She didn't want to let go of Sam. Nor did she want to open her eyes. It was tempting to stay just like they were, safe, until someone on the surface figured out that the path was open and came down to get them.
When she felt Sam's hand shift to her shoulder, and squeeze reassuringly, Janet knew it was time to go. Still, she lingered for a moment, until Sam broke the moment by stepping away.
"One of us is going to have to stay here," Janet said.
"Yeah." Sam's voice was resigned, and Janet could tell that Sam didn't like the idea any more than she did.
Swallowing past a suddenly dry throat, Janet took a deep breath. "You have to stay," she said.
At that, Sam reacted almost explosively by moving halfway across the room and pacing angrily. "You are in no shape," she said after a moment, but Janet saw by the look in Sam's eyes that she agreed. Janet loved the fact that Sam was going to argue about it with her anyway.
"You're right," Janet agreed, nodding. "I'm in no shape to stay here and defend this position if there's something else down here."
"You did a pretty good job against Beulah!"
"We could build a litter," Sam continued. "The two of us could carry him out of here together."
"The pyramid's mechanism could be automated. There might not be anything down here."
"Sam…" Janet raised her voice slightly.
"We don't know that this is the only control panel," Sam argued.
"And we don't know that it isn't, either," Janet countered. "Trust me, this is the last thing I want to do right now," she admitted. "But you know I'm right. You have to stay here and make sure the way stays open. Under the circumstances, I should be worrying about you instead of the other way around."
Sam tilted her head back and sighed again. "I promised myself I wouldn't leave you alone again," she said tightly.
"You're not. I'm leaving you." When Sam gave her a sharp look, Janet hastily added "Temporarily."
"I don't like it."
"Well that makes two of us, then."
Janet knew Sam had exhausted all of her arguments, and after a moment of silence, Sam finally nodded, posture slumped in defeat. "You're sure you can do this?" she asked, glancing up.
"I can do this." Janet didn't need to add that they really didn't have much choice. Nor did she need to add that since she felt responsible for the mess they were in this was the least she could do.
She straightened and squared her shoulders, trying to appear a lot more confident than she felt. She'd spent the better part of the day reacting, on adrenaline, on instinct, on fear. It was a bitter irony to be in a position to finally act only to discover that the mere thought of it just left her feeling small and scared.
"We should find your weapon," Sam said.
Janet nodded, forcing her legs to move. "I know where I left it. I'll check on Makepeace on my way to the stairwell."
"The main entrance is due north. When you get to the waiting room, use the compass on your watch."
Sam wasn't telling her anything she didn't know, merely prolonging the inevitable. Janet began walking toward the entrance.
As she moved past, Sam caught her arm, and pulled her into a loose embrace. Janet allowed herself to relax against Sam for a moment. There were so many things she wanted to say, but the words suddenly weren't there. In that moment, Janet realized she didn't want to say them in a moment of fear or weakness. Somehow that just felt too easy, too trite. Like some kind of movie cliché. It wasn't that she wouldn't mean every word under these circumstances, but she suddenly wanted the moment to be perfect, to be safe and warm and quiet. This place definitely qualified as "none of the above."
"Janet--" Sam breathed in her ear.
She pulled away and frowned up at Sam. "What?"
Sam seemed about to say something else, then clearly changed her mind. Janet had a pretty good idea what was on Sam's mind--they were oddly in synch at times, and this moment was no exception. Now she really did feel like she'd suddenly been thrust into some old black and white film. "Just be careful, okay? Don't stop for anything."
"I'll be back before you know it," Janet said, forcing herself to take a step away from Sam, watching as Sam's arms dropped almost helplessly to her sides, then moved instinctively to her rifle.
There was nothing more to say. With one last, slow nod, Janet turned and made her way to the entrance. Once there, she resisted the urge to look back, knowing that Sam's eyes would track her into the darkness for as long as possible.
Janet made herself maintain a reasonable pace, thinking that the last thing she wanted was to use up all her reserves and end up collapsing in exhaustion halfway between here and the entrance. Makepeace's rifle was lying in the pile of debris she'd tossed it into earlier. She'd been dropping and picking guns up all day, she thought grimly. By her estimation, aside from basic training, she hadn't spent as much of a single day handling a weapon as she had today. Even that incident with Hathor hadn't compared.
Makepeace was slumped against the wall of the building they'd carried him into, sound asleep. Under the circumstances, Janet couldn't blame him. Sleep sounded like a pretty fine idea to her too, she decided, thinking that she'd sleep for a week once she got out of here. Between the physical and mental stress not to mention the drug, it was nothing short of a miracle that she was still standing. But she didn't have the luxury of quitting just yet, no matter how much she envied Makepeace.
Beulah's carcass was still blocking the entrance to the stairwell, and Janet nearly tripped leaping over it. She steadied herself against one of Beulah's legs, then recoiled as if burned, hastily wiping her hand against her fatigues.
The climb up the steps was interminable. Without the adrenaline to give her strength, her legs and lungs soon burned with the exertion. She paused to rest, though didn't dare sit down for fear she'd never make it to her feet again. Glancing up, she strained her eyes hoping to catch sight of the entrance to the waiting room Sam had told her about. The impression of a black opening several meters above her head spurred her on.
