces of his team.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel greeted, a large grin spreading across his lips.
Teal'c tipped his head. "It is good to see you, O'Neill."
Jack drowsily searched his friend's faces until his unfocused gaze finally came to rest on Sam. She smiled and gave his hand a squeeze, which, to her surprise, he returned weakly.
"Hi, Colonel. How you feeling?" She knew he couldn't speak with the ET tube in place, but the look that flashed through his eyes told her everything she needed to know. Lightly brushing her thumb across his knuckles, she leaned in close so the others couldn't hear: "It's all right, Jack. I'm scared too."
"Perhaps O'Neill's return to consciousness is a sign of improvement."
"I'm afraid not, Teal'c," the doctor said reluctantly. "I've already checked the results of his most recent lab work and there was nothing to suggest improvement of any kind. I'm really sorry, ."
"It's not your fault, Janet," Daniel replied sincerely. "We've just gone from crossing our fingers to wishful thinking."
She knew he'd meant the comment as a light joke, but his dismayed expression tore at her already aching heart. "I'll umm...I'll give you guys a few minutes alone," she stammered and hastily retreated to the lab bench at the back of the room.
Damn it, this is hard... Janet thought, bracing herself against the table and hanging her head in defeat. She was grateful that she'd thought to send her team away long before the others arrived. While her initial intentions had been to give SG-1 as much privacy as possible, she now found herself welcoming the extra space as well.
What if we're wrong? What if a calculation was off or some other vital detail was overlooked? What if by doing this we make him worse when all we really had to do was stand back and let nature run its course? He's already outlived the only victim on record by several days - maybe all he needs is just a little more time...
Deep down Janet knew she was kidding herself - wishful thinking as Daniel had put it. She knew their chosen course of treatment was the best thing they could do for the Colonel, and that right now, time was actually the enemy. Even as she stood debating with herself he was continuing to fail, and if she waited much longer, it would be too late to do anything at all.
Wiping the tears from beneath her eyes, she sniffed and picked up the phone. "Yes, this is Dr. Fraiser. Would you please tell General Hammond we're about to begin? Thank you."
She returned the phone to its cradle with a click and turned her attention to the covered tray on the bench beside her. Beneath the surgical green drape were three hypodermics, each one loaded with a different drug that - when combined - would induce a deep comatose state. After triple checking that the dosages were correct, she gathered up the tray and rejoined the others at the Colonel's side.
"How's he doing?"
"I think we're starting to lose him again," Daniel replied quietly, his eyes teary and red.
"Have you informed O'Neill of your intentions?"
Janet nodded. "I've told him, Teal'c, but I don't know how much got through."
"H-he knows, J-Janet," Sam stammered, her voice broken from crying. Even though Jack's eyes had shut long ago, she could still feel his weak grasp around her fingers. "H-he knows and I-I thin-think he's ready."
The doctor gave her friends a sympathetic smile. "Then let's do this," she said, looking up to find General Hammond standing in the observation room window, his expression one of fatherly concern.
Taking a deep breath, Janet moved to Jack's head and placed a hand against his fevered cheek. "Colonel?" His eyes flickered open and briefly met her gaze before sliding shut again. "Colonel, we're going to start now. I have three different medications that I need to give you, and the first one may make you feel a little dizzy. It's nothing to be afraid of - that's just something it does. Whenever you start to feel sleepy, I want you to relax and go with it -- don't fight. Okay, sir?" She felt the barest of nods and smiled. "Good luck, Colonel."
Returning to where she'd left the tray, she silently selected the first syringe and removed its protective cover. "Here we go," she said, slipping the needle into one of his IV lines and slowly depressing the plunger.
Just as Janet had promised, Jack's world began to spin, and he turned his wavering attention to the comforting words and reassuring touches of his team.
"You have fought well, my friend," Teal'c said, resting a large hand on his shoulder. "This rest will help you recover your strength."
"Good luck, Jack. We'll see you on the other side," Daniel said, gripping his friend's hand as tightly as he dared.
Janet plugged in the second syringe. "You're going to start feeling drowsy now, sir. Try not to fight it."
"Hang in there, sir," Sam whispered when she felt his grip on her fingers start to fade.
Hammond watched as the third and final shot was administered. "Godspeed, Jack," he said through the room's microphone, his words heavy with concern.
For the next few minutes, nobody spoke. They simply watched as Jack's tense, exhausted features gradually began to relax until at last, all traces of his pain were gone.
"That's amazing..." Daniel muttered, shaking his head in disbelief. "How long before he's out completely?"
Janet turned from the vitals display she'd been monitoring and used her penlight to check Jack's eyes. "He's already there," she said quietly, her confirmation sending a collective sigh of relief throughout the room.
Sam shut her eyes and wiped a fresh batch of tears off on her sleeve. Although the doctor's words had given her some peace of mind, they also triggered feelings of guilt, worry, and, worst of all, fear.
"He's going to be okay, Sam," Daniel said, coming around the bed and slipping a comforting arm around her shoulders. "We did the right thing."
She sniffed and nodded. "I hope so..."
"This respite may be just what O'Neill needs in order to recover."
"Maybe, Teal'c. Maybe."
Satisfied for the moment with Jack's condition, Janet wandered over to join her friends. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," Daniel replied. "I think we just need some time to do a little recovering of our own."
"Well, the Colonel's deep asleep and out of pain, so there's no excuse why you can't take as much time as you need. I've already discussed it with the General and he agrees," Janet said, seeing the exhaustion on all three of their faces. "I have a few nurses coming to help me finish up here and than we're basically just going to step back, watch, and wait. We'll maintain his sedation level and provide the support he needs. Hopefully within a few days, we'll start to see some signs of improvement."
"And if not?
"One day at a time, Sam," she replied, motioning over the two nurses who had appeared in the doorway. "Now, go get some rest. All three of you. The Colonel's in good hands - you know that."
Daniel flashed a meek smile. "Thanks, Janet."
Although unhappy about leaving her CO's side, Sam knew arguing otherwise at this point would be fruitless. "Pleasant dreams, Colonel," she whispered, giving his limp hand a final squeeze before allowing the two men to escort her from the room.
