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Fanfiction: One Small Step - Part II

For author's note and disclaimer see Part I.

 

Chapter Four:

The sky was blue above her head. She could smell the dirt and the perfume of the grass as she crouched down hiding, shaking in fear; her heart pounding.

She had been late; she didn't know what had happened but she'd woken up in the forest and she had been late and everyone was dead...

Everyone but the monsters walking around in the strange clothing and she was scared, so scared...she tried to hide but they found her. One was talking to her and she sounded friendly; monsters couldn't be friendly could they?

She scurried backwards as one approached; it was a dark man with a gold symbol on his face and he held out his hand...

And suddenly, there was a blue puddle in front of her and she was alone but she knew she had to walk through it. Had to stretch out her hand again and trust that she would find Teal'c reaching back...

Cassie came abruptly awake.

Clearly, her life had taken a turn into the surreal, Cassie mused as she stared up at the ceiling of the Goa'uld ship. She rubbed her eyes and sat up in the make-shift bed, wriggling so that she could rest against the wall. She glanced around the rest of the hold. Vala was fast asleep up against the neighbouring wall. Muted voices drifted through the open doorway from the cock-pit.

She checked her watch and was surprised to realise that she had slept for ten whole hours. Maybe it wasn't so surprising, Cassie thought wryly; the day before had been long and tiring, and it had been the climax of weeks of worry about SG1. It felt good though to be finally doing something.

She shoved the sleeping-bag off as quietly as she could to avoid waking Vala, grabbed her bag and headed for the onboard facilities to freshen-up. She grimaced at the cramped space and wondered how SG1 had ever coped on the long journeys they had sometimes made. Vala had predicted they had another day of travel before they reached Cartegia and Cassie wasn't looking forward to it.

She washed and changed into a clean t-shirt before dragging on a sweater to keep warm. The ship's interior was cool; she guessed the Goa'uld were not concerned with keeping warm. She headed back into the hold and stowed her stuff. She nodded at Rya'c with a shy smile as he made his way over to his bundle of blankets. She smoothed her hands down her jeans and walked into the cockpit to join Jonas.

Jonas looked up from the controls to smile at her as Cassie slipped into the passenger seat. 'Hey.'

'Hey, yourself.' Cassie was pleased they finally had a moment alone to catch up. She motioned at him. 'I didn't realise you could fly one of these.'

'I had to learn during the occupation.' Jonas explained with a shrug. 'I can keep us flying in a straight line for a couple of hours while Rya'c and Vala get some rest.'

'I feel kind of useless.' Cassie admitted. As much as she had defended her right to search for SG1 and her abilities, she knew she was the least experienced person on board.

Jonas offered her a half-smile. 'I felt the same when I started out with SG1.' He shifted his hands slightly. 'You should have seen me on the first mission. Jack wouldn't let me do anything, and then we got attacked and I froze. If it hadn't been for Teal'c I would have been toast.'

'Really?' Cassie leaned back in her chair and crossed her hands over her belly. 'I thought you saved everyone's lives by swimming through freezing water and getting the power rerouted so you could all escape from the glider bay.' The light streaming outside was almost hypnotic.

'That was later.' Jonas said.

'Later the same day.' Cassie remarked with a soft laugh, glancing over at him.

Jonas shrugged. 'I still felt way out of my depth.'

'Well, you were at the bottom of the ocean.' She teased.

Jonas looked over at her, his eyes shining with amusement. 'Clever.'

Cassie smiled back. Her eyes were drawn to the distorted field of light in front of her. She shook her head. 'I can't believe I'm actually doing this.'

'Why are you?' Jonas asked bluntly.

She looked over at him sharply.

He grimaced as though regretting he had raised the subject and leaned over to adjust a dial on the console. He took his hands off the controls. 'Autopilot.' He explained. He swivelled in his chair to look at her. 'I was talking to the others while you were asleep. Vala told me this was all your idea.'

Cassie felt the sudden urge to squirm under his intense gaze.

'It's not like SG1 haven't gone missing before, Cassie.' Jonas said softly. 'They've always made it back without you doing this.' He held her gaze. 'How is this time different?'

Cassie turned away from him, unsettled by the question. What was different? She could barely remember a time of her life when she hadn't waited for SG1 to return from some mission. It was a part of her normality. But it was different this time, Cassie mused. She just wasn't sure that she knew why. Maybe it would actually help to talk about it.

'Cassie.' Jonas gently prompted.

