by Rebecca Ratliff.

SPOILERS: Metamorphosis, Shadows on the Moon

SEQUEL/SEASON INFO: Season 6, between Metamorphosis and Disclosure. Series sequence: Abyss Novelization, Sirikat, Fields of Gold, A Nice Quiet Week in the Country, Brothers in Arms, Shadows on the Moon, Parada.


SUMMARY: Dr. Fraiser travels to an alien world with SG-1. The civilization there may have a cure for AIDS.

CATEGORY: action/adventure, hurt/comfort, romance S/J

ARCHIVE: Please ask first. I'll say yes, I just want to know where my stories are hosted.


All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)

FEEDBACK: much appreciated.

Sam Carter waited at the foot of the gate ramp for the rest of the team to get there. Usually O'Neill was the first one in the gate room, but today he was discovering the joys of arranging child care. He had planned on leaving Sirikat with Fraiser when SG-1 was offworld, but she was going with them this time. As incredible as it sounded, there was a good possibility that the people of P2K-819 had a cure for retroviruses like AIDS--not just a treatment, but an actual cure. So Sirikat was staying on base, for lack of anywhere else safe to leave her.

After the last couple of missions, they were all looking forward to a quiet, routine assignment that didn't involve the Goa'uld trying to kill anyone. They had just held a memorial service for the CO of the Russian team, Sergei Evanov, and there had nearly been a wreath there with Carter's name on it as well. Then they had almost lost O'Neill and Sirikat to a rockslide and a previously unknown Goa'uld nest on supposedly safe Daltregon. Yes, they were about due some peace and quiet.

O'Neill got there shortly ahead of Jonas and Fraiser, and as usual he led the way through the gate. P2K-819's stargate was located in a narrow, deep box canyon. A hot dry wind never seemed to stop crying through the rocks.

It didn't look like anything was alive on the whole planet, but appearances could be deceiving. On the other side of the mountain was a wide, fertile valley. The people who lived there had a technological level similar to Earth, but their advances had been in the field of genetic engineering. They wanted to know about electronics and were willing to share their medical knowledge. Carter was here to teach, Fraiser and Quinn to learn, and O'Neill and Teal'c to make sure they could do that in safety.

The stargate was a place of pilgrimage, but the people here didn't try to travel through it. As it wasn't a gate address known to the Goa'uld, the locals had lived in peace for as long as they could remember. O'Neill hoped that remained the case, but as far as he was concerned, there was no such thing as a peaceful planet. Too often, so-called peaceful planets had turned into deathtraps.

They followed the trail through the canyon, an hour's easy hike. After that, it was up over the mountain in the hot sun. SG-1 were accustomed to long marches, but Fraiser wasn't used to it. She refused to complain about it in front of them. As she had learned in basic training, willpower could get you just as far as athletics. Working through the pain was like riding a bike. Once you learned, you never forgot how.

They took a break at midmorning. Fraiser noticed that the others never completely relaxed. Even when they kicked back in the shade and took a load off, nothing moving anywhere near them escaped their notice. Teal'c had picked a spot that allowed him a good view of the trail.

She had seen them in combat. This was different. Fraiser was beginning to understand what the offworld teams meant by going into team mode. Somehow this diverse collection of individuals meshed to form one whole, and 1+1+1+1 equaled more than four. There was a whole different set of rules this side of the gate.

O'Neill asked, "How's it goin', Doc?"

"Oh, I'm hitting my stride, Colonel."

"I don't have to tell you about pacing yourself in this heat."

"No, sir."

"Don't play hero, Doc. Let me know if you need us to slow down or take a break."

"Yes, sir."

After a few minutes they got moving again. O'Neill saw movement on the trail above them, near the ridge. He raised his binoculars. It was a group of locals riding a beast that looked like a cross between an elephant and a mastadge.

The locals were tall, seven or eight feet on the average, but very thin compared to Earthlings or Jaffa. They were wearing long sandy-brown robes and veils that concealed a lot of detail while protecting them from the sun. They were armed with what looked to O'Neill to be long, single-shot rifles, which gave him cause to wonder what they armed themselves against. Wildlife, other locals, and/or unfriendly visitors through the gate were all possibilities.