Sam looked down at her picked over salad with disinterest. Pushing it aside, she took the glass of wobbling blue jello from her tray and began moving the dollop of whip cream around with her spoon. The commissary was oddly quiet for early evening, less than a dozen people occupying the chairs of the large dining space. For this she was grateful - having had about enough of people asking how the Colonel was doing and if the team was holding up all right. It wasn't so much the questions that bothered her, as it was the constant reminder of what was going on. Even her dreams during the few hours of sleep she'd managed to get had been plagued with images of the past few days - her mind unable to catch a break no matter where she went.
I still can't believe this is happening... Sam thought, hearing only pockets of the conversation Daniel and Teal'c were having across the table from her.
"...Worship of the arachni creature hadn't been in affect for very long before the earthquakes began..."
What if we didn't do the right thing?
"...The ground trembled and groaned...the seas boiled and writhed..."
Or what if we started too late?
"...villagers began thinking the worst, believing they had been worshiping a dia'bo'loa. The word didn't directly translate into anything, but the context suggests it means devil..."
Sam stared absently through the translucent blue cubes of gelatin. And if the toxin does affect his heart, will he have the strength to fight it?
"...Apparently the volcano began to grow at an incredible rate, blocking out the sun as it spewed noxious gases and hot ash..."
I know Janet says he's doing fine and not to worry, but...
"...a mass panic. People began trying to appease the arachni with offerings and sacrifices of food, herbs, and livestock to no avail."
...But it's just so hard not too...
"...People, plants, and animals began dying. The village population of several thousand was reduced to a mere handful within days..."
...And then to see him cry...
"...Etwin, the owner of the shuttle we found, was one of the last survivors. He mentioned that the hull of his craft was protecting him from the deadly rivers of fire that were outside."
I've never seen him cry. Never. Was it the pain?
"...but he knew it couldn't protect him forever..."
Was he scared?
"...his final entry, Etwin admitted that his people had made the fatal mistake of trusting something vile enough to slay a god..."
Or was it something else?
"...Killer of the Gods had ultimately become the Ender of Our Time."
And what if Janet finds there is no chance for recovery?
"...you think, Sam?"
Will she just not wake him up?
Will we have a chance to say goodbye? Sam jumped when something fast moved in front of her face. Blinking rapidly, she looked up to find the others staring at her. "What?"
"Daniel Jackson has attempted to illicit your attention several times now," Teal'c replied.
"Oh..." she uttered, her mind slowly returning to the present. She took a deep breath and forced herself to focus. "I-I'm sorry, Daniel. What was your question again?"
"I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the journal entries I pulled from those old scrolls we found, but..." Daniel stopped when he saw her shoulders slump even further. "Are you okay?"
She started pushing the jello around the dish again. "Yeah. There's just a lot on my mind, that's all."
"Doctor Fraiser is optimistic O'Neill will recover. Yet you remained troubled."
"Janet's cautiously optimistic, Teal'c," Daniel explained, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. "Besides, nothing's definite. We don't know what's going to happen."
Sam shook her head. "And it's not just that, Daniel. I can't stop thinking about the venom itself. I mean, if it was really strong enough to kill a Goa'uld within minutes of exposure, why is the Colonel still alive?"
Teal'c selected a kiwi from his dinner tray and began to eat it, leathery skin and all. "Perhaps it has weakened with time."
"Lab analysis confirmed that there's been little to no chemical decay," she replied, cringing as he took another bite of the hairy fruit. "The relic preserved it somehow."
"So then it must be something else...like maybe Jack has a natural immunity or...or...something else," Daniel said, grappling for possible ideas. "Right?"
Sam sighed as she stood from the table and gathered up her scarcely touched dinner.
"Wait - where are you going?"
"To try and answer my own questions."
Daniel jumped up and followed her to the trashcans. "Sam, listen. I doubt there's anything you could find at this point that would help Jack."
"I know," she replied quietly. "But it might help me."
Although he didn't completely understand her reasoning, Daniel nodded and stepped aside to allow her to go just the same. When she was gone, he wandered back to rejoin Teal'c.
"Did Captain Carter give a reason for her persistence?" the Jaffa asked around a mouthful of fruit.
"It's just something she has to do," he replied, absently dismantling the partial sandwich left on his plate. I don't know what it is she's looking for, but I really hope she finds it...
Dragging his glasses from his face, Daniel stretched and yawned loudly, his body stiff from being hunched over his computer for too long. Rubbing the strain from his tired eyes, he searched the top of his desk for the mug he knew was in there somewhere amongst the organized clutter. He found it supporting the piece of paper he'd been typing from and eagerly brought it to his lips for a much needed drink.
"Mmph!" he exclaimed, pulling a face when he discovered the coffee inside had become bitter and cold.
"Try some of this."
Startled, Daniel abruptly whirled around in his chair to find Dr. Fraiser at his side, a steaming travel mug of coffee in her outstretched hand. "Janet!" he gasped, placing a hand over his now wildly hammering heart. When had she come in? "Y-you scared me."
"I see that," she replied, a touch of amusement on her face. She pressed the hot mug into his hands and settled into the seat beside him, looking at the sprawling mounds of paper with genuine interest. "What are you working on?"
"I'm just entering the script I found on the scrolls into the computer," he replied, pausing for a moment to take a drink of the hot coffee. "It's busy work but..."
"Find out anything new?"
Daniel shrugged. "A little bit. You and Sam were right about that piece of stone I showed you when you said it looked like part of a tree. We got the other pieces cleaned up and some of them actually fit together. It definitely looks like an altar of some kind, possibly a shrine for Hecate or maybe even to house the spider relic. Has there been any word from the lab on the samples we brought back of the shuttle itself?"
"No - the lab's been swamped. Between the frequent blood work I need to monitor the Colonel's condition and now a severe poison ivy-like rash that both SG-2 and 7 brought back from a mission...anything purely exploratory has been pushed onto the backburner. They hope to know more in a few days."
"How's Jack doing?"
"He's doing all right," Janet replied, absently rolling a small stone orb between her palms. "He's responding well to the medication and hasn't shown any signs of distress or pain. The spasms seem to be under control too."
"So your plan is working?"
"Seems to be so far, but it's too soon to tell how effective it's going to be overall. I really hate to say this, Daniel, but there's still an awful lot that could go wrong."
"Yeah, I know..." The archeologist frowned and looked down at the floor. "But if anyone can make it through this, it's going to be Jack," he uttered, trying to give his fading sense of optimism a much needed boost. He sighed again. "Do you think it would help if I kept my fingers crossed?"