She wet her lips. 'The day I was told they were missing,' she began, 'it was the ten year anniversary of when SG1 found me.'

'Ten years? Really?' Jonas asked.

Cassie nodded, staring out into the field of light. 'You know I can't really remember much about that day; about my family dying or seeing that. Mom said to me once that my mind had blocked it out but...I remember feeling so incredibly scared. And I remember Sam talking to me but I thought she was a monster. And I remember Teal'c...stretching out his hand to me.' She shifted in her seat, leaning forward. 'I walked through the Stargate for the first time that day.'

'And you think finding out on the anniversary was some kind of sign?' Jonas realised.

'I've dreamed about it.' Cassie continued as though he hadn't spoken. 'I've dreamed about the day SG1 found me ever since I found out they were missing.' She looked at him finally and was unsurprised to see him gazing back at her compassionately; taking her seriously. 'I know it probably doesn't mean anything; that it's probably just nothing more than my fears about them festering away in my subconscious – psychology 101, right? – but...'

'But it feels like it means something.' Jonas said.

Cassie nodded. She rubbed her upper arms trying to get warm. 'I can't help thinking maybe it means that I'm supposed to find them this time.' She tried a smile. 'Weird, huh?'

'Not so weird; I mean I used to see the future.' Jonas pointed out.

His acceptance of her warmed her and she let out a small breath. 'You miss your power?' Cassie asked, interestedly.

Jonas nodded and waved at her. 'You?'

'Sure.' Cassie admitted. 'It was kind of fun being able to move stuff with my mind.' And scary. In hindsight, it had definitely not been a good idea.

'Well, at least we both survived what Nirrti did to us.' Jonas said, stretching his arms out above his head.

Cassie shuddered imperceptibly at the name of the Goa'uld who had killed her home-world. She was just glad Nirrti was dead. A memory came back to her; a half-remembered overheard conversation between the members of SG1 and her Mom. She bit her lip. 'Didn't she try to seduce you?'

Jonas shot her a look. 'Thank you for reminding me.'

She held up a hand in surrender.

They sat quietly for a while watching the light show as the ship travelled through space.

'So what happened to whatshisface?' Jonas asked eventually. He hazarded a guess at the name. 'Bill?'

'Will,' Cassie corrected, 'and don't even make like you don't remember his name.' Jonas had a fantastic memory. 'We broke up.' It seemed like a life-time before. It still stung though. The realisation that she hadn't been enough for him; that he had someone else. How stupid she'd felt.

'Sorry.' Jonas said. 'Should I be offering to punch him?'

She sighed, hearing the sincerity in his voice. 'I already took care of that.' The splash of blood on Will's split lip flashed in her mind with satisfaction. 'What about you?' She waved at him. 'You must have women falling all over you; the hero of the Resistance and all.'

'Uh, no.' Jonas shook his head with a laugh.

'Seriously?' Cassie frowned. 'But why not? I mean, you're not exactly ugly.' There had been a time when she'd had the most massive crush on him. Something she think he knew but thankfully never brought up. She had been young and a teenager, Cassie thought breezily, and her words stood: Jonas was an attractive man. She ignored the flutter in her stomach that signalled agreement. She was just getting out of a bad relationship; it wasn't going to improve things if she restarted a crush on a man whom she believed only saw her as a pesky little sister.

He shot her an amused look. 'Thank you.' He said dryly.

Cassie flushed slightly. 'You know what I mean.'

'For the record being the hero of the Resistance isn't all that great.' Jonas said it with enough feeling that Cassie winced.

'Sorry.'

'Not your fault.' Jonas grimaced. 'It's just been...difficult since the war ended.' There was a wealth of feeling in the words; a tangle of emotion Cassie couldn't quite work out, all coming from an experience she had been spared. Earth had been lucky.

Cassie pulled her feet up onto the seat and hugged her knees. 'I was surprised you decided not to stand for election as leader.'

'I wouldn't have been elected.' Jonas said succinctly.

'Why not?' Cassie gestured at him. 'I would have thought you'd be a shoo-in after leading the Resistance.'

Jonas shook his head sadly. 'For every person who thinks I'm a hero for leading the Resistance, there's another who looks at me and sees the reminder that they believed in a False God.' He sighed. 'Viyul is a good leader. She was part of the Resistance but she only came over after her brother was killed by the Ori soldiers for some minor blasphemy. Up until that point she'd been willing to follow Origin. She understands both sides.'

'You sound like a fan.' Cassie commented.

'I am.' Jonas admitted.

'Really?' Cassie teased.