The local language had taken a while to crack. It was derived from the same roots as the languages of the Indian subcontinent, but after so many centuries of isolation it no longer bore much resemblance to its modern relatives. Jonas had picked up a working knowledge of it from the tapes that SG-16 and the diplomatic team had brought back with them.

They met the locals half an hour later. The mahout signaled his mount, which Jonas identified as a harata, to kneel so that the riders could dismount.

There were five of them, wary but not hostile. They threw back their veils to say hello. They were dark-skinned with brown hair and eyes, three males and two females. The older of the females did the talking. Jonas introduced her as Bennara. "They're on road patrol, and they recognize our uniforms. She says they've been watching for us and wants to know if we need anything."

"Ask her what the trail is like the rest of the way to the valley."

Quinn relayed the question and translated the answer. "There's some rough going in the pass but it gets better on the other side of the mountain."

"Ask her if we should make it to town by nightfall, or about places to make camp if we won't."

That took a bit of conversation. "Bennara says we probably will make the river but we've still got a good half-day's travel after that. She advises making camp anywhere by the river well before nightfall and to wait a bit after dawn before starting off again. There are big cats, jaguars or leopards or some such. We're welcome to use any fire-ring we find or make camp along with other travelers we run into. We don't have to worry about bandits in the valley, but she says to watch out today in the pass. She didn't see anything this morning but she has a bad feeling." He laughed. "She's seen SG-3's P-90s fire, the bandits haven't, and she'd enjoy seeing that. Apparently these bandits aren't nice folks at all and she warns us not to take chances with anyone who acts uncivilized. Oh, and her regards to Major Ferretti."

O'Neill and the patrol commander shared a grin that didn't require translation. "Thank her for the heads up, and I'll pass that on to Lou when I see him."

Bennara flipped O'Neill a quick wave for a you're-welcome and ordered her people to mount up and move out. The harata rose and plodded down the trail.

Fraiser took the opportunity to redistribute her pack a little to make it easier to use her rifle if she had to. Nobody had mentioned anything to her about bandits, or big cats either for that matter. She was beginning to see what Jack meant about missing memos.

The pass went through a steep saddle between two mountains, a lot like the canyon where the stargate was located but narrower and harder going. Sometimes they had to climb up knee-high terraces, places where it was obvious the long-legged harata would have a much easier go of it than a person on foot. Other places would be uncomfortably narrow for the huge beasts, as tufts of matted gray hair on the rocks testified. Fraiser found herself scanning the rocks and cliff walls just as religiously as everyone else. The feeling of being watched was almost something that she could reach out and touch.

O'Neill halted them, looking up the canyon walls. "T, let's you and I take a look around the north face. Carter, find us a fall-back position in those rocks and hold it."

"Yes sir."

O'Neill and Teal'c handed their packs over and disappeared into the rocks.

Quinn commented, "It looks like Bennara's instincts were to be trusted."

Carter nodded. "I made a couple of snipers up there, but there are bound to be more."

Fraiser said, "Don't look at me, I didn't see anyone!"

Carter grinned, "You've got to get through the gate more often, Janet."

"Screw this. Give me an outbreak any day. Where are they?"

"Keep your head down! The Colonel and Teal'c are going to pull the lid off all hell any minute if this the ambush that it looks like," Jonas warned.

Fraiser ducked behind the rocks. "But there are only the two of them-" Fraiser objected, suddenly frightened for O'Neill and Teal'c.

Carter said, "Trust me, they know what they're doing." Her voice was clipped, her attention on the job, but her confidence was unshakeable.

Fraiser almost jumped out of her boots when the shooting started. The echoes of a short burst from O'Neill's P-90 resounded through the canyon, sounding much louder than usual, and if she couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from, neither could the bandits. An automatic rifle was a damned frightening thing to go up against, and so was a staff weapon.

There was scattered return fire, the shooters' positions given away by puffs of black powder smoke. Several more re-estimated the odds and ran for it, scrambling in the rocks and starting small cascades of gravel as they retreated. Sam took a shot at one of the remaining snipers and was rewarded by a yell of pain. The rest of the bandits followed their friends.