The doctor smiled. "Fingers, eyes, toes...cross `em if you got `em, Daniel. We could sure use the luck." She replaced the stone sphere she'd been fiddling with and stood, giving her friend's arm a light squeeze. "I'll let you get back to work. I just wanted to come see how you were doing."
"I'm doing okay," he said. "And thanks again for the coffee."
"Anytime." She turned to leave his office, pausing when she reached the door. "Hey, Sam hasn't come this way recently, has she?"
Daniel shook his head. "No - I haven't seen her since she left Teal'c and I in the commissary a few hours ago. She's probably still holed up in her lab. What's up?"
"I was just wondering if she was going to spend another night with Cassie. I think it would be a good distraction for both of them if she did."
"Cassie still real upset?"
"She's handling it better than I thought she would. She just loves her Uncle Jack and it hurts her to see him like this. Hurts us all, really."
"Sam's convinced that finding out what killed Hecate might help Jack in some way."
"Well medically speaking, it's a good question to ask. It's just not one I think she should be concerning herself with right now," she said. "But I think it's how she's choosing to deal with the stress of all that's going on - by keeping her mind very busy."
Daniel looked around his cluttered desk sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I'm guilty of that too."
"Yes, you are," Janet agreed with a grin. "Listen, try not to stay up too late. You look beat. And if you happen to see Sam, let her know I'm looking for her, okay?"
"You bet," he said, returning the small wave she gave and turning back to his work in hope of drowning out his worries once again.
Janet cringed at the unusually loud clicking her heels made as she walked through the dimmed halls toward the Colonel's room. She felt surprisingly refreshed for having only slept a few hours, but it had easily been the best sleep she'd gotten since this whole fiasco began. Her sleep had been so satisfying in fact, that she intended to return to bed after checking on her patient's progress.
Habit made her slow her pace as she neared the doorway even though she knew there was no way her approach would wake the sleeping man inside. Stepping into the private room, she was surprised to find someone other than one of the night nurses sitting at the Colonel's bedside. She had a pretty good idea of who it was even before she'd turned on the small light, and was unable to hide the sympathetic smile that crossed her face when she saw her friend sleeping hunched over in the chair.
She jumped at the sudden sound, her sleep-hazed eyes snapping open and searching all around the room. "Oh! Janet...I umm...I-I didn't hear you come in," she stammered, slumping back against the chair when she spotted her friend.
"Sam, it's two in the morning. What are you doing...?" Janet stopped when she saw the slight puffiness and pockets of moisture on her face - telltale signs that she had been crying. "What's wrong?"
Sam shrugged and held up the folder she had in her lap. "I couldn't sleep so I came to look over the Colonel's lab reports to see if I missed anything important."
"No," she sniffed quietly. The two women sat in silence for a moment, listening to the soft mechanical chorus of life support machines working around them. "I'm sorry I didn't go stay with Cassie."
"She's a big girl. She was disappointed but she understands. I think Daniel was planning on stopping by later" Janet replied, pulling a stool over and sitting down. "You want to tell me what's really bothering you?"
"I guess I'm just worried."
"We're all worried, Sam. None of us ever want to see our friends this sick. But we're helping him now."
"Are we though?" she asked, looking up at her CO's face and cringing when she saw the heavy tape holding his eyes shut to protect them while he slept. "I mean, what if we're wrong? What if we just opened the door for the neurotoxin to finish what it started? Or, what if we acted too late? What if...?"
Janet grabbed Sam's hands and gave a sharp squeeze to cut her off. "And those are all very good questions to ask, but you can't be tearing yourself up over them!"
She sniffed and swallowed hard, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. "I know...I just...and he was so...and it went on for so long...I'm sorry. It was just so hard to see him like that...and now like this..."
"I know, sweetie, I know," Janet exclaimed, pulling her shaking friend into a hug. "But it's been less than a day. He needs time to heal."
"It was so hard seeing him in that much pain and then to see him cry..."
"Neurotoxins can mess with the mind, Sam. It was altering his behavior. He had no control over that."
"I know, but..." She lifted herself from the doctor's shoulder and stood, going to Jack's side. She picked up his limp hand and clutched it between her own. "You just get so used to seeing them in charge and in control..."
"Well, it just goes to show that nobody is immune to needing a little extra TLC every now and then. And that includes yourself too."
"Ah ah! I mean it, Sam. You're still worn out from the mission, both mentally and physically. The Colonel is being taken care of, so now's the time to take care of yourself."
Sam shook her head. "I still have work to do..."
"Finding out why Hecate died the way she did won't change what's already happened."
"It could help find a cure for the Colonel."
Janet firmly shook her head. "I highly doubt it. And at this point, I don't even think we could safely use an anti-venom on him. He's just too weak. It would do more harm than good." She saw her cringe as the reality of her words sunk in. "Now, come on. You know the Colonel wouldn't want to see you like this. Why don't you go try to get a few hours sleep?"
Feeling worn out and slightly defeated, she finally nodded.
"Good. I'll walk you to your quarters."
Returning Jack's hand to his side, Sam leaned down and placed a light kiss on his fevered forehead. "Good night, sir," she uttered, fresh tears welling beneath her eyes when the only response she got was the mechanical hiss of the respirator.
Janet rested a hand on Sam's back. "Come on," she urged softly, and led her quietly crying friend from the room.
++++ Two Days Later ++++
Standing in the doorway of the Briefing Room, Daniel silently watched the lone figure still seated at the large table, their back turned and attention focused on the inactive Stargate in the room below. Manila folders stuffed with papers littered the glossy tabletop, their contents detailing the past two days worth of endless work and tedious experimentation. However, despite Sam's tireless efforts, they were still no closer to the reason that the venom had instantly killed the Goa'uld Hecate, but had thus far spared the life of their cynical leader.
Their morning briefing had been short. Hammond had called the team together to get an update on their work and to see how they were holding up. He'd also informed them that they were officially on stand down status, and, barring any Earth related events, would remain that way until further notice. He was well aware of how troubled his flagship team was, and knew their commitment to their work wouldn't be 100 percent as long as O'Neill was still down. He'd given them the space and time they needed, and for that they were grateful.