There was no walkway. Sam hadn't mentioned that the walkway was missing, Janet thought in panic. She wondered if there had been one and it had fallen off, or if the inhabitants had put it in place only when they needed it.
Not that it mattered. It was nowhere in sight, which meant she'd have to jump. All things considered, it was probably the easiest thing she'd been called upon to do all day, other than remain unconscious while a giant insect dragged her into an underground mortuary.
Forcing herself not to think about being found dead at the bottom of the shaft alongside Beulah, as if they'd made some weird death pact, Janet drew a deep breath and breached the gap, landing neatly on her feet on the other side. Without so much as a backward glance, she took off again, experiencing a familiar sense of deja vu as she pelted down the dark corridor. Hadn't she already done this today?
Gratefully, Janet saw that the tunnel opened into a large room after a short distance and she burst through the entrance, pausing to bend at the waist, resting her hands against her bent knees. She was close. All that was left was to find the tunnel that lead due north, the one with the light at the end of it, and she'd be out. And more importantly, she could get people down to Sam and Makepeace and they'd be out too.
There was nothing but the sound of the blood pounding in her ears and the breath rasping in her throat. She thought she saw a faint glow ahead, the barest outline of the opening. But she couldn't tell if it was real or a product of her own desperate imagination. Hopefully, it was real. The alternatives, that she'd gotten lost, turned around in here somehow, or the configuration of the pyramid had changed during her journey, or that she was still hallucinating were just too awful to contemplate.
Just as she was about to stop and try to figure out of she'd taken a wrong turn she spotted something crumpled and tan lying on the ground, barely visible amid a pile of rocks. Her jacket, the one she'd covered Makepeace with at the start of all this. It seemed so long ago, but the sight caused her to quicken her pace. She was definitely heading in the right direction.
When she finally stumbled out of the pyramid and glanced around she thought that General Hammond had moved the entire SGC here. Equipment and people were everywhere, including two soldiers presumably standing guard at the entrance who reacted immediately to her presence.
She was so out of breath she could barely stand up, and leaned gratefully on the arm of the nearest airmen. What activity there'd been just prior to her arrival suddenly seemed to intensify. She was dimly aware of motors and shouts and lights as she was lead to the medical tent her people had been setting up as she'd entered the pyramid with Makepeace.
O'Neill and Daniel were there too, weaving in and out of her field of vision as a medic tried to examine her and general chaos seemed to surround her. She felt disconnected, caught in a weird, disorienting fog.
"Doc, DOC!" O'Neill said sharply, snapping his fingers in her face several times. Janet wanted to slap him. "Where's Carter and Makepeace? How the hell'd you get out?"
"It's a long story, Colonel," she finally managed to gasp out. She started to tell him how to get down into the underground city when Denise Fischer, one of her medics, grasped her arm and began to prep it for an IV. Angrily, she pushed her hands away. "I'll take you down--" she began, and moved to stand up.
"Not a chance, Doc," O'Neill said, and she felt firm hands on her shoulders forcing her back down. "The radios work inside the pyramid. Carter can talk us through. Take care of her." This last was said with a pointed glance at the hovering medic. When Janet started to protest again, O'Neill cut her off. "That's an order, Doc. You do still know how to follow those, don't you?"
Then he was gone, Daniel trailing in his wake as O'Neill began barking orders at everyone. Fischer was back, rubbing antiseptic across her arm, leaving a damp, grubby patch amid the dust and seat and blood she was covered with. Another medic, and Janet couldn't remember his name all of a sudden, was in front of her, shining a light into her eyes. She wanted to slap him too, she realized, never fully appreciating how annoying that was until now.
"Makepeace has a broken leg," she informed Denise, barely noticing the slight prick as the woman began the IV. "We've both been exposed to some kind of insect toxin. It rendered us unconscious and seems to have some narcotic properties. You should probably--"
While she was speaking, two airmen stepped into the tent carrying a stretcher between them, which they placed carefully onto the floor. It wasn't until Fischer began helping her onto it that she realized it was for her and immediately began to protest.
"I have to wait for Major Carter and Colonel Makepeace," she said, moving to pull the IV needle out of her arm. It was getting in the way.
"They're in good hands, Doctor," Fischer was saying soothingly. "We've got to get you back to the SGC. They'll be fine." She grasped Janet's hands firmly with her own.
She realized struggling was useless. "Look, I'll just lay here quietly until they come out," she said pulling her hands free and holding them up as if to ward off any further attempts at restraint. "I just have to wait until they get out." She had to be here when Sam came out. She couldn't let them take her back to the SGC. Janet knew she was being irrational but she didn't care. She couldn't leave until she knew Sam was safe. She just couldn't.
Fischer sighed. "Would you let yourself stay if you were in my position?"
"Of course I would," Janet said without missing a beat. It was a lie of course. She'd probably sedate her patient if she didn't cooperate, but she had no intention of telling Fischer that.
Fischer looked dubiously at her. "I'll be fine," Janet whispered, determined not to beg. She was staying and that's all there was to it. "Just until they come out."
