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“What happened?” Janet leaned over the makeshift stretcher, scanning O’Neill, as two soldiers carried him inside the medical tent. Sam followed suit.
When nobody answered the doctor’s question, Janet lifted her head and looked at Sam pointedly.
“Sam, what happened?”
She lifted her eyes, her vision blurry, hands shaking. “We fell into an old mine. Colonel O’Neill got hurt from the fall. He has a broken arm, his ankle’s sprained, and he has at least one broken rib. I’m pretty sure he’s bleeding internally, and he was struggling to breathe.”
Janet turned to bend over O’Neill again after the soldiers had lifted him onto her makeshift operating table.
“How long has he been unconscious?”
“I don’t know.” She ran her hand through her hair, pacing up and down. She had to get a grip on herself. “About two or three hours. We had to wait for our Stargate window. He came to a few times but the Krushar’s medicine wasn’t advanced enough to help him.”
Janet put him on an infusion and fastened the fluid bag to a metal pole near the operating table. Then she cut O’Neill’s shirt open.
“Oh God.” Arms wrapping around herself, Sam stared at the bruises on his chest and stomach. It hadn’t been that bad in the mine. “That isn’t good, is it?”
Janet didn’t reply but reached behind her to gather some materials. Then she rushed over to a shelf and took sown little bottles of fluids, and surgical instruments.
“His pulse is weak.” Sam touched O’Neill’s burning skin, and then brushed her fingers through his hair. “His breathing’s erratic.” She looked up. “What are you doing, Janet? He needs help.”
Janet spun and put a metal bowl on a chair she’d pulled close to the operating table. She rushed to press pads to O’Neill’s chest, connecting him to a monitor next to the table. When she turned on the monitor, a weak, erratic beep filled the tent.
Sam’s breath hitched.
Grabbing a syringe and a little bottle, Janet gave her a firm look. “Sam, I need you to go.”
No. She wasn’t gonna leave him. She pressed her lips together and frowned at Janet.
“Now.” Janet scowled at her.
A long, ear-piercing beep sounded from the machine. A chill spread through Sam, and her mind went blank as she stared at the flat line on the monitor.
“Daniel, take her outside. Please.” Janet whirled around and filled the syringe with transparent liquid from the bottle.
“Let’s wait outside. Janet’s doing her best.” Daniel pulled Sam away from O’Neill as the flat-lining beep continued.
As soon as they were outside, Sam pulled herself out of Daniel’s grip. Air, she needed air… Panting she paced up and down. What if he never woke up again? What if he died in there? Ice poured into her veins. If only she’d gotten him out faster. “It’s my fault.”
“Sam.” Daniel touched her shoulder but she twisted away from his touch.
“I should’ve gotten him out sooner. Maybe there was another way and I didn’t see it. If I were a better soldier, or better in field medicine… I misjudged the severity of his injuries.” She froze. “Oh God… His ribs weren’t that bad until I pushed him to the ground.” Her eyes stung and her throat constricted. She’d done this. She was responsible for his death. “It was my fault.”
“Hey.” Daniel pulled her against him. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault. The mission went wrong. It was an accident. It’s a calculated risk we take every day we step through the gate. I’m sure you did your best.”
“How can you say that?” She freed herself from him. “You weren’t even there.”
Daniel studied her. “Jack’s in Janet’s care now. There’s nothing we can do. She’s a good doctor. She’ll take care of him.”
Sam dropped her arms and swallowed hard. It all seemed so final. There had to be something else she could do. He couldn’t… She wiped the back of her hand over her eyes.
Daniel pulled her into his arms. “It’s okay.”
Her arms trembled as she hugged him. “I’m sorry. I know we risk losing people every time we go through the gate. I shouldn’t be this affected. I’m not a rookie anymore. It shouldn’t get to me this much.”
“Sam.” Daniel’s nose brushed her hair. “We’re family here. I don’t think you’ll ever reach the point where a team member being injured won’t get to you anymore. Especially if it’s somebody you’re close to.”
At that moment, Vala skidded around the corner of the tent. “What happened? I heard there was a casualty.”
Casualty? Were they calling it that already? She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip. She fisted her hands in Daniel’s shirt and inhaled sharply, before she sat down on one of the makeshift benches nearby.