Daniel shifted his weight and pushed off from the doorframe; unable to watch his friend's brooding any longer. "You know, the General dismissed us over twenty minutes ago," he said, walking over to where Sam sat. When she didn't respond, he sighed deeply and dropped into a chair beside her. "I know you're frustrated, Sam."
"I just don't get it, Daniel," she uttered, a bitter edge to her quiet voice. "Not one single bit."
"Maybe there are some mysteries that can't be solved. Or some that just aren't meant to be."
She gave him an incredulous look. "That's a little hypocritical coming from an archeologist of ancient cultures, don't you think?" She sighed and shook her head. "Besides, that's not an option. At least not with me. There has to be an answer."
"Why though?" he pushed. "I mean you heard what Janet said about Jack this morning. His fever broke late last night and the level of venom in his blood is starting to decrease daily. He's getting better. Why are you continuing to beat yourself up over this?"
"I don't know. Maybe because it's something to do - something to keep my mind busy and keep me from worrying about the Colonel." Sam paused and looked down at her hands, the stress tears she'd gotten from carrying the stretcher almost completely healed over. "I've also been thinking that this could turn out to be just the weapon we're looking for to defend Earth against the Goa'uld. I mean think about it, something that kills symbiotes but not the people around them."
"It kills the host."
She sighed. "I know - that's something else I'm looking into."
Both scientists turned when they heard someone coming up the stairs, Teal'c's large frame appearing a moment later. "Daniel Jackson. Captain Carter."
"The briefing has long since ended, yet you are both still here."
"We're just enjoying the view," Daniel explained, gesturing toward the `Gate.
"I see." A confused frown crossed the Jaffa's face as he joined his friends at the table, but he spoke of it no more.
"It just doesn't make sense," Sam continued. "I ran every test in the book on that venom, some of them twice, and I still can't figure out how a single bite would have resulted in the death of an adult symbiote. It has nothing to do with blood type, blood condition, temperature...I mean, if you think about it, is there really such a big difference between Colonel O'Neill and a Goa'uld?"
"You mean other than the fact one has a parasitic alien wrapped around the base of their brain...?" Daniel asked matter-of-factly.
"A Goa'uld host can live for many hundreds of years," Teal'c suggested. "Perhaps age is the determining factor."
"But even an old symbiote could have sustained the host for more than a matter of minutes." Sam puffed out a frustrated sigh as she stood and wandered over to the large viewing window. "There's got to be some small difference. Something else that separates human physiology from that of a Goa'uld. Like altered brain chemistry or something in their blood that..." Her words dropped off when she saw the four members of SG-6 following several technicians into the `Gate Room. She'd read the mission schedule earlier that day and remembered seeing them slated for 1145 departure to P3S-663 - a planet that had favorable conditions for finding Naquadah.
Naquadah...Why didn't I think of that before?
"Teal'c, go find Janet and meet me in my lab in 10 minutes," Sam ordered, her mind a whirlwind of thoughts. "Daniel, I'll need you there too."
"Wait! For what?" the young archeologist called, confused by the sudden change in his friend's sullen mood.
"You'll see!" Sam shouted as she flew down the stairs, leaving the two startled men staring after her, wondering what they had missed.
Had the circumstances been different, Sam would have prided herself with the record time she set getting from the Briefing Room to her lab, stopping for nothing and no one as she made her way through the base. Once there, she set about gathering the things needed for the impromptu experiment, carefully arranging and rearranging them on her workbench. Completely lost in her own thoughts, she barely noticed Daniel when he entered the room, his raised eyebrows nearly touching his bangs as he watched her work.
She was just about ready to begin when Teal'c and Janet came wandering into the room, a look of curiosity on the petite doctor's face. "Teal'c tells me you may have found something?" she asked.
"Oh I sure hope so," Sam muttered, carefully removing the stopper from a small jar she'd placed on the bench.
"So...are you going to tell us what's going on, or do you want us to guess?" Daniel asked smartly.
Sam stopped fiddling with the items on the table and gave him an irritated look. "When I was running my tests, I was primarily using sterilized blood because it's safer to work with and easier to manipulate than fresh blood. It's also been scrubbed clean of any foreign materials, such as medications or alcohol, which could inadvertently throw off your test results. Now when I did my tests, I never even considered how a foreign substance might affect the behavior of the venom within the human body."
"Colonel O'Neill was neither on medication, nor consuming alcohol whilst we were on M4G- 887," Teal'c replied.
Sam nodded in agreement. "True. But the Colonel's blood also lacks something else. Something that makes him different than a Goa'uld."
Janet's eyes grew wide. "Naquadah?"
"Exactly," Sam replied with a wide grin. "Whenever a Goa'uld takes a host, Naquadah can be found in the bloodstream. And if I'm right, that's the reason Hecate died so quickly while the Colonel O'Neill is still alive."
Daniel shook his head, feeling as though he'd just missed something. "W-wait, how?"
"That's what we're about to try to figure out. Can you come here a second?"
The archeologist obediently slid off his stool and walked around to where she stood. "Now what?"
"I need your finger."
Although skeptical, Daniel held out his hand and watched silently as Sam wiped the tip of his finger with an alcohol pad. Then, before he had a chance to react, she swiftly pierced his skin with the sharp point of a lancet. "Ow! Hey! What was that for?" he cried.
"Demonstration purposes. Now hold still." She carefully squeezed a few drops of his blood onto one of the thin glass slides on the table and then released his hand. "Thank you."
"Yeah, sure. No problem..." he muttered, jamming his bleeding finger into his mouth and retreating to the other side of the bench.
Sam took an eyedropper and the small jar liquid from the table. "This is a mixture of the arachnid venom and saline solution," she explained, drawing a small amount of the mixture into the dropper and adding it to her friend's blood.
"Nothing occurred," Teal'c observed when the liquid simply diluted the blood.
"That's because Daniel doesn't have Naquadah in his blood," Sam said as she cleaned and punctured her own finger. "But I do." She placed a few drops of blood onto a clean slide and then added the venom solution.
"Oh wow..." Daniel breathed, his eyes widening as the blood immediately began to darken and clot.
Equally intrigued, Janet fished a pen from her lab coat pocket and began to gently poke at the gummy, hardening mass. "This is incredible. Clotting like this would block up the major organs and starve them of oxygen. The body would seize up and shut down within a matter of minutes. The symbiote itself might even be affected."
