A distance of forty feet made the slight form of Dr Janet Fraiser even smaller to Sam who was propped against a stack of crates watching her absently, unaware of the soft curve her lips had formed, and the look that had come over her eyes, the same fascination and reverence with which she gazed upon the most wondrous of ancient artefacts or most complex of scientific theory.
The doctor was decked in her fatigues, confidently coordinating the assembly of her off world infirmary as part of their effort to help the post apocalyptic survivors of a world littered with the ruins of a civilization Sam would have likened to that of the Asgard. Sleek and striking buildings still stood, for the most part, cracked and hollowed like the colossal bones of strange and majestic giants.
Their base was taking shape inside the open ruins of the facility that housed the Stargate. It was understood the Stargate had been all but forgotten since the war broke out.
The real interest in the world was the surviving technology and weapons. But the path to obtaining them began with providing medical aid to a society reduced to using drugs and ammo as currency. The leader of the nearest city, a man calling himself Kreder, wanted preferential treatment for his son. Sam diplomatically informed him that to be fair, treatment would be provided on an assessment of individual cases.
She was only surprised at how willingly he accepted this proposal. There was something dark in his old shiny eyes.
Sam could just hear Dr Fraiser’s voice, a short, commanding tone Sam at times unquestionably obeyed, and other times resisted, rarely successfully, and was overwhelmed with admiration.
Another familiar voice barked at her from behind. It might have been her name. It may have been instruction. But even if she knew what it was the man had said, Sam would have responded the same way.
Jack came up to her, boots crunching on the dusty ground, and presented her with a sloppy grin. “I saw that.”
Her face burned as she spluttered. “S-saw what, Sir?”
The greying eyebrows crowning Jack’s face tilted suspiciously. “You.”
Sam shimmied uncomfortably, as though she could melt backwards inside the crates.
Jack leaned toward her. “Taking a break.”
“Oh!” Sam breathed in relief. “Sorry, Sir.”
Jack dug his hands slowly into his pockets and rolled on his heels. “Daniel and Teal’c are about ready to move out. Are you...” he dipped his gaze down to her feet and back, critical of her casual stance. “Ready?”
Sam straightened off the stack of crates. “Of course.”
“If you have some time maybe you could see how the technicians are doing,” Jack advised with a resentful glance across the camp. Sam smiled and nodded, watching as Jack trudged away. She caught Janet in her field of vision, and startled to find the doctor smiling at her.
Sam returned a warm smile of her own and turned away, intending to follow Jack’s orders. She was halfway across the camp when she was distracted again. The looming figures jutting out of the wounded plains were as hypnotic as the majestic breaching of whales, and Sam could almost hear them singing in similar deep and breathtaking tones. But the buildings were dead, and the only noise the land made was when the wind swept through it, funnelling through cavernous buildings.
“Pretty, isn’t it? I mean, in a sad sort of way.”
Sam hummed in agreement before realizing she had moved quite a distance from the work station of her intended destination. Then, turning to the voice over her shoulder, her breath hitched to find Janet admiring the enchanted scenery.
A full head and shoulders taller, Sam was well positioned to appreciate the doctor with the full advantage of her height, and her normally disciplined gaze was drawn, despite their dangerous closeness, to the edge of Janet’s jaw, where Sam began the slow and delicate examination of every minute detail of her pretty face in a trail she made to a pounding heartbeat.
She came inevitably to the sharp corner of well defined lips, modestly touched with a shade of red that had Sam biting the inside of her cheek. From there her indulgent journey came to rest at the pout of her bottom lip, where it stayed for long moments until Janet turned to face her, and Sam blinked herself alert.
Janet peered at her uncertainly. “You okay?”
Sam cleared her throat and feigned aloofness. “Course.”
“You seem distracted,” the doctor noted, trained eyes never missing a thing.
Sam struggled to keep the laugh down her throat. She felt Janet inspecting her, checking her all over for damage, and Sam felt her skin tickling even under her thick combat gear.