“Jack was hurt.” Daniel looked at his girlfriend. “Badly. It doesn’t look good.”
“Oh God.” Vala rushed to Sam and pulled her against her. “Sammie, I’m sorry.”
Sam looked at a few soldiers passing by. They slowed, studying them with uncomfortable curiosity. Although they did occasionally lose people, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. The possibility that it may be happening now must be drawing them in hopes of overhearing some news.
Vala looked at her. “What happened?”
“There was an accident. We fell into an old mine.” Sam took a shaky breath. “We got out, but it took a while before Daniel and some of the villagers found us. We couldn’t gate back home right away. We had to wait for our Stargate window. God, what if he dies?”
“Janet’s taking care of him. He’ll be fine.” Vala’s hand ran up and down her arm. “You’re shaking… Daniel, can you bring her a blanket, please?”
The archeologist got up and went to a nearby storage tent. He returned with a blanket and handed it to Vala before he sat down next to her. Vala wrapped the blanket around Sam, and rubbed her arms again.
“What if he…” Sam closed her eyes. What if she lost O’Neill—Jack—for good? She’d lost Jason already, but compared to that experience the idea she might lose Jack… Her throat constricted again. She couldn’t handle it. Not him.
“Breathe.” Vala’s voice made her look up. Her friend’s eyes glistened. “Sometimes all you can do is keep breathing. No matter how hard it seems, no matter what happens, just breathe. Concentrate on that.”
The tent flap opened behind them. Janet stepped out, her gaze empty as she stared at them.
Sam’s eyes widened. It had only been a few minutes since they’d left the tent. No way had she finished treating Jack’s injuries in such a short amount of time. Her presence outside could only mean one thing. It hit her like a fist to the gut.
“No…” All the air was pushed from her lungs. She shook her head, as if in some magical way, she could undo what had happened. “Janet, no. No, no, no. Don’t tell me…” She jumped up. Who cared that she was supposed to be strong. She rushed over to the doctor.
“It’s fine, Sam.” Janet grabbed her arms, until Sam looked at her. “He’s fine. Do you hear me? He’s fine, and he’s healthy.”
Sam stared at Janet. Healthy? Jack was… how? When she’d left just a few minutes ago, he’d been on the verge of dying. So how could she say he was… Unless… Was Janet lying to her?
“How’s that possible? How did you…?”
“It wasn’t me. And don’t ask me how. I don’t understand it myself.” Janet brushed some strands of hair out of her eyes. “I couldn’t bring him back. I was just about to give up, and then Sheppard just… he just… put his hands on him. O’Neill’s bruising disappeared and his heart started beating again.”
Janet sank down on one of the wooden boxes standing near the entrance. “He only has some minor injuries left, nothing life threatening. All his vitals are strong and regular.”
“Sheppard did… what? How’s that possible?” It sounded like Sheppard had somehow magically healed Jack. Sam stilled when another possibility occurred to her. What if she’d lost consciousness? What if this was a dream? Some kind of trick her mind played on her because the reality of the situation was unbearable?
Without another word, she pushed into the medical tent. Sheppard sat on his field bed, staring at his hands with confusion and looking exhausted.
Jack lay on the operating table, the beep from the machine strong and steady. Sam swallowed and stepped closer, then released a breath. The bruise on his stomach was gone. Only slight hints of purple mottled his skin here and there, along with a few minor scratches.
Janet stepped up behind Sam. “I’d already given him a narcotic to prepare him for surgery, so it’ll be a bit until he comes to. He had severe internal injuries, but as far as I can tell he’s fully recovered now.”
Sam exhaled. He was fine. He’d survive and fully recover. Her knees went weak.
“Whoa.” Janet caught her when she lost balance, and pulled her over to sit on a box. “Easy there.” She inspected the wound on Sam’s head. The Krushar doctor had treated it to the best of his abilities, but with their primitive medical equipment, he hadn’t been able to do much. Janet pulled a medical flashlight out of the pocket of her coat, and shone it into Sam’s eyes.
“Follow the light with your eyes, please.” After a number of tests, she raised her eyebrows at her. “You have a concussion and your head wound needs stitches. Do you have any other injuries?”
Sam shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m just so exhausted.”
“Alright.” Janet guided her to one of the beds. “Lie down.”
