She looked at the water in her bowl again and smiled at her reflection. Her hair was sweaty and kind of stiff-looking, which was rather natural given that she hadn't had a bath in nearly 2 days. She took a sip and looked over at the sweat-bathed kid in the opposite bunk.
The girl had been out cold most of the last few days. She had a severe fever and, after vomiting for a while, she had not done much more than lay still in pain. It worried Sam more than a little. She knew that when a Goa'uld died it released a poison into the host, killing it. But this girl seemed to be fighting off even that, albeit slowly. She walked over, her limp almost gone, and propped the girl up. She carefully poured water down the girl’s throat, a ritual she was repeating almost every ten minutes, as she had every waking hour since their trip began. The girl hadn't needed to go to the bathroom yet, thankfully.
Sam put her down again. It was strange having to care for such a fragile creature as a little girl when she was barely able to care for herself. Still, their needs kept her going. She looked around the ship. They had dried food and water for at least another week without rationing, and maybe two with. They had a ship which was working, although she had no control over it. She had a load of weapons, as the ship turned out to be heavily armed. The Goa'uld had attacked her from the gunner's seat, hoisted as it was above the pilot seat. It even had a cargo space with different devices and materials -- possibly more plunder from other realities.
She looked back at the girl. With the lack of any entropic cascade effects, it seemed she was unique in their universe, but that was a small comfort given that the poor girl was now stranded. Still, it was a problem for a day when the girl wasn't dying of fever.
“Excuse me, Miss?” a raspy but young voice asked, startling her from her sleep. She flew up and nearly hit her head on the bunk above hers.
She turned and looked at the blond girl, who was looking at her with her pale lips in a line. “You're awake,” Sam stated and padded over to the girl's bedside in her underwear.
“Obviously,” the girl replied, indicating a rather wry sense of humor. The girl frowned and said, “I'm sorry for waking you, but where am I?... And, uh, where is the bathroom?”
Sam smiled, “no problem. It's this way. Here, I'll support you.” She guided the girl to the tiny cabinet that served as their toilet.
A little while later she guided the girl back to bed. The kid was clearly as weak as a kitten. “Here, you need to get more liquids in your system. And you need to eat, as well. You've been very sick,” she said and offered the girl some water and food, which the girl accepted, sitting atop her covers for a while.
She studied the girl sitting in her dress -- a Goa'uld slave-style dress, beautiful but not that practical. The girl ate for a while, then looked up with fear in her eyes. “The man, he... they... did something to me... and they...”
“Shh, shh, slowly. They won't hurt you anymore. He is gone for good,” she replied.
The girl visibly relaxed but the fear didn't seem to fade entirely. “What is it?” she asked.
“I think I am not home any more. My head is all fuzzy. I remember things, but they don't make sense. They don't fit together. I feel strange. I remember some sort of fight. They hurt me... The men with the metal heads, they hurt me and they took me. I was in some sort of glowing blue water and I could breathe in it, but it wasn't fun. It hurt all over and it kept hurting. They pulled me out and dragged me to a room. It was so cold, and I was so scared. They put this thing... A slug on me. It burned and it bit me. Goddess, it went into me and I felt it. It was so evil. I hated it. But then, as it called me names and said I was its slave forever, I killed it... In my head, I fought it and it died. Then it hurt more and more,” the girl was crying. Sam went over and hugged her for comfort, not knowing what else to do.
The girl continued, seeming to find comfort in spite of Sam's lack of experience, "Then you came and you fought them. You're very brave. Then the man with the monster's voice, he took me here, and you came here as well. But I don't know what happened after.... Where is here?” the girl looked around in confusion.
“I took care of the evil man... This is a spaceship and, well, it is on autopilot right now. He left it like this, and I can't turn us around right now. But I will. I have been to space many times and I know that I'll be able to get us home to Earth,” she said, deciding not to tell her that it wouldn't be the girl's Earth just yet.
“A spaceship? Get out!” the girl said in disbelief.
She smiled and lifted the girl into her arms. “Look, we're in hyperspace right now, traveling faster than light,” she explained.
“Hy-per-space... Oh wait, I remember I saw something like that on TV once,” the girl said while studying the blue display going on outside the glass.
Sam smirked but said nothing: right or not, if it made sense to the girl, why deride her?
The girl looked up at her and asked, “Uhm, what is your name?”
“My name is Samantha Carter, and you?” she replied.
“My name is Buffy Anne Summers,” the girl answered.
“Really?” she asked, wondering why a mom would name her girl that.
“Yeah, my mom had a sister who was named Elizabeth, but she died. She had always been nicknamed Buffy, so my mom decided I should be named that because she loved her almost as much as she loved me. Anne was some sort of fallback my dad insisted on, but I never use it, and Summers is my dad's family name,” Buffy replied.
Sam winced, knowing that the conversation where she'd have to explain to this little sweetheart with her Californian accent that she could never see her mom again would one day soon arrive. “Aren't you freaked out by this space thing?” she asked.
Buffy studied her for a moment, then said, “No... I... don't know why. I should be freaked, right? But I feel like I trust you. I don't mind, as long as you don't. And, well, I think... maybe I am hard to freak.”
She wondered about that statement for a while, then yawned. “I guess I am a little tired,” Sam admitted.
“Me too,” Buffy agreed and lay down on top of her covers this time.
“Pull those covers over yourself. I don't want you to catch a cold,” she commanded.
Buffy blinked looked a bit sheepish, then crawled under the covers without a word. Soon after, they were both fast asleep.
“Damn it, General, I am just saying that we should at least let Teal'c try it,” he argued, even if the look in George's eyes told him it was a fool's errand.
