Sam tightened her arms around Janet, still in awe over the battle she'd witnessed just moments ago. Janet trembled violently against her. Sam didn't need to see Janet's hands to know that the other woman was maintaining a knuckle-white grip on her, fingers screwed tightly into the fabric of her fatigues. There was a lot left to do, but Sam was content just to hold Janet. For the moment, nothing else mattered.
"I thought--" Sam choked, remembering the awful disorientation she'd experienced after falling over the side of the staircase, landing face down with her head lolling over the edge. "I must've blacked out when I hit the stairs," she continued.
Janet was slowly beginning to calm down, the shaking subsiding and ragged breaths evening out. Sam continued to speak soothingly into her ear. "I got down here as soon as I could, but there was nothing I could do..." The raw terror she'd felt watching Janet battle with Beulah was unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. She'd been forced to stand by helplessly, afraid to fire her weapon for fear of hitting Janet. And too afraid to intervene in the narrow arena in which the fight took place. She might have been able to tip the balance in Janet's favor, but she just as easily might have distracted the doctor, thereby giving Beulah the advantage.
In the end, she'd stood there momentarily paralyzed by fear and indecision, watching as Janet finished the giant insect off.
And now it was over. At least this part of it, she amended. Lifting one hand, she moved to massage the rigid muscles in Janet's shoulders, only to feel Janet flinch sharply as her fingers encounter sticky wetness. Inspecting her hand, Sam found it was coated with red blood. Instantly, she began to gently disentangle Janet from her. "You're hurt," Sam said softly, when Janet began to mutely protest. "I need to see how bad."
That seemed to break whatever spell Janet was under, and she pulled her face away from Sam's shoulder, staring up at her, eyes still wide with fear. She looked awful, Sam thought, her face and hair streaked with dust and sweat and Beulah's blood. Janet's eyes were glassy and bloodshot, too, and Sam was reminded of the anesthetic Beulah had used on her.
"I'm sorry," Janet whispered.
Sam frowned, placing her hands on Janet's shoulders and urging her to sit on a nearby step. "For what?"
Janet looked up at her for a moment, blinking in confusion, before shaking her head. "For worrying you. For getting you stuck in here. For getting Makepeace wounded. For disobeying orders." She paused, swallowing hard. "For everything. This is all my fault. You could've been killed," she added, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Well," Sam said gently, leaning down to brush the hair back from Janet's forehead. "I'm fine, and I'm going to stay fine." She glanced meaningfully behind her. "You took care of that." When Janet opened her mouth to protest, Sam cut her off. "And Makepeace will be fine, too. We'll get him out of here. As for you, you'll be fine too, once you let me take a look at that wound."
Janet looked like she was about to say something more, and Sam waited expectantly. But whatever it was, Janet apparently decided against it, because she closed her eyes, and nodded slowly, shifting so that her back was turned toward Sam.
"It went right through your flack vest," Sam said, gently pushing the torn fabric aside. "It's going to need stitches when we get back to the SGC." She panned her light over the ragged incision running diagonally across Janet's right shoulder and upper back. "You're going to have a really sexy scar," Sam added lightly.
"Yeah, but will I be able to play the violin?" Janet asked shakily, stuttering over the words. Sam could see her literally trying to get a grip on herself, and felt oddly reassured.
"You don't play the violin," Sam told her with a small chuckle.
"That's my line," Janet countered. "You're a lousy straight man."
Sam paused, placing one hand gently on Janet's shoulder. "Uh, speaking of straight men..."
Janet nodded. "He's down there. I can find my way back to where I left him."
"Right," Sam said. "My pack is up a ways. I'll just run up and get it..." At her words she watched Janet's shoulders tense. But before Sam could utter any quick words of reassurance, Janet nodded. "I'll be right back," Sam said softly, then took the steps two at a time until she reached the pack she'd shrugged out of when she'd come to her senses after the fall.
When she bounded back down the steps, Janet had one hand over her shoulder, fingers gingerly probing the wound. "It's going to be difficult to put a field dressing on this," she observed, wincing as she moved her arm away. Sam took a seat behind her and opened the pack, pulling out the first aid kit and flipping it open. Then she helped Janet ease the shredded flack vest off her shoulders.
"I already know this is going to sting," Janet informed her, allowing Sam to peel her tshirt up to expose her back. "So just get it over with."
"They say doctors make the worst patients," Sam observed dryly, then set about cleaning the wound, doing her best to be gentle. "There's Tylenol in here."
Janet shook her head. "I don't dare," she replied, then hissed as Sam dabbed at the deepest part of the wound with a disinfectant-soaked piece of gauze. "I still feel like I've got a hangover from whatever Beulah sprayed in my face. It's probably safe enough, but I don't want to risk some kind of interaction." Janet's words tumbled quickly out of her mouth, and she wrapped one hand tightly around the edge of the steps. "That's enough," she groaned after a few seconds. "That's as clean as you're going to get it under the circumstances."
"Not quite," Sam replied, continuing to minister to the wound. "Paybacks are a bitch, Doctor. Just remember this the next time you dump disinfectant into the cut of some poor, unsuspecting astrophysicist."
"Yeah, yeah." Janet's tone was sarcastic, but Sam knew that the conversation was helping Janet to focus on more immediate concerns rather than dwelling on self-recrimination. "Point taken. And I want it noted that I'm resisting the urge to make any 'playing doctor' jokes at the moment."
Sam didn't respond to that, but her lips quirked into a smile, taking the humor, strained as it was, as a good sign. "Remind me to give you my hangover remedy when we get back," she said instead, laying several pieces of clean gauze over the gash and taping them carefully into place. "Your vest is ruined," Sam said, fingering the blood-soaked material, then began removing her own vest. "And your shirt's not much better. You'd better take my jacket."
"I left mine with Makepeace," Janet said, pulling her tshirt down over her back. "It seems to have disappeared. He managed to hang onto his weapon, but he lost my jacket."
"Typical jarhead," Sam observed, draping her jacket over Janet's shoulders. "No fashion sense." She helped Janet to her feet, then shrugged her flack vest back on.
"I guess I shouldn't complain," Janet said softly, resting one hand lightly on Sam's arm. "If I hadn't been armed..."
Sam reached down and took Janet's hand, squeezing her fingers lightly. "But you were," she said softly. It was an odd feeling, to be on the other end of the argument she'd had with O'Neill more times than she cared to count. She was always one to ponder the alternative, worry about what she should have or could have done differently; the Colonel was never one to dwell on the past, at least as far as she could tell, preferring to just accept how things worked out, whether for good or ill. Sam recognized the pragmatism, undoubtedly borne of weary experience, in O'Neill's attitude. "And she's dead," she continued, soothingly. "You killed her, and it's over. Now we've got to focus on getting out of here, OK?"