“That’s not necessary. I…”
“Now, Sam.” There it was. That tone in her voice that made Sheppard and O’Neill call her a dragon behind her back. “That wasn’t a request.”
Sighing, Sam lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. Okay, so maybe resting for a bit wasn’t such a bad idea. Just a few minutes. Half an hour maybe. Then she’d ask Sheppard about what had happened.
How had he been able to heal Jack? Her eyes snapped open. Maybe it had something to do with the device that grabbed him yesterday. Her eyes drifted closed again. She should get up and inform McKay about her theory. Her limbs wouldn’t move, though.
She startled when warm hands touched her forehead.
“Shhh, I’m just treating your head wound.” Janet smiled at her. “You need a few stitches. I’m going to give you a sedative to help you sleep, all right? Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Just close your eyes.”
Sam watched Janet prepare the sedative and pinch the syringe with her fingers. A sharp prick stung her arm. She wanted to say something, but the next moment she’d forgotten what it was. Her headache stopped, and her muscles relaxed with the sudden absence of pain. The tent spun, and darkness crept in.
Beep… beep… beep… beep… beep…
Sam opened her eyes as the steady, rhythmic sound of the heart monitor reached her ears. Warmth flooded her body, energy buzzing across her skin. A warm hand touched her fnorehead. She became aware of a second one lying on her stomach right under her breasts. When she turned her head, she froze. “Colonel Sheppard?”
Her gaze locked with Sheppard’s. She swallowed and looked at his hand touching her in such an intimate way. He let go of her and leaned back.
She lifted herself up onto her forearms and studied him. Her headache had disappeared. So had the bruises on her arms.
“What did you do?” She stared at him.
Sheppard shrugged. “Te sanavit.”
She looked at him, then leaned forward. “What?” Maybe her head injury had been worse then she expected.
“Omnes sana.” Sheppard pointed at her arms and head. Then he scoffed when he apparently realized she didn’t understand him. “You were saucium.”
“Sir.” Sam moved her legs off the bed. “What’s wrong with you?”
He made a frustrated sound, and then shrugged his shoulders.
She looked around the medical tent. Jack still lay unconscious on the operating table. The steady rhythm of his heart monitor had drawn her out of sleep.
If he was still out, she couldn’t have been asleep for long. So why did she feel like she’d just woken up from a solid night’s sleep?
She turned her head when the tent flap rustled. Daniel entered and froze when he saw her.
“Janet said you’d be out for at least five to six hours.” He put his hands in his pockets.
Sam stood up. “How long was I out?”
“Well, it couldn’t have been more than half an hour.”
Half an hour? She turned to look at Sheppard who had sat down on the field bed next to hers. Head bowed, eyes closed, he looked exhausted. Sheppard had done something to her when he’d touched her. Janet had said he’d healed Jack, so had he done the same to her? It was the only reasonable explanation.
“I think Colonel Sheppard just healed me. And he apparently neutralized Janet’s sedative in the process. I feel absolutely fine.”
Daniel stepped closer. “Well, you look fine.” Then he looked at Sheppard. “How’s that possible?”
“Um, Daniel, there’s something weird about him. I can’t understand him.”
“What does that mean?”
Sam cleared he throat. “He said something… What was it? Colonel, what did you just say to me?”
Sheppard lifted his head. “Te sanavit.”
Daniel folded his arms and turned towards him, curiosity flashing in his eyes. Sheppard lifted his arms in defeat and then let them drop to his lap with an annoyed huff.
“Daniel, I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose.”
“No, no, he isn’t.” Daniel folded his arms. “I think he’s speaking ancient Latin or at least a language or dialect very close to it.”
“What’s ancient Latin?”
Daniel readjusted his glasses. “It’s an old language from over two-thousand years ago. Before the Aschen came to Earth, humans spoke thousands of different languages. None of them survived, because shortly after their arrival, the Aschen chose one language and banned all others to make colonization easier. Ancient Latin was dead long before the Aschen arrived, but it influenced some of the most widely spoken languages in ancient times. It also influenced Old English, which later became the modern version of the language we speak today. The question is, Colonel, how can you speak Latin all of a sudden?”
Sam shook her head. “I don’t think he even realizes he’s speaking it. Do you think his language has somehow de-evolved back into its original form?”