Fraiser's brain shifted from neutral into drive. She scanned the hillside through her scope, until O'Neill and Teal'c rejoined them a few minutes later.

The pass was difficult going, because they took their time traveling through it. O'Neill and Teal'c carefully scouted the way ahead of them, but the bandits had disappeared into hiding places up in the rocks, having decided that the short strangers were best left alone. Even so, they moved carefully from cover to cover until they were well out of the narrow pass and into the cover of the trees on the other side.

Once again, Fraiser nearly got scared to death when O'Neill and Teal'c suddenly appeared out of cover. She had known about O'Neill's black ops training and wasn't really surprised that he could disappear into thin air like that, but she never would have believed somebody Teal'c's size could do the same thing if she hadn't seen it with her own two eyes.

There was a brief moment of counting heads, nothing said out loud, just reassurance for both CO and 2iC that everyone had come through the morning's adventures unharmed, as O'Neill and Teal'c recovered their packs. Teal'c dropped back to cover their six for a couple of miles, and when O'Neill was sure nobody was following them, he radioed Teal'c to catch up and they stopped for a rest.

Fraiser said, "That was...interesting."

O'Neill replied, "Ya think?" He took a roughly woven bag from his pocket. "Took this off the guy Carter shot. It's what those rifles of theirs fire."

Fraiser opened it carefully. The contents were flechettes that carried some sort of resinous substance. She did some preliminary analysis with the field kit she carried with her, with no results. "I'll have to wait until I've got a proper lab to get anywhere with this. All I know right now is that it's a base of some sort. Many poisons are alkaloids. The flechette itself wouldn't be anywhere nearly as damaging as a bullet, more like a dart really, but depending on what this is exactly, it might not need to be."

O'Neill said, "Not as accurate over distance as a similar long rifle would be, that's one good thing."

Teal'c observed, "This weapon would be most likely ineffective against Goa'uld or Jaffa at any range, considering our normal resistance to poison. Again, as you say, Doctor, it would depend on the nature of the substance."

Frazier put the small bag in a sample container, definitely not wanting to risk a sharps accident with something that could be coated with a deadly poison.

Lunch was ration bars and hot canteen water, and whatever anyone had squirreled away. Forewarned by Carter, Fraiser had brought a couple of power bars and some trail mix. Not that she couldn't stand to lose a few pounds, she thought, but she could see the wisdom of keeping her strength up at all times.

Everyone else was more or less taking this morning's adventure in stride. Fraiser had known from the time she'd joined the project that her first trip through the gate could be her last, but she hadn't really understood what that meant until the first time she had done her job with bullets flying overhead. Saving lives wherever her skills were needed under whatever conditions existed was what she'd signed on for, after all. That had been a few years ago now.

There was more to it than that. These people were her dearest friends. They had laughed together, too often cried together. She had patched them up countless times, listened to them gripe about being stuck in the infirmary when, in a civilian hospital, they'd have been in intensive care. She'd seen them come down from rough missions often enough that she had thought she knew the people they became in combat. And, Jack and Teal'c, she honestly had.

Today, though, she had seen Sam, who had helped her raise Cassie, who had shared girl talk with her for the last six years, calmly sight down her rifle and squeeze off a single killing shot. The man had shot at them, and Sam had returned fire without hesitation. And Fraiser knew, not only did she approve of her friend's action, she would pull the trigger herself under the same circumstances. What was more, she was willing to shoot first if those were her orders or if that was what it took to keep herself and her team safe. That made her a different person from the Dr. Janet Fraiser who had come to work this morning and she wasn't sure she knew who this new Captain Fraiser was. She wasn't sure how to reconcile that side of herself, the young officer who had sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, with the woman who had taken the Hippocratic Oath so many years ago.

It was late in life for that kind of soul searching. It hadn't been until this morning that she had looked over an alien mountainside through her rifle scope, and if her skills had matched her intent she would have a life on her conscience right now. Because she would rather that than have to cut one of those flechettes out of Jack or Teal'c, and that was before she had known the ammunition was poisoned.