“I’m fine,” she insisted a little too aggressively. But Dr Fraiser simply smiled at the Major’s behaviour.
“Oh, I see that now. How silly of me to ask,” she teased.
Sam sighed and was about to attempt an explanation when they were approached by Teal’c.
“Major Carter. Dr Fraiser.” The Jaffa gave both women a friendly bow and stood attentively.
“Hello, Teal’c,” Janet said. Sam couldn’t find her own voice.
“Colonel O’Neill is ready to make contact with the appointed leader of this settlement. Are you ready to go Major Carter?” Teal’c stood patiently while Sam looked between him and Janet, and had to stop herself snatching the woman by the shoulders and pulling her close enough to taste.
Sam tapped her utility vest. “Yep. Ready to go.”
“I’ll be waiting here,” Janet smirked at her.
“Right,” Sam smiled uncertainly, and then released a soft gasp as she felt the woman’s fingers brush into her hand and take hold. That bite of panic gnawed at the back of her neck, concerned Janet had noticed the way she had reacted. When she was making her way with Jack, Daniel and Teal’c through the devastated cities, she wished she’d had the guts to squeeze back.
She couldn’t have known there were eyes watching them. The interested individual had kept close and uninterrupted surveillance ever since returning to find the Stargate compromised, and despite her orders, could not pull herself away from her unseen perch.
“You’re only going to make yourself feel worse.”
She ignored the sage advice and propped her binoculars on the windowsill. Every time she looked through them the illusion of closeness it afforded her punctured the air from her lungs.
“This isn’t good for you.” When she made no acknowledgement he urged again. “Carter.”
When she turned to glare at him it was not pity she saw, but the same pain she felt.
“Sir...She’s right there!” The words she spoke dragged up emotions with them, and all the pieces of her broken heart came pouring out of her.
Jack let her cry. There was nothing that made him feel worse than seeing Sam in pain. But it was pain they both shared.
It was simply expected that because his flesh and blood had been replaced with chips and wires he should automatically forfeit everything he’d ever known, for fear of being hunted down and destroyed. Or worse. Having their Stargate disabled.
It was less than a month after their human counterparts had left for home, the home they would never again see as long as they lived, and he found Sam curled up against the ring of the Stargate, clinging to it like her very last lifeline. She shook, Jack discovered as he approached, from silent sobbing.
He said nothing coming closer, and even when he was sure she knew of his presence, she gave no indication she wanted him gone. He sat at the opposite edge of the ring, getting comfortable against it and settling in for what he knew would be a long vigil.
Sam sniffed and pawed at the Stargate. She had not yet met his gaze, but Jack wanted to be sure he could return it with reassurance when she did, be the Jack O’Neill she knew and depended on. Every now and then her drawn and waxen features would tense and she would battle through a seizure of anguish.
Normally he would offer his shoulder, but not this time. There was something different about this time. Something he was sure neither of his shoulders could cure.
He could see the light glinting off her tearstained cheeks. Whatever Harlan had given Jack for a heart was twisting in the goop filled cavity of his synthetic chest. He could count the time in Carter’s tears.
She hadn’t made a sound in a while when she suddenly spoke. Jack had been so focussed on her silent form that he was quite unprepared for the noise.
“What’s that?” he asked casually.
Sam winced and scratched a finger inside a glyph. Her fingertip made several revolutions before she said again, “I miss her.”
“Who?” Jack urged innocently with a shrug.
He could hear the intake of breath she took slicing between her teeth. Her skin was suddenly flushed, reminding Jack angrily of how accurately these bodies could emulate their original ones.
Sam tried and failed again and again to answer. She took a breath, and the lips that parted with intention closed again a second later.
The pipes and gears of their new home hissed and clanged, engines grunting in the bowels of the building. But that noise had become their definition of silence, and for a long stretch of time, Sam did little more than tap the Stargate slowly with a restless finger. Jack resisted asking her again. If she wanted to tell him, she would. Until that time, he would just be with her, if only to let her know that she wasn’t alone.