When Janet finally nodded slowly, Sam flashed her a reassuring grin. "Come on," she said, swinging her pack over her shoulder. Leaning down, she picked up the battered weapon Janet had used to finish Beulah off, and held it out to the other woman. Sam waited patiently as Janet reluctantly took it, giving her a strange look. She'd retrieve her rifle either on the way down, or at the bottom of the shaft, depending on where it had ended up. In the meantime, she felt it was only right that Janet hang on to Makepeace's weapon, especially considering the fact that she'd put it to very effective use only a short while ago. Together they started down the steps, Janet falling into step behind Sam.
Neither spoke during the descent, the shaft filled with the sounds of their boots against the metal of the stairs. As they neared the bottom, Sam sensed that Janet had slowed. She turned, and grasped Janet's hand. "It's OK," she whispered. Below them, Beulah's enormous carcass lay sprawled on the floor, her abdomen partially blocking the exit. "She's not moving."
"She could be faking," Janet said, and Sam heard her stifle an hysterical giggle.
"I don't think so," Sam said softly, using her light to point to Beulah's ruined head, which lay a good half a meter away from the carcass, completely severed. "Remind me never to piss you off," Sam added, admiration echoing in her tone.
"You know," Sam continued thoughtfully, walking to the bottom of the steps and pulling a slightly resistant Janet behind her, "This planet's gravity is almost exactly like Earth's. There's never been any indication in the fossil record of insects this size. Even that thing that stung Teal'c on BP63Q1 was only a foot long or so." She crouched down to examine the insect's inert form.
"So Beulah didn't evolve here, is that what you're saying?" Sam glanced up, Janet looked like she wanted nothing more than to get as far away from Beulah's remains as possible.
"I think it's a possibility," Sam added, rising and nudging Beulah's abdomen with the toe of her boot. "I'm not an evolutionary biologist," she added, biting her lip thoughtfully. "But I suppose there could be selective pressure for an insect of this size."
She stood pondering Beulah's still form for another moment or two, then shrugged. "We'll worry about that later," she said finally. "Let's go find Makepeace."
Glancing around, she spied her weapon lying just off to the side and quickly retrieved it. Stepping over Beulah, long legs making the task fairly easy, she turned and grasped Janet's upper arms, half-helping, half-lifting her over the carcass. She took a moment to steady the other woman before taking her hand and leading her down the alley.
At the edge of the alley opening out onto a huge clearing, however, she stopped short, barely feeling Janet collide with her. Staring out in horror, she panned her light slowly from left to right, then turned to look questioningly at Janet. "You woke up here?" she asked weakly, forcing herself not to look back out at the sea of bones in front of her.
Janet nodded mutely, pressing her lips together into a thin, tight line. Sam reached out and slipped an arm lightly around the other woman's shoulders, mindful of the gash on her back. Pulling Janet slowly to her, she pressed her cheek against the top of Janet's head, unable to contain a small shudder. "God, why didn't you tell me," she admonished quietly.
With a small shrug, Janet placed her hand on Sam's chest. "Knowing wouldn't have made any difference. You'd have just worried even more."
Sam couldn't even begin to imagine what it must have been like. But now, seeing the grim tableau with her own eyes, she understood the note of panic in Janet's voice that had filtered over the radio. "God..." she breathed again, pressing her lips to Janet's forehead before releasing her. Janet had had a pyramid fall on top of her, been attacked by a giant insect that looked like a reject from a 1950s B movie, awoken in this grisly place, and then been the victor in a duel to the death with that same monster. Any one of those elements, Sam was certain, would have been enough to reduce her to a babbling idiot. While Janet hadn't exactly taken all this in stride, she was holding up remarkable well, all things considered.
"Makepeace is that way," Janet said, pointing between two piles of bones, then moved to lead the way. Sam forced herself not to wonder where all these people had come from. It didn't require much imagination to make an educated guess, but the scale of the carnage was almost overwhelming. Better to stay focused on the plan of action, she told herself sternly. Find Makepeace, find a way out, in that order. She'd worry about the how and why of this place once everyone was safe.
Janet was still feeling dazed and disconnected as she and Sam slowly made their way back to where she'd left Makepeace. Glancing over her shoulder she could almost see Sam trying not to think about all the skeletons around them. And clearly losing the battle. For her part, she just felt numb; she'd already had to deal with so much already today.
Frowning, she glanced down at her watch. Just how long had they been trapped in here, anyway, she wondered. It felt like forever, like there was no other reality except this dark place. In truth, nearly ten hours had passed, and Janet wondered who General Hammond had sent to stay with Cassie, since both she and Sam were off world.
She felt another hysterical giggle bubble up in her throat. Off world. Given the circumstances, that was such an understatement it was laughable.
"How much further?" Sam asked, effectively distracting her from that train of thought. Luckily, she didn't have to even formulate an answer as she caught sight of Makepeace up ahead. Lifting one arm, she pointed. "Is he still alive?" Sam asked softly.
"He was when I left him," Janet answered, picking up her pace and kneeling beside the wounded man. She pressed her fingers to the underside of his chin, and felt him stir slightly. "Yep, he's still with us," she said.
"Let's get him out of here," Sam said, taking a moment to glance around her.
"There's an empty building back that way," Janet said, twisting to point behind her and to her left, feeling a painful twinge in her back as she strained the wound. Keep busy and try not to think too much, she lectured to herself.
"This was a city." Janet heard the note of hollow despair in Sam's voice and nodded slowly. "God..." Sam breathed. "All these people..." She watched Sam turn in a slow circle, as if she were trying to take it all in. Janet knew how she felt. "You know what? I don't think we're in the pyramid anymore."
Janet paused, resting her hands on her knees for a moment, and looked up at Sam in confusion. "Not in the pyramid?"
Sam shook her head. "The pyramid isn't big enough to house a city of this side inside it."
It was all very confusing. Janet resisted the urge to rub her forehead, instead turning her attentions back to her patient.
"I think we're under the pyramid." Sam was intrigued by the idea, Janet could tell. Her tone had taken on that same excited energy it got when she was really making progress on solving a problem.
But there were more practical matters to consider. "How does knowing that help us get out of here?" she asked, checking the strips of nylon holding the splint on Makepeace's calf in place.
She watched as Sam considered the question carefully for a few seconds. "I'll walk the perimeter," she said finally. "Maybe there's an exit somewhere."
Makepeace groaned loudly at that moment, and began moving his head from side to side. Janet passed a hand over his forehead, noting that he felt cool to the touch, then checked his pulse again. "Don't try to move. Open your eyes slowly," she instructed, cupping her hand over her light so as not to blind him. His eyes open a fraction, only to close again quickly, and he moaned loudly.
"I'm gonna be sick," he muttered thickly, and Janet quickly rolled him onto his side as he began to wretch violently. She took a moment to offer a small prayer of thanks that he hadn't regained consciousness before she'd gotten back to help him. If he'd gotten sick while lying on his back, he'd have asphyxiated on his own vomit. She should've rolled him on his side before running off, she admonished herself bitterly, thinking that she was really batting a thousand today.