Carter sat beside her. "You're quiet, Janet. Are you all right?"

"Ask me tomorrow," Fraiser replied. "I never could have imagined, Sam."

Carter smiled. "Maybe this is for the best. There's a reason why flight surgeons are pilots."

Fraiser nodded. "Right."

If the bandits did have any ideas about regrouping and coming after them again, they didn't follow into the valley. By afternoon, they were meeting a lot of other people on the trail, which widened to a dirt road.

The people were friendly, mostly cautious, but very curious. The standard of living seemed fairly comfortable and Fraiser saw no signs of malnutrition or disease that would indicate chronic poverty. On the other hand, there was no ostentatious display of wealth, either.

Since they were going to have to make camp for the night, O'Neill decided to stop as soon as they found a place that could be defended. That turned out to be a wide, shallow rock overhang where a couple other parties of travelers had already camped for the evening. One group turned out to be an extended family of farmers on their way to market. Their harata was loaded down with baskets of produce. The other was a group of nuns on a pilgrimage. Everyone went veiled. O'Neill had some unpleasant flashes of his time in the land of sand and camels, and quietly hoped they wouldn't get busted for indecent exposure. Apparently aliens were expected to be different and allowances were made.

The farm children gathered around in avid curiosity, staying just out of reach. The leader of the nuns' guards came over to speak to them. An older man, he knew who they were and what they were doing on his planet, and he had as many questions for them as they did for him.

They set watches, as the other campsites were doing. Fraiser had last watch with O'Neill. She wriggled into her sleeping bag and listened to the quiet sounds of the camp settling down for the night. O'Neill, Jonas and the guard captain talked quietly by the fire. Carter stood at the edge of the firelight, silhouetted against the last deep blues and purples of a brilliant sunset over the river. Elsewhere in the camp, she could hear the soft jingle of the nuns' prayer bells and the farmers getting their children settled for the night. She fell asleep feeling oddly safer than she did in her bed at home.

O'Neill woke Fraiser for their watch. She pulled on her BDU shirt and her vest, and habitually shook her boots out before putting them on. Her outdoor experience was mostly hiking in the desert, and she didn't want to find out the hard way that a rattlesnake or a scorpion had taken up residence in them. A weapons check followed. She grabbed a quick cup of coffee and joined O'Neill outside the circle of firelight. She was glad she had watch, because she was so stiff and sore that she could hardly move, and it gave her a chance to loosen up. It was a quiet watch. Predators, two-legged and four-legged alike, avoided such a large group of people.

"Doc, how're you holding up?"

"Pretty well."

"Little more excitement than we led you to believe."

"That's how it works," she shrugged. "It's kind of hard to believe that people living in the Wild West may have discovered a cure for AIDS."

O'Neill replied, "You'd be surprised. A lot of the time you'll find a city that looks like something out of Star Trek sitting in the ass end of nowhere. People find some ancient tech that works, build around it, and stick close to home. At least this bunch had the sense to build their town a good ways from the freakin' gate. 'May have?'"

"What they have works for them, but there are obvious physiological differences. We could be in the lab for years with what we bring back before we're ready for human trials. Rather, the boys and girls in Atlanta will be. At the worst, though, they have a process that works, even if we have to do a complete retcon to recreate the same process for human physiology."

"If I understand right, to cure AIDS, you need to have some way to rewrite DNA?" O'Neill asked, scowling.

"Exactly. A retrovirus inserts a section of its own genetic DNA into the host cell's genetic material. Just like splicing a videotape. The Paradans' cure works similarly, removing the foreign DNA."

"Well, Nirrti's machine was rewriting DNA. And there's this whole same India thing going on. Watch your step. It might not be anything. These people seem friendly and it looks like a win/win situation. Just don't ever let yourself forget that we're a long way from home. You saw yesterday just how fast things can go south."

Fraiser nodded. "Understood, sir."

"Sure you don't want to transfer to an SG team?"