After an eternity, Fischer finally turned and waved the two airmen away. "If I see you get up off that cot you'll go right through that Stargate," she warned in a tone that brooked no arguments. Fischer reached behind her and pulled a light blanket out of a trunk, taking a moment to fuss with it after she spread it across Janet. "I'm glad you're okay," she said simply. "Get some sleep. I'll wake you up when they come out."
As Fischer busied herself getting things ready for Makepeace, Janet sighed in contentment, thinking how wonderful it felt to be lying down, especially on something soft and clean. Before long, despite her best efforts, it became a struggle to keep her eyes open. Now that she was safe and warm, her body demanded rest and wasn't going to give her a choice in the matter. Janet drifted off to sleep.
Sam stood between O'Neill and Daniel just inside the stairwell. Two airmen had placed Makepeace, who was still asleep, on a stretcher and were in the process of taking him to the surface.
"That's a big bug," O'Neill said, nudging the giant carcass with the toe of his boot.
"A really big bug," Daniel echoed.
"You really did a number on it, Carter. Good work."
"Actually, Sir, it wasn't me. Doctor Fraiser killed it."
"Get out of here!" Daniel interrupted, his eyebrows raising in shock. "Janet killed it?"
O'Neill nudged the insect again, and Sam noted that he was unconsciously rubbing his rear end with one hand. "I can believe it," he said under his breath. "SG10 and SG6 have the place secured and will do a thorough search. If there's anyone or anything else here, they'll find it. Daniel, are you staying are going?"
"Um, I think I'm going to stay and have a look around the lab. I want to supervise the transport of those scrolls."
O'Neill nodded. "Let's get out of here, Carter," he said. "Ladies first."
She'd filled the time waiting for some sign that Janet had made it out safely, too afraid to call her on the radio for fear of slowing her down, by pacing nervously from one end of the room to the other. Her eyes had been drawn repeatedly to the display in the middle of the room, certain the configuration would shift unexpectedly.
When O'Neill's voice crackled over the radio she'd been overjoyed. She was glad nobody was around because she'd actually done a little dance, both because help was on its way and because the fact that O'Neill was talking to her meant that Janet had gotten safely out, a fact that O'Neill had confirmed immediately.
Once she knew O'Neill was on his way she'd filled the time by searching through a few more of the lab benches, making a concerted effort not notice how her hands were shaking with relief. She hadn't been aware of quite the level of stress she'd been under until she knew Janet was safe.
"Sir?" Sam began, as she and O'Neill began the long climb. For an advanced engineering marvel, it should have elevators or transporters or something, Sam thought. "How's Captain Smith?"
"Alive," O'Neill said, but his voice was grim. "He's probably going to lose most of his right arm. But he's alive." After a moment, he added, "I told Hammond that Makepeace and Fraiser made the right call. Smith would be dead now if they hadn't gone in and started out with him when they did. It was just bad luck that they got caught inside."
"And good luck that neither were more seriously hurt," Sam added.
"That too," O'Neill agreed. "Besides, this way the Doc will owe me one and I can't wait to collect."
After that, they both fell silent, intent simply on getting to the top. Sam wondered if Janet had been sent back through the Stargate. She'd been doing better, but Sam thought she still looked like death warmed over just before they'd parted. Somehow, though, she knew Janet would be there, waiting for her, when she finally stepped out of the pyramid.
Sure enough, as soon as Sam stepped through the main entrance, to a rousing cheer from the gathered SGC personnel, Sam spotted someone near the medical tent waving frantically, trying to catch her attention. "Go on," O'Neill said softly behind her. "Escort Makepeace and the doc back to the SGC then get some rest. We can debrief tomorrow."
With a nod, Sam turned to go. "Carter?" she heard O'Neill call. When she turned, he gave her a small nod. "Good work."
Sam smiled at him. "I didn't really do anything, Sir. Doctor Fraiser actually did most of it," she said, then paused when O'Neill sighed in exasperation.
"Now, how did I know you were going to say that?" he asked, though Sam sensed it was a rhetorical question. He stared at her expectantly.
"Thank you, Sir," Sam said after a brief pause. "I'll see you back at the base."
When she reached the medical tent, Janet was sitting up, a blanket bunched around her waist. For a moment Sam paused uneasily, noting how small and tired and dirty she looked. She was snapping orders about Makepeace's care to two harried-looking medics. Regardless of how she felt, she was at least behaving somewhat normally, Sam thought. Still, she'd feel much better when they got her back to the SGC and the doctors in the infirmary had a chance to check her out to make sure there'd been no permanent damage.
"I sear to God, Doctor Fraiser," a dark haired woman that Sam recognized but couldn't remember her name finally said, rounding on Janet in frustration. "I don't care if you outrank me, I'm going to sedate you if you don't lie back down and be quiet."
"What seems to be the problem here?" Sam interjected, stepping into the tent.
"Major Carter," the medic exclaimed. "I was just trying to get Doctor Fraiser to go back to sleep. The cheering when you came out woke her up."
Janet didn't say anything, but Sam saw her face flood with relief. Sam moved to stand beside her, pressing her back down onto the mattress with one hand. Janet didn't resist, and Sam sat down on the edge of the cot. "You look terrible," Sam said, a smile creeping across her face.