Jonas sighed dramatically in mock protest. 'She's married, Cassie, and, getting back to the subject, I don't mind not being leader. I really didn't want to lead the Resistance.'

'So are you enjoying being a professor?' Cassie asked, thinking of her own plans to teach. She had thought she had chosen something that she could do and enjoy but she was wondering if she had simply chosen it because it was so normal and she really wasn't normal at all. Maybe, Cassie considered with sudden insight, she was still hiding in the grass, trying not to be discovered by the Earthlings.

'It's OK.' Jonas said. 'We have a lot to rebuild since the occupation ended. If I'm needed to teach then...' he shrugged.

'You don't sound too keen.' Cassie commented, thinking of her own revelation. She wondered if Jonas was hiding too.

Jonas glanced over at her. 'There's talk of us starting our own Stargate programme. If that happens, I'd prefer...'

'To go through the Stargate.' Cassie completed before he could.

Jonas gave a rueful smile. 'Crazy I know but...' he sighed, 'I miss it. I miss going to new worlds, just,' he waved a hand at the streaming light in front of them, 'being out here, discovering new things.' He gazed out sadly. 'Don't get me wrong; I love Langara but sometimes, especially after everything that's happened, I wish I could just leave.'

Cassie stared at him; his words echoing in her head as an idea formed.

'What?' Jonas asked as he took in her expression.

Cassie grinned. 'I think I have a plan on how to approach the Cartegians.'

Chapter 5:

Vala tugged on the high-collared coat Cassie wore and frowned. 'It's very plain.'

Cassie rolled her eyes at Jonas who grinned as he adjusted his own cuffs. 'Langaran fashion is plain.'

'Well, it fits.' Vala proclaimed with a sniff. 'This might just work.'

Cassie nodded. She smoothed a hand over the fabric and mentally thanked their luck that Vala wasn't a bad seamstress. The former thief had managed to make the changes required to Jonas's spare clothing to fit Cassie.

The engines died and left the hold in sudden silence.

'Are we ready?' Cassie asked, hoping that the others would ignore the way her voice shook, betraying her nerves.

Rya'c walked through from the cockpit. He already wore the Jaffa armour complete with staff weapon. 'I have secured the ship.'

Vala checked on the knife strapped to her thigh and took a deep breath. 'Then I believe we are ready to do this.'

'Are you sure we still need to talk to them?' Jonas inquired. 'The planetary scans came back negative. We know SG1 are definitely not on Cartegia.'

'But I would bet money that the Cartegians know where they are.' Vala rejoined passionately. Her mobile mouth set in a stubborn line that broked no disagreement would be tolerated.

'OK,' Jonas held up a hand, 'just checking.'

They grabbed their packs and left the cargo ship and as they cleared the immediate area, Jonas turned and pressed something he held. The cargo ship wobbled and disappeared.

'Cloaking device.' Jonas held up the remote.

Vala nodded approvingly.

They had landed in a forest clearing to the North of the main settlement and headed to the forest path that would take them into the town. Rya'c led the way with Jonas just behind him; Cassie was sandwiched between him and Vala, who protected their rear.

Cassie breathed in the scent of wood. It reminded her of apples and cider, with a faint undertone of pine. She felt the wind on her face and revelled in the sting as it brushed her skin and made her eyes water. It felt good after the stifling cargo ship atmosphere. She hoped they wouldn't have to spend that much time on the ship in their search.

Her eyes fell to the ground and she realised she could see the faint tracks of wooden wheels and horse shoes. Evidently Cartegia had horses, or something similar to horses to help provide transport.

The town-walls appeared in the distance; grey stone rising up out of the forest floor like some Disney fairy-tale. She drank in the sight of the turrets; the narrow windows. She felt her chest tighten uncomfortably and realised she was holding her breath.

A buzz of excitement ran through her; fizzing through her blood. Adrenaline, Cassie determined. It was just adrenaline. Her mouth went dry as they approached the wide wooden gate and the Cartegian guards.

'Hold!' The senior guard stepped out in front of them. 'Identify!'

Rya'c gripped his staff weapon tightly but Jonas placed a hand on his shoulder and stepped forward.

'We are travellers from another world, Langara.' Jonas smiled widely. 'We're archaeologists, exploring the history of other planets in our galaxy. We'd like to speak to your leaders if possible.'

The guard looked them over cautiously and Cassie tried to project a serene, unconcerned image. They were just archaeologists; just travellers without any other purpose.