"No thank you," she replied immediately. "Although I am going to look seriously at some more intensive training for medical personnel, and I'd like to consult with you about that when we get back to the SGC. I don't want General Hammond to have to hesitate to send us where we're needed because we may not be up to the assignment."

O'Neill grinned. "Your kids are gonna be so happy to see you."

Fraiser said with quiet pride, "They'll handle whatever you throw at them. I just want to be sure they all know how to keep themselves alive in a situation like yesterday morning, and God forbid another foothold but I want them to be ready the next time the base itself has to deal with something."

"Let me know what you need and I'll set it up," he replied.

A few hours later, Fraiser watched the dawn on an alien planet as she got her gear together. A light mist rose off the tranquil river. They got started ahead of the other two camps, and covered a lot of territory before the mist burned off and the day grew hot. As the valley woke up for the day, they shared the road with quite a bit of traffic. Most of the people that they met along the way were farmers taking their goods to market.

They got their first view of the city just as the day was beginning to get hot. They rounded a bend to see a huge old stone bridge crossing a river to a majestic walled city. Colorful pennants flew from towers along the walls and scattered throughout the city. As they watched, a huge oared galley put out from the docks and shipped her oars to float under the bridge.

The guards at the foot of the bridge recognized them and invited them to sit in the cool shade of a guard post under the bridge ramp while word was sent to the palace of their arrival. Soon someone arrived with a harata to transport them the rest of the way in style.

Fraiser dutifully kept her eyes open for trouble. She had patched up the results too often when people had assumed they were safe to do anything other than take Col. O'Neill's warning about alien planets seriously. But it was still amazing to be immersed in the thriving culture of a people who were so vibrantly alien. Quinn shared her fascination, as well as, she saw, her caution. He and Carter both were on edge, and having seen the results of Nirrti's experiments on that poor man who had died in the hallway at the SGC, she couldn't blame them a bit. There were enough similarities in the language and the architecture to bring it all back.

This was a place of life, not death. From the noisy marketplace with its thousands of people buying and selling, its colorful stalls, and its exotic scents of spices and incense, to the temples with their bells and colorfully dressed holy men and women, this was not a city whose inhabitants lived in fear.

They passed under a stone archway carved with thousands of figures of warriors, dancers, harata and beast-headed gods with multiple arms, to enter the palace grounds. Here they dismounted and silent guards armed with the same long rifles as well as wide-bladed, curved swords conducted them inside. Servants and functionaries stepped aside as they passed. They worked with their veils pulled back, but the guards' faces remained covered by the translucent cloth.

The palace was beautiful by any standards. The corridors were wide, shady but open to catch every breath of breeze. Cascading fountains cooled the air and graced out of the way corners. O'Neill pointed out a jewel-encrusted gold statue of a goddess that had to be worth a fortune. She graced a courtyard for all to enjoy.

Servants met them and conducted them to their quarters where they were left to prepare for their audience with the planet's ruler, Princess Surani. They would have stayed to pamper their guests but retired graciously at Quinn's polite request.

Their suite was spacious and opulent, the rooms surrounding a small private courtyard, and the sunken bath was welcome. O'Neill said, "Ladies first," and started giving the rooms a close once-over. He was looking for two things-anything dangerous, and alternative ways out of here in case they had to make a quick exit.

Quinn pulled a curtain back from a fixture on the wall, revealing a light source that glowed with a cool blue bioluminescence. "Their technology may not be as primitive as I'd been assuming just because they choose to live simply. They could be using their biotechnology for some sophisticated purposes."

"Like alarms and surveillance?" O'Neill suggested.

"It's possible, isn't it?"

Dark eyes scanned the heavily carved stonework along the arched doors and windows opening onto the courtyard. "Until I see evidence that it isn't, I'm going to assume that it's probable."

After about an hour, the guards reappeared to take them to the princess. She received them in a large, fancy dining room. Everyone stood as she entered and drew back her veil. She wore a gold-embroidered red silk gown. Her only jewelry was a ruby pendant on a heavy gold chain and a plain gold circlet that held back her long straight raven-black hair. She was apparently in her mid-thirties. She was accompanied by a younger woman dressed in midnight blue, who turned out to be her translator. "It is my great honor to welcome the people of Earth to Parada."