"I'm feeling a lot better, now" she said softly.
"Good. Colonel O'Neill ordered me to escort you and Makepeace back to the SGC." Turning to the exhausted medic, she asked "Is everyone ready to travel?" Before Janet could answer the question Sam held up one hand to silence her and listened intently to the medic.
"Yes, Ma'am." Sam could hear the gratitude in the woman's voice. "Their both stable and their vitals are good. We just need to transfer Doctor Fraiser to a stretcher and we're ready to go. I've assigned people to staff the station while the teams are still inside the pyramid."
"I can walk," Janet protested, but Sam thought it sounded pretty feeble at best.
"But you're not going to," Sam countered quickly, helping Janet onto the stretcher. "So just lie here and suffer. We'll be home before you know it." Sam took an extra minute to tuck the blanket around Janet's shoulders while a medic hung the IV on a small pole attached to the stretcher. At her signal, airmen lifted both Janet and Makepeace and the small group began to make its way to the Stargate. Sam fell into step next to Janet, and after a few minutes felt Janet's hand slip out from under the blanket and grasp hers.
Just before the Stargate blossomed into life, Sam glanced down at the woman laid out on the stretcher, smiling when she realized that Janet was fast asleep again. She wondered if it was possible to sleep while travelling through a wormhole, and figured she was going to find out one way or the other.
"All right, Doctor," Warner said, making a few notes on her chart. "You can get dressed now. It looks like the worst of the infection has passed. You're lucky."
Janet had to agree. She felt pretty lucky to be alive, lucky to be home, and lucky to be in relatively good condition. Warner, who had insisted on her care himself, told her she'd developed a nasty infection in the wound on her back, despite the fact that it had been tended to. Between the resulting fever and her own exhaustion, she'd slept for nearly a day and a half. She dimly remembered waking periodically, feeling hot and disoriented, but always reassured to find Sam slumped in a nearby chair.
"How are Colonel Makepeace and Captain Smith doing?" she asked, shrugging into a sweatshirt one of the nurses had loaned her.
"They'll both be fine. Unfortunately, we had to amputate Captain Smith's right arm just below the elbow. We're transferring him to the base hospital today for further surgery. He'll start physical therapy and rehab later this week." Janet sighed with regret, thinking if only they'd been a little quicker, they might have gotten him out in time to save his arm.
"And Colonel Makepeace?" she asked, hoping to distract herself.
"Resting comfortably. Like you, he needed to sleep off the effects of the toxin, and he'll be on leave until his leg is out of the cast, but I expect him to recover fully. Once you return from leave," Warner said pointedly, "I'll have his charts on your desk, along with the chemical analysis of the insect venom. Until then, Doctor," he added, with a smile, "I'm prescribing a few days of rest for you."
That wasn't a surprise to Janet. She'd have prescribed the same thing herself, and nodded in agreement.
Warner looked like he expected her to argue, and seemed disappointed when she didn't. "Colonel Makepeace wants you to stop by before you leave. And Major Carter wanted you to stop by her lab as soon as I released you. You know, roughly three-quarters of the base has called to find out how you were doing since you got back. You're very popular. But I mean it about going home and resting. Everyone's under strict orders not to keep you too long today."
Makepeace was sitting up in bed, flipping through a magazine. "Hey Doc," he greeted her when she stepped around the curtain. She reached immediately for his chart.
"How are you feeling, Colonel?" she asked, flipping through it quickly. Satisfied, she hung it back on the hook at the end of the bed and moved to stand beside him.
He sighed. "Been better," he said, waving at the heavy cast on his leg. "Been worse, too. How about you?"
"Better than you," she said with a smile. "But I think the nursing staff will be happy to see me go home," she added, ruefully.
That earned a chuckle from Makepeace. "So it's true, what they say about doctors."
"Lies, all lies," she assured him. "Doctors make model patients."
"Ah," he said with a knowing nod. "That's good to know."
"Anyway," Janet said, mindful that Warner was hovering about and would probably shoo her away at any moment, "You wanted to see me?"
"Yeah, I did," he said. "I've got something for you." He leaned over and picked something up off the floor, handing it to her with a grin.
Janet stared at it for a moment, speechless. Finally, she managed to recover her voice. "I like the pink bow, Colonel. Did you learn how to make those in home ec class?"
That earned a loud chuckle. "I'll have to ask Ferreti. It was his idea," he said. He took the battered rifle from her, turning it over in his hands. "You put it to good use down there so I thought you should have it. Ferreti told me to tell you that he'll paint 'Insect repellant' on it for you if you ask him really nicely."
"Very nice, Colonel," she said, taking the weapon again. "I'll hang it on my office wall, right next to my medical school diploma." Secretly, she was rather touched by the gesture, but she knew better than to embarrass Makepeace or Ferreti by letting on that she knew it was anything more than a joke.
"There's one more thing," he said, leaning back and folding his hands behind his head.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," she said, chuckling.
"I spoke to General Hammond earlier today. I told him it was my decision to go into the pyramid."
Janet stiffened. There was no way she was going to allow Makepeace to take all the blame for that. "That's not what happened and you know it, Colonel," she said sharply.