'This one is Jaffa.' The guard snarled, gesturing at Rya'c, 'and this one also carries weapons.'

Vala winked at the guard who did a double-take at her audacity.

'Apologies; Ry and Val are our travelling companions. They have their own interest in historical research and we have found greater numbers provide us all with protection.' Jonas explained.

Cassie wondered at his calm and unruffled ease; at the way he skirted over Rya'c's and Vala's names which they had decided would need to be changed just in case SG1 had mentioned them to anyone on Cartegia.

'Only my wife, Cassandra, and I are from Langara.' Jonas continued.

The guard pressed his lips together and looked them over again. His eyes lingered on Vala but he eventually nodded. 'You will need to speak to the Council.' He motioned at one of the other guards. 'Take them directly to see Councillor Goy.'

Jonas smiled broadly again. 'Thank you.'

Cassie allowed herself the luxury of looking around with unhidden glee. She was meant to be an archaeologist interested in new cultures and new worlds. It wouldn't be strange for her to marvel at the town with its small houses; the paved pathways and wide gutters. The smell of horse manure and fresh hay mingled with baking and spices that assaulted her senses. The Cartegians looked at them with curiosity but didn't approach, and Cassie looked on unashamedly staring at their medieval dress.

The Council building was in the centre of the town and they skirted the open market with its bustle of people yelling and shouting, before they made their way up shallow steps, through the front door and into the large entry room. To one side was a large doorway that clearly led to a meeting hall of some kind, perhaps an assembly room. The guard waved a greeting at another and headed for a smaller door on the other side. It led to a narrow staircase but the wood was highly polished and the walls adorned with portraits of Council members. Cassie held onto the banister tightly as they made their way up. The upper floor was busy with people; her ears caught the end of an argument about a boar and a discussion about a new viaduct before they stopped in front of one door and the guard rapped sharply.

'Enter.' The voice boomed out and the guard pushed the door open.

Cassie's eyes darted around the cramped room; an old tattered tapestry covered one wall, portraits another. Goy was a large man in a maroon-coloured robe with a gigantic gold medallion hanging around his neck; the mark of his office, Cassie assumed. He sat behind an impressive desk.

Goy looked up. His large, florid features briefly registered surprise before he waved a hand at the guard who tried stumblingly to introduce them. 'Leave us!'

The young guard fled.

'Perhaps I could trouble you to introduce yourselves.' Goy remarked, his green eyes narrowing on them with undisguised interest.

Jonas quickly made the introductions and offered their cover story once again.

'So, you're exploring the galaxy.' Goy clasped his pudgy hands together. 'Why Cartegia? What could we have that could possibly interest you?'

Jonas smiled widely again. 'I've always wanted to study a society that was seeded by this Ancient called Merlin, one that hasn't been impacted by the Goa'uld and without a Stargate. It's fascinating to me; the opposite of my own history.'

'I see.'

'And, of course, our planets have a common ally,' Jonas added smoothly, 'the Tau'ri?'

Goy's expression didn't alter but he sat back in his chair. 'Then you will know of the disappearance of some of their number from our planet.'

Cassie tensed at the unexpected mention of SG1.

'Yes,' Jonas admitted easily, 'unfortunate.' He shook his head and made a regretful sigh. 'The Lucian Alliance are becoming a problem for us all but I rather doubt we would be of interest to them.'

Cassie held her breath as she kept her eyes on Goy.

The Councillor snorted, but Cassie saw his shoulders drop an inch. Evidently Jonas's reply had assured him that they believed the story of the Lucian Alliance which meant that Goy knew something, didn't it? She schooled herself not to jump to conclusions. Maybe Goy was just relieved that losing SG1 hadn't ruined Cartegia's reputation as a safe place.

'You may have leave to explore.' Goy declared. 'You will find the inn in the market place to be clean and of good repair. I would encourage you to speak to our librarian, Dumace.'

'Thank you.' Jonas stood and bowed. 'We appreciate your hospitality.'

Goy smiled. 'You are most welcome, and before you depart I would be interested in talking with you more on Langara and how our planets may become better acquainted.'

Jonas smiled again.

Vala held her tongue until they left the Council building. 'He knows something.'

'I agree.' Rya'c said.

They both spoke in undertones that couldn't be heard by the people they passed but Jonas shot them a warning look.

'Maybe, maybe not.' Jonas said quietly.

'I agree with Jonas.' Cassie said. 'I think he may have just been relieved we weren't scared away by stories of others getting abducted from the planet.'