“No, Colonel, and that is final. We all know that now that Apophis has regained full control of Chu'lak any visit by Teal'c there would be downright suicidal.” His commanding officer paused, then said, “Listen, Colonel. I know you want to see if Bra'tac and Teal'c can find out anything about Major Carter. I am worried about her too, but there has been no sighting of her from any of our allies, nor have the Tok'ra heard anything about any Goa'uld capturing her. I have known Samantha Carter for years, and I know how she works. She won't go down easily, Jack. In no time, she'll be back here. After all, this isn't the first time something like this has happened.”
He sank back in his chair feeling defeated yet again. It had been four days already. He just had the sure feeling that, if Carter had kicked that Goa'uld's butt, then she would be back on Earth, either in the ship or through the gate, by now. And that meant she had lost. That could lead to consequences that he didn't really dare contemplate.
“Thank you, sir, I will relay your orders to my team,” he said and got up, wandering off in search of the solace of his other friends.
He found them both sitting quietly in Daniel's office. Daniel was attempting to look like he was working, and Teal'c was staring into space. Teal'c looked hopeful as he entered. The big Jaffa had taken the disappearance of Carter as a personal failure and was actually the source of the dangerous plan of going to Chu'lak to capture either a ship or information about Sam. “What did General Hammond say, O'Neill?” Teal'c asked.
“He said no, just as I expected. He says it's a suicide mission, and that it is still too early for one of those,” he replied grimly. Daniel looked up, a short flash of anger disappearing from his face as he thought things through.
“Then we shall wait a little while longer... But not a lot,” Teal'c said with finality.
“Sam, the noise is changing,” Buffy observed. Sam was amazed at how the girl had gone from sick to healthy in less than a day since waking up. Buffy was still easy to tire out, but even that seemed to be fading. She was sitting in the pilot seat, grimacing over the fact that she still had sensors and a HUD but no controls.
“Yeah, we're arriving,” she replied as, with a roar, they hammered from hyperspace into orbit over a planet some where in the galaxy -- although she realized, given her knowledge of hyperspace and Goa'uld drives, in particular, she could calculate approximately how far from Earth they were. She started doing the math in her head, hoping to avoid the thought that they might be anything from caught in orbit to heading for a crash, all depending on the autopilot and course laid in.
The ship's sub-light engines powered up and rather quickly took them out of orbit, heading for the planet. She looked at it, momentarily forgetting her calculations. It was a bit further from its sun than Earth and had even less landmass, most of that looking rather mountainous. There were belts of green, but most of it looked glacially white. “This could get cold,” she thought.
“Wow,” Buffy marveled and scooted into her lap trying to get a good view. She briefly considered whether it made sense for them to use the lifepods. The descent looked planned, however, which meant that they were probably landing on autopilot. They entered the atmosphere and the ship rattled slightly, causing Buffy to take hold of her. She held the girl in one arm and mentally rehearsed the path to the life pods.
The ship slowed on its own and corrected its course several times, making her feel a bit more assured about their safety. Buffy seemed to sense her mood and visibly relaxed. “I'm sorry for being clingy,” the girl apologized.
“You don't have to apologize for that. It is better to allow your emotions out than to hide them,” she replied, while watching the ship head for the southern tip of a continent not far from the icy glaciers that covered the world's poles. This was probably going to be really cold.
They flew towards a damaged-looking stone tower, very different from the pyramids and Egyptian-inspired structures favoured by the Goa'uld. A gate slid open. As they approached she saw a problem. The gate was not opening fully. “Hold on,” she yelled and grabbed Buffy. There was a thunderous noise and she was flung forward, slamming into the windshield, then back into the seat. Buffy had flown from her hands on the way, but that was just her final concern as she slowly lost her grip on consciousness.
“Sam,” a frantic voice begged. She felt a moist cloth wiping her brow. “Sam, please wake up,” Buffy's voice implored her again. She opened her eyes to find Buffy, with a gash on her forehead and her arm at an odd angle, wiping her brow.
“Are you alright?” she asked, indicating the arm.
“No, my shoulder feels funny and it hurts,” Buffy reported, and to her surprise neither cried nor even sniffled. She realized from the marks on the girl's face that she had woken too late for that part.
“You're very brave, Buffy. Now we have to get ourselves and my gear together. We can't stay aboard this ship,” she suggested, fearing any sort of volatile leaks. She hoped that this world had a Stargate within easy reach of the base they had just landed on.
“Ok, I'll help. Damn my arm," Buffy complained, and hammered her shoulder against the chair. With a ghastly pop it settled back into place. Sam winced, then realized something.
“How did you know to do that? Why even?” she asked.
Buffy looked at her with confusion. “I just remembered. I think I have seen it done or done it myself before... I'm not sure... But it hurts less now,” the girl reported, sounding as confused about the whole thing as Sam was. She wrote it off as stemming from the girl's life in the other dimension. It sounded more and more like a harsh place.
She tried to rise and, thankfully, didn't feel concussed. She had feared another one of those. She ached all over, but that was probably just bruises. It looked like they had been very lucky. Together they staggered out into the crew quarters, where she packed a bundle of their remaining food and slung her reloaded rifle over her shoulder. Buffy carried one of their water jugs in her good arm after wrapping herself in a blanket.
She considered her own T-shirt-clad torso and copied Buffy before they headed to the airlock. Breathing the outside air was a relief, aside from the near-freezing temperatures. Their breath steamed. She glanced over the damage to their ship. Its top was hardest hit -- fortunately, as its volatile weapons array was mounted on the underside.
She spotted the doors leading inside. She wandered over and pressed the glowing access button. The door slid open, revealing an equally cold interior. She felt her hopes dwindle. She had hoped for a warm, cozy base without Jaffa, within walking distance of a Stargate. That had obviously been too much to hope for. Of course, the rest might still come true.