"It's already done," he said. "He was pissed off, but apparently O'Neill told him we saved Smith's life. Is that true?"
Janet sighed. "Yes," she said, thinking that it was good thing that the officer was still alive. But she felt a sense of keen regret over the fact that he'd had a limb amputated and was looking at a long stretch of recovery and rehabilitation. "He would've have bled to death if he'd gotten trapped. Which he would have if we hadn't gone in when we did. But it doesn't change the fact that we disobeyed a direct order. We, Colonel. Not just you."
"No, it doesn't. But let me take the heat for it," Makepeace said. "Rumor has it you're up for promotion soon. With all due respect, Doc, I don't want to be on the receiving end of any shots you're going to give out after being passed up for promotion. This is purely an act of self-preservation."
She shook her head in mock consternation. "Marines are just so delicate. You never hear the Air Force personnel complaining about getting shots."
"Oh yeah, like O'Neill isn't the biggest baby of all," Makepeace snorted. They both smiled at that one. O'Neill was infamous for complaining loudly and often about the various medical procedures that the SG teams had to undergo on a regular basis.
She still didn't feel right about this. Hammond probably wasn't going to initiate any disciplinary actions under the circumstances, but it still felt wrong. She started to say as much to Makepeace, but he held up a hand to silence her.
"If it'll make you feel any better," he said. "You can owe me a favor, how's that?"
Janet stared at him dubiously. "A favor?" she asked. "What kind of favor?"
Makepeace suddenly found the opposite side of the room fascinating. "Uh, you remember what I said in the pyramid, when we were talking about things we wished we'd done?"
"Yeah," Janet said slowly. She had a bad feeling she knew where this was going.
"Well, I was just thinking, since you're such good friends with Major Carter that you could, you know, put in a good word for me."
She carefully released the breath she was holding. "Oh," she began helplessly, thinking that if he'd ever wanted to nail her with a practical joke, this was the mother of all practical jokes. At the same time, she knew someone like Makepeace would never be able to appreciate the irony. "I won't make any promises," she said finally. "But--" What on earth was she going to tell Sam, and what one earth was Sam going to tell Makepeace when he got around to asking her out?
"Great," Makepeace said quickly. He held out his hand for her to shake, which she did after a moment, wondering if Sam would ever forgive her for this one. "Then we're even," he said. "Just in time," he added as Warner stepped in and flashed her a stern look.
"I believe Major Carter was looking for you, Doctor," he said, waving her from the room.
With one last look at Makepeace, who nodded in her direction, she left, making her way out of the infirmary, pausing long enough to drop the rifle off in her office. There was no way she'd get it out of the mountain, not without a fuss, so it was better off there than anywhere. Besides, she told herself, maybe she would hang it up on her wall, after all. She figured she'd earned it.
Sam and Daniel were sitting across from one another in Sam's lab, the entire workspace between them covered with papers and photographs. Both turned to look up at her when she entered, and Janet found she couldn't help grinning herself when Sam's face lit up at the sight of her. Instantly, the other woman stood and ushered Janet over to her seat.
"Daniel and I were just going over the initial survey reports on the pyramid," Sam explained, pulling up a stool and sitting beside her.
"That's good," Janet said. "I have a bunch of questions I'd like answered."
"Well, I can't promise to answer all of them, but I think we have a pretty good idea what was going on down there. First of all, you were right," Daniel said, pulling a photograph toward them.
Janet leaned forward to examine it closely. "This is one of the scrolls?" she asked after a moment.
"Yes," Daniel said, frowning at the photo. "We lost three of them during transport, but the rest are intact. They were using the narcotic properties of the insect venom as part of a religious ceremony. It appears to be similar to some of the shamanistic rituals, vision quests, found in some Native American cultures. A preliminary examination of some of the skeletons found in the square don't show any trauma or violence. Doctor Lambert thinks the people in the city may have been poisoned. There's a fountain in the main square where we found most of the bodies."
"So, either someone had a bad trip and told everyone to poison themselves, or he or she just did it and the population knew nothing about it until it was too late," Sam added. "They definitely weren't insect food."
"It's still horrible," Janet said, shivering. "All those people…" Even if she hadn't seen the aftermath with her own eyes, the scale of it would've still sickened her. "Did the survey teams find any sign of anyone else?" she asked, hoping to change the subject. "Or any signs of any more insects?"
"No on both counts," Daniel said. "Though we did bring back a few of those eggs you found."
"What?" Janet asked, outraged at the notion. They'd actually brought back the eggs of that monster here to earth. That had never occurred to her and she immediately had a dozen questions about the safety of such a move.
"I disagreed, too," Sam said. "But the HAZMAT teams are following level 5 protocols. They're down on Level 42."
"What idiot ordered those eggs brought here?" Janet asked, still angry that she hadn't at least been consulted about it.
"Uh, that idiot would be General Hammond," Daniel said after a moment.
"Oh," she said, glancing over at Sam who was looking down at the surface of the table, a smile curving her lips.
"SG6 also found several rooms full of egg shells," Daniel added.
"So there may be millions of Beu--those things on the planet," she observed.