“No.” Daniel scratched his head. “English belonged to the Germanic language family. Latin is the root for the Roman language family. Early forms of Old and Middle English were only influenced by Latin. If Sheppard’s language had de-evolved, it would probably be closer to Germanic—maybe even Celtic. Aside from that, a language doesn’t evolve in every individual’s brain. Unless there’d be some form of universal subconscious all humans have intuitive access to. That’s only a highly speculative and much debated theory among philosophers, though. I see no way it could be accurate.”
“This has to have something to do with the device we found on P63-284.” Sam looked at him.
Daniel raised his eyebrows at her.
“It makes sense. Think about it. It can’t be a coincidence that he starts displaying these symptoms only a day after accidentally activating an extraterrestrial machine.”
“Why would it teach him to speak an ancient Earth language?” Daniel sat down on the bed she’d used earlier.
She shrugged. “How would the aliens who invented it know how to speak Latin in the first place? They couldn’t have come from Earth, given they’re a lot more advanced than we are even now. Never mind back then.”
“Unless… It was the other way around.”
When she gave him a baffled look, Daniel got up again. “What if it wasn’t humans who went off-world, but aliens who came here, to Earth? The temple complex on P63-284 is a lot older than four thousand years, at least according to my preliminary research and Rodney’s analysis. Carbon dating pointed to well over twenty-thousand years.”
Sam scrunched her brows.
“Think about it, Sam. What if some thousand years ago, aliens came from another planet to settle on Earth. Maybe they mingled with our population. Maybe they even sparked the rise of our first high cultures.”
“Isn’t this all just speculation?” Sam turned her eyes back on Sheppard, who looked impatient.
“Yes, but it would definitely explain how a very old device on another planet could cause Sheppard to speak a long dead dialect of ancient Latin.”
Sheppard groaned. “Can you two stop argumentari and find a solution? I feel like I’m going derentis.”
Sam studied him, then looked at Daniel whose gaze fixated on the colonel.
“That’s interesting. So you do, at least partly, still speak English. And you can understand us.”
“Yes. Although apparently I have nullum control over quod ego dicent.”
Sam raised her brows at Daniel. The archeologist cleared his throat. “Over what he says. He said he has no control over what he says.”
“Ah.” Sam folded her arms and looked at Sheppard with a sigh. “What do we do now?”
“Well, if you’re right and this is something the alien device caused, we should probably go back there and find a way to reverse it.”
“No, that wouldn’t get us anywhere. The power was depleted. Besides, even while it was still working, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. That technology’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen, I wouldn’t even know where to start. For all we know we could make it worse.”
“What on Earth is going on here?”
They all turned around to face the entrance of the tent. Janet looked at them, eyes wide.
“Um…” Daniel shrugged. “Apparently Sheppard healed Sam and neutralized your sedative. And he seems to be slowly losing his ability to speak our language.”
Janet stepped closer, looking at Daniel as though he was slowly losing his mind.
Daniel sighed. “He’s speaking something akin to ancient Latin, mixed with occasional modern words.”
Janet drew her eyes away from him to the colonel on the bed. Sheppard shrugged apologetically.
“Sam thinks it might be a side-effect of the alien device.” Daniel stepped aside to let Janet through.
“Not just a side effect. Maybe that was its purpose.” Sam folded her arms.
“To teach him an ancient language? What would that accomplish?”
“I don’t know, but his condition seems to be getting worse. And let’s not forget this isn’t the only effect the device has had on him. He healed Colonel O’Neill. He healed me too within a matter of seconds. The question is whether this change is dangerous.”
Janet nodded. “I’ll have to take a close look at him. A brain scan might shed light on why he’s developing these new abilities. But first, Sam, I want to examine you and I want a sample of your blood.”
“Alright.” Daniel clapped his hands together and rubbed his palms. “I’ll go back up to my tent and find some books on ancient Latin, so we can understand Sheppard.”
Sam rolled the sleeve of her shirt back down, and raised her eyebrows at Janet.
“Alright.” The doctor nodded, while she sealed the vial containing Sam’s blood. “I still don’t know how it’s possible, but there’s nothing wrong with you. I won’t know for sure until I’ve taken a look at your blood, but for now, I’d say you’re the poster child for a healthy human.”