"That sounds familiar," Sam quipped, and Janet shot her a dirty look. "He must've gotten a bigger dose of the stuff than you did," Sam added, ignoring the look.
Janet shrugged. "Makes sense. That would explain why he's been unconscious longer." Janet felt a wave of sympathy for him--if he'd gotten a larger dose he was almost certain to feel sicker than she did, and that was hard to imagine.
"What's the situation?" he managed to croak after several long moments, once the worst of the nausea had passed. "You the cavalry, Carter?"
"Something like that," Sam said, with a smile, then preceded to fill him in on what had transpired while he'd been unconscious. Though he had stopped vomiting, Janet kept Makepeace on his side, one hand pressed supportively between his shoulder blades.
"No shit, you killed it, Doc?" Makepeace asked, shrugging her hand off and moving to sit up after Sam finished telling him about Beulah's last moments. It was meant as a compliment, but there was no mistaking the note of doubtful incredulity in his voice either.
"We're going to get you out of this clearing and into one of the buildings," Janet said, deciding she didn't really want to talk about Beulah anymore. If Makepeace had noticed the bones strewn all about them, he hadn't shown any indication of it. But he quickly nodded in agreement, and leaned heavily against the two women as they assisted him to the empty building Janet had found earlier.
"You two are on perimeter duty," he said, once they'd gotten him settled. Sam immediately began to protest, but Makepeace cut her off. "You each go in a direction and meet in the middle. The bug's dead, and Doc has already proven that she can handle herself in case there's another one." That wasn't entirely true, Janet thought giddily. She didn't particularly want to be on her own again, not so soon after finding Sam. "Give me your sidearm, Major. I'll monitor things from here while you two look for a way out. Check in every five minutes."
"Sir, I don't think it's wise to split up again," Sam argued quietly.
"You and I both know, Major, that Hammond's probably got the entire SGC working to get us out of here. I intend to meet them at least halfway. If that means splitting up to find a way out of here faster, then so be it." He leaned heavily against the wall, clearly drained by the conversation. "You have your orders, Major. Move out."
Janet watched as Sam stiffened, then, with a curt nod, turned and exited. Taking a moment to sling Makepeace's rifle over her shoulder, Janet reluctantly followed. Things were supposed to be better once Sam found her, she thought. Instead, here they were splitting up again, about to set out on a terrifying hunt through a dark and dangerously unfamiliar city. A few paces outside of the building, well away from Makepeace's position, Janet reached out and grabbed Sam's wrist tightly.
Instantly, Sam's eyes filled with sympathy, and she nodded. Then she reached out, cupping Janet's cheek with her free hand. "You can do this," she said simply. "I don't like it either but Makepeace is right. This'll go faster if we split up." From the look in her eyes, Janet knew this was the last thing Sam wanted to do at the moment.
Lifting one hand, she placed it over the one Sam had pressed against her face. "What if there's another Beulah?"
Sam shook her head. "There isn't. We'd have seen some sign of it."
It was a lie, Sam's voice sounding far more confident than the expression in her eyes indicated. But Janet clung to it anyway, certain she'd never been more grateful to be lied to in her entire life. Closing her eyes, she took a moment to lean into Sam's touch, drawing much needed strength and reassurance from such a simple gesture.
"You're right," she finally murmured, pulling Sam's fingers away from her face with a small sigh, but she continued to maintain the contact between their hands. "We'd have seen some sign."
Sam nodded, releasing her hand after giving it one final squeeze, then lead her down the narrow avenue that lead to what the rocky wall that ran around the city. "We'd better get going. Right or left?" she asked.
Janet thought for a moment, inspecting both directions carefully. Both were clear for several meters, then blocked by buildings built right into the rocky wall. "Left," she said. "I guess we search the buildings along the way?" she asked, swallowing shakily, not liking the idea at all.
"'Fraid so," Sam said. "Don't spend too much time, though. Just give them a once over."
With a nod, Janet stepped past Sam, giving her one last meaningful look before moving away. She could feel Sam's eyes on her as she strode along the passageway, her light glinting off the uneven rocky surface of the wall to her right.
Too soon for her tastes she reached the first structure built into the outer wall of the city. Gratefully, she noted that it was a single story, which meant she didn't have to climb any stairs to check out a second floor. She could get by with shining her light in through the entrance without having to actually go inside. That was fine by her, she thought.
Empty, a few pieces of smashed furniture littering the dusty floor. The walls were bare save for a drawing on the ceiling. Curious, Janet held her light up to examine the artwork more closely and saw an outline that was suspiciously Beulah-shaped.
"Ladies," Makepeace's voice crackled over the radio, startling her and causing the light to shake unsteadily in her hand for a moment. "Anything to report?"
"Nothing, sir," she heard Sam say. "I've passed two buildings, but they were both empty. No sign of any exit."
"Same here," Janet said, backing away and moving past the building, pausing only to flash her light down the dark alleyway running away from the wall to her left.
"Roger that. Makepeace out."
Left once again with only the sound of her ragged breaths, Janet picked up the pace, thinking that she'd meet up with Sam again that much sooner if she just moved a little faster. This whole business was unnerving, everything too dark and too quiet and too exposed.
Another building, this one a dismaying three stories tall. The ground floor had been a shop of some kind, the walls lined with dusty, ruined display cases, all empty. A dilapidated spiral staircase stood in one corner of the room, several of the steps missing, or cracked nearly in half. The whole thing looked unstable and ready to collapse should she breathe on it too heavily. Glancing around, it was obvious the staircase was the only access to the upper floors of the structure. Sam had told her not to take any chances. With one last long look at the staircase, Janet decided that trying to negotiate it was simply too risky, and backed out of the building.
Five check-ins and four buildings passed uneventfully, and Janet was beginning to think neither one of them was going to find anything remotely resembling a way out. And the passage of time had done nothing to calm her nerves either. If anything, she was beginning to feel more and more uneasy with each passing minute, unable to shake horrible images of the three of them dying of thirst in here, three more carcasses to add to the countless others already littering the city. It was a gruesome, disheartening image, made all the worse for its vividness.
Doggedly, she pushed the image out of her mind and pressed on. At the rate she was going, she was becoming her own worst enemy, and would end up paralyzing herself if she didn't focus and try to get a grip on herself. Looking around, she noticed that the alleyways and avenues were expanding, the number of buildings diminishing.
Walking past yet another dilapidated, empty building Janet found herself standing on the edge of what appeared to be an enormous clearing. The outer wall of the city continued to curve ahead of her to her right, but other than the cluster of buildings she'd just passed, there were no structures in her immediate vicinity. Panning her flashlight around in the empty space, the beam revealed only dusty, bare, pavement as far as her light could penetrate.
She hadn't liked walking past dark, menacing alleyways, always afraid of catching some furtive movement out of the corner of her eye, something darting through the spaces between the buildings. Somehow, though, this huge empty space was even more disconcerting, making her feel small and vulnerable. But she forced herself to take it as a hopeful sign--maybe she was close to an exit and prayed it wouldn't be locked, or blocked in some way. Thousands of people had died down here--surely if they'd had a way to escape, they'd have taken it, she thought.