“Come on,” she said and held out a hand, in which Buffy lay her bad arm.
“This is like Star Trek,” Buffy commented.
She couldn't help laughing. “Buffy, if you ever meet my commanding officer, I think you'll become thick as thieves in no time,” she commented.
“Why? Wouldn't thieves be better thieves if they're thin?” Buffy replied, but with a smile that indicated she was joking... and smart.
“Probably,” she agreed.
“Do you know where we are?” Buffy asked, as they walked down the cold and slightly windy corridor.
“I have no idea,” she replied, before remembering again that Buffy was a child very far from home. Buffy looked absolutely desolate and scared, but she didn't say anything. Her grip on Sam's hand grew a bit tighter, though.
They found an elevator, which was useless when she had no idea where to go or how to read the symbols on the buttons. She stopped and looked at the buttons again. The Goa'uld language symbols weren't a part of the design. They had been added as a kind of plastic cover. That was strange. Several of the buttons were also covered by hard plastic protection, as if they weren't meant to be pushed.
She decided to start from the top.
They had heat on two floors. One was some sort of storage level, now emptied out, but which had obviously contained something precious, given the shields and armour surrounding it. The other was a basement level that had once been some sort of living quarters and food growth area. She was unsure if the wild-looking plants growing in the hydroponics there were edible, but she had hope. She was sure of a few other things now, as well. This wasn't originally a Goa'uld facility, but she believed it had belonged instead to the Ancients, one of the four powerful races the Asgard mentioned. She recognized a few of the letters from the texts they had found here and there over the years.
The tower had also clearly been picked clean of anything useful years ago, probably by the Brotherhood. The heated storage area had contained the meager leftovers of some sort of camp. Still, with the water and food supply in the basement quarters they were at least supplied. What they lacked was proper bedding, cold weather clothing, and a Stargate.
“Sam, look,” Buffy said, and pointed out yet another one of the mysterious rips in the base's outer plating. She looked outside, through the rough opening, and saw what she had hoped for: a Stargate, complete with DHD. She leaned carefully forward through the hole in the wall and looked at the exterior of the building for the first time.
The base was very tall and covered in a smooth, bluish-white coating. It was also mounted atop the peak of a mountain. The Stargate stood on a whole other mountain that looked to be covered in sheer cliffs. There had once been a bridge from the tower to a path leading up to the gate, but there was only a few feet of the structure left at either end to indicate its long-ago presence. There was maybe 20 meters of empty space between the tower and the path. She hadn't noticed any doors, except the one leading outside on the floor above the basement. A door which she had promptly closed again, after only moment outside had chilled both of them to the point of shivering.
“That is the Stargate: if I can get to that I can get us home,” she promised.
Buffy peeked outside. “I don't think I can jump that far,” Buffy pointed out.
“Me neither. We'll have to construct a bridge, or climb the other mountain,” she looked down again, trying to see if there was some path from their mountain to the gate, but she could not even see a connection between the two peaks as they disappeared below into the clouds that surrounded them.
“And I think climbing is out,” she said, after Buffy gave her second suggestion a disbelieving look.
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed.
“I think we have to see what is on the levels that have blocked buttons,” she suggested, hoping to put off any decisions, just for a while.
She pushed the button. She had just spent ten minutes prying off the plastic covers of all the blocked buttons. Now she wanted to see why.... She knew very well that there might be terrible things behind the door when it opened, but she felt they had to take the chance.
The elevator hummed regularly, then stopped after going up for a while. Suddenly there was a blue flash, and she felt a tingle all over. The door stood in front of them. It looked scratched and burnt. “Maybe the Goa'uld weren't allowed in and couldn't break the doors open without risking more damage to this place,” she thought, and pushed the 'open door' button.
It slid open slowly, with a rasp that betrayed how damaged it was. Inside there was still heating, as well. She stopped and looked around. It was a simple room: walls with thick glass windows overlooking the world, and thick blue pillars surrounding a single chair. There was a low hum in the room, along with a feeling of power. She walked into the room and realized there had be something behind the elevator, as well. Buffy followed meekly behind.
She rounded the elevator pillar and found a small area apparently meant as an office of some sort. There was nothing on the table. However a chair remained behind from what ever furniture had once stood in the room. It looked strange, with a clear gel for backrest and seat. It faced another huge window with a large crack in it, as well as a commanding view of the Stargate.
This had to be the control post of the tower. She sat in the chair, but nothing happened. She rose and walked back around to the other chair in the main room. She sat in it, but again nothing happened. “Buffy, you try,” she said, while walking around examining the floor and pillars, looking for some sort of control to turn it on. Buffy sat in the chair she had hoped was apart of some control mechanism, but still nothing happened.
“Alright, this is a wash; let's try the other floors,” she suggested, thanking her stars that Buffy wasn't a difficult girl. She seemed to accept their search with a patience that surprised her. Or maybe it wasn't patience, but rather an understanding of priorities, she mused, as they re-entered the elevator.
They had found two more abandoned floors, with room after room of quarters. Thankfully, they had made a few finds in those. Loads and loads of both practical and non-practical clothes for human-shaped people. There were huge rooms clearly meant for meetings and communal activities, but nothing that looked like food. That actually didn't surprise her, given the apparent age of everything. What had surprised her was the small collection of devices which she had added to her bundle. They looked like Goa'uld hand devices, although made in a silver metal that reminded her of Trinium. She had not been able to test them yet, but she guessed it would give her something to do in the late hours of the night or when she was bored.