Sam got up and rolled down her sleeve. Finally she’d get to take a shower and wash the dust and dirt off her skin. When she lifted her head, her gaze fell on O’Neill who was still lying on the operating table. Her heart quickened as she approached him.
The skin of his arm was warm, but his temperature had returned to normal. His chest rose and fell in a regular, strong rhythm. She swallowed. Just over an hour ago he’d been at death’s door. He’d died.
For a short eternity, it had been as though she’d collapse under the weight of her own emotions. Back when she’d lost Jason, it had devastated her, but not on an essential level. She hadn’t felt like life had ended, or nothing mattered anymore. What the hell was wrong with her? She shouldn’t care this deeply about O’Neill. She shouldn’t allow her feelings to run so deep that her well-being depended on his.
Janet touched her shoulder. “He should wake up soon. I wanna keep him here for another day because of the potential side effects of the narcotics. He won’t be happy about it, but he’s going to be just fine.”
Sam smiled at the doctor. “That’s good.” Her fingers closed around his arm in a gentle squeeze. “Janet, about what happened earlier… When I yelled at you.” She closed her eyes and flinched. “I didn’t mean to snap. I’m sorry.”
Janet shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. We all reach our limits when we’re about to lose the person we love.”
Sam stared at her. “We… what? Wait, no. I don’t love him. We’re just friends.”
Janet cocked her head and shot her a semi-annoyed look. “Right. You just keep telling yourself that.” Smirking, the doctor walked around the operating table to the back of the tent. A few makeshift separators divided the room to give her private space for a little office. It wasn’t overly big, but held enough space for a desk and a shelf. Bright daylight from outside shone through a square opening covered by transparent plastic.
Sam followed her and folded her arms as the doctor sat down and took a sip of coffee from a cup on her desk. “Janet, I’m serious. I care about him as a good friend.”
“If you say so.”
She swallowed hard. Oh God, what if Janet told Jack? Then the whole discussion about their marriage would come up all over again. “Please don’t tell him I—”
“I’m not getting involved with you two.” Janet leaned back in her chair. “Whatever lies you tell yourself in order to convince yourself that you don’t love him, that’s none of my business. One word of advice though. He’s an attractive man. I’m sure he won’t stay single forever. So, if you really think of him as just a friend, fine. But if you love him, maybe you should start sending the right signals soon.”
“Why?” Sam stared at her, her stomach tightening. “Did he say… Is there another woman he’s interested in?”
Janet chuckled. “No, not that I know of. But your reaction right there tells me you still care about him a lot more than a friend would.”
Sam tilted her head with a little scoff.
Janet sighed. “All I am saying is, don’t let foolish pride stand in your way. I’m not saying you should forget about whatever grudge you’re holding. But don’t make him feel like he doesn’t have a chance with you. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll lose him.”
Sam pressed her lips together and then finally released a breath. “I like him. But I can’t let him believe I want a relationship. Not now. We’re just getting back to being friends. I don’t want to bring the marriage contract back onto the table. He agreed to ignore it because I said I didn’t want to be with him.”
“But if you do want to be with him, what’s the problem? Let the contract be valid. I can think of a lot worse scenarios than being married to Jack O’Neill.” Janet shuffled a few papers around on her desk and ordered them into files. Then she turned in her chair. “I have a feeling he’d try to make your life heaven on Earth. Do you know what the odds are for that in an arranged marriage? It would have been a lot more likely for you to end up with somebody like…um…McKay.”
Both winced at the thought. Then Sam shook her head. “With him it’s either one or the other. Be married or be friends. There’s no in between. At the moment I’m more comfortable being friends with him. To be honest, the idea of marriage terrifies me.”
“Why?” Janet raised her eyebrows.
“Why? Because I didn’t choose it. And because of everything that comes with it. We’re both gifted. That means there’ll be expectations, especially for women. Like doing the housework, having children. You know how we’re brought up. None of us ever expects to have children. And I was never one of those women who wanted them. I don’t know how to deal with those expectations.”
She sank against the table and dropped her arms. “I feel like I just gained my freedom. I’m finally going through the Stargate and exploring other planets. I dreamed of this my entire life. I’m not ready to give that up.”
Janet leaned forward and locked her gaze with Sam’s. “Who says you’d have to? Maybe you should talk to him about that.”