Sam turned to Teal'c. "Could a Goa'uld prevent something like that from happening?"
"I very much doubt it would be possible for even a mature symbiote to prevent or recover from such a catastrophic event. Death would most certainly be swift," he replied, tipping his head in thought. "I do believe you have solved the mystery of Hecate's demise, Captain Carter."
"It's quite possible the venom was meant only to take down small prey, like most of our spiders here on Earth. Although the venom usually isn't deadly to humans, it still can make them very sick," Janet explained. "Are you up to demonstrating this to Dr. Braddick? She's been just as puzzled over this as you have."
"Yeah, sure," she replied, and began gathering up her things.
"Way to go, Sam," Daniel said, walking over to give his friend a congratulatory pat on the back.
She tried to shrug nonchalantly, but the triumphant twinkle in her eyes and more confident stance gave away her true feelings. "It was a matter of persistence, that's all. And, of course, the use of your finger."
Daniel grimaced and rubbed the small hole on his index finger. "Yeah, about that... you guys aren't going to need me for this demonstration, are you? I mean it's great you got this figured this out and all, but..."
"It's okay, Daniel. I think we can come up with another volunteer," Janet assured him as she picked up some things to carry and headed for the door.
"Yeah, you're off the hook," Sam added on her way by.
"Thank you." Watching as the two women left the room, he couldn't help but smile when their laughter came floating back down the hall. It something none of them had been able to do for nearly a week and hearing it now just made him feel good. "Lunch?" he asked, turning to Teal'c.
The large man simply inclined his head and the two teammates started off toward the door, their spirits lifted for the first time in days.
++++ Three Days Later ++++++++
"...Unfortunately the samples we brought back turned out to be more deteriorated than we originally thought. The lab was only able to determine that shuttle's hull was made out of a species of wood similar to the willow trees we have here on Earth, and that it was approximately 600 years old. They also found a series of unique channeling in the wood structure itself, and speculated that this is how the tree originally produced and distributed the sap we found coating the ship's walls."
Sam Carter looked up from her notes to see if everyone was following her explanation. Her heart really wasn't into the briefing, and upon seeing the preoccupied expressions on her friend's faces, she could tell theirs weren't either. It had been six days since they'd agreed to let Dr. Fraiser put Jack in a coma as a last resort to try and counteract the poisoning he'd received on the team's last mission. And while things had been going well for their leader, the long wait and constant uncertainty was beginning to take its toll on the closely bonded group.
"Did the lab say anything about the possible function of the sap in correlation with the shuttle?" Hammond asked, the only person seated at the large table who seemed to be genuinely interested in the information being presented. He had called the meeting to check in with SG-1, and also to serve as an excuse to bring everyone together as Dr. Fraiser had requested him to do earlier that day.
"It's hard to say for certain, sir, but the sap may have actually worked as a sort of shield for the ship's hull. It has powerful fire retardant properties and also has the ability to convert CO2 into fresh oxygen, much like a foliated plant. Even stranger is the wood continued to produce this sap long after the tree was harvested and processed," Sam explained. "We've passed the samples onto a group of SGC botanists to see if they can come up with anything further."
"And what about the remainder of the venom you extracted from the artifact?"
"The Tok'Ra have expressed an interest in researching its potential use as a weapon against the Goa'uld. They'll be sending a representative by in a few days to pick it up."
All eyes turned toward the back of the room as the familiar sound of footsteps coming up the stairs caught their attention. Janet appeared a moment later, a small, contained smile on her face.
"Doctor, glad you could come," Hammond greeted, motioning for her to sit down. "We've been expecting you."
Daniel lifted his chin from his hand. "We have?" he asked, unable to recall if the General had mentioned that she would be joining them or not.
"I asked General Hammond to arrange this briefing because I thought it would be best if you were all together to hear what I have to say," Janet explained as she took a seat next to Sam.
"Janet, what's wrong?" Sam demanded, a feeling of dread already forming in the pit of her stomach. Did something happen...?
"I just got the results of the Colonel's latest blood work back from the lab."
Daniel slowly straightened up in his chair. "And..."
"And...except for some residual traces of the broken down toxin, the Colonel's system is essentially clean."
There was a brief moment when everyone simply sat and stared at her as if what she'd just told them had been complete and utter nonsense. The General came out of it first.
"That's wonderful news, Doctor."
"So how long before you can wake him up?" Sam asked, her blue eyes shining with excitement and relief.
"Actually, I plan to administer the reversal drug as soon as were done here," she replied. "And that's something I'm going to need your help with."
"How may we be of assistance, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c asked, a ghost of a smile softening his typically stoic features.
"The reversal drug isn't something that works immediately. It's meant to allow a patient to come around slowly, which is important especially if they've been under as long and as deeply as the Colonel has. Waking up like this can be very disorienting and frightening, even when you're in familiar surroundings. What I need from you three is help keeping the Colonel reassured and as calm as possible while he's coming to."
"That shouldn't be a problem, Janet."
"I didn't think it would be, Daniel," she said, amazed at how a little good news could invigorate an entire room of despondent people in a matter of seconds. "But I also wanted an opportunity to warn you that sometimes people wake up from these situations fighting. Now it doesn't happen often, but knowing the Colonel's background I just want you all to be aware of it and watch yourselves. Although he's going to be very weak for some time yet, he still could cause some serious damage if he felt threatened. Are there any questions?"
"How long will it take for the Colonel to wake up completely?" Sam asked.
"It varies from patient to patient, but it typically takes several hours for someone to become entirely aware of their surroundings. He'll be pretty groggy for a while but that's normal. It'll be a lot like coming out of surgery with a heavy dose of pain medication on board. I also plan to leave him on the respirator for a few days to allow his lungs some more time to heal while his body acclimates itself again. Then, if all goes well, we should be able to start assessing whether or not any permanent damage was done."
"Do you suspect any, Doctor?"
"It's hard to say at this point, General. His latest MRI came back clean, but the possibility is always there whenever you're dealing with a substance that attacks the nervous system," Janet explained, watching as her friend's relieved faces quickly turned serious once again. "But that's still several days ahead of us."
She sat quietly for several minutes, allowing her friends the time they needed to process the information she'd given them. She knew the past week had been rough on them all - herself included - and the thought that something could still go wrong was disconcerting. However, SG- 1 was a strong group of individuals that became unstoppable when they came together as a team. If anyone could get through this misfortune, she was confident it was them.