“I miss George,” Jack reflected, lifting his knee so he could hold his shin.
Sam’s eyes squeezed shut, sending tiny silver tears down her cheeks.
“I’m guessing...not in the same way.” A small smile tugged at the edge of Jack’s mouth.
Sam’s soft blue eyes flashed open. When she looked across at him he arched a thick, grey eyebrow and lifted his nose expectantly. Sam’s head rolled back against the Stargate ring, and she hugged herself close to it.
“I’ll never see her again,” she sniffed after a short pause. “She’s just on the other side of this gate but...I can never go through.”
Jack felt the thing in his chest crack. With painful realization he could see why she had come here, and why she clung to the Stargate as she did. The arm Sam had hugged around the ring was as close as she could ever be to reaching for the woman she loved, imagining, Jack thought, a wormhole stretching the billion light years between them.
An actual wormhole would alert the SGC of an offworld activation they were obliged to investigate, and the small illusion of freedom, the small remnant of purpose Jack, Daniel, Teal’c and Sam had left would be taken away from them. She wouldn’t risk it.
But now, two years later, Jack was sick of it. Two years of trying to forget who they used to be, where they came from. Two years of denying they were ever the Samantha Carter or the Daniel Jackson or the Teal’c of their memories, denying they ever had wives or sons or people they loved. It was like being at war with their own souls. Every day.
Then they stepped through the Stargate into this world; a horrible, dreadful world with bodies littering the roads and the carcases of homes lying open and rotting in the streets. And when all that horror became too much and they tried to leave, Jack all but had to catch Sam and hold her together.
Daniel and Teal’c, they couldn’t know why. They assumed it was the shock of seeing themselves at the Stargate, the fear of being discovered, of being disabled. They never questioned the way Sam always offered to keep watch. Not with any real concern or suspicion. But Jack could no longer bear to see her this way. He could no longer bear to live this way.
“Go to her.”
Sam’s body lurched. Her sobbing ceased and she looked up with startled eyes. “Sir?”
Jack’s voice was calm and even. “Go to her. Go be close to her. Go and...” he fluttered his fingers about, “Touch her with your own hands.”
Sam sniffed and drew her sleeve under her nose. “Don’t be stupid...”
Jack leaned forward on his chair and grabbed Sam’s shoulders firmly. “Of all the billion trillion planets in the whole frikkin universe we could have gone to, we travelled to the one planet on the To Do list of the woman you love.” He shook her once gently. “The universe is giving you a sign, Carter.”
A hopeless smile made Sam’s face shine. “Sir...she doesn’t know how I feel, remember? I...I can’t...”
“Maybe she does by now,” Jack shrugged helpfully.
Sam shook her head. “I may be a machine now but I’m still me. I...Sam wouldn’t have that kind of courage. She would always find an excuse.”
“Like you’re doing now?”
He sighed at the shame that snuffed the light from Sam’s eyes. He cupped her chin with the edge of his finger and lifted her gaze to meet his. “Carter. Are you in love with the tiny doctor or not?”
A small laugh spluttered clumsily from Sam’s mouth. “More deeply than I can stand.”
“Then for god sake, Carter, go to her. You don’t want this to be something you regret for the rest of your life. May I remind you how long that’s going to be? You know...failing we don’t all get shot or blown up or something.”
Sam laughed again, bowing her head to wipe her tears.
Jack took her face in his fingers with both hands, and lifted her once more. He softly dried her cheeks and tenderly brushed a finger across the sunlight locks that fell over her brow.
“At the very least,” he said, searching for and discovering all the reasons he loved her, “Dr Fraiser deserves to know someone out there loves her.”
This made more tears well and fall from Sam’s pale blue eyes. “I’ll have to tell her who I am. Or she will work it out eventually. The other SG-1 will come after us. You know they will.”
“Is she worth it?” Jack asked simply.
Sam seemed struck by the question.
Her bottom lip trembled. “Yes.”