Walking cautiously forward, acutely conscious of the sound of her boots thudding against the floor, Janet held Makepeace's rifle in front of her with one hand and reached for the radio with the other. It wasn't quite time to check in, but Janet knew this was worth reporting.
"Makepeace," she said softly, instinctively keeping her voice low.
"Did you find something?" Sam asked, instantly.
"I think so. Not an exit, but I'm in a clearing. I'm still following the outer wall of the city, but there aren't any buildings nearby. Wait a minute!" Up ahead, the uneven rock wall had given way to a black gap. Unconsciously, Janet slowed her steps, then stopped, her light trained on the irregular hole in the wall. "There's an opening, just ahead."
"Stay where you are," Sam said. "Colonel, I'm going to double back and find Doctor Fraiser."
"Affirmative, Major. Keep checking in, though. Doc, grab some cover and sit tight."
Makepeace and Sam signed off, and Janet stood looking around the empty space for several long moments. "Cover," she muttered. "Right." In the end, she decided to double back herself and meet Sam halfway, deciding there wasn't a hope in China that she was going to investigate that gap herself. It might be a way out, it might be nothing, it might be some kind of dangerous trap. An unbidden image of a headless Beulah lurching out of the darkness make her experience a creepy sense of being tracked by something lethal lurking just beyond the limits of her light. She broke into a panicked run, ducking gratefully past a building on the edge of the clearing, taking a moment to lean heavily against the wall.
Sam would be here in a few minutes, she told herself. They'd check out the tunnel, discover it was a way out, and this business would be done with once and for all. Janet told herself that the only thing she had left to worry about was what General Hammond was going to do to her for disobeying orders. Given everything that she'd been through today, that suddenly didn't seem so worrisome.
Janet was shaking badly now, unnerved by her over-active imagination. It was like the old Saturday morning cartoons, bloodshot eyes appearing from the shadows the second the intrepid junior sleuth walked past. A sound, any sound right now would be enough to cause her to have a heart attack and die right on the spot, she was certain.
The eyes, she couldn't get away from the eyes. Janet spun, frantically searching the darkness behind her, before whirling to search in front of her again. They were there. She could feel them, creeping closer whenever her back was turned, scuttling away from the light whenever she faced them.
She had to get away from the eyes.
Sam was pretty certain she'd never run this fast in her entire life, not even on the obstacle course in basic training with Sergeant Morris dogging her heels every step of the way while screaming insults about pathetic scientists into her ear. In less than half the time it had taken her to travel the length of her portion of the route she was back at the starting point.
Once there, she slowed momentarily, debating whether or not to check on Makepeace, then decided against it. That Janet might have found the way out gave Sam every reason to hurry, anxious not only to get out of there herself, but to get Janet out as well.
If the truth were told, just about any reason would've been sufficient for her to abandon her own search to team up with Janet. She'd been against splitting up in the first place but had agreed with Makepeace that finding a way out had to take priority over everything else. Janet hadn't said anything, but Sam had detected a discernable note of frayed nervousness in the other woman's voice as she'd spoken over the radio. Given everything she'd been through today, Sam could certainly understand why Janet might be close to cracking up from stress and resolved to move even faster.
A fast pace and no stopping to quickly search buildings made up for a lot of time, and it wasn't long before Sam thought she was close to Janet's position. As she ran around a building she saw Janet's light waving in the distance.
Something was wrong. Janet's light was swinging back and forth, as if she were searching frantically for something. The sight made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Surely Janet would have contacted her if she'd run into any real trouble. Maybe she'd dropped something.
Still, Sam slowed, tightening her grip on her rifle and approaching cautiously, aware that Janet's nerves were probably on a hair trigger, and that she was armed. Walking forward slowly, Sam saw Janet on the very edge of her flashlight beam. For not the first time Sam wished they could at least find some lights--being in the dark was making this that much worse. Janet was spinning frantically, searching the darkness as if she were expecting something horrible to come out of it. She wasn't carrying Makepeace's rifle anymore, Sam noticed.
As if sensing Sam's light, Janet turned and held her light up, shining it directly at Sam. Squinting, Sam shielded her eyes with one hand, keeping the other on her rifle. "What's wrong?" she whispered.
"Sam?" It was the pleading note in Janet's voice that drove Sam forward. Janet met her half way, grabbing her shirt and shoving her into the shelter of a hulking building. Sam was so shocked that she simply let Janet push her against the wall. There, she huddled against Sam, clutching the fabric of Sam's tshirt tightly in one fist.
"Where is it?" Sam asked. There had to be another Beulah somewhere nearby. That was the only explanation for Janet's behavior that Sam could come up with. Glancing down, she saw that Janet's eyes were tightly closed, her breathing deep and ragged. She wanted to wrap her arms around the other woman, offer some small comfort, but Sam was too afraid to let her guard down, let go of her weapon even for a moment.
"There's nothing there," Janet breathed quietly. It sounded to Sam as though Janet were trying to convince herself of that, rather than stating a fact. "Nobody's watching..."
Frowning, Sam put one hand on Janet's shoulder, surprised to feel her flinch and nearly pull away. "What's going on?" she asked, beginning to get really frightened.
"I think-" Janet started to choke out, then swallowed, forcing her eyes open. Her words were halting, punctuated by long pauses. "I'm cracking up. I'm delusional--paranoid." She laughed crazily then, and Sam was certain she'd never heard a more ghastly sound in all her life. "A few lucid moments."
Sam felt a chill slide up her spine, and she tightened her grip on Janet's shoulder. She'd seen Janet like this once before, after she and O'Neill had been infected by Machello's anti-Goa'uld devices. At the time Sam had been amazed by Janet's ability to think rationally and logically under the circumstances. Hell, she'd even done better than Warner and he'd been stone cold sober at the time.
This had to be so much worse, Sam realized. Then, despite the effect of the devices, they'd been in a familiar place surrounded by equipment and people to help. Here, they were trapped inside a nightmare. "Are you sure?" she asked, pulling away slightly, forcing the other woman to look up at her. It was understandable, all things considered. "You're sure you didn't see or hear something? Anything? Movement?" There had to be a rational explanation for this.
Janet laughed again. "Eyes. Everywhere, except where I can see them."
Well that was disturbing, Sam thought, resisting the urge to glance over her shoulder just to make sure nobody was there. Not just the image Janet's words evoked, but the fact that the words seemed to confirm Janet's diagnosis. She thought back to the incident with Machello's devices. Janet had been delusional there, too, terrified that Sam was a Goa'uld.
But there'd been a definite source of it then, the tiny slug-like devices that had entered her body, heading straight for the central nervous system.
She had a sudden thought. Reaching for her radio she signaled Makepeace. "How are you feeling, Sir?" she asked.
"To borrow a phrase from your commanding officer, Major, I'm feeling 'just peachy.'"
"You're not feeling delusional or paranoid?"