Now they were heading for the next floor. She knew she was approaching the floor with the door to the ruined bridge to the Stargate. The elevator stopped, and the blue flash was repeated. She had to fight to get this door open, so battered was it. Buffy stepped up and her additional pushing seemed to actually help. They walked together into what could only be called a sort of laboratory. It had tanks and consoles that looked a lot like the ones she had seen in the Ha'tak. There was also a super-high-tech version of an electronic engineering bench, or whatever the Ancients called their technology. It came complete with sensors and devices that could probably occupy her for years. There were even what looked like parts of a Stargate dial stacked against a wall. And that was just the first room.
She felt like a giddy child as they finished their walk-through of what was probably a sort of technology workshop meant for repair as well as research. She had seen things that, more than ever, convinced her that many of the Goa'uld devices were bad approximations of Ancient technology. She had at least recognized what looked like the predecessor of the Ring transports, the Hand Device, the Healing Device, and even the crystal-based technology of the DHD and Goa'uld hyperdrives.
“Sam, I'm tired; are we done yet?” Buffy asked.
“Almost. I just want to open that door and see the Stargate from here,” she said, and activated the door button. The door slid open and revealed a small, open area that led towards where there had once been a bridge. The wind immediately seemed to drain the room of heat. She literally felt the temperature drop. She guessed it was about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius outside, and the air contained a bit of sleet. Shivering, she went back inside, closing the door behind her.
“Alright, let's head to the basement and set up camp,” she said. Just as she said that, there was a strange, almost musical noise from something on the wall next to her. Something reached out and grabbed her head.
She felt pain and saw flashes of light, then she was let go, to fall into the arms of a yelling Buffy. “Sam, are you alright?” she begged.
With a sinking feeling in her stomach she replied, “I hope so.” She hoped it hadn't been a library download, as had happened to Jack before. There was no way to reach the Asgard, and if she died from it Buffy would be left to live out her days alone on this rock.
“Welcome, travelers,” the black disk which had grabbed her said.
“T-T-This is the tower of Alrush Tal. We're currently under qua-qua... Sequence override Quarantine ended all occupants p-p-perished. Welcome-Welcome. Sequence initiate... Time... Protocol: Rebuild. Restarting... Welcome, travelers; this is the tower of Alrush Tal. As the first non-xenoform-infested d-descendants, it is an honor to welcome you. I... Full function damage. Damage restore... failed. This is an automatic protocol for addressing you. This one only has limited capacity. T-time and external sources have severely damaged it. Please a-all-allow me to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Guide function. Status examined. Currently available locations are main control, secondary storage, kitchens, level 2 residential area. It is suggested that you make yourselves welcome in the residential area and maybe enjoy a bit of our ex-excellent cuisine,” a voice she could only consider as a combination of computer and intelligence suggested. She was guessing it had just learned her language by transferring it from her mind.
“Thank you,” she replied.
Buffy was looking at it with big eyes, then whispered, “Is it evil?”
“No, it is just an old machine trying to be helpful. Now, let's go settle in,” she said, but still headed for the kitchens.
She had moved their remaining food and water, as well as the bedding from the Goa'uld ship, to the back chambers of the kitchen area. It was warm, silent and defensible. She sat cleaning her weapons, when Buffy said, “Sam.”
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Could we talk about something?” Buffy asked.
“What, is something wrong?” she asked, and looked up. Buffy looked tired but otherwise fine.
“No. It's just so silent. I... don't know what I should do,” Buffy explained.
She couldn't help nodding. It was only natural that the little girl would be scared of the silence like that. She was far, far from home, with only a woman she barely knew for company. In a situation which she -- unlike Sam -- couldn't be trained to survive and with nothing to distract her. “I don't know what to say. I don't really spend much time with kids like you. The only kid I know is a bit older, and I usually play chess with her,” she explained.
“Tell me about you, then,” Buffy asked.
“Alright, but then tomorrow you have to tell me about you,” she said, and took a breath. She wanted to start with what she did, but out of some sort of flash of insight or maybe secret need she instead started telling Buffy about her life from really early on.
She woke up feeling almost sweaty. She had the ever-warm Buffy tucked against her. The girl had fallen asleep just as she had been telling about her pilot training, and she hadn't been long behind. She had never slept with a kid next to her before. She looked down at the rosy cheeks and totally relaxed face of the little girl and realized that the child trusted her. Not just a little, not like a friend. No, Buffy had given her complete and utter trust to her. It was a bit humbling.
She slowly detached herself from the girl, hoping to be able to lay her down and let her sleep on. But all Buffy did was flick open her eyes and stare at her before smiling warmly.
“Morning,” Buffy whispered.
“You can keep sleeping. I'll try to see if the hydroponic plants are edible,” she explained.
“Hydro-huh?” Buffy inquired.
“That means plants that grow in water. It is a fast and smart way to grow certain forms of food. We've been trying to do it properly for years back on Earth,” she explained.
“You're weren't kidding,” Buffy said.
“What do you mean?” she answered, while trying to ignore the intense smell of sweat on her own body.
“You said you were smart last night,” Buffy replied.
“Oh, yeah, well I guess. I think I am a bit of a geek, but a lot of people are seemingly very sure that I am very smart. But that doesn't really mean much. There are very many forms of smart, Buffy. I have a friend who can't make heads or tails of a vector space equation, but he is also very, very smart. He can speak a whole lot of languages and keeps learning new ones just by reading about them. Another friend I have couldn't do either that or what I do, but he is so good at what he does that both me and my friend Daniel would do anything and go anywhere when he says so. Smart comes in all kinds,” she concluded.
Buffy looked a little tired, then said, “Some people are just average, and some really aren't.” She was astonished that the usually self-assured girl was suddenly so upset at their talk of intelligence. It was a bit like no-one had ever encouraged the girl or seen any kind of intelligence in her.