Daniel shrugged. "Possibly. Doctor Lambert suggested that the insect may have been reproducing asexually, and survived by eating its own young. When one got too old and died off, the last clutch of eggs would fight amongst themselves until one was left."
Janet felt her lip curl in disgust. That was far more detail than she needed, though some part of her recognized that under less personal circumstances she'd have been fascinated.
"Sam thought the insect might've been brought there, rather than evolved there. Did you find anything to suggest that?"
"No," Sam said, shaking her head. "But Daniel thinks that two, possibly three different cultures, each with a different level of technology, built or inhabited the pyramid at different times. Daniel?"
"First you have the pyramid builders. Obviously a very technologically advanced culture. I think the pyramid might've been a fortress of some sort. The limited access to it suggests that to me. With the city underneath, which I think was put there by the same culture but at a later time, you could hide out there and be self-sustaining for a very long period of time," Daniel explained. "A race on the verge of being wiped out might've gone to ground there."
"But wouldn't you expect records of some sort, then?" Janet said. "Unless the important thing was for them to preserve either their leaders for some short period of time, or their genome for some longer period of time."
"Right," Sam said. "The truth is, we may never really know who built that pyramid, or why they built it, but we can make some educated guesses. I think it was probably abandoned, maybe once it was safe for the people it was built for to come out. After that, another race took it over as a research facility."
"They were researching the insect?" Janet asked, thinking that made sense.
"Among other things. The survey teams found a lot of equipment, not just in the lab we found, but in a couple of other buildings in the city. It looks like it was some kind of genetic engineering facility."
Janet sat back, staring at Sam in shock. "They created Beulah?" She glanced over at Daniel, noting that he raised his eyebrows in surprise at the name, but remained silent.
"Again, we may never know, but it's possible."
"And after that, the third group moved in?"
"The cult," Daniel said. "The least technologically advanced of all. The fascinating thing is, were these three different groups, all distinct and separate from each other, or were they all variations on the same culture? Picture this," Daniel said, his eyes suddenly seeing something a million miles away and a million years ago. "Your race is at war, on the brink of extinction. You gather together your greatest scientists and engineers, pull together the last of your resources to save the very best your culture has to offer. Artists, scholars, scientists, leaders. You create a bunker for them where they'll be safe until the conflict is resolved one way or another. Well, guess what? You win, but only after a long time has passed and you've paid a terrible price. You resolve never to let it happen again, so you decide to create a weapon. A terrible weapon. A plague of locusts, if you will."
"Only it backfires," Janet said, suddenly realizing where Daniel was going with this. "You create something that has the potential to be the perfect weapon, only to have it turn against you."
"And it does. It destroys your civilization. And out of what's left a new, more primitive culture arises, a civilization whose mythology centers around seeking shelter in a miraculous structure, a violent conflict, death and destruction and the hope of deliverance by a powerful being."
The three of them sat in silence for several long moments, until Daniel shrugged, picking up one of the photographs again. "That's one possibility, anyway. There are a few other scenarios that are equally plausible." What Daniel was not saying, Janet knew, was that without any explicit written record of what had happened, all of this was speculation at best. It was all interesting, but give her a good, real scientific puzzle to work with any day, she thought.
"In any case, we found enough advanced technology in there to justify the expense of the Stargate program for the next century at least," Sam said with a smile. "Congress will be very happy."
"And there was nobody in there moving things around?" Janet asked.
"Not that we found. I'm guessing disuse and seismic activity were to blame. We haven't even started deciphering the interactive schematics, but I think there's some kind of self-correcting mechanism. That might explain it. You might also be interested to know that there are matter transporter systems all through the pyramid. That's how the rock got moved out of the entranceway. We could've gotten out of there at any time, had we known where they were and how to work them," Sam said.
"Now you tell me," Janet replied, rolling her eyes.
Daniel rose, gathering up papers in a huge pile. "If you'll excuse me, I have a report to write," he said. "I'm glad you're both okay," he said sincerely, then left the two women alone.
"And you have some leave to take," Sam observed, touching her sleeve lightly. "I'll take a break and give you a ride home."
"Okay," Janet said, smiling happily. "But first, I have a favor to do for someone, and I'd rather do it in an area under surveillance."
"Why?" Sam asked, giving her a puzzled frown.
"Because you may decide to hurt me when you hear what it is and I want some evidence."
At that, Sam raised her eyebrows. Janet took a deep breath. "What do you think of Robert Makepeace?" she asked innocently.
Sam stared at her in shock, her mouth opening and closing for a moment. "He didn't?"
Janet shrugged, then smiled up at Sam. "He did."
Sam tilted her head back and sighed in exasperation, then looked down at Janet, a mischievous smile on her face. "Actually, I think he's kind of cute," she said after a moment, ushering Janet out of the lab. It was Janet's turn to raise her eyebrows in surprise. "For a jarhead," Sam added as they walked together down the hall and toward the elevator together.
"Does that mean you'll let him down gently?"
"What do you think?" Sam asked as the elevator doors closed in front of them.