"Thank you, your highness."

She gestured to the table and they all sat. After a moment they were joined by two men. The princess introduced them as Chief Healer Pradesh and the scholar Vijay. Likewise, O'Neill introduced SG-1 and Fraiser. The princess clapped her hands and servants brought out a light lunch of fruit, bread, cold meat and a light, ice-cold tea. In the background, musicians played on flutes and stringed instruments similar to guitars. It was the kind of thing where O'Neill always worried about picking up the wrong fork or something else similarly embarrassing. Watching their hosts and doing what they did rarely went too far wrong. From the reports of the previous teams, they knew they could safely eat the food here.

The Princess said, "I understand that you're interested in our medicines that treat the wasting plague. Lord Vijay has attempted to explain to me just what it is that you have come to teach us, but I confess that I don't understand."

Carter explained, "I'll be explaining how to use the energy of the sun to generate electricity, which you can use for all sorts of things. As a small demonstration, your highness, we call this a flashlight." She turned it on and offered it to the princess. She and her translator studied it. The translator finally asked, "Where do you water it?"

"It isn't a living thing, and doesn't need to be watered. The electricity is stored in a battery, which eventually needs to be recharged from the solar generator."

After the luncheon, the scholars took them to the university, where Fraiser, Carter and Quinn were eager to get started. Teal'c took the prospect of several days spent guarding Frasier and Quinn with his usual equanimity. O'Neill was bored already at the idea of a few days of Carter's lectures, but there was no way he was leaving her on her own. He had already given Fraiser and Quinn strict orders not to go off alone and to make sure he knew where they were at all times.

The princess lent her translator, whose name turned out to be Ayani, to Sam. They were developing a scientific vocabulary as they went along, usually by simply adopting English words for things that didn't have a Paradan equivalent. Jack stayed in the back of the room, watching Sam teach twenty-five college kids. She was covering the basics of electricity, nothing new to him but the kids were fascinated, especially when one gawky, overly curious guy got his fingers shocked.

When they got back together at the end of the day, Fraiser was so excited she was practically hopping up and down. She explained, "What they've done is bioengineer their own retrovirus that cuts out the fragment of HIV DNA from infected cells. We'll have to engineer strains to combat our forms of the disease, and of course make sure it doesn't do anything else, but this looks like the breakthrough we've been looking for."

Sam asked, "Janet, does the cure spread the same ways that the disease does?"

"To all indications, yes, and it has no effect on people who don't have AIDS except to pass itself along. Which means that even in countries whose governments aren't cooperating, the cure can still spread along the same vectors that the disease did in the first place."

"What's the success rate?"

"They don't know of any failures."

Jack asked her, "You guys are planning a lot of testing before you release an alien virus on Earth, right? A lot of testing?"

Fraiser said, "Of course, we have to be sure it will work on humans the same way it does on the people here, and that it won't mutate into something dangerous. It's years away from general use. But this is eventually going to save millions of lives!"

O'Neill had been accused of a cynical nature on many occasions. He hoped it was only that giving him a bad feeling, but his inclination was that this was a monkey's paw. "I hope it's what you expect, Doc."

That night they were treated to a banquet, and later a command performance of the local ballet. Nobody had a clue what was going on in the ballet until Ayani began to keep up a very quiet running commentary on the story. It was a farce about a case of mistaken identity, rather like a Shakespearean comedy, although they often found the alien humor mystifying. Still the exotic music and the dance numbers were very entertaining. The royal box was a very secure place and the princess' bodyguards were complete professionals. Jack saw few opportunities for anyone wishing them harm to do anything. Still he was on the alert for anyone to take advantage of one of those opportunities.

On the way back from the royal theater to the palace proper, they crossed a courtyard containing a large reflecting pool full of statues, their otherworldly nature made even more so by dim, almost shadowless blue light cast by the luminaries surrounding the pool.

Perhaps it was because Jack was studying one of these statues that he saw movement near a gargoyle like statue on the roof. To his trained eye the outline of a sniper's silhouette was as clear as day. He knocked the princess to the ground and something hit him in the back.