“Oh please.” Sam chuckled. “I won’t bring up that subject again. Not now that we’ve worked so hard on putting the contract behind us. We’d start fighting all over again.”
Janet studied her for a long time, then finally nodded in surrender. “Alright, it’s your choice. If you’re happier like this…”
Sam looked down at her hands and played with her fingers. Was she? Wasn’t it worth taking a chance? She clenched her jaw and got up. There were more important things to worry about at the moment.
“I should get to work.” She turned to walk towards the exit. “And you should start your examination of—” She broke off as she scanned the medical tent.
Janet frowned. “What’s the matter?”
“Where’s Colonel Sheppard?”
Janet scrambled to her side. Except for O’Neill, who was still lying on the operating table, the medical tent was empty.
The two women rushed past the beds and left the tent, looking around the camp to the far end of the field where the forest began. Sheppard was nowhere in sight.
“Oh, great. That’s all we need.” Janet dropped her arms with a sigh.
Sam squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll find him. I’ll get Daniel and a few soldiers to form search parties.”
She hurried off to a group of soldiers chatting in front of the food tent. O’Neill was knocked out, Sheppard was going crazy, and Mitchell was away to meet with a contact from another camp. They didn’t have a superior officer at camp who’d be capable of giving them orders.
She swallowed hard. How much worse was this day going to get?
“Oh please.” McKay folded his arms and rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing in that direction. Why would he go that way?”
“Rodney.” Sam fought to free her arm from a thorn bush she’d walked through. “He has to be somewhere.”
“Yes, but what could possibly be the purpose of coming here?”
“I don’t know, but he didn’t go anywhere else we looked, so we may as well look here.”
Rodney groaned. When she realized he wasn’t following her anymore, Sam turned around. “What, you just want to give up?”
“Well, no.” The scientist looked around. “But has anybody considered the possibility that he dialed the Stargate during the last window and went to another planet? Or that he went to town?”
“We have a search team checking in town. And why would he dial up another planet?” She struggled to fight her way through another bush. Damn this part of the forest. It was overgrown with thorns and thicket. If Sheppard had gone in this direction, he hadn’t taken this way.
“I don’t know. Maybe because he was going insane? Maybe he wanted to go back to P63-284 to the alien device.” McKay followed the path she was clearing out.
Sam growled. So typical. Let her do all the work. “Why would he do that?” She spun and stared at him. “He knows we haven’t figured out the device.”
She turned her head and froze. A black spider sat on her shoulder. Her breathing quickened. Flashbacks of the huge spiders in the mine flooded her mind. Heart pounding, she took a deep breath and brushed the harmless critter off her shoulder. Just touching it made her skin crawl.
Blood rushed in her ears. This entire forest was probably filled with spiders. They could be everywhere. In the trees, the bushes, on the ground. In her hair… She brushed her fingers through her hair, trying to get herself back under control. A panic attack wouldn’t help the situation.
“…or maybe he just thinks he can fix it by himself. I mean, how should I know what’s going on in his crazy mind?” McKay was so wrapped up in one of his speeches he hadn’t noticed her almost panic attack. Thank God.
The last thing she needed was people making fun of her for her sudden fear of spiders.
“So I say we go back to camp.” McKay folded his arms.
Anger rose up in her. Why the hell was he constantly complaining?
“I don’t know how Sheppard deals with you on a daily basis in the field.” Jaw clenched she continued through the bushes. “You’re unbelievable. You’re whiny and you’re always complaining about something. Just suck it up, Rodney.”
Okay, maybe she was being a bit too harsh. She glanced back. McKay stared at her, looking almost hurt. Sam closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean… I’m really tired, and all I really want is to take a shower. So, believe me I’d want nothing more than to find Sheppard so we can get this day over with. Can we please just continue our search?”
“Now who’s whiny?” McKay’s petulant undertone immediately grated on her nerves.
“Fine, you know what? Why don’t you just go back to camp?” She slapped one of the branches out of her way. “I’ll continue searching here, and you can go do whatever you want.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to search for Sheppard. Just that your strategy might be flawed. And I can’t leave you alone here.”
Sam raised her eyebrows. “Oh please, you don’t have to pretend to be a gentleman, Rodney. These are our forests, not some strange alien planet. I’m a big girl. I’ll find my way home.”