After she'd dropped Janet off, she'd reluctantly returned to the base to finish her shift. Thankfully, Daniel dropped by her lab and the two of them had gone over his report on the pyramid. He'd come up with at least a dozen other scenarios to explain what they'd found in the pyramid, but she could tell that he'd settled on the one he'd outlined to her and Janet earlier that day as the most likely explanation.
She envied him his ability to rely so heavily on instinct and intuition. There was a lot of that in her work as well, and she was well aware that Janet's field required instinct, too, but she had to admit that she much preferred pondering the specific scientific details. Daniel seemed to have a special gift of intuition, and Sam had no doubt that in the coming weeks and months, as more and more of the pyramid's secrets were revealed, the evidence would substantiate Daniel's theory. A part of her, however, remained skeptical that they would ever know the whole story.
Once her shift was over, Sam make one brief stop in the infirmary, then hurried back to Janet's house. When she entered, she heard Cassie and Janet arguing about something in the kitchen, though judging from the tone of voice, it was a fairly good-natured argument.
"Pizza!" Cassie said.
"Chinese!" Janet countered.
Cassie stepped forward and stood nose to nose with Janet. "Pizza."
"The grease will clog your arteries," Janet said. "Chinese."
"We had Chinese last weekend. Pizza."
Sam had known the minute Cassie had stubbornly eaten the hot dog without the bun that the kid was a picky eater. As it turned out, she only liked fried chicken and pizza, despite an effort from both of them to get her to try new things. At the moment, however, Sam was content to sit at the kitchen table and watch as the two negotiated between Chinese and pizza rather than help Janet out. Her family was safe and that was all that mattered.
"What do you want, Sam?" Cassie finally asked, turning toward her.
Sam shrugged. "I could cook," she said, knowing that she would be immediately over-ridden.
"Okay, you win. Pizza it is," Janet said quickly when Cassie turned and gave her a triumphant look.
"Yes!" Cassie said, sitting beside Sam and squeezing her arm.
"You play very dirty," Janet said, pulling a menu out of a nearby kitchen drawer. "I want anchovies on mine."
"Ew," Cassie said, wrinkling her nose.
"Ew, yourself," Janet said. "Either we get anchovies on the pizza or we order Chinese."
"And you said I played dirty," Cassie admonished. "Half anchovies. Sam, what do you want on yours?"
"I stopped by to visit Makepeace," Sam whispered later, as they lay together. Janet had one arm around Sam's waist, and her head rested on Sam's shoulder.
"When are you going out with him?" Janet asked sarcastically. Sam lifted one hand to stroke Janet's hair lazily.
"Friday," Sam said. She felt Janet stiffened and lifted her head to look up at her.
"You're joking," she said. Sam saw Janet's eyes searching her face frantically. "Tell me you're joking."
Sam laughed. "I'm joking," she agreed.
After a moment, Janet laid her head back against Sam's shoulder. "You'd better be," Janet admonished gently. "Did he ask you out?"
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him I was seeing someone else."
Again, Janet lifted her head and stared up at Sam in exasperation. "Sam! You know that'll be all over the base by tomorrow!"
"No it won't," Sam replied smugly. "I reminded him about all the pretty flowers he saw in the pyramid. He'd just as soon that never gets mentioned again, so he agreed to keep the whole thing just between the two of us."
Janet sighed. "I wish I'd thought of that."
"I'm surprised you didn't."
"I think I'd just rather forget everything that happened down there."
They fell silent for a time, happy to just have a little bit of time to relax together. Almost unconsciously, Sam kept running her fingers through Janet's hair, thinking about how soft it felt and how close she'd come to never sharing another moment like this with Janet ever again. The thought was almost too painful to contemplate.
Sam looked down at Janet, thinking about all the things she wanted to say. The other woman was still, her breathing deep and even. Sam was certain she'd fallen asleep, and continued quietly stroking her hair. She supposed everything she needed to say could wait until morning.
"I love you," Janet whispered. Sam's hand froze, rested there against Janet's head. She was unable to speak, barely able to breathe. "I never said it before and I should have," Janet continued, not looking up but Sam felt Janet's arm curl more tightly around her waist. "I couldn't before we got together. Then, after we did, all those times you went through the Stargate and got into trouble, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. But when I thought I might be the one not coming back I regretted that I've never told you how much I love you."
"You do," Sam breathed. "Every single day," she added, thinking she was going to cry. "And I'm sorry."
"For what?" Janet asked, shifting again so she could look into Sam's face.
"I never understood what it must be like for you, what it's like to be the one left behind. I'm ashamed that I never looked at it from your perspective before."
Janet took a moment to digest this bit of information. "It's hard," she said, finally. "I can't lie about that. Every time you go through the Stargate…"
Her voice trailed off, and she looked away, her eyes suspiciously bright. "I may not come back," Sam finished softly for her.
Janet nodded slowly, then frowned. "But it's your job. I accept that. It's a job you love." She looked away for a moment. "A job you love more than me."
There was no bitterness, no recrimination in the way Janet said it, but the denial bubbled up to her lips immediately. "No," Sam said, shaking her head, pulling away from Janet and slipping out of the bed, pulling away from the very idea. "That's not true. How could you even think that?"
"It's okay," Janet said, rising to her knees and lifting one hand to press her fingers against Sam's lips. "It's okay."