All hell broke loose. The princess' guards started shooting and bright lights were unshuttered. The whole courtyard filled with soldiers who quickly whisked them all to safety indoors. Jack felt a creeping paralysis start in his back and spread.

Fraiser started issuing orders but he lost most of what she said. He got that the princess was unharmed, and that the assassin had been killed. A local healer told Fraiser through Jonas, "The assassin's dart was coated with a poison which paralyzes and eventually stops breathing. It absorbs slowly. You must remove it immediately. That is your patient's only hope of survival."

"The dart is lodged in his lung. I don't have the equipment to perform surgery like that here. If we can get him back to the Stargate and home, I have what I need there."

"You do not understand. By slowly I mean a matter of an hour instead of a few moments. There are no other options."

Jack forced his hand to grab Fraiser's. It was like fighting the G-forces of a ballistic climb. "Doc. Do what you gotta do. He's right. I'll never make it back to the gate as fast as this is spreading."

"You've got a right to know, Colonel, there's a good chance you won't make it through surgery, and if I try to give you anything for pain I'll kill you for sure."

Jack looked over at Sam. He had plenty of reasons to fight. "If you do nothing I die anyway. It's a no-brainer, Doc. I'll take the chance."

She nodded. Once the decision was made, things started moving fast. The Paradans supplied her with whatever she wanted from their surgical equipment to supplement what she had brought with her.

Janet asked, "Jack, can you understand me?"

He nodded.

"Your left lung will collapse, but you will still be able to breathe with the right one. I'm sure with the paralysis you're experiencing it will feel like you're suffocating, but as long as you can keep taking deep breaths you'll keep your oxygen levels high enough. We can bag you and breathe for you all the way back to the gate if we have to. Jack, we will not give up on you! But the longer you can stay with me and breathe on your own the better."

He nodded again.

"Let me know when you're ready."

"Any time you are."

Sam's gloved hands closed over his, a few seconds' warning before Doc's scalpel bit deep. O'Neill appreciated that Fraiser was working as fast as she could, but it still hurt, and the pain caused flashbacks to Ba'al's knives. Pride about breaking down in front of Carter and a desire to spare Doc kept him silent through nearly all of it, but whenever it got bad his hands gripped Sam's like a lifeline and she returned the pressure, a silent promise that she was with him all the way and she wouldn't let him go. He heard the dart clang into a metal pan, and then Doc started putting in drains and sutures. That was much less painful, and needles weren't as bad when he didn't have to look at them.

Something stabbed between his ribs. Fraiser was reinflating the collapsed lung. He clenched his jaw--that hurt almost as bad as cutting the dart out had, and he hadn't known to expect it.

The paralysis advanced enough to make it very difficult, but not impossible, for him to breathe on his own, and Janet had got the dart out in time to stop it from getting any worse than that. Once Fraiser was sure it had stopped progressing, he was moved to a small room with one of the little blue luminaries for light. She sent Teal'c and Jonas back to their quarters. They had no idea how long it would take for the poison to wear off and Fraiser didn't want him left alone at all until then.

After she left, he fidgeted until he found the right balance between making it easiest to breathe, and avoiding lying on anything that hurt. The mild exertion left him exhausted. Every breath he drew was an effort of will.

There was a portable monitor strapped to his arm that kept a record of his telemetry. He was field medic enough to know the numbers were acceptable, if a little on the low side. But, God, it hurt to keep them there. Any time that he gave in to the temptation to rest just a few seconds longer, the monitor started beeping at him. Damn, how much oxygen could you use just lying in bed doing nothing?

Carter said, "Remember when we were stuck on the flooded ha'tak waiting for Jonas to get that door open, and you brought me air from that air pocket? Time for me to return the favor."

"Is this a good excuse or what?" He whispered, smiling.

Carter laughed. "The General could walk in here and we'd have a perfectly legitimate reason to get caught kissing."

