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Fanfiction: One Small Step - Part VI

For author's note and disclaimer see Part I.


Chapter 16:

Cassie had lost the argument over the dragon's name. Teal'c had raised an eyebrow and that had been the end of the discussion. As Jack had commented, nobody argued with the eyebrow. She grumbled about it to herself as she sat down with everyone else for the mission briefing. Puff sat behind her and she could feel its excitement.

After she and Daniel had convinced Jack that they should try finding the dragons to ask for their help with Sam, they had talked it over with the others at lunch. The problem, as Mitchell had put it succinctly, was how they went about finding the dragons. Given their flight capability, they could be nested anywhere on the planet. Rya'c had simply pointed out that the dragons may have replaced the sentry by the Stargate that had tried to snatch Cassie, and perhaps making contact with it would provide a beginning.

Another discussion had followed on who should go back to the Stargate to find out. Teal'c had won that round with the eyebrow again. He and Rya'c had set off after their meal and had returned just before dinner with the news that the dragon had been replaced.

All of which had led to Jack declaring they'd do a mission briefing early the following day. Nobody had argued.

Cassie yawned; it had been an early start. She looked around the group with interest. Jack had taken position at the nominal head of the make-shift grouping with everyone else arraigned either side of him as though sitting at a table. Mitchell had taken a "seat" immediately on Jack's right; Teal'c and Rya'c completed that side. Daniel had sat opposite Mitchell, Sam was sandwiched between him and Cassie.

'OK,' Jack cleared his throat, 'well, first off; we all can't go.'

'Agreed, sir.' Mitchell said evenly.

The two men looked at each other with shared understanding. Jack knew Mitchell thought he should stay behind and Mitchell knew that he knew. There was an uncomfortable silence.

'