“Then get going!” Jack said, clapping her on the side of her arms. He was standing up as she protested again. “Besides, I am getting sick to death of ‘comptria!’, ugh! Being shut down by the SGC would be a blessing.”
“Sir! I can’t! I can’t just...tell her.” Sam picked at her fingers.
“If you don’t, I will,” Jack pointed resolutely to his own chest.
Sam’s brows furrowed together. “What?”
“I’ll march into that camp and confess my love to her. Tell her about all the times I spent lying in the infirmary undressing her with my mind. About all the times I got a little too excited during her examinations.”
“Jack...” Sam grinned.
“Oh that touch. That firm yet gentle touch.” Jack brought his hands to his chest theatrically. “Oh to feel those tiny, silken hands reaching down my pants and around my...”
“Sir!” Sam reached forward and smacked him on the leg. Jack jumped sideways and chuckled down at her, tongue between his teeth.
Sam shook her head. “I still can’t go down there. Even looking like I do, the security will be suspicious seeing Sam returning to camp on her own so soon. They’ll ask too many questions.”
Jack put his hands on his hips. “Well, I can help you out there.”
Sam and Jack scuttled around the perimeter of the offworld camp and crouched behind a wall. The other Jack O’Neill had left a single SG team on guard. They needed only to distract one to allow Sam access to the temporary building. The non combat personnel would not question her presence if they saw her.
“Remember, Carter. In and out. You swoop in, you blow her brilliant little mind, and you swoop out.” Jack gave satirical hand actions as he gave his orders.
Sam saluted. “Yes, Sir. And Sir?”
Jack was peering carefully through the cracks in the single shed wall still left standing. Sam’s dextrous hand shot around his neck and yanked him sideways. His cry was muffled against her lips, and he teetered helplessly on the balls of his feet until she released him with an audible smack of her mouth.
Jack fell back on his ass, gasping as though he’d been without oxygen for minutes.
Sam smirked. “Thank you.”
Jack eyed her incredulously as he crawled back onto his feet. “Shit, Carter,” he said, tentatively tapping himself above the temple. “Think you blew a fuse.”
Sam grinned mischievously. Jack had never seen her eyes sparkle this brightly. He needed to squint or be blinded by them. He edged against the wall again and spied through the missing bricks. The closest man standing guard was sitting on a crate, idly picking at the tread of his boot. Using the surviving structure of the nearby buildings, Jack was sure he could lead the man quite a distance away without being seen.
Without another word he propelled himself from their hiding spot and scampered to the next convenient cover. Sam watched him getting closer and closer with each daring dash. Then, close enough, he tapped his gun against the cracked cement.
Sam saw the guard’s ears prick, his head and neck extending like a bloodhound. The man snatched his radio and muttered his intent before investigating the noise. Then Jack was off, and Sam stole her moment to breach the camp perimeter.
If any personnel spotted her they thought nothing of it. The camp was mostly empty, save for the technicians working in the single station closest to the populated side of the city. Sam kept a steady, confident pace across the dust up to the steel door of the infirmary.
In the same motion her hand came down on the handle she pushed it open. She couldn’t slow down. She couldn’t stop to think. She kept moving, kept walking through the beds and benches and life sustaining machines until she froze as though she’d suddenly struck an invisible wall.
Janet Fraiser moved swiftly from one console to the next, collecting folders and print outs with the familiar grace that left Sam dazzled.
“Oh!” Janet gasped when she turned to discover her. She bounced backwards a little, clutching the desk behind her. Sam watched her hand float up over her chest. “You scared me. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
Sam opened her mouth. Not even air passed her lips. Her heart, or whatever it was, thundered.
Janet cleared her throat and stepped away from the desk, pulling at her fatigues to straighten them.
Without thinking, Sam took the three strides needed to quickly close the gap between them. Janet scrambled nervously again for the desk behind her, bumping against it so hard it clanked against the metal wall.
The dark brown eyes Sam had spent her dreams gazing into were swimming in confusion, examining her own for an explanation. Sam leaned a little closer, and Janet lifted her head, determined not to be daunted by the height and strength the soldier had over her.