"Janet?" Daniel asked, his voice startling her. "When do we start?"
"Give me half an hour and meet me in the Colonel's room. We'll start then."
A cohesive nod went through the room and Hammond called an end to the briefing.
And this is one doctor's appointment...Janet thought as she and everyone else stood to gather their things. That they wouldn't miss for the world...
True to their word, SG-1 appeared in the isolation room exactly thirty minutes after the briefing had ended, ready and willing to help with the potentially stressful task of bringing their team leader out of anesthetic. Janet quickly went over everything they needed to be watching for as Jack slowly returned to consciousness, explaining what was normal, what wasn't, and what was cause for alarm. She then administered the reversal drug and left her friends to get settled for the long wait.
Nearly three hours went by, all passing without Jack showing any signs of coming around. Even with Janet's constant reassurance that he was doing fine, the group was becoming concerned that something wrong.
Daniel yawned loudly as he shut the leather-bound book he'd been reading, the soft waves of classical music playing in the background beginning to make him drowsy. Although it had been Teal'c who suggested music of some sort might help reassure Jack that he was safe, it was the archeologist that recommended the type. As much as he thought of Jack O'Neill as a cynical, stubborn, and often times exasperating individual, he also knew the man possessed a more refined, almost peaceful side - a side most people would never see.
Setting his book aside, he looked across the room to find Sam and Teal'c deeply absorbed in a game of chess, a discarded pile of playing cards off to one side. With another yawn, Daniel turned back to his sleeping friend and scooted his chair closer to the bed. "Come on, Jack," he muttered, reaching through the guardrail to give his arm a light squeeze. "We know you're in there. Can't you just wake up for a few minutes? We're not going to leave you alone until you do..."
When he got no response, he frowned and sat back in his chair, trying not to let his frustrations or fears get the better of him. Jack will wake up when he's damn good and ready. He's never done things any other way before, so why do you think he'd change now?
Resigning himself to another hour of reading, Daniel retrieved his book and cast a final glance toward his friend before dropping his eyes to the text.
Wait a second...
He slowly lowered the book to his lap. Something about the older man had caught his attention, but he wasn't quite sure what it had been. "Jack?"
Daniel's heart skipped a beat when he saw Jack's face twitch, a slight furrow forming along his brow. "H-hey, guys, I think something's happening..." He heard the scraping of chairs and footsteps as the others hurried to join him at their leader's side.
"What's going on?"
"He just moved," Daniel replied, sliding forward in his chair and leaning over the rail. "Hey, Jack? Jack, it's Daniel. Can you hear me?"
"Doctor Fraiser said it would take some time before O'Neill can identify his surroundings," Teal'c said when there was no response.
Sam felt Jack's body tense as she gathered his hand into her own, his skin noticeably cooler than it had been several days before. "It's all right, sir," she said, the rhythm of his cardiac monitor beginning to increase. "You're safe. We're all here with you."
"Should I go get Janet?"
"It wouldn't hurt, Daniel," Sam agreed, dropping into his seat as he hurried out of the room. She began to lightly rub her thumb across the back of Jack's hand, concerned by the mixture of confusion and fear on his face. "You're okay, Colonel. Daniel's gone to get Janet. You're going to be fine."
"He does not seem to recognize your voice, Captain Carter."
"His senses are likely distorted from being under for so long," she explained, his weak grip around her hand tightening at Teal'c's deep voice. "Shh, Jack, it's all right," she soothed, reaching up and gently passing her fingers through his hair. A moment later, he began to relax.
"Finally getting a response?" Janet asked as she entered the room with Daniel close at her heels.
Teal'c stepped aside to allow the small doctor access to her patient. "He appears to be growing anxious."
"He's still trying to work out where he is," she replied, seeing the uncertainty on the older man's face. "Colonel O'Neill? This is Dr. Fraiser. Can you hear me, sir?"
Jack's head jerked toward the sound of the new voice as the monitor beside the bed gave a warning shriek as his vitals abruptly rose.
"Colonel, listen to me. You're all right," Janet said loudly, trying to reach him through the thick blanket of drugs. "You're in an isolation room at the SGC and are waking up from a very powerful sedative. Things are going to seem a little off for a while, but you need to try and stay calm and trust us, sir."
She watched him closely for the next few minutes, waiting to see if her words would be enough to quell the man's drug induced fears. Gradually, with Sam's continued comforting efforts, Jack began to settle down and his vital signs leveled out.
"Colonel, can you open your eyes for us?" Janet asked after giving him a moment to rest.
Daniel smiled when he saw his friend cringe slightly at the request. "Come on, Jack. It's time for school. Wakey wakey."
Although clearly hesitant about doing so, Jack slowly opened his bleary, unfocused eyes and squinted painfully against the dim lighting.
"Welcome back, sir," Janet greeted, giving her patient a warm smile.
"Hey, Jack," Daniel said, a boyish grin spreading across his lips. "Believe it or not, you've been asleep for the past six days."
Teal'c inclined his head. "It is good to see you have awoken, O'Neill."
Jack blinked heavily as he looked around at the joyful faces his team, his reactions slow and sluggish.
"Yeah, it's good to have you back, sir," Sam said when his gaze came to her. "We were really worried about you." She felt him give her hand a weak squeeze and smiled. "We missed you too."
Janet brushed a hand across the Colonel's cheek to get his attention. "Sir? I know you can't speak, but I need to know if you're in any pain." He slowly shook his head, his eyes moving back to his team. "That's good. We're going to be asking you that a lot over the next few days and it's important that you're honest with us, okay? Your body's been through a very rough time and we want to give you as much help as possible while you're recovering. Just try to bear with us the best you can."
Jack gave a fierce shiver in response.
"It is a little chilly in here, isn't it sir? Daniel, you want to grab a few blankets from the warmer in the corner?" she asked, realizing that the sheet partially covering him was providing far more modesty than it was warmth. "We've been keeping the room cool because you were running a high fever. I'll get maintenance to turn up the thermostat in a little bit."
Quick to return with the warmed blankets, Daniel and Sam both helped to carefully tuck them in around the equipment and monitors still connected to their friend. "That better, Jack?" he asked when he saw his shivers and shakes begin to subside.