“Sam, are we going to stay here?” Buffy asked, as she sat on the strangely comfortable chair overlooking the lab. Sam had taken care of the most important things and arranged for everything from food to drink, and she had even found a functional bathroom in the residential area. They had both bathed in the warm water after she had let it run for nearly an hour to clear out the plumbing and cycle as much new water in as possible. Still, she -- and apparently, Buffy as well -- felt much better and a bit more civilized when freshly bathed. If it wasn't for the distance from Earth, her family and friends, then she wouldn't have minded staying for a bit. But she had an idea about that.
“I am going to build a new bridge to the Stargate. It might take a little while, but then we can get home,” she explained.
“I want to help,” Buffy immediately stated.
“And you will. I won't be able to do it all on my own,” she agreed, hoping to appease the girl. Her main concern was the need for some sort of building material. She had a rope and slide system already in her head, but she was going to need something to build the actual bridge with and a welding method.
She searched around the area near the entrance and found what looked like a plasma torch, but like all the other technology here it wouldn't even turn on when she touched it. “Damn it,” she cursed, and kicked a metallic case away from herself.
“What's wrong?” Buffy asked, startled out of her thoughts.
“This crap won't work! None of it will. Why? Why can't things just be simple?” she yelled. Then she noticed the rust on some of the metal. She looked around. She knew of several parts of the ship lying dormant in the hangar above that were made of an aluminum compound -- if it was built like a Tel'tak. She had an ignition source in her pocket, and there were a lot of levels upstairs filled with debris and doors no one was using which would make excellent building material. She realized she was looking at weeks of work, if not more, but there was no other way around it that she could see.
“Sam?” Buffy asked, clearly having noticed her thinking.
“I have an idea how we can do it, but it is the old-fashioned way and it'll take time loads of time,” she replied.
“Time, we've got,” Buffy agreed and demonstratively rolled up her sleeves.
“Planning first, work later,” she admonished the girl. “You should always think before you do things. Rushing into things will just make them fail. Clever people like you and me, we think things through beforehand, or when things are to be done. Dumb people think things through after they've failed or been cheated,” she explained. Buffy nodded gravely, as if she had said something important, and rolled her sleeves back down.
The next days allowed them to develop a routine. They got up, she made breakfast out of water and plants, before they went about either scraping together rust or gathering and grinding aluminum. Then they'd bathe, eat their evening meal, and she'd lull Buffy to sleep -- with stories, at first, but when those ran out she just tried to remember her own junior high school education and teach by explanation. A few times they sang: although neither of them had a strong voice, it felt good, and they soon took it up while working, as well. And every morning, she woke up with a little blond tyke tight against her and found herself minding it less and less.
At first she had just had Buffy around during her construction work to keep her company, but it quickly became glaringly apparent that Buffy was superhumanly strong. Buffy could lift even more than she could. The girl could even work both faster and longer than herself. They talked about it, but the best Buffy could explain it was that she hadn't been strong before leaving home, although she was unsure because she felt like she had forgotten a great deal. One thing she was apparently sure of was that her mother was dead and her father was apparently someone she didn't know or remember as much more than a kind face. She had accepted that.
Buffy in a way reminded her of Cassie. They had formed a bond a bit unlike the one she had with Cassie -- mostly because as the weeks wore on she got to know the tiny girl even better than she had ever really known Cassie. She loved Cassie, but they were friends. With Buffy it was starting to feel like family, and in a strange way that was both scary and enticing.
She also noted one other thing. Outside, the day was getting shorter and a winter even colder than the icy autumn they had already experienced was on their doorstep.
“Jack!” Daniel called out as he dashed down the hall, dodging airmen and SG team members to get to him.
“Hey, Danny,” he replied. He felt a bit depressed. He had just met the arrogant geek they had sent to replace Sam as lab leader: Mckay, or Mccoy something. And he just knew that if he entered his office, there would be a request for him to consider this or that person for the vacant SG-1 position. They could all take a jump into an open elevator shaft -- or even better, help Siler with the electrics on a bad day -- as far as he was concerned.
“Is he back?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, I was just going up to say hi. Wanna come with?” he asked. Daniel nodded vigorously.
“So, any news from Teal'c?” Daniel asked as they ascended the stairs.
“Nothing except a brief radio check-in last night. He is trying his luck in the more remote sections of Goa'uld space. Apparently it is safer, and he hasn't heard anything in Apophis' dominion or amongst those who oppose him directly. His words,” he explained as they walked towards the conference table where Jacob Carter was waiting patiently.
“Done with the general already?” he asked.
“Yes, there wasn't much to tell. There was a rumor we found worrying, about someone getting captured by Apophis, but it turned out to be a ruse. Most of the Tok'ra believe Sam is either dead or captured by the last of Thoth's offspring,” Jacob said, sounding a bit depressed.
“Yeah, we haven't had any luck either. Teal'c is still out there,” he replied, not feeling comfortable revealing to Sam's father that Teal'c had explained he felt directly responsible for Sam's plight. The former First Prime felt that if he hadn't hung back, she would not have been on that ship -- something called an Al'kesh -- alone.
“I have been ordered to stop looking. We have bigger problems right now, and we can't really spend our resources on what is my personal mission,” Jacob explained, then held up a hand, “I won't give her up, Jack, but I can't keep using Tok'ra resources for my own purposes. I'll keep looking myself. I'll be back if I hear anything, I promise.”
“Same goes for us, Jacob,” he replied. Behind him, Daniel sat in a chair, brooding, as he did so often these days.
They had just welded yet another pair of doors together, and as she allowed the icy wind outside to flush the noxious fumes from the room, she noticed Buffy looked a bit pale. “Are you alright, honey?” she asked, feeling anxious at the sight. Buffy had been getting tired fast these last two or three days.