“Still, who knows what’s out here. I mean, we’ve never been this far beyond the gate.” Rodney looked around.
Sam swallowed when she saw the worried look on his face, then turned to scan the area. Darkness surrounded them. Large pine trees rose in every direction, the ground covered in thicket. Little light filtered down to ground level through the dense treetops. That made it impossible to see more than fifteen meters ahead.
She spun when a tree branch cracked nearby, her heart pounding in her ears. A bird took flight, making her jump. A bird. She closed her eyes. This was getting ridiculous. She wouldn’t let Rodney make her paranoid.
She glared at him. “Will you stop that? There’s nothing out here. Except for Sheppard, whom we still have to find.”
A loud bang shattered the silence around them. The ground trembled, then crows burst into flight and angry cawing rang out. Somewhere in the distance, trees crashed to the ground.
“What the hell was that?” Rodney moved up behind Sam.
“I have no idea. It sounded like an explosion.”
“Let’s hope it was…” When she turned to raise her eyebrows at him, he shrugged. “Well, the alternative is, it’s a large animal, or whatever else might live out here, and—”
“Oh, give me a break.” She shook her head and started walking.
“Where are you going?” Rodney rushed after her.
“Well, it sounded like it came from way back there.”
“And you’re walking towards it? Even the birds flew away from it. Shouldn’t we go back to camp to gather more people?”
Sam kept walking. “I’m sure it was loud enough. They heard it. And as soon as we’ve found it, we’ll radio them.”
“Well, shouldn’t we radio now and wait for—”
“Rodney.” Sam rounded on him. “If you want to wait, fine. Just stay here. Otherwise, shut up.”
McKay muttered something she couldn’t understand. Then he caught up with her. “You’re really cranky. Maybe you should eat something.”
She gritted her teeth. Then she looked down when he held a chocolate bar out to her. “Here.”
Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, shortly before they’d fallen down into the mine. With everything that had happened, she’d completely forgotten about it.
“Thank you.” She gave Rodney a small smile while she unwrapped the chocolate bar. Her eyes widened when he pulled another one out of his jacket pocket. “How many of those do you have?”
He grinned. “I always carry three or four with me. Sheppard’s really strict with the emergency rations on missions, so I revert to these. You can buy them at the grocery store in town.”
Sam chuckled and shook her head as she took a bite of the chocolate bar. The sugar replenished some of her energy. “They’re really good.”
They kept walking for a few minutes more, until they saw a foggy beam of light in the distance. “I think that’s it.”
They raced through the forest. The explosion had created a small clearing that stretched between the pine trees. Dust and dirt swirled around, and made both her and McKay cough. They climbed over a few fallen trees.
A large hole gaped in the center of the clearing. Sam stepped close to the edge and peeked down, carefully testing the stability of the ground with each step. She wasn’t in the mood to fall into another abandoned mine.
“Rodney, can you give me your flashlight?”
McKay handed it over and Sam lit the darkness. It wasn’t deep, only eight or nine feet. The tunnel beyond was made from light-colored stone. Man-made, as far as she could tell.
“What is that?” Rodney peeked down next to her.
“I don’t know. An old resistance building, maybe?” She still hadn’t read through all the material on the history of the resistance. Maybe at some point the resistance had held headquarters this far out in the forest. “Or a weapons bunker?”
“No.” Rodney shook his head. “We’ve never been in this part of the forest before. It wouldn’t make any sense to have to walk an hour to get to the supply storage.”
“Colonel Sheppard?” Sam’s voice echoed hollow through the tunnels.
Both held their breath and listened into the darkness. Sam shone the flashlight over their surroundings. A sturdy rope had been tied to a nearby tree, and led down into the hole. Somebody was down there.
Then Sheppard’s voice drifted up, distant and muffled.
“Sir, are you hurt?”
Once more, they couldn’t make sense of the muffled response.
“Somebody has to go down there to get him.” Rodney looked at her and took a step backwards.
Sam’s shoulders sagged. Of course, he wouldn’t volunteer for such tasks. And she really wasn’t in the mood to get into another discussion with him.