Feeling warm, safe, and secure, Jack allowed his increasingly heavy eyelids to slide shut against the residual pull of the drugs.
"He's so tired..." Sam uttered, still holding his hand beneath the blankets.
"He'll likely spend most of the next few days sleeping," Janet said. "He's got a lot of recovering left to do."
"Do you think it'll be complete?" Daniel asked.
"If he continues to do well and baring any further complications, yes, I think it will," she replied, relief becoming more prominent on her friend's faces. They looked so happy to be together again that she regretted what inevitably had to come next. "Listen, I know you all want to be here with the Colonel right now, but..."
"We need to let him rest," Sam finished with a frown.
"It's the best thing he can do right now," the doctor said, understanding their reluctance to leave. "I am willing to allow one of you to stay here in case he wakes up again. While he can't speak because of the respirator, I think it would provide some much needed reassurance if there was someone here he trusted."
Sam spoke up first. "I'll take first watch. We can switch off every few hours if that works for you guys."
Daniel nodded in agreement. "Sounds good." He leaned over to give Jack a quick pat on the arm. "Good to have you back, Jack."
Teal'c bowed his head. "Rest well, my friend."
Janet watched the two men leave the room before turning to Sam. "I'm going to go let the General know he came out of the anesthesia all right. If you need anything, just hit the call button, okay?"
Sam nodded absently. "Sure. Thanks, Janet."
"You bet," she said, and quietly left the room.
"That was a close call, sir," Sam whispered, closely watching her commanding officer's sleeping face. "Just too damn close." She laid her head against the arm she had folded across the guardrail and sighed. A moment later, her eyes slid shut and before she knew it, she was sound asleep, Jack's hand still clutched in her own.
++++Three Days Later++++
Feeling fully rejuvenated after a night of sleeping in her own bed, Captain Carter strolled briskly down the corridors of the Isolation Ward, eager to check in on her CO before tackling a broken sensor on one of the MALP's. Just as she came to the final turn before his room, the sickeningly familiar sound of Jack's painful coughing froze her solid in her tracks.
Oh no...no...oh my god...it's happening again...
"Easy, sir, you're all right. Just slow down..."
It was Janet's unruffled urging that snapped Sam out of her thoughts and back into motion, sending her sprinting the rest of the way down the hall. "Janet, what's...?!" She skidded to a stop just inside the room, her eyes wide with panic as she took in the scene around her.
"That's it, Colonel, nice and slow," Janet uttered as she rubbed his arm with one hand and held a glass of water ready with the other. "You're doing fine." Once his breathing began to even out, she offered him the water and kept the cup steady as he drew a few mouthfuls through the straw. "Better?"
Jack nodded his thanks and accepted her help as he dropped back against the slightly elevated mattress, exhaustion evident on his thin face.
Wait a minute... Sam thought, her mind slowly beginning to process the situation. "Janet?"
She looked up from adjusting the oxygen mask she had just positioned over Jack's mouth and nose. "Hey, Sam. Come on in," she greeted; making a point of ignoring the annoyed glares she was getting from her patient as she resumed fussing with the mask.
Sam took a few tentative steps forward, still unsure if her eyes were playing tricks on her or not. "W-what happened?"
"The Colonel's latest CT scan showed a significant improvement in the bruising around his lungs and he's been maintaining his oxygen levels, so we decided it was safe to remove him from the respirator. Something I think he's quite happy about."
"Ya think?" Jack rasped, his voice hoarse from lack of use.
Tears welled up in Sam's eyes when she heard his classic retort, something, she'd feared, she would never get to hear again.
"What did I just tell you about talking, sir?" Janet demanded, her tone bordering more on motherly than scolding. "Your throat is going to be sore for a few days and I want you to take it easy."
Jack shot her an irritated look but said no more.
"As you can see, Sam, he's doing fine. I have a feeling it won't be long before he's back annoying us all."
The Captain grinned. "I hope so."
"Listen, Colonel, I have a few things I need to go do, but when I get back I want to go over those coordination tests with you again. So rest up and be ready." She turned to leave before he had a chance to protest, pausing only long enough to give her friend's arm a quick squeeze. "Have a good visit and make sure he keeps that mask on," she said, and disappeared through the door.
A heavy silence descended on the room as the sound of Janet's clicking heels faded down the hall. Sam sighed quietly and looked up at Jack, feeling almost relieved to find his dark eyes closed and his breathing slow and even.
"She gone yet?"
Sam nearly came out of her skin when his slightly breathy words met her half way to the door. "Colonel! I thought you were asleep..."
"Just resting my eyes, Captain," Jack replied, pulling off the offending mask and letting it hang around his neck. He pointed at the chair beside his bed.
"O-oh, I really can't stay, sir. I-I have a job I need to get going on. I just wanted to stop by and s- see how you were..."
"Carter, sit!" he barked as best he could.
Conditioned to obey his orders, Sam obediently dropped into the chair "Yes, sir."
"...Better..." he grunted and settled back against the pillows.
"S-so, how are you feeling?"
"Like I've had the crap kicked out of me. Twice." Jack turned to look at his second, noticing her unnaturally pale complexion for the first time. "Looks like you've seen a ghost - why?"
She dropped her eyes to her feet. "Would you believe I just saw my cell phone bill for last month?"
He canted an eyebrow. "Carter?"
"Y-you've just been really sick, sir, and when I heard you c-coughing just now, I thought..." Sam shook her head and sniffed. "I-I don't think I could have watched you go through that again."
Jack sighed and ran a hand through his unruly hair, suddenly feeling guilty for upsetting his friend. "Carter..."
"You just scared me...us...all so much back on the planet, sir," she continued on, tears flowing freely down her face as the memories of the past week came flooding back. "First when you cut yourself and went into anaphylactic shock, and then you started to get worse and worse and there was nothing we could do...not even Janet could..." She stopped rambling when she saw the troubled look that crossed Jack's face, and immediately berated herself for upsetting him. "I-I'm sorry, Colonel. I shouldn't be doing this..."
"No...no, it's all right," he said, and paused to think for a moment before continuing on. "And I think I'm the one who should be saying I'm sorry."
Sam shook her head firmly. "No, sir, you have nothing to..."
"Sam, listen to me." He reached over the guardrail and took her hand. "I'm sorry I frightened you. I never meant to."
"I know that."