“I don't feel so good,” Buffy replied and fell over, passing out.
“Buffy!” She jumped over the bridge segment and picked up the girl. She didn't have a fever. Her skin felt cold and clammy. She felt and checked her in several places, when she found them. In four places Buffy had large growths under her skin. She feared it was cancer from whatever the Goa'uld had done to her. Daniel had said that day that the other subjects had all died. Maybe Buffy's superior endurance had only given her temporary protection.
She looked at the bridge segments they had done. It would barely reach halfway, and she could not jump that far, especially carrying Buffy. She considered her other option. Watching Buffy die a slow agonizing death. She looked down at the bridge again. Still, not even in desperation was it possible.
She felt Buffy's strong heartbeat, but together with her pale face it was just jarring. Thump, thump, thump -- with each echoing movement of that little muscle Buffy rushed towards her too early end. “Oh, god, what am I to do? Someone, please help me!” she begged at the thought of the little girl who trusted her so much dying in her arms.
“Query h-help? State need. Medical, Ph-ph,” the by-now familiar and as usual ineffective computer at the door replied. It sometimes reacted to what they said, but it never got very far before reaching a logic barrier or fault.
“Medical, okay, but what does it matter? You can't help! You've done nothing every time we've asked so far,” she yelled at it; it felt good just getting out her anger.
“E-emergency medical aid to service... Medical officer not available. Adjusting parameters... Power drain... Priority maximum! Reroute all power to Emergency Medical Procedure,” the machine said. Suddenly, with a strange ringing noise, one of the biological experimentation devices swung open.
“Emergency Medical Procedures ready. Enter patient into designated bay,” the computer said, then began repeating that same sentence. She looked from Buffy to the bay, then back to Buffy. It was one of those that had brought the girl to this situation... Maybe that meant it could help her as well. She lifted the blond girl with her now clearly dark roots and slowly slipped her into the tube. It closed as soon as she was clear. It filled with a clear liquid, and blue light swirled around in there as soon as it was full.
The computer stopped talking, then blurted several sentences in a language she couldn't understand. It repeated itself: “Significant biological life code damage. Insufficient information for complete repair. Damage increasing exponentially. 40 % approximation calculated using available data and compatible materials. Holding simulation at 50 %. Warning: procedure unable to complete. Warning: procedure unable to complete. Query: Availability of suitable donor?”
A small, water-bath-like tray slid out of the device. Did it mean her? Did it want her to donate genetic material to Buffy? But what would that mean? She considered it for a mere moment. She was out of options. This was her only immediate choice. The consequences, whatever they were, would be acceptable. She put her hand in the water bath. It stung for a moment. The tray slid back the moment she removed her hand.
The machine started humming. Suddenly a 3-D hologram of human DNA glowed into existence over the console. It showed Buffy's DNA and sections that looked damaged or incomplete. She was not trained to understand much about molecular biology, and so she could only watch. One thing she recognized was that the machine repaired Buffy's DNA in three ways. One set of alterations was the same blue color as the regular string, which probably meant it was her own DNA. Another was a set of green strings, and a third was a set of purple, but she had no idea what that meant. The machine ran for hours, and all she could do was watch and hope whatever it did also removed the cancer, rather than just the chance of new ones appearing.
The hologram stopped and dropped away. The light in the liquid slowly faded, then the liquid drained out again. The moment it slipped open, releasing a sweet-smelling and slimy Buffy into her arms, she immediately felt for the lumps but found nothing. She started crying in relief, thankful for the miracle of science this Ancient technology had just performed. A wet hand caressed her cheek and whispered, “I feel icky and sticky. What happened?”
She just laughed and drew Buffy into a tight embrace. It felt good, it felt cathartic. It felt like embracing her own little star. She blinked and pulled away in surprise, studying Buffy for a moment, but saw nothing but Buffy's face and her cute little nose, which remained the same as ever. She felt a little teary again.
“Are you alright?” Buffy asked, concerned.
“Yeah, let's take a bit of care of you. I think you've caught some bug, if you pass out like that. The bridge can wait a few days,” she replied.
“Okay, but I feel fine now,” Buffy said.
“Ah, but you didn't earlier or yesterday. And worse, you didn't tell me. Because of that, you're hereby condemned to rest for at least a day,” she said, and made a mental note to continually monitor Buffy's health from now on. Buffy smiled, but let herself be guided down to their cozy sleeping area.
According to her watch they had been on this world, which she had dubbed Winterhome, for nearly 3 months. She looked over at Buffy, who was busy hoisting the heavy, metal plates that they'd use as counterweights into the place where she intended to position the tail end of their soon-to-be-finished bridge. Today was the day they moved the main section out. Then, they'd add a few more doors to the tail end, move the counterweight off, allow it to tilt and hit the ceiling inside, push it forward carefully, add a new counterweight, and then be ready to walk calmly across. In less than a week, she'd be home and Buffy would get her first comfortable experience in this universe.
She looked at the blond head and held her breath for a moment. It had been a few weeks since the cancer had been cured, and she still kept careful watch over Buffy's condition, trying to keep physically close to Buffy, tickling her to feel for any new growth and the like. That was not, however, what was on her mind now. Buffy had been truly changed by her second turn in the tube. She was growing out blond hair, now. Real blond hair, Sam's color almost exactly. She had figured it out, but she wanted to get home so she could get Janet to make sure privately what she thought it meant. Buffy might be related to her almost like a cousin or... even a child. She didn't know what else to think.