Her lips touched his and she breathed into his mouth. Jack rested his life in her hands, one breath at a time, and found that he felt safer there than anywhere else in God's universe. It was an intimacy as profound in its own way as making love, trust given without reservations and returned with the very life from her own body. Shared warmth went soul deep. It was only a few moments before he was somewhere that nothing was real except the two of them and pain and fear couldn't touch him.

Neither of them was sure how long they stayed like that. After a while, they just realized that Jack was breathing on his own without undue discomfort, considering. Sam looked at him with eyes full of wonder. "What the hell just happened?"

"I have no idea! I thought you were doing something you learned from Jolinar."

She shook her head. "No, I thought you were doing it so I just let it happen."

"If I was gonna ask anyone it would be Vanira...but I don't think I'll mention this to anyone." Jack remembered something Daniel had said about messing around with "forces," whatever the hell that meant. He didn't want to think about doing some kind of a magic spell or whatever without even knowing it. That sounded like a good way to shoot yourself in the foot. Or attract some real unwelcome attention from the NID.

"Yes, sir, that would be smart," she agreed. "Should I get Janet?"

He shook his head. "Let her sleep. It's obviously wearing off. We can tell her that in the morning."

"Yes, sir."

The third time Princess Surani started in on a profuse apology and declaration of her eternal gratitude, Jack pled a headache he didn't have and she shut up. He felt a little guilty about that but he had just been doing his job. "Do you know who the shooter was?"

The princess nodded. "He was one of the bandits."

"Things may be different here, but on most planets, bandits don't go in for political assassinations."

"I haven't been entirely truthful with you, Colonel O'Neill. They are thieves who do commonly rob and kill travelers in the pass. But they are more than just bandits. They are warriors of the mountain tribes. For years, their people lived in peace with ours, trading freely. Twenty years ago, a man named Magrat became warlord of the Izama tribe. He started wars with neighboring tribes, conquering them and making them Izama. Five years ago, the Tekani were defeated but refused to become Izama. He massacred them down to the last man, woman and child.

The remaining tribes chose sides. Some freely joined with Magrat. He allowed them to keep their tribal identity as long as they swore fealty to him. The rest formed a defensive alliance together with Parada. We have been at war ever since, a war of skirmishes in which neither side can gain an advantage. I feared if your rulers knew about the war, they would refuse to trade with us. This new technology may provide us with an advantage so that we can defend ourselves and stop the war. I felt that I had to lie, but my actions have brought shame upon my people."

O'Neill said, "My country's policy is that we don't take sides in wars on other planets, your highness, but just because your nation is at war in and of itself won't stop us from trading with you."

Surani bowed her head. "Thank you."

"Janet, how long before I can travel?"

"Ordinarily I'd say three or four days, but we've got that climb over the pass and the Izama to worry about. We'll have to see."

"Will three or four days be enough to finish your work here?"

Janet said, "It should be."

"Then do it. Teal'c, you're with Sam."

"O'Neill, you should not be alone."

He patted the Beretta and put it under his pillow. "Worry about anyone who comes through that door who shouldn't be here, T."

The Jaffa nodded.

Janet said, "Colonel, you need your rest."

Surani stood. "Rest well. I'll leave Ayani with you. If there is anything that you need, she will arrange it." She gracefully covered her face with her veil and left the room.

Four days later, they left the city. The princess had provided them with a harata and an escort to the gate. The bandits made no foolish attempts on such a large, well-armed party. Their only enemy was the oppressive heat.

That, coupled with the harata's swaying, plodding gait, soon gave O'Neill a bad case of motion sickness. Janet gave him something to relieve it, which made him sleepy. The rest of them let him sleep, only disturbing him to make sure he drank plenty of water. "How long are you going to lock me up in sickbay?"

"Well, I'll probably let you go home, if you have someone to stay with you. Otherwise it's your quarters on the base."

"Sirikat will be there. She knows how to pick up the phone and call you."

"Settled, then."

Jack closed his canteen and relaxed. It wouldn't be far until they reached the shady canyon where the gate was located, and then the worst of the trip would be over.

The next time something sounded like a quiet, routine assignment, he would make a point to remind himself there was no such freakin' thing.


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