"Marines don't get paranoid, Major. What's your point?"
"Both you and Doctor Fraiser were exposed to a toxin from Beu-from the giant insect that brought you down here," she began. Next to her, Janet leaned back, blinking up at her in shock. "You were both unconscious, then violently ill. Doctor Fraiser is experiencing delusions-"
"And you're wondering if I'm feeling the same way," Makepeace cut her off. "Not yet, but I'll be sure to let you know. Is Fraiser with you now?"
"Is she armed?" Sam detected a note of hesitation in his voice.
Beside her, Janet shook her head. "I threw it away," she said.
That puzzled Sam for a second. Why would Janet throw away her weapon if she were afraid? Then it dawned on her. At some point, Janet had figured out what was happening, at least on some level, and also knew that Sam was on her way. She'd thrown away the gun to avoid injuring anyone, most of all Sam. Swallowing past a thick lump in her throat, Sam nodded, then signed off, telling Makepeace she'd contact him in a few minutes. She'd never have been able to toss her weapon had their circumstances been reversed. Her weapon was so much a part of her that she rarely ever noticed it was there, even when she was holding it ready.
"What do you think?" she asked, hoping to distract Janet, who was glancing furtively around her again. "Is my hypothesis plausible?"
"Unless you see a lot of people lurking in the shadows," Janet said shakily. "It's very plausible. Whatever it is, it could've metabolized into some kind of hallucinogen. But just between you and me, I think I've finally just lost it."
"I guess we'll know if Makepeace starts seeing things," Sam said lightly. "It's not too hard to let your imagination run away with you here," she added. "But, if there's one thing I've learned about you, it's that you're not given to paranoid delusions without some outside intervention. I'm willing to bet I'm right on this one, and your symptoms will wear off soon." The more she thought about it, the more Sam was certain she was right. Janet had been through a lot, but she couldn't imagine any circumstance that would cause Janet to lose her sanity, not without some intervening agent.
Janet closed her eyes, and leaned briefly against Sam for a moment. "Not soon enough," she whispered. "I just want to go home," she added, straightening.
"You and me both," Sam said, slipping her arm around Janet's shoulders, pressing her close for a moment. Janet had been through enough. Sam wasn't leaving her side again until they found a way out, and she was determined to get Janet out of here as soon as possible. "Come on"
Slipping out of the building, Janet in tow, Sam made her way to the edge of the clearing. "Holy Hannah!" she exclaimed as she panned her light around, amazed at the size.
"Shhh..." Janet hissed, burying her face against Sam's back.
Sam didn't answer, just reached behind her and took Janet's hand, then followed the wall until they both stood near the opening. "You'd think they'd have used this if it was an exit," Sam said, trying not to think of the piles of bodies she'd seen when they'd found Makepeace.
"Maybe they didn't want to leave," Janet whispered hollowly.
"That doesn't make any sense. Why would they want to stay here and be killed?"
Janet was silent, and Sam paused briefly to look at her. She was frowning, staring intently at her hand where it was clutching Sam's flack vest. Deciding that Janet was trying to focus her thoughts, Sam opted to drop the subject for the time being. Instead, she crept forward, shining her light into the tunnel. She felt Janet tense, and didn't blame her one bit. Sam didn't have a drug in her system, yet she felt like something was going to jump out at her any second.
It was a long expanse of tunnel, the beam of her light not even reaching the end. And unlike all the other walls and tunnels she'd seen, this one was far from featureless. Along the curved walls and floor were carvings, figures and symbols etched deep in the stone, covering every inch. Daniel would have a field day in here, she thought, stepping into the tunnel.
They walked slowly, Sam studying the etchings carefully, sighing in exasperation. "I can't make heads or tails out of this," she said after a few moments. "It's all Greek to me."
Stopping, she held her light up to a set of markings in a panel set apart from the rest. Glancing first left, then right, Sam realized this special panel was in the exact center of the tunnel. Behind them was the enormous clearing they'd just left; ahead was a door made of the same reflective metal she'd seen in the stairwell.
Sam examined the panel carefully, looking for any sign that it was a door or control panel. Or just something, she decided. Puzzles were all well and good, but this whole place was far too cryptic for her liking. It was well past time for there to be something simple and straightforward, she decided.
But the panel, despite the markings and the frame that set it apart from the other walls, was keeping its secrets to itself. Reaching out, Sam brushed her hand over one of the glyphs, fingertips lightly tracing the pattern.
Instantly, the entire tunnel came to life, each pattern and figure suddenly glowing with dull orange light. Behind her, Janet gasped sharply, staring around her in amazement. In mere seconds, the eerie light faded. But when Sam touched the wall again, the etchings briefly flared to life once more. "Cool!" she breathed, smiling and activating the wall again. Daniel was going to love this!
"You see it, too?" she heard Janet breathe in relief behind her. "I thought I was hallucinating."
"You're not hallucinating," Sam said reassuringly. "I don't know what it does. It might not do anything."
"Meaning it might just be art?" Janet asked, her voice tight as she reached out to activate the wall. But when her fingers made contact with a long, spiraling glyph that ran up the wall and partially over their heads, the patterns remained dark and inactive to her touch.
"That's interesting," Sam said, touching the same glyph Janet had just tried. The walls came to life briefly around them. "Touch here," Sam instructed, pointing to a small pyramid-like etching. She watched in curiosity as Janet's fingers moved across the wall.
"What do you think it is?" Janet asked, drawing her fingers back as if they'd been burned when the glyphs remained dark to her touch.
"I have absolutely no idea," Sam said, resisting the urge to touch the wall again. For all she knew, this was a control panel and they were completely restructuring some part of the pyramid.
"Do you think it's because of the drug in my system?"
Sam shrugged. "It could be the naquada in my system. Or the protein marker Jolinar left." She didn't need to voice the thought that immediately passed through her brain; if the wall was reacting to either of those elements in her blood, then they were now dealing with some kind of Goa'uld technology.
"It could be anything," Sam said, pushing that thought away until they had more evidence one way or the other. She stopped and looked down the hallway, at the shiny door at the other end. "Let's go check that out," she said, indicating the door with her light. Reaching out, she wrapped Janet's hand tightly in hers and lead the way further down the tunnel.
Janet could see their reflections against the door, distorted weirdly by the overlapping beams of their flashlights. It reminded her of the mirrors in the funhouse at a local street fair in Colorado Springs that she and Sam had taken Cassie to see. The three of them had stood in front of a mirror that had given her short, stumpy legs and a long, skinny torso. Cassie had loved it.
But this place was no funhouse. It was more like a chamber of horrors.
Swallowing, Janet allowed Sam to lead her forward until they stood just in front of the door. Automatically, Sam began to pan her light around, searching for a control panel to open it. For her part, Janet remained close to Sam, fighting the urge to check the dark tunnel behind them, hunting for those eyes she was still certain were there, watching them.