Yesterday, she had considered what she'd do when she got home, and then realized she'd have to choose if she wanted anything more to do with Buffy. And a cold hard truth had hit her in the face. The thought of not seeing Buffy every day was like a stab through the heart. And the conflict was that she also had to consider what she had worked her entire life for. She had her career, she had the Earth's safety to worry about. But a nagging voice had been talking to her all morning. It whispered that she was dodging the issue, that she really wasn't afraid for her job, she was afraid of the commitment, of the hold this girl would have on her if she allowed it. She was afraid to lose the adventure, and frankly, it said she was afraid of doing the last bit of growing up.
“Ready,” Buffy said. She smiled at the grimy girl with her wild hair woven with several braids to keep it out of her face. She liked the long hair on Buffy and had said so repeatedly, even while keeping her own hair short with her knife.
“Alright, then. Are you okay for the push, or too tired?” she asked.
“I feel fine,” Buffy replied. They both took a hold of the table legs she had welded on yesterday and with a grunt they started pushing. Soon they started sliding forward. She cursed not having some sort of grease to help, but she hadn't been able to find a good substitute.
They labored for hours, until the bridge slowly started tilting under its own weight. “Quickly,” she commanded. Buffy let go of her -- by now, almost bent -- pole and dashed over to tip one of the doors down onto the bridge with what amounted to an ear-splitting clang. The noise echoed around the mountains outside, struggling against the howling wind of the early night. Buffy tipped another one down from the other side.
She grabbed the small penlight she had built from parts of the Goa'uld cargo, which had contained a few human items, and walked out onto the bridge, careful to avoid breaking any weak welds or tipping it. She made it almost all the way out before the wind and the already icing-over bridge began being a problem. “We need a rope,” she decided, and went back. Still, she couldn't help feeling elated: the few meters missing before getting home would only be a simple step forward.
She went back inside and closed the doors, which were just inches from the tail end of their unfinished bridge. “Verdict?” Buffy asked.
“Oh yeah, dance party in the cave tonight,” Buffy gleefully translated her expression.
“Only if you make the music,” Sam replied. Buffy nodded. They had discovered Buffy had a talent for tribal rhythms and percussion. Buffy seemed a natural thumper, as they jokingly called it.
“Okay, but you sing. You've got a better voice than me,” Buffy said as they entered the elevator.
She smiled. Buffy was a bundle of surprises. She knew by instinct, it seemed, several martial arts. She could plan like an adult and had a spotty but existent education that was almost high school quality. She spoke two languages, English and Italian, and could understand -- to her surprise -- a jumble of words from a great variety of other languages. None of it seemed to have been taught to her, but was rather some sort of memory left over, only a few times more real to Buffy than her own recollection of Jolinar's life, but less real than the memories of an actual life. Buffy also had a vast vocabulary for a child, especially when dealing with pop culture.
She smiled as they settled in for a night of music and a few stories. She had taken to teaching Buffy math, not only because the girl seemed to really lack in that area, but also because it put the girl to sleep faster than anything else she could come up with -- even physics. Still, they had just gotten around to equations, so she wasn't dissatisfied, especially because she often reviewed with her girl and found that Buffy so far had remembered what she had been taught.
She awoke to a noise. It sounded almost like thunder, but closer. That was a bit scary, given the thickness of the tower walls. She turned to find Buffy equally awake, her eyes glittering in the light reflected into their room from the lighted hydroponic gardens. She got up and held out a hand, which Buffy took without a word. She slung her loaded rifle over her shoulder. They headed for the elevator. The sound seemed to get louder.
She pressed the button for the top floor office. She stepped out of the elevator and saw only darkest night outside. No thunderstorm was raging. In fact, it seemed to be clear for once.
Something blotted out a few stars. It was a moving shape. It dove. The tower rocked slightly and another boom sounded. She ran to the edge and looked down. She could faintly see something attacking the tower near one of the heated levels. It was huge, almost looking like a cross between a bird and a pterodactyl. It hammered into the wall like a wood pecker.
“Sam,” Buffy whispered.
“What is it, honey?” she replied. Buffy had left her side.
She turned and saw Buffy standing, staring at an image projected in the air in front of the command chair. It contained writing in Ancient, but she could guess that the red blinks weren't a good sign. “Damn, more incomprehensible tech,” she whispered.
The image changed to show the tower, then with more text zoomed out to show something beyond the tower she hadn't seen. A bubble made up of octagons was shown; several octagons were missing. A trail was shown from an octagon back to the tower. The text from before reappeared. A few moments later the animation reappeared. “I think this place had or has a shield, but it is failing, and that thing has gotten in.... The damage to the tower. It has gotten in before... And it's attacking the heat sources.... Which makes sense, because on this world heat probably means life, and life means food,” she said while thinking.
“Shield, like Star Trek shield?” Buffy asked.
“Not exactly, but it is a good comparison,” she replied while lost in thought.
“Sam, are we in danger?” Buffy asked.
Sam looked down at Buffy, who at times seemed completely fearless. “Probably not, if we stay in the basement at night. We've been here for a while and we haven't seen it until now. I think it won't be a problem,” she explained.
“So, we aren't killing it?” Buffy asked.
“Buffy, it is as big as a house. How could we kill it without using explosives or something?” she said as they reentered the elevator. She decided they'd just have to ignore the booming attacks.
“Beheading usually works,” Buffy replied. She stared at her for a while, then shook her head with a wry smile, knowing that such responses casually mentioning extreme violence were apt to come from Buffy when stressed.
They headed down and tried to sleep, even with the booming noise. It was gone when they got up.