“Oh great.” Well, it wasn’t like she hadn’t had practice with underground explorations earlier that day. She shuddered when she remembered the spiders. What if an animal like that existed on Earth? Down in these tunnels…
She closed her eyes. Ridiculous. They’d never seen evidence of such creatures. She sat down at the edge of the hole and looked into it. Only a few meters. It shouldn’t be that bad.
“I’m going down.” She met McKay’s gaze. “You’ll have to radio camp and inform them of our position.” She threw her receiver to him, and inhaled deeply. Just keep breathing. And don’t overthink. “Alright, here we go.” She grabbed the rope and climbed down into the darkness, the flashlight between her teeth.
Dirt from the forest floor drizzled down onto her head. When her feet touched the ground, she let go of the rope and turned on the flashlight.
She’d never seen the material of the tunnel before. Almost like crystal, but very smooth. It couldn’t be a natural formation.
“Sam, are you okay?” Rodney looked over the edge into the tunnel, and she nodded.
“Yes, I’m fine. Call camp. Tell them where we are. The tunnel looks stable, and if the explosion didn’t collapse it, then I doubt it will now.”
“Alright, just stay in hearing distance.”
Sam turned away from the opening and looked around the tunnel.
His voice sounded from somewhere in the distance. She turned right to follow the sound. The farther she walked away from the opening, the cleaner the tunnel became.
After only a few minutes, she stepped out of the tunnel into a large hall. Was this part of an underground complex? “Wow…” She lightened the place with her flashlight. Just like the tunnels before, it looked sturdy. Large white pillars held up the ceiling in numerous places.
Daniel’s speculation from earlier popped back to her thoughts. Maybe he’d been right. Maybe aliens had come to Earth thousands of years ago and built their first civilizations. This structure certainly didn’t look like anything human-built she’d ever seen.
“Colonel Sheppard?” She drew her mind out of her scientific fascination. She had to find Sheppard and take him back to Janet.
Sam raised her eyebrows. His voice was a lot clearer now. Close.
“Sir, I can’t understand you.” She crossed the hall and passed through a large doorway into a second, smaller room. A} large pedestal rose out of the floor. The center of it marked what appeared to be a chair made from some kind of metal.
Sheppard knelt on the ground at the other side of the chair, and worked on some kind of control panel set into the ground.
“Sir, are you alright?” She looked around the room. Aside from the chair, it was empty.
Sheppard mumbled something. Apparently, asking him questions was pointless. She wouldn’t understand anything he said anyway. Still, she had to try. “What is this place? And what are you doing there?”
“Egeo novum locum.” He straightened to look at her.
Sam stared at him, then her gaze fell on the device he was holding. Orange and red, made out of some kind of yellowish crystal. And it glowed. It vaguely resembled a cylinder, but was narrower towards one end.
“Egeo novum locum.”
She bit her bottom lip. How the hell were they supposed to communicate like this? If only Daniel were here. Maybe he could make sense of what Sheppard said.
“Alright, sir, I don’t understand you. Why don’t we wait for Daniel, and then see if we can—”
“Astria Porta.” He held up the crystal. His eyes fixed on her as if he expected something from her. Great. What now?
She dropped her arms with a clueless shrug. “Listen, why don’t we go back to camp? You should be in the medical tent, and—”
Okay, that one she understood. She frowned at him. “}Frankly, sir, I have no idea what to do. Colonel O’Neill is incapacitated, Colonel Mitchell isn’t at camp, and you’re the commander in charge. But you’re not really yourself right now, so please don’t take it as a sign of disrespect when I refuse to follow your—”
Her breath hitched when he crossed the distance between them and grabbed her shoulders. “Sam, comdo.”
Sam held his gaze. “Sir, please. Why don’t you just wait here? Rodney radioed camp already. I’m sure Daniel will arrive soon, and then we can try to understand what you’re saying.”
He released her with a resigned nod.
She exhaled in relief. “I’ll let Rodney know I’ve found you and then I’ll be back.”
Another nod. Sam threw a hesitant glance at him before she turned to hurry back the way she’d come. It didn’t look like the compound had another exit.
If only she understood, what he wanted. What the hell had this alien device done to him? Where had this underground structure come from?
It didn’t look Aschen, and it didn’t look human. Did that mean other aliens had visited their planet at some point? Aliens who were far more advanced than humans or Aschen had ever been?