Sam had to be right about the substance Beulah had knocked her out with. While a part of her still wasn’t sure she wasn’t losing her sanity, the larger part of her hoped desperately for an alternative explanation. And it did make a certain sense, though Janet found herself in the perverse position of actually hoping that Makepeace started manifesting symptoms similar to hers soon. Then, at least, she’d know for sure.
Abruptly the glittering blockade in front of them dropped noiselessly into the floor. Sam’s arm shot up in front of her, and Janet was forced to take a step away from the opening.
"I guess that was it," Sam said before Janet could ask her if she’d found the control or if the door had just opened on its own. "Finally, something that looked familiar." There was a note of triumph in her voice. Sam kept her eyes fixed on the dark, open space in front of them, and Janet was grateful to be shielded protectively behind her.
Peering out around Sam’s shoulder, Janet followed Sam’s flashlight beam as it tracked through the opening. "It looks like a lab," Janet whispered, eyes sweeping over an array of equipment that had clearly not been used in many years. Some of it she recognized immediately, the sort of stuff you’d find in any advanced biochemistry lab. Others pieces looked completely unfamiliar and alien to her.
Janet felt Sam shift forward, and saw that she was examining the doorframe to their left carefully. "Looks like there are controls on both sides," she said after a moment. "But, just to be on the safe side, lets make sure. See if you can close the door. All you have to do is wave your hand in front of that panel there."
Stepping away from Sam, Janet reached out and passed her hand in front of a small circular panel set into the wall. Instantly, the door rose and the entrance to the lab was blocked once again. While it by no means explained why the wall hadn’t worked for her, Janet felt immeasurably reassured to find she could activate the door. She had a pretty good idea what Sam had in mind.
"Good," Sam said, nodding in satisfaction, then opened the door again. "I’m going to go in and see if the controls on the other side of the door work."
"I’ll give you thirty seconds," Janet said. Unless this was another bizarre design of the pyramid builders, she’d be able to open the door if the controls on the other side didn’t work. She hoped they did, however, since she didn't particularly relish the thought that one of them would have to wait here while the other searched the lab. Even if they kept the door open, the thought was still disconcerting.
As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Sam stepped through, closed the door, then quickly reopened it, reassuring both of them that they wouldn’t become trapped inside the lab and that they could both investigate it. Janet was just as glad Sam had been quick--she wasn’t feeling any less paranoid than she had been, but Sam’s presence reassured her beyond words.
"You’d think," Janet said as she stepped into the chamber, "that if there’s power for the doors, there’d be power for lights or something."
"You’d think," Sam agreed with her, then turned to examine the walls. Craning her neck, Janet saw that Sam was looking closely at a series of switches set into the wall just inside the room. "You don’t suppose?" she asked, glancing back at her.
Janet shrugged. "Only one way to find out, I guess," she said.
Janet watched Sam consider it for a moment, then she slowly reached out and pressed one of the buttons. With a hum, a row of bright white lights came to life directly above them. They shone intensely for a moment, then faded to a dull yellow. The two women stood there, tensely waiting for the light to fade completely, but the room remained lit, and after a moment, Janet breathed a huge sigh of relief.
She felt Sam’s hand land on her shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. "Yeah," she said knowingly, then pressed the remaining three buttons, flooding the room with light.
As the far end of the room was illuminated, Janet reflexively let out a small shriek as she spotted a familiar, hulking shape in the corner. Instantly, Sam was in front of her, pressing her back against the wall, rifle held up ready. Dimly, in between a sense of raw terror, Janet felt a wave of relief that Sam saw it too wash over her.
For several long moments, she stood huddled against Sam’s back, frozen in fear. At any moment she expected the giant insect to rise up and make its way toward them on long, spindly legs.
But there was no movement, no sound. It just sat there, unmoving, lying on a massive table. Black eyes stared emptily at them. Slowly, Sam lowered her weapon and stepped forward.
It was dead. As she gradually got over the shock of terror, Janet saw that this insect was practically mummified, little more than a dry husk. As they moved closer, Janet noticed massive bands of metal bending around what had once been dangerous limbs and a massive body. A smaller band clamped the insect’s neck to the table, and had obviously been designed to restrict head movement.
Curious now, Janet drifted past Sam, moving closer to the hulking carcass. While every detail of her battle with Beulah was stamped indelibly on her brain, it was almost a relief to examine what she’d fought and killed in such a detached, clinical setting. Her eyes passed over the enormous abdomen, noting that it was smooth and unsegmented and entirely encased in an exoskeleton. Six legs, including massive back limbs rose out of a thorax covered in distinct plates. She really did look like an enormous praying mantis.
Especially the head, Janet thought, moving even closer, barely noticing when Sam put a restraining hand on her back. Also covered in exoskeleton, the head was triangular, with enormous dark eyes on either side. Due to the state of decay, however, these eyes were sunken in and looked as though they might crumble to dust if she breathed on them too hard.
It was the mouth that caught her attention. A clear mask had been forced over the lower part of the insect’s head, heavy clamps on either side forcing the powerful mandibles apart. A tube ran from the mask, and Janet followed it to an apparatus that looked decidedly familiar.
"They were distilling the venom," she breathed in wonder. In med school, she and her roommate had joined in a friendly challenge from a few other students from her year. The still had taken up most of their tiny kitchen, but they’d become rather infamous for their home-made hooch.
This setup was slightly different, but certainly recognizable. It was comforting to know, Janet decided, that there was a certain universality of technology, even all the way on the other side of the galaxy.
Sam stepped closer and looked over her shoulder, examining the apparatus closely. "This place just gets weirder and weirder," she observed after a moment.
Janet was in complete agreement with this assessment.
Next to the distilling apparatus were a row of parchment scrolls laid out neatly from end to end. Sam was quietly fingering one of the scrolls, and Janet noted that flakes of the paper were coming off on Sam’s fingers. "I don’t dare open one," Sam said finally, pulling her hand away. "But the way these are arranged on this table, I’d say they were used for some kind of ritual."
"Wait a minute," she said, suddenly digging into her pocket. "I found this in one of the houses," she said holding up the rough-hewn figurine of Beulah she’d found. Sam took it and examined it curiously before handing it back to Janet. "There’s a small fortune in Beulah statues down here. Maybe some giant bug worshipping cult lived here. If the venom has narcotic properties, maybe they were using it to induce visions or something."
She straightened suddenly as a terrible thought occurred to her.
"What?" Sam asked quickly.
"All those people," Janet breathed, looking at the scrolls. "You don’t think…"
Janet saw what had to be a mirror of her own expression of horror slowly cross Sam’s face. "Mass suicide?" she finally asked weakly.
"Or mass murder," Janet added. "I thought they’d all been dragged down here as food, but there are too many of them." She tried to remember if she’d seen any sign of trauma on the bodies, but finally gave up, admitting to herself that she hadn’t exactly been paying attention.
They both stood for a moment trying to digest the scope of it all. Then Sam closed her eyes and ducked her head. "Come on," she said. "All that happened a long time ago. Lets search the rest of this place. Maybe we’ll find a way out or a map or something."