The older man sighed deeply and shut his eyes, his energy levels already starting to fade. "Janet's been telling me a little about what happened. She's leaving a lot out but... I feel like I owe everybody involved a great deal of thanks. Especially you."
"I just did what had to be done."
"No - I think you did a lot more than that. And I wish I could say that I remember it all, but I can't."
"Trust me, sir," she said. "It's a blessing you don't remember everything."
"Maybe..." He turned his head to look at her. "But you want to know what I do remember?"
"Feeling that I was always safe, warm, and being taken care of. I never once felt that I was alone."
Sam did her best to hide her shock, not having expected such a powerful admission to come from the notoriously hardheaded Jack O'Neill. "We're a team, sir. We look out for each other."
"We're more than just a team, Captain. We're a damn good team," he said as he lifted her hand and gave it a squeeze. "And I want to thank you for helping me through this. It means a great deal to me."
Sam ducked her head and sniffed as a round of fresh tears welled up in her eyes. She had no idea how to react to what her CO had just said, and was afraid to open her mouth for fear of what might come out.
"Carter?" Jack pushed when she didn't say anything.
"Yes, sir," she whispered as the first few tears began running down her cheeks.
Deeply sadden to see his second cry, Jack reached out and pulled her into a hug as best he could in his bed bound arrangement. "C'mere," he uttered, burying his face against her neck and gently rubbing her back as she cried quietly against his shoulder. He continued to support her for a long time, her built-up stress gradually melting away with her tears.
"You going to be all right?" he asked when she finally sat up and wiped the moisture from her face.
Sam nodded and sniffed, trying hard to pull herself back together. "You?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Good," she said with a shy smile. "Because it's been too quiet around here without you."
A wry grin crossed Jack's face as he settled back and sighed, a wave of exhaustion sneaking up on him. "I think I can fix that," he uttered through a wide yawn. "Sorry `bout that, Carter... "
Recognizing the telltale signs that she losing him, Sam stood and began straightening out the tangled blankets at the foot of his bed. "It's okay, sir. You've been falling asleep on everyone these past few days," she replied, drawing the covers up and tucking them in. By the time she had finished, Jack's eyes were already closed, his head lolled to one side.
With an empathetic smile, she lifted the softly hissing oxygen mask from around his neck and repositioned it on his face. "Thank you, Jack," she whispered, giving his arm a final squeeze before turning to leave the room.
"Sir?" she asked, startled once again by his tired voice.
"We were on a moon, not a planet."
"Yes, sir," she said, a genuine smile lighting up her face for the first time in days. "My mistake."
++++++++ Two Weeks Later +++++
The party had been planned, prepared, and executed without a hitch. More importantly, Jack had had no idea what his friends had in store for him until they showed up at his private on-base quarters with lunch, balloons, and enough cheer and encouragement to fill the entire mountain. The purpose of their gathering - which was to be kept small per Janet's instructions - was to celebrate Jack's unprecedented recovery and his scheduled return to work in a few weeks time.
The Colonel was all smiles as he watched the group scatter brightly colored decorations around his simply furnished room, and welcomed Cassie with open arms when she could wait no longer to give her adopted uncle a hug.
After words of support and gratitude were exchanged, everyone settled down around a lunch of pizza and sandwiches to tell jokes and generally have a good time. Half way through the meal, Daniel stood and presented Jack with a wooden plaque bearing a detailed engraving of the spider relic and the words: "New Arachnid Species Identified - The `Jack' Widow. SGC Entomological Catalog Number -- 56985." And, for the first time since SG-1 had become a team, Jack O'Neill was left speechless.
Throughout the entire gathering, Janet kept a close eye on Jack; silently monitoring his energy levels to make her patient wasn't becoming overly stressed. Aside from the relocation to his on- base quarters several days ago, the party was the most stimulation he'd had in several weeks. She was well aware that he was still a long ways off from being 100 percent, but she also knew it would take a lot more than a little fatigue to ruin the fun he was having with his team. His recovery had gone amazingly well, and much to everyone's relief, there had been no signs of permanent neurological damage. His torn muscles and bruised lungs were on the mend, and all support equipment had been removed except a single IV line to help maintain his fluid and nutrient levels.
"There's no place like home...there's no place like home...there's no place like..."
Janet smiled as the techno-colored Dorothy recited what had become one of Jack O'Neill's favorite sayings. It had been Cassie's idea to bring a movie to the party, and Teal'c's suggestion that it be the "Wizard of Oz." After lunch, everyone had gathered around the room's small TV to watch it over heaping bowls popcorn and cans of cold root beer.
As the film came to a close, she looked over her shoulder at the bed where Jack and Cassie had settled to watch the movie. Damn, where's my camera when I need it? She thought, finding them both to be sound asleep, Cassie snuggled in close to her quietly snoring uncle with the stuffed goldfish she'd given him tucked in between them. "Sam..." she whispered, pointing to the bed.
Her friend's eyes widened as she turned to look. "Oh my god...that's too sweet."
"It would appear we tired both Colonel O'Neill and Cassandra Fraiser out," Teal'c said, holding out a hand to help Daniel up from the floor.
"Should we wake them up?" Sam asked, quietly shutting off the TV and collecting the movie.
Janet shook her head as she stepped over to check on Jack. "Nah - Cassie hasn't been sleeping well since this all started and the Colonel needs all the rest he can get right now. I think it'll do them both good." She made sure the IV line wasn't crimped and then lightly brushed a hand across his forehead and cheek.
"Is he okay?" Daniel asked as he removed a spare blanket from the storage chest against the wall.
"He's fine - just tired," the doctor replied, helping him tuck it in around the sleeping pair. "Come on, guys. Let's let them rest."
Allowing the others to go ahead of her, Sam paused for a moment in the doorway, her hand hovering over the light switch. It was still hard for her to believe how close SG-1 had come to losing their respected leader this time - and she knew that the feelings, memories, and images of the past month would be with them all for a long time to come. But the nightmare was behind them now, and their future as a team, a damn good team, was looking brighter than ever.
Sam smiled as she watched Jack shift in his sleep, unconsciously burrowing himself deeper into the blankets until all she could see was the top of his head. "Welcome back, Colonel," she said quietly. "We missed you."
With a final fond look at the sleeping pair, she turned off the light and softly shut the door, leaving them both to get some much-needed rest.
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