Sam lifted her hand because Janet’s eyes were shimmering at her behind long, dark lashes, and the wisps of hair shaken loose about her brow made her pretty face more enchanting than she could remember, and like a poor fool caught in the woven threads of a spell, Sam needed to touch it.
Janet pushed herself onto her toes and leaned from the encroaching fingers, taking a single, sharp, anxious breath. Sam’s fluid motion was unavoidable, and both women uttered a noise at the contact made against the delicate edge of the doctor’s cheekbone; Janet a small, reticent hum and Sam a hushed sigh.
Sam’s other hand came easily to the same spot on the other cheek, four fingertips barely touching skin Sam had for years longed to explore. The confusion fluttering on Janet’s elegant features had become sheer bewilderment.
Sam leaned in further still, bringing their bodies close enough but not quite together and felt all resistance melt in the doctor. Sam smiled as Janet’s eyes drifted close and then she did the same, pressing her lips as softly as she could, impressing all her passion and love and soul into a single, lingering kiss.
Serenely wetting her lips as she parted, Sam felt Janet’s hot breath sigh against them. Smiling, Sam tilted her head the other way and moved in again, nothing more than lips meeting softly in the silent medical lab, and Sam felt Janet’s arms fall limp at her sides from her failing grip on the desk.
One more time, drifting two fingers to the edge of her chin, and the others into her hairline, Sam eased back the woman’s head to her squeak of surrender and kissed her again.
With a breath, Sam pulled away, and Janet leaned after her briefly, eyes still shut. When she opened them Sam gave her a lopsided and deeply sated grin. The doctor’s face was flushed dark crimson from her ears to her cheeks to her neck, where Sam saw muscles contract enticingly with an anxious swallow.
Wordlessly, Sam reached for and traced the edge of her face, wanting to imprint to memory the contour of her bone, the texture of her skin.
Janet swayed from her touch, uselessly parting her mouth but making no sound. Sam brought a single finger to the edge of her mouth and sniffed in amusement before bringing her arm away. This was all she could have, all she would allow herself to take. She shouldn’t have taken even this much at all and it was time to steal herself away.
She turned, feeling tears threaten in her eyes and made to escape.
Sam came to a halt at Janet’s spluttered plea. She winced, admonishing herself for stopping. She forced herself to move again, making it almost as far as the door.
Her name had come from the woman in an anguished sort of cry that made her stop again, whimpering with the crushing weight of regret. It was like Janet had lain bear traps along the path to the door. She couldn’t pull her feet free and it hurt to try. She bit her lip and shut her eyes.
“Sam, look out!”
Sam startled at the scream. Her eyes flashed upward as a stranger in harsh, rugged clothing brandished a crude energy weapon in her face.
He crept forward, cocking his head to one side so that his long wormlike hair stuck against his neck.
His red, narrow face creased unpleasantly from the grin that stretched his mouth. Sam backed away, stopping only when she felt Janet behind her, and the woman’s hands grasp onto the fabric of her clothing.
His hips jutted forward as he swaggered towards them, drawing attention to the unsightly stains on his pants. His open vest hung loosely around a shallow, sweating chest where he plastered a large, bony hand.
“Which one of you is Dr Janet Fraiser?” He smeared his hand across skin and fabric, and came to a stop uncomfortably close to the women. He immediately noticed the name stitched onto Sam’s uniform and smirked. “Never mind.”
He leaned over to get a better view of Janet. “Doctor?”
Sam was seconds from chopping the arm holding the weapon and sticking her boot right into his crotch, but the door burst open again. A second man stormed through and Sam felt Janet huddle herself behind her back, exploiting the soldier’s height. Sam only wished she could hide her completely.
“Did you find her?” the second man asked.
The long haired man snorted like a hog. “Right there.”
The other man edged around the room to angle himself better and barked in amusement at the sight of Janet trying to disappear behind Sam.
Sam frowned, feeling her blood coursing like razors beneath her skin.