'Let's get to the inn and find some rooms where we can talk.' Jonas suggested firmly.

Vala harrumphed but fell into step beside Cassie. It occured to Cassie that the other woman was subtly guarding her and Cassie couldn't bring herself to be annoyed about it. There was suddenly a cold lump of fear sitting in her belly.

The inn was busy but the cheerful woman in charge of accommodation saw to them quickly, escorting them to the three rooms they hired. It didn't take much for Vala to coax the information from their escort that the rooms were the same rooms where SG1 had resided; how empty they had been since because the locals were superstitious and had taken to believing if they slept in them, they would be taken in the middle of the night like the visitors from Earth. Cassie was fairly certain that Vala could have had Ama's whole life story from her if a call from below hadn't forced their escort back downstairs.

Ostensibly, the middle room was supposed to be the marital bedroom of Cassie and Jonas, and Cassie couldn't help flushing when they dumped their bags by the wide bed. The cover story had seemed like a good idea when Vala had suggested it; a married woman would be viewed as taken and unavailable on Cartegia, reducing the risk of someone taking an interest in her.

Be an adult, Cassie instructed herself. She could share a bed with Jonas and be fine with it. She'd shared beds platonically with male friends before. She looked around the rest of the room. The furniture was solid but plain; a wardrobe, a bedside table, desk and single chair. Shelves above the desk were mostly empty; one held an empty vase, another three half-burned candles, dripping wax frozen along their sides. A faded picture of what looked like a landscape took pride of place on the wall above the bed.

Vala sat on the edge of the bed and bounced. She settled back and viewed them seriously. 'Goy knows something.' She said repeating her statement.

Jonas shook his head. 'We don't know that.'

'Yes, we do.' Vala contradicted him forcefully as she jumped up. 'He was too relieved when you mentioned the Lucian Alliance.'

'He might have been worried that the planet's reputation was destroyed when SG1 went missing from here.' Jonas argued back, equally as passionately. 'We don't know enough to make that judgement.'

'Well, I say he's a suspect.' Vala placed her hands on her hips.

'You're jumping to conclusions without evidence.' Jonas rejoined.

'Guys...' Cassie tried to interrupt but they ignored her.

Vala glared at Jonas. 'I don't recall you being in charge of this mission.'

'We agreed I would take the lead...' Jonas began.

'With the Council and the guards because it made sense for the cover story!' Vala corrected, throwing up her hands. 'You're not in charge in charge!'

'Indeed.' Rya'c asserted.

All of them spun to look at the Jaffa.

Rya'c raised an eyebrow, reminding Cassie so much of his father that her breath caught. 'I believe this mission was Cassandra Fraiser's idea.'

The others turned in a smooth synchronised move to look at Cassie.

'Me?' Cassie blurted out. She was so not the leader of their group.

'You're it.' Vala said dryly, smiling.

'We're a team.' Cassie shot back furiously even as she rubbed her hands nervously on her tunic. 'And besides, I agree with both of you. I think Goy could know something but we need to know more.'

Her words seemed to calm the group.

Jonas sat down on a nearby chair, nodding in agreement.

'I believe Cassandra Fraiser is correct.' Rya'c said.

Vala pursed her lips thoughtfully. 'It's going to be getting him to talk that will be tricky.' She pointed out. 'If he does know something he won't give it up easily.'

'Why don't I send a message to Goy asking him to a private dinner to discuss closer relations between Langara and Cartegia.' Jonas suggested.

Cassie pointed at him. 'That's a good idea. I think he might let something slip to you.'

'I could use my charms to get him to talk.' Vala suggested. 'I'm sure they're just as effective as Jonas.'

'I don't doubt it,' Cassie said dryly, 'but I was thinking you would be better talking with Ama. You had her in the palm of your hand earlier.'

'She was most eager to talk.' Rya'c noted, clasping his hands behind his back. 'I believe given the right opportunity she would provide us with a great deal of information.'

'That I agree with.' Vala muttered. 'OK,' she nodded enthusiastically, 'I'll focus on Ama.' She winked at Cassie.

Cassie rolled her eyes and breathed out gently. 'OK, then. Let's get it organised. The sooner we find out something, the sooner we find SG1.'

Chapter 6:

Cassie checked her watch and sighed impatiently at the irrefutable fact that it had only moved on five minutes from the last time she had looked at it. Jonas had left for his dinner with Goy three hours before, accompanied by Rya'c who was acting as back-up in case Goy reacted badly. Vala had slipped down to the bar an hour earlier after sharing a simple meal with Cassie in their rooms. It was frustrating to be left but Cassie knew a married woman wouldn't be seen as belonging in a rowdy bar without her husband on Cartegia.