"No, it's not okay!" Sam said explosively, pulling away again. "It's not okay. If that's what you think, I'll quit right now. There are plenty of things for me to do at the SGC. I don't need to go through the Stargate."
Janet lowered her arm, a troubled frown on her face. "I'm not asking you to quit."
They were both silent for several long moments, both staring warily at one another. Sam had always imagined that these self-aware, revelatory moments in a relationship were supposed to be enlightening and strengthening. This was anything but, she thought, her stomach churning with turmoil.
"Can you stand there and tell me you'd honestly quit? For me? Honestly?" Janet asked. "I love you for saying it, but I don't think it's true. I wouldn't want it to be true."
Sam thought about getting angry, about storming out of the room. But she knew none of those things were the answer. She took a few moments to gather her thoughts. "I realized something the other day," she said. "I was getting ready to go through the wormhole, and I didn't know if you were alive or dead. All I knew was that I didn't want to do this, any of this, without you."
"You only just realized that?" Janet sank back down onto the mattress and grabbed a pillow, hugging it to her chest.
That wasn't the reaction she was expecting, and it made her feel defensive. "Well, it's not like you go through the Stargate every day," she said, feeling like this whole conversation had spun out of control.
"No," Janet admitted, wrapping her arms more firmly around the pillow. "But the base has been attacked a couple of times, been invaded. It's not exactly safe."
Sam began pacing back and forth in front of the bed. After a moment, she stopped and spread her arms helplessly. "What do you want me to say?" she demanded angrily. "You're job is just as risky as mine is. There, does that make you feel better?"
"That's not what I'm saying and you know it," Janet retorted. "This is about our jobs," she continued. "But it's about us, too."
That made her pause, and she felt a sliver of fear pass through her. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked. Had it all become too much for Janet? Had this brush with death heaped one too many problems on an already difficult relationship? "Do you want to stop seeing each other?" She asked the question before she gave herself any time to think about it. All she knew was that the mere suggestion of calling it quits hurt like hell.
Janet froze and stared up at her. "Is that what you want?" The words were spoken slowly, leaving Sam with the impression that Janet was choosing her words very carefully. They stayed like that, warily eyeing each other for several long minutes. Sam didn't know what to say.
She finally gave up trying to come up with something, and leaned over to snatch up her shirt from where it lay draped over a chair. "I think," she began, shrugging into it. "I'm just going to go home." She was running away, but she couldn't think of what else to do. Maybe if she left, the problem would sort itself out on its own. She was certain she'd only make it worse if she stayed.
Janet closed her eyes, and seemed to deflate. "I didn't mean for this to turn into a fight," she said. "I just want us to be honest with each other."
Sam paused, hand resting on the doorknob. She spent several seconds debating with herself over what to do. One slight twist of her wrist and she could be out of here, put some distance between herself and the emotion turmoil in the room.
But she couldn't quite bring herself to do it. Instead, she exhaled slowly. Keeping her grip on the doorknob she glanced back at the other woman. "Do you want to?" she asked quietly. "Break up, I mean?" She didn't want to know the answer, certain it would be one she didn't want to hear.
"No," Janet whispered. "Do you?"
Sam actually thought she was going to collapse on the floor in relief. Instead, she released the doorknob and turned to face Janet, walking a few paces into the room. "No." She mouthed the word rather than spoke it.
Janet's whole body sank into the bed with relief. She released the pillow and rolled onto her back. "Why would you even think I'd want to--" she began, then broke off.
Sam closed the gap between them, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Licking her lips, she managed to find her voice. "Because I wouldn't blame you," she began. "I don't know how you stand it," she added. "I don't think I could do it if our positions were reversed." Sam was beginning to realize she was in way deeper than she'd ever intended to get. At the same time, she also realized there was no backing out now.
"You'd manage," Janet said, then reaching out to place her hand on top of Sam's where it rested against the mattress. "Just like I do. The truth is, we both have very dangerous jobs. And neither one of us has bothered to take the time to really acknowledge all that that means. Or the fact that we're in a relationship that for all intents and purposes does not and cannot exist. If the worst should happen, there'll be no meaningful support for the one left behind. There'll be plenty of people who'll say 'I'm so sorry your friend died' but nobody will understand what it truly means."
Sam thought her heart was going to break, and she quickly gathered Janet up in her arms. "How can I fix this?"
"You can't," Janet said quietly. "There's nothing to fix. It's just what is. Going through the Stargate is a calculated risk every single time. And we both have jobs to do, jobs that neither one of us can't not do. There's no way to fix this." Janet pulled away and fixed Sam with a piercing look.
"We need to stop taking things, even the little things, for granted," Janet said. "And we need to be honest with each other about what we're doing, and why we're doing it." Janet closed her eyes, and sank back down, pulling Sam with her.
"How do we do that?" Sam asked.
"We just love each other," Janet whispered, holding her tightly. "We have to not be afraid to love each other no matter what happens," she said after a few moments. "And we pray for the best."
Sam swallowed hard, afraid that that might not be enough but determined to try. "I love you," she whispered, pressing her lips against the soft skin of Janet's neck. "I love you so much."