The second man sniffed and dragged a fist under his nose.
“Bring them both.”
The first man grabbed for Sam’s hair. Instinctually, her arm snapped and wound into her aggressor, detaching his grip and tucking his arm into a position where only a little more pressure would snap his elbow like chalk. The barrel of a gun jabbed between her eyes.
Janet gasped behind her. Sam tensed. She couldn’t provoke them. She had to stay alive to protect Janet.
“Go ahead,” the man said dispassionately at her. “You’re not nearly as valuable as the little one. Not that I don’t think we’d get a good deal for you. But I really don’t mind splitting your head open and watching your brains splatter in all directions. Far more satisfying.”
Sam released the other man. The gun was removed from her head. She was made to give up all her weapons which she handed over reluctantly.
Sam felt behind her, gently encouraging Janet to move in front of her so that on their way out of the infirmary she could put herself between her and the men. The processor in her synthetic skull scanned furiously for her next step.
Once outside the building Sam could see the extent of the situation. The camp had been left relatively intact. Three bodies lay in thickening blood on the ground, their SG uniforms ripped apart from repeated gunfire that she never heard. A large foreboding vehicle was parked just outside the camp. Sam felt a nudge in the back.
Sam kept hold of Janet, keeping an arm around her quivering frame as she led her across the dirt. The back of the tank was open and once they were up behind it Sam could see the technicians huddled along the benches inside.
“Get in.” A sharp jab into the small of her back forced Sam forward. She helped Janet climb up into the miserable machine and sat down next to her.
“Major Carter!” One of the technicians gasped in both relief and surprise when he recognized her.
The door slammed shut on them, shutting out the light. They were in almost total darkness, but somehow Sam could still see a little. Harlan must have made her eyesight remarkably sensitive. There were four technicians sitting opposite them, and another next to Janet.
The air was thick and stagnant inside the tank. She heard a few people gagging, but it could have been out of fear. With a roar the tank shook to life. Janet was hunched against her when the tank started moving forward, gaining speed and crushing the dirt and stones in its path like a raging beast.
Sam stared open mouthed at her feet, unwilling tears burning in her eyes. A sick sensation swam in her gut, and a debilitating chill clasped around the back of her neck. She couldn’t help feel that this was her fault. If Jack hadn’t distracted one of the men on guard these hostiles might not so easily have taken the base. Janet would be safe.
That was what troubled Sam the most. Not only was Janet in danger but it was clear the men had come with the intention of taking her. They knew she would be at the offworld camp and they knew where to find her.
Janet was obviously highly valued for some reason. Sam shuddered as the thought occurred to her that these people could be slave traders. Her skin flushed cold and clammy beneath her combat gear. She felt Janet hug more deeply into her, sniffing quietly.
She would do anything to make sure they were not separated. Jack was still out there and might have seen what had happened. He was no doubt trailing them.
She was going to get Janet safely through this. She was certain that, if worst came to worst, Jack would not hesitate to warn their human counterparts of what had happened and enlist their help.
The tank slowed and after a few turns, came to a stop. Doors opened and slammed shut again and feet could just be heard stomping around the outside of the vehicle. Janet squeezed Sam’s arm so tightly Sam mused that if she still had bones they might have broken.
The back of the tank opened with a shunt and squeal. The two men stood there with their guns pointed up at them. “Everyone out.”
Sam hopped down from the tank and lined up with the others. When she looked down at Janet she saw the woman staring resolutely forward.
They were taken into the ruined courtyard of what might once have been a luxury hotel. The walls Sam could see of the garden had been completely destroyed, and in their place were piles of stone and scrap metal with outposts at both edges. Peering up Sam spotted gunman standing watch.
She followed the technicians into the lobby of the building. Sam was immediately hit by the smell. It was like a drill to the nose, burrowing up through her skull. A technician spluttered and wretched, stuff spilling wetly against the hard floor.