Her mouth went dry at the idea of sipping down a beer. She grimaced and shook away the longing that curdled in her belly. She couldn't afford to get drunk and make some kind of slip that would blow their cover story out of the water; the mission was too important. Of course, more to the point, she just couldn't afford to get drunk.

She lurched off the bed, determined to do something; anything. Ama had told them the rooms had been used by SG1, Cassie mused; perhaps she should search them.

'Right, Cassie,' she muttered to herself, 'because it's not like the Cartegians haven't already looked through the rooms or SG3 when they beamed down to search for SG1.'

But hadn't she told Landry that nobody knew SG1 better than she did? Think, Cassie, she encouraged herself.

If the Lucian Alliance had grabbed SG1, or even if they hadn't, someone on Cartegia had to have known something. SG1 were the best; they had to have suspected something. And, Cassie thought excitedly, if they suspected something maybe they had left some clue behind in case something happened to them.

So if she was SG1 and wanted to leave a clue where would she leave it? Cassie glanced around as though the walls could offer her a suggestion. The problem was that it would depend on who left the clue and it wasn't somewhere obvious otherwise it would have already been found.

She started in Vala's room with the closet, examining the panels for hidden compartments. None appeared; the closet and its drawers were empty except for a few of the strange items that Vala had stowed and which Cassie decided she didn't need to examine too closely. The desk was the same. There were no loose floorboards; nothing under the two twin beds; under the mattresses. She knew Sam kept things stowed on the top of her closet and she fetched a stool. The top of closet yielded nothing but dust and a sneeze.

Cassie moved onto the room she was sharing with Jonas. She searched as thoroughly as she had done in the first room and when it too yielded nothing, she stood in the centre, hands on hips, feeling disappointed. She was certain SG1 would have done something.

Her eyes caught on the desk. She had checked the drawer but a memory tickled her mind; she had lost her passport and Sam had suggested checking to see if it had fallen at the back of the drawer. Cassie slid the drawer fully out and reached into the space behind it. Her fingers brushed against a small slip of paper. She opened it up and smoothed it out. It was a note.

Col. Carter, you are in danger; you and your people should leave. A friend.

Cassie's heart started to beat madly. Sam had been warned by somebody. Somebody on Cartegia. Which meant SG1 had known something was going to happen as she had thought. She sat down on the bed abruptly.

When had Sam received it? The first night? The second night? SG1 had been unable to leave; they'd had nowhere to go. She could imagine them discussing the situation. Was it because someone opposed the new treaty or for some other reason? And why Sam? Why had they singled Sam out in the note? It would have worried the guys. As much as they knew Sam could take of herself, they would have been worried – just as they had been the whole time Sam had been out in Atlantis.

Sam had hidden the note purposefully. Cassie was sure of that. It had been left behind as a clue to what had happened. And if there was one clue, it was possible that there was more.

Cassie tucked the note in her pocket and strode into the third room with renewed purpose. She searched the usual places and came up empty. She chewed her lips as she stood in the centre of the room and gazed around.

OK, who else in the team was most likely to leave a clue?

That was easy: Daniel.

He was the one who always had paper with him. The one who could write in any language he wanted to disguise the message. So where would Daniel have hidden something in the room? Her eyes caught on the bookshelf. It had a couple of books for the guests. Her gaze narrowed on them. She hurried over and rifled through them; the note was tucked away into the second book as though left behind like a book-mark.

It was written in Ancient. Cassie frowned. Why hadn't Daniel used Goa'uld? Because it was the Lucian Alliance behind it all, or for some other reason? She shook her head.

A sound drifted through the connecting door to the middle room and made her freeze.

Cassie held her breath. It had sounded like the door being unlocked. She bit her lip. Jonas had insisted she lock herself into the room and even Vala had told her not to open the door to anyone but one of them. They had no idea who was responsible for SG1 and...she halted her chaotic thoughts.

She closed the book, replacing the note inside of it. She kept hold of it as she tiptoed to the connecting door and peeked into the middle room. She winced at the sight of the open desk drawer and the wide open closet. It seemed too evident to Cassie's mind that she had been looking for something.

The door began to open.

Cassie grasped the book tightly. Maybe she could knock someone out with it. Or throw it at them.

The door was almost fully open.

Cassie took a step forward into the middle room; her heart raced furiously...

A foot appeared...