Sam was right, Janet told herself. Whatever happened here, it had happened a very long time ago. Nodding, Janet forced her gaze away from the giant insect sprawled across the table and swept the room with her eyes.
Like everything else in this pyramid, this room was huge, a large crescent-shaped chamber curving around the opening of the tunnel. Rows of tables, each with equipment on them fanned out, with the distilling apparatus and scrolls in the corner. On the walls, Janet saw more of the same type of drawings she’d seen in at least one of the buildings she’d checked.
Sam had moved to the other side of the room and was leaning over a box that sported a black panel on the front. It was caked with dust. "You know," she said as Janet moved to examine a piece of equipment she couldn’t even begin to fathom, "This place is probably a technological gold mine."
Nodding, Janet gently pulled open a drawer in the workbench she was near. "It’ll take us years to figure out most of this stuff," she said, pulling out what looked like a typical PDA, complete with stylus. "I recognize a few pieces, but most of it is pretty advanced, and in pretty bad shape." She turned the pad over in her hands looking for a power switch, but found nothing. The back and sides were completely smooth. Pulling the stylus free, she pressed it experimentally against the small screen, signing when nothing happened.
Sam could probably make this work, she thought darkly, thinking about how the glyphs in the wall had refused to light up to her touch. What piece of the puzzle that was, Janet had no idea. Maybe it was some kind of weird testing apparatus to see who might have been inadvertently exposed to the agent in Beulah’s venom.
"Senator Kinsey still harasses General Hammond about finding useful technology. I’ll bet a million dollars that we’ll find lots of useful technology here," Sam said, smiling over at her. "Not to mention the fact that this pyramid is pretty much an engineering marvel all by itself."
"Great. Then he’ll be in a good mood when he court martials me and Makepeace," Janet said without missing a beat. She laid the PDA-like device down on the lab bench in disgust and moved on.
By her estimation, nearly an hour had passed since she’d started imagining eyes staring at her out of the darkness. Having light and having Sam nearby were helping her to focus and she didn’t feel quite so panicked or on-edge as she had been. She wondered if perhaps the drug was beginning to wear off, and she hoped so. The thought that the inhabitants of the city might have been distilling it to make it stronger made her shudder abruptly. It was more than potent enough for her.
As she stepped around another of the seemingly countless work tables that filled the room she glanced down at the floor and recoiled quickly, nearly losing her balance. Before she’d completely stabilized herself, Sam was at her side, grasping her elbow. "I’m all right," she said, indicating the floor in front of her.
"Holy Hannah!" Sam said, leaning down to get a closer look.
At their feet was a small black circle set into the stone. Instinctively, Janet looked up, to see if there was one in the ceiling, noting that Sam was doing the same. There was, a circle of the same shape situated directly over the one on the floor.
After a moment, Janet joined Sam in looking at the circular panel, staring deep into the blackness. Squinting, Janet tried to see if there was any machinery or circuitry hidden behind the panel.
It was a perfect, matte black and the longer Janet stared into it, the more she felt like she was staring into some endless, black void. She imagined that if she stood there looking into it long enough it would eventually suck her soul down into it and she’d be trapped.
Abruptly, Janet straightened, the thought sending a chill through her. She moved to grab Sam’s arm, thinking to pull her away from whatever it was they were looking at.
"Just a minute," Sam said, shaking off Janet’s arm. Janet watched in horror as Sam reached out and waved her arm over the panel on the floor, then they both jumped back when the air in front of them suddenly crackled with energy. "I thought so," Sam said triumphantly, and Janet spared her a quick, annoyed glance, thinking Sam could have at least given her some warning. Quickly though, her attention was drawn back to the panel.
Floating in front of them, with the Stargate in the foreground, was a perfect, three-dimensional image of the pyramid, complete with sprawling city underneath.
Sam walked slowly around the floating image, one part of her mind noting that there'd been no dust on the panel nor had the activation of the image stirred any up despite the fact that the room was filled with dust. The image was detailed right down to the smallest stone block as far as she could tell at this scale. Gingerly, she stretched her fingers out again to see what would happen.
The image didn't change, but a column of colored squares appeared to the left of the image as she stood facing it, and an empty window appeared on the right. None of the colored squares were labeled, and none of the colors were repeated.
"Alien Tetris?" Janet asked dryly, her face framed between the image of the pyramid and the colored squares.
"Function buttons, I'm guessing," Sam replied, lifting her hand to sweep the tips of her fingers through the blue square at the very top. With any luck, this was a map and that big red "you are here" dot she'd fantasized about earlier would miraculously appear.
"O-kay," she said slowly. "Maybe I'm on the wrong side. You try it." Sam watched as Janet looked like she'd rather bolt from the room than have anything to do with this, but she reached up quickly and touched the blue square, again with no results. "Now try the one just below it."
That square was yellow and when Janet's fingers passed through it, the solid walls of the pyramid suddenly melted away to reveal the internal structure, leaving only a wire-frame representation of the outer shell. The internal structure was mildly transparent, revealing a complicated, layered internal structure.
"That's more like it," Sam said, her eyes flicking to the window that had opened up alongside the pyramid. Figures were scrolling rapidly from left to right across it. "These must be schematics of some sort," Sam observed. There was no hope of deciphering them, not without Daniel anyway, so she turned her attention back to the pyramid.
There was a huge inverted cone suspended inside the pyramid, she realized quickly. That explained the moving walls and tunnels. The entire inside of the pyramid could be realigned along a central axis, presumably the circular stairway she'd taken down to the city. At the apex of the cone was the square room she'd entered, with the sloping tunnels she'd followed curving along the outside of the cone.
"This is…" Sam paused, unable to come up with a suitable word to describe what she was seeing. She finally gave up and shrugged helplessly. Waving one hand, she beckoned Janet, who moved to stand beside her. "There's a shaft that drops into this room," she explained. "Teal'c and I climbed up the outside of the pyramid and then he lowered me down into this room. I took the west tunnel down to here," she said, one finger following the translucent tunnel to the larger, domed room in which she'd found the circular stairwell.
"That looks like the tunnel Makepeace and I entered," Janet said, pointing to the base of the pyramid. "You can even see the debris blocking the tunnel, but I don't see a clear route back to it, or back up to the room at the top," she said, frustration evident in her voice.
It occurred to Sam that it might be a good idea to give Janet something to do while she examined the pyramid's schematics. She was sure she could find a way out, given enough time. Straightening, Sam put a hand on Janet's shoulder. "Look," she said. "It's going to take me awhile to figure this out. Why don't you check in with Makepeace, then finish looking around in here, OK?"
Janet nodded, pursing her lips. "In other words, you'd like me to get out of your hair for a few minutes."