Sam looked up. Nailed to the walls were the splayed and hollowed bodies she barely recognized as people. Some were missing limbs, others had their chests torn open, a dirt red smear trailing on the wall beneath them. Sam decided they must serve as a warning for anyone thinking of disobeying or trying to escape. Janet covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve.
Sam put her arm around her.
More men with unfamiliar weapons came from one of the archways, oil glistening on their faces. Sam pulled Janet closed, tucking her against her hip as the men divided up and removed the technicians until only the two of them remained.
The man who appeared to be in charge noticed the way Sam held Janet. He regarded them silently, features cold.
Sam swallowed tensely but kept her gaze determinedly on the man. He appeared to be considering whether or not to separate them. He must have decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.
They were shown into a small room with stained carpet and unclean mattresses. The windows had been boarded up to keep them cut off from the outside world. The smell was only marginally better than out in the lobby. Then they were locked inside. Janet was already exploring the room when Sam turned from the door. She saw her standing inside a doorframe revealing a small white, tiled room.
“At least there’s a real toilet in there,” Janet said.
Sam found she couldn’t move or say anything. The doctor turned around, arms folded across her jacket.
“You’re not really Sam Carter, are you.”
Sam took the opportunity to release all her pent up nervous tension with a small laugh.
“What gave it away?”
If she had an answer, Janet didn’t say. She stalked around the room, keeping a painfully obvious distance. Sam grimaced.
“I know this is going to be hard to believe but...help is on the way. I’m sure of it”
Janet nodded at the floor.
“What do you think...” the tone failed in parts of Janet’s tiny voice, “...they want with me?”
Sam swallowed and tried to keep her voice level.
“I think it’s because you’re a doctor. People with medical knowledge must be highly valued.”
Janet laughed uneasily. “Nice to know you’re appreciated.”
Sam began to walk to her. “Janet...”
“Don’t.” Her eyes were so dark Sam shivered. “You haven’t even...Who are you, exactly? Where’s...Where’s Sam?”
Her voice struggled so much over the name that by the time she finally said it only her breath was left. Sam felt a stab of pain.
“Sam is fine. I haven’t done anything to her.” She put her hands to her chest. “I’m from P3X-989. I’m...” she winced, “Sam’s robot duplicate.”
Janet simply stared for a long time. Then her head bowed and she turned away. She moved over to the wall and, despite the protest that stuck in Sam’s throat, she sat down. The carpet looked like it had been soaked in blood and bile and other human bodily fluids. The walls looked no better. But she supposed Janet could do whatever the hell she wanted.
“Then you are Sam.”
Janet was gazing up at her, a small and lopsided smile on her face. Sam hesitated and then took a step towards her. When she received no indication she should stop, she made her way across the room and settled down beside her.
“I suppose the others are here too, then?” Janet asked.
“You mean Jack, Daniel and Teal’c? Yeah. Jack’s the one who helped me slip into the camp to...see you.”
“Yeah. That was...interesting.”
Sam looked at her and had to laugh at the look on her face. Janet’s slender eyebrows were knitted together, and her perfect nose crinkled in confusion.
Sam’s laugh petered out contentedly and she smiled into her lap. “Jack’s orders were to swoop in, and swoop out.”
“Oh, you were acting on the Colonel’s orders?” Janet’s brows shot back up incredulously.
“Yep. That’s all it was. Just following orders.” Sam grinned to herself and felt Janet eye her with an unappreciative pinch to her lips.
“...Was it assigned to you because you wanted it or because no one else volunteered?”
It felt strange to laugh in such a situation. But Sam could appreciate that Janet needed the distraction.
“I won’t lie to you,” she said, bringing her knees up so she could link her arms around them. “I took a lot of convincing.” She waited for some sign from Janet that she was insulted. It came in the form of an unimpressed leer that tickled Sam’s mechanical heart.
“The truth is...” Sam sighed. “I’ve spent seven-hundred and fifty three days getting over you.”
Beside her, Janet released a sustained breath. “You sure were determined.”
Sam hummed a small laugh. “I had to be. There was no way I was ever going to see you again.”