She took another step forward, and raised the book, holding her breath...

A maid entered. She caught sight of Cassie poised to attack her, gave a cry of alarm and dropped her bundle of towels.

Cassie lowered the book immediately. 'I'm so sorry.' She placed a hand over her mouth and tried to catch her breath. 'It's just...you startled me.'

The maid, a young woman about the same age as Cassie, waved her away as she stooped to help her pick up the fallen items. 'It was my fault, madam. I forgot to knock. Ama is always reminding me.' She gathered up the towels. 'I'll get you fresh.' Her eyes strayed to the open desk drawer and on to the closet.

'I was looking for parchment.' Cassie explained quickly.

'We don't keep any for guests, madam. But the market it will have it tomorrow.' The maid said politely. She gave a small curtsy and left.

Cassie breathed a sigh of relief. She retrieved the key from the bedside table and locked the door again. She collapsed on her bed, holding the book to her chest. She couldn't help jumping when there was a soft knock at the door. She slid off the bed and hurried over to unlock the door again.

Cassie's eyes widened at Vala. The former thief was holding a stack of towels but beyond that she had skinned the knuckles on her right hand. 'You OK?' She ushered the older woman into the room.

'What?' Vala looked at Cassie questioningly.

Cassie motioned at the hand.

'Oh, that!' Vala waved away her concern. 'It's nothing.' She placed the towels on the bed. 'I met the maid, Saki, in the corridor; she said these were for us.' She absently reached into her jacket pocket and drew out a Goa'uld healing device.

Cassie shuddered at the sight of it; the memory of Nirrti stood over her flickering through her head like a bad movie.

'You could probably do this.' Vala mused out loud as she fingered the device. 'You have some naquadah in your blood, right?'

'Not a lot.' Cassie knew the naquadah in her body was minor compared to Sam's or Vala's. Hers had been artificially added to create a bomb whereas Sam's and Vala's naquadah were the result of their experiences as hosts to a symbiote. 'I'm not sure it would work.'

'Try it.' Vala tossed her the device.

Cassie frowned. It was heavier than she had expected. She slipped it onto her hand, the crystal lying snugly in her palm. It would be useful if she could use it; if SG1 was injured, Cassie would be able to help Vala heal them.

'Focus your mind on the device.' Vala instructed. 'Remember something that has meaning to you; you need a strong emotion to power the device.'

Cassie held the device over Vala's injured hand and closed her eyes. She remembered the dream she'd had; of Teal'c and his hand stretching out to her...

The device hummed in her hand and Cassie opened her eyes, briefly catching a glimpse of warm amber light before her amazement cut off the previous emotion and killed the device.

Vala flexed her healed hand and grinned. 'You're much better than Samantha.'

'What happened?' Cassie asked pointedly, handing her the device. She walked over and clambered back onto the bed; sitting up against the pillows.

Vala sprawled across the foot of the bed and shrugged. 'One of the drunks got a little too frisky. I punched him.' She smiled. 'Ama hit him with a pot.'

Cassie blinked, unsure whether to believe her. 'Really?'

'Have the boys checked in?' Vala asked, changing the subject.

'Not yet.' Cassie's lips tightened. She was worried about them. If Goy did know something and got suspicious...

'Shall I wait until they arrive?' Vala yawned and made a gesture of apology before she covered her mouth with the back of one hand.

'We'll both wait.' Cassie said, revealing the notes she'd found and waving them at Vala.

'What are those?' Vala plucked them out of Cassie's hands and her eyes widened as she read the note Cassie had found addressed to Sam. 'They were in trouble.'

'Can you read the other note?' Cassie asked. 'I can't read Ancient.'

Vala wrinkled her nose as she concentrated and her fingers traced over Daniel's handwritten words with an air of reverence. 'He's using an old variant.' She said eventually. 'I can't make out much more than there's some danger to do with a dragon.'

'A dragon?' Cassie frowned. 'Are you certain?'

'Yes.' Vala sighed. 'Maybe Jonas will be able to translate more.' As though her words had conjured him up there was another knock on the door. 'Looks like we won't have to wait long.' She quipped, handing Cassie the notes before she went to open the door.

The four of them all settled cross-legged on the bed to debrief.

'Well, Vala was right about Goy knowing something.' Jonas allowed when Cassie motioned for him to begin.

Vala smiled smugly. She examined her fingernails studiously. 'A less generous person than I might say I told you so.'

Jonas's lips twitched. 'I was also right. Goy isn't involved either.'

'What do you mean?' Cassie asked confused. She pushed her auburn hair back behind her shoulder and tried to surreptitiously hide her tiredness.

'Perhaps it would be helpful to begin at the beginning.' Rya'c remarked. The Jaffa looked the most alert of all of them.

Jonas nodded. 'Goy and I made the usual political niceties during the meal; exchanged cultural stories – that kind of thing. We were relaxing over something which tasted like coffee but wasn't when he started to ask me about how we're dealing with the extreme religious groups on Langara who are continuing to follow Origin.'

'Jonas Quinn had mentioned them before.' Rya'c inserted.

'I asked Goy why he wanted to know.' Jonas explained. He rubbed the back of his neck. 'He made some rambling explanation about an old religious sect that Cartegia has; he called it the Cult of Dragon.'

Cassie and Vala exchanged a sharp look.

'I believe he suspects this Cult to be responsible for the disappearance of my father and the others.' Rya'c added. 'He kept referring to them as harmless but it was evident that he did not believe it.'

'We think Goy latched onto the Lucian Alliance as a suspect because Earth suggested it given the nature of SG1's disappearance but he still suspects this Cult was involved somehow.' Jonas concluded. 'But as he's clearly not part of the Cult himself...'

'He wasn't involved in whatever happened. So he suspects but he doesn't know.' Vala sighed. She gestured at Cassie. 'We might have something to corroborate the Cult of the Dragon angle.'

Cassie handed Jonas the notes, briefly explaining her search and findings.

Jonas's brow creased as he read the note. 'This is the same Ancient that was on the tablet about the Lost City.' He sighed. 'The SGC has a translation program which would be better but I can make out the gist.'

'Which is?' Vala asked impatiently.

'Well, I think the first line is 'if you're reading this we're in trouble...''

They all smiled.

Jonas smoothed the note out on the bed in front of him. 'He mentions the Cult of Dragon have targeted Sam as some kind of important figure in their religious prophecy.'

'That explains the other note.' Cassie said. 'It was clear whoever wrote it believed Sam was in danger.'

'He says here that our assumptions about the history of Cartegia are wrong; that there is a manuscript in the library which will tell us more.' Jonas sighed. 'That's it.'

'According to Ama,' Vala jumped in, 'SG1 retired for the night at around eleven local time and their rooms were found empty at seven the next morning when Saki went up to fetch them for the breakfast they had ordered. Ama said that she didn't hear a thing and mentioned how awful it was that there was technology out there which had the ability to spirit people away. There was no sign or evidence of a fight.'

'My father would not have allowed himself to be taken without a fight!' Rya'c responded hotly.

Jonas gave a nod of agreement. 'I can't see it either so this Cult must have had some way of subduing SG1.'

'Maybe they drugged them.' Cassie suggested.

'Or maybe they have technology the rest of Cartegia doesn't have access to like the Asgard beaming technology.' Vala suggested.

'I hate to say it but it could be possible the Cult killed them.' Jonas hazarded.

Rya'c glowered and Cassie felt her heart stop for a moment at the suggestion. No, she thought determinedly; they were alive. They had to be.

'But their bodies would have been picked up by the Odyssey, or at least their transponders.' Vala argued, clearly unwilling to believe SG1 were dead.

'What else did Ama say?' Cassie asked.

Vala sighed. 'Not much else; how nice SG1 were and how terrible it was that they were missing.' She tapped her boot absently. 'How she had warned Samantha that walking on the mountain would bring her bad luck.'

'The mountain? You mean the one behind the town?' Jonas clarified.

Vala tilted her head thoughtfully. 'Samantha told me before she left that the reason why the SGC allied with Cartegia in the first place was because the initial surveys found traces of naquadah running through the mountain range.'

'But naquadah isn't part of the alliance treaty?' Jonas clarified.

Vala shook her head. 'The Cartegians refused to allow any geological survey teams on the mountain. Sam was hoping to take a closer look on the pretext of an innocent hike.' She frowned. 'Daniel also said he was looking forward to spending time in the library; that's probably where he came across the information about the Dragon.'

'Sounds like we have a couple of leads.' Cassie commented.

'I suggest we start at the library.' Jonas waved at her with the notes. 'The more we know the better prepared we'll be for whatever's on that mountain.'

'Then that's the plan for tomorrow.' Cassie said, glancing around to get nods of agreement from Vala and Rya'c. 'We start with the library and see what we can find out about the real history of Cartegia and this Cult of the Dragon.'

Continued in Part III.

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