His head hurt. Last night they had an informal wake for Sam. They had gathered SG people, team commanders, scientists and medical personnel, and held a sort of wake for her. Teal'c had returned with only vague rumors of her death, and Jacob had finally accepted some sort of Tok'ra mission that had kept him from visiting the SGC every week. They hadn't packed down her house yet. That was next week. Major Samantha Carter was officially MIA, considered unofficially KIA or worse, possibly snaked. He remembered getting solidly drunk -- at least, his head did.
“Colonel, you have to at least admit McKay is very competent,” the general commented while reading some papers that he had to admit were written by him.
“Yes, but he is also arrogant, pompous, and lacks the flexible mindset and military training to replace Carter, sir,” he replied promptly. He had hoped to at least get a bit more distance between the wake and having to pick Carter's replacement on SG-1.
George studied him for a bit, then said, “Agreed, but then at least give me better options.”
“I am still looking, sir. I am partial to getting another soldier on the team, though,” he said, knowing that the military had no replacement for Carter on hand, which was another reason he wouldn't tell George that he had weeded out the best military candidates before he ever saw the list. He wanted more time.
“Alright, but SG-1 remains grounded while this is being solved. Your last two missions were near disasters because you're down a man, Colonel. SG-1 is a less than a squad already. I can't allow anything smaller than a four-man team,” George nodded to him as he got up.
“I'll continue my search immediately, sir,” he replied. He knew intellectually he had to choose soon. He had felt more for Carter than he would ever admit knowingly to anyone, and not just because of the regulations, but he had to get his team back in the field. He... they owed it to Sam's memory to do exactly that, and soon. He sighed as he left the room, heading for his office. It was time to actually look at the options.
“Alright, get ready,” she said to Buffy. It had been two weeks since they had moved the bridge out. They'd had two more visits by the toothy fairy -- as Buffy had dubbed their nightly visitor -- and an entire level was slowly frying its heaters to keep the breached floor warm, but otherwise they were okay. She had even made a rope and improvised a pick to take them safely across the by now iced-over bridge. She had a good idea that the ice had been what had broken the other bridge, over time. Now they were getting ready for the last big maneuver. She had gathered their meager belongings in a backpack she had made out of some Ancient's clothes, and it waited a few feet away with the rope and the pick.
Buffy lifted the last counterweight.
“Push,” she commanded and grunted, trying to keep the bridge down with her weight as it slowly rose. Slowly, the bridge started moving forward as Buffy pushed on her side handle, which they had added along with the new section. They moved it forward and were nearly clear as the bridge started to tip, with the weight out over the edge.
“Can't hold it,” Buffy said as she was lifted off the ground. Strong or not, she didn't have the weight to hold the bridge down.
“Counterweights,” she managed to croak out. Buffy let go and the bridge rose with a rush of air. Then with another massive boom the first counterweight tipped down on Buffy's side and helped a little. Buffy tipped another one down from its position leaning against the wall. The bridge fell slightly back. Buffy slid over the angled bridge and added two more former doors, which fell heavy and massive as they were onto her side of the bridge. With yet another added, the bridge returned to lie flat against the ground. She walked over and helped Buffy put one more down on each side and then-- ever so slowly -- one flat on top of the tail end. The bridge was almost as done as possible. There was a short, one meter gap between the end of their bridge and the other side and very nearly no wind.
“Let's go now,” she said.
Buffy wiped sweat off her brow, as Sam picked up their improvised backpack. They both added two more layers of clothing, making them look rather puffy, and then she tied them together with the rope. She slung her rifle over her shoulder to rest against the backpack, then grabbed the pick in one hand and Buffy in the other.
“Ready to go?” she asked.
“Home?” Buffy asked.
“Almost,” she replied. She planned on jumping to Tollana. She knew the Tollan would help them. And as she couldn't be sure that the Tok'ra were still at their most recent base or that the SGC would have kept her IDC open, she could only really go there.
They carefully walked out onto the bridge.
She let go of Buffy's hand and made the jump to the other mountain, feeling elated. There was a whoosh and a massive shadow passed over them.
“Sam, watch out!” Buffy yelled. She turned and saw the flying creature was back. It was turning around for another pass aimed straight for Buffy.
“Buffy, run!” she yelled, and dropped the pick to grab for her rifle. That thing was almost impossibly fast as it dove. She could see it almost head of time in her mind.
There was a resounding metallic boom. Buffy landed at her feet. Their bridge crumbled like it had been impacted by a bomb, and the creature, roaring in anger, disappeared downwards. It had hit where Buffy had been.
“Run,” she said and headed for the DHD. Buffy grabbed the pick from the ground and followed.
“Stop at the steps,” she commanded, not wanting Buffy to get hit by the wormhole backwash. She stopped at the DHD and punched in the address, thanking her stars, gods, and whatever else that she had a nearly photographic memory to go along with having been to Tollana a few times. She saw out of the corner of her eye the creature reappear out of the deep. It flew up in a curve, looped, flipped, and dove for her.
She slammed the big red button and ducked sideways on instinct. The DHD almost exploded from the impact of the angry creature. She stumbled forward, barely noticing the pick passing her as Buffy hurled it at her attacker before running up the steps.
Thankfully, Buffy was too busy to think much about diving into the Stargate. Her little girl jumped first, but she was only a few breaths behind her. She dove out of the other side. A claw made it through before the wormhole winked out, leaving it oozing on the floor.
A security officer charged into the room. “Stop,” he commanded, drawing a baton of some sort. Buffy took that wrong and hammered a fist into his balls just as he reached for her. He fell to his knees in pain. Buffy proceeded to knock him out with a head-butt, before she could tell her to stop.
“Buffy, he's a friend,” she said, at which the girl looked positively stricken.
More of the guards piled in, but more carefully this time. “Excuse us for dropping by. I couldn't prevail on you to let me talk to someone in charge, could I? Narim, maybe,” she commented.