She shuffled to find comfort against the grotty carpet and hard plaster wall. She stretched out one leg, clasping her fingers together around the shin of her other.
“I failed, you know? Every day I failed. I held onto you. Every night before sleep...or...in my case powering down, every morning after powering up, I would just lie there, picturing you, making sure I could recall every little detail about how you looked.
I’d imagine how you’d wear your uniform, how you wore your hair, your make up. I’d imagine how you looked when you smiled, when you frowned, when you laughed. And when I had the picture of you in my mind I’d imagine your voice. I’d imagine how you would greet me when we would run into each other on base. I’d imagine things you would say to me during pre and post mission exams, the concern in your eyes or the scold on your face.” Sam paused a moment to grin to herself.
“Memories fade over time. I didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to think of you one day and see this...hazy, featureless figure that was supposed to be you. But with the processors Harlan gave us to replace our brains it was...so easy. I was so used to human limitations. But now our imagination can be so vivid it’s like visiting a real world inside our own heads.”
Sam picked irritably at the fabric of her pants and then let both arms collapse at her sides with a heave of frustration. It was hard not to get angry. It was hard not to hate herself, resent the Sam who was allowed to keep her life over a technicality like having an organic body.
Sam felt something, the soft brush of fingers tracing into her hand and weaving between her own. She looked down at Janet’s small, delicate hand holding hers and lifted her quizzical gaze to the woman’s eyes.
Janet’s features were solid. “You may have been prevented from living her life, that’s true. But nothing has ever stopped you being the real Samantha Carter.”
The impact of the woman’s words went through her like a seismic assault. She couldn’t even hold herself up. Janet saw this and gently guided her down, cradling her head to her lap, where Samantha Carter curled up tightly and wept. And Janet, forgetting she was ever afraid, lovingly combed her fingers through Sam’s hair.
It was only a short time later when they heard voices outside the door. There was a click of a lock opening and then the door burst inward. Sam and Janet scrambled, on their feet in an instant. Two men entered the room. One was the man who had led the raid, and the other was a tall man with a shaven head wearing a dark brown suit and smart leather shoes.
There was a languid flow to his limbs as he brought himself to the middle of the room.
The man, whom Sam decided to call Suit, towered over Janet and took her by the shoulders, positioning her forward from the wall as though to better inspect her. Sam clenched her hands into shuddering fists.
His large but thankfully clean hand cupped her chin and lifted her face. “Pretty. Very pretty.” He peered all over her like a jeweller examining the qualities of a gem. Then he stroked the skin of her cheek to her hushed fretting.
His fingers drifted slowly to the zip of her vest. Janet stayed defiantly still.
When Suit caught the look in Sam’s eyes he said, “You can relax. I’m not going to touch your friend.”
Sam chewed her lips doubtfully, but stayed her hand. There was little she could do anyway.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Cloake,” he said, as he released the catch at the end of the zip and began carefully to push the vest off Janet’s shoulders.
“What do you plan to do with us?” Sam’s eyes darted to the raid leader, and the gun on his hip. But he noticed, and his hand came to rest over it.
“I was commissioned to acquire the lovely doctor here,” he said, smiling almost sweetly as if he were trying to coax a smile out of Janet. He began to undo the buttons of her fatigues. Janet grabbed his wrists.
Sam twitched. The raid leader whipped out his gun. Cloake paused. He waited for as long as it took for both women to realize they would not get out of this situation.
Janet’s grip went slack and her hands trembled as they returned to her sides. Cloake instantly resumed his task of undressing her.
Sam wanted to tell him to stop. Janet was shaking and she wanted so desperately to hold her, to close around her like impenetrable armour.
Cloake stood back from Janet and appraised her appearance. He had removed her heavy military issue shirt and draped it over his arm. Janet reflexively hugged herself, mercifully allowed to keep the simple black top she had been wearing underneath
“The buyer for the doctor will be here any minute. Get her down to my office.”
Janet let out hopeless, rasping breath.