"Just for a few minutes," Sam added, a smile quirking her lips. She watched as Janet moved a few yards away and activated her radio, before turning her attention back to the schematic. As soon as Janet had pointed out the blockage in the tunnel Sam had realized that this was a current map of the pyramid, rather than some map of it in an idealized state. She hadn't decided yet if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Glancing up at the scrolling figures in the window again, Sam wondered why it was that nearly every culture they met spoke perfect English, yet few of them actually wrote in English. Instead, they usually wrote in some form of Latin, or Chinese, or some obscure dialect that she was sure only Daniel had ever heard of. He could probably stand here and look at this for about thirty seconds, then begin translating without any problem.
No such luck for her, though, she thought, turning her attention back to the cone as she walked slowly around the display. It looked like that entrance at the base was the only main entrance. Were it not blocked, Sam saw that it led to a small central chamber, basically a smaller version of the domed room she'd found. Unlike the domed room, however, which had only four exits, this room had dozens entrances, all leading to a complex maze of smaller tunnels. A turn of the cone just a few degrees clockwise would cause the entire configuration of the maze to change. Sam imagined this was some sort of waiting room where people entering the pyramid waited until the cone had moved to allow access to other areas.
Janet cleared her throat and Sam realized she was standing nearby, an amused expression on her face. She'd completely tuned Janet's conversation with Makepeace out.
"Makepeace OK?" she asked, just barely managing to turn her attention away from the display.
Janet's smile broadened into a grin. "Oh, he's doing better than OK," she said. Sam frowned in confusion. "He just told me there were lots of pretty flowers growing in the garden he's sitting in," she said. "He's high as a kite right now."
Sam's eyes widened in surprise. "Flowers?" she asked incredulously, for the life of her completely unable to imagine Makepeace hallucinating flowers, then a slow grin spread across her face. "When Colonel O'Neill hears about this, Makepeace will never live this down."
"What I want to know," Janet said in exasperation, "Is how come he gets the good trip and I get the bad one?
"Look at it this way. At least it confirms my theory about the venom. Do you think we should go back for him?"
Janet shrugged. "He seems calm enough. I think he got a bigger dose than I did, but it should wear off soon."
"Speaking of which, how are you feeling?" Sam asked, chagrined that it hadn't occurred to her to ask before now.
Again, Janet shrugged. "I'm getting there," she said simply, then looked quickly away. "How are you doing?" she asked, obviously changing the subject.
For a moment, Sam considered pressing the issue. Janet did seem to be doing better, calmer and she'd lost that aura of being just on the edge of hysteria.
After a moment, however, Sam decided to let it go. Instead, she turned back to the display. "You were right. The only way out seems to be blocked. It doesn't matter anyway," she added. "The cone's positioned away from the entrance. We'd need to find a way to move it to get out that way, not to mention moving the rocks.
In frustration, Sam reached out and flicked her finger at the shape of the slab blocking the tunnel as if that would somehow clear the path.
"Shit!" she yelped, stepping back as her finger connected with something that felt surprisingly solid. Before Janet could say anything, however, Sam reached in and did it again, only to experience the same sensation. "I can feel it!" she exclaimed, explaining quickly to Janet.
More cautiously this time, Sam reached in and ran the tip of her finger along the top of the tunnel. This time she noticed a slight resistance when her fingers passed through the now transparent outer walls. The tips of her fingers met even more resistance along the outside of the main tunnel, but when she pressed more firmly, her fingers slipped through the outer wall and into the image of the tunnel. Gingerly, she probed the rock with the tip of her index finger. "This is so cool!" she breathed.
After a few minutes of probing, the rock shifted slightly. As it moved, it turned a bright red and began pulsing, but remained on the display. Experimentally, Sam pushed it back to its original position. It continued to glow and pulse.
"Do you think this is some sort of control panel?" Janet asked, hovering near her elbow. "Maybe it's a maintenance panel of some sort."
"Could be," Sam said. "If I can figure out how to turn the cone, I could push that rock into the waiting room. Then there'd be a clear path out of here. Question is, how do you turn the cone?"
"You could try using your fingers," Janet said haltingly, giving her a wry smile. "I mean, it worked on the rock. Theoretically it should work on the cone, too.
Sam had to admit it made sense. She pressed her fingers lightly against the lower edge of the cone and tried to push it around. It didn't budge and her fingers slipped through. Several more attempts yielded similar results.
"Try turning it at the top," Janet said. "Like a dial."
With a grimace, Sam reached up and wrapped her hand loosely around the apex of the cone. The first few attempts to turn it were unsuccessful, but on the fourth try Sam saw the display shift slightly counterclockwise. As soon as it moved, it too turned red and began to pulse.
"That's it," Janet said, quietly cheering her on. "You just need to turn it a little more."
Slowly, millimeter by millimeter, Sam managed to turn the cone so that the tunnel from the room lined up perfectly with the exit. "We can get to it from here," she said, pointing to the stairwell. That's where I ran into Beulah."
"Do you think it worked? Wouldn't we have felt something?"
"Yeah, that does seem odd," Sam said, continuing to study the image. "We don't even know if this is a control panel," she said with a sigh. "This could just be some kind of interactive map or something."
"Maybe," Janet said, tilting her head to stare curiously. "Or maybe…"
Before Janet could finish her sentence, Sam nodded. "Or maybe you have to save your work first. Make all the changes you're going to make, then activate the program."
"You took the words right out of my mouth." Sam turned and favored her with a grin. "I'd better move the rock, then we can try to figure out how to activate it."
Now that she'd had a bit of practice, Sam had an easier time moving the rock. In a few minutes she had it pushed safely to the side of the waiting room. "Now," she said slowly, stepping back to admire her handiwork. "The question is, which one activates the program. Assuming there's a program to active, that is."
"Try the blue square again," Janet said. "It didn't do anything the first time we touched it. Maybe it's the save button. Save square. Save…whatever."
After a moment of thoughtful consideration, Sam nodded. "If it works, my new favorite color will be blue."
"Mine too," Janet said, slipping her fingers into Sam's free hand.
"Here goes nothing," Sam said, and lifted her hand, passing her fingers through the blue square at the top.
For nearly a minute, nothing happened as both women waited with bated breath. Then Sam felt the barest of a tremor pass through her legs. A quick glance at a nearby table showed that a complicated glass and metal apparatus was trembling minutely, not enough to cause any damage but a clear indication that something was happening. She tightened her fingers around Janet's. "I think it worked," she whispered. "I think it worked."
After a few more seconds, the display returned to the neutral tan and yellow it had been originally. The pulsing stopped, and the outer walls of the pyramid gradually materialized. In moments, the display looked the same as when they'd originally activated it.
Janet released her hand and slipped one arm around Sam's waist, hugging her tightly for a minute. When Sam glanced down, she saw that Janet had her eyes squeezed tightly shut.
"I just have one more question," Janet said after a moment. "And it's a pretty hideous question."
At first, Sam couldn't figure out what Janet was talking about. Then it dawned on her. "Who was moving thing around while we were in the pyramid being chased by Beulah?" she said after a moment. She practically had to force the words out of her mouth as her throat tightened in dread.
She felt Janet nod. "You took the words right out of my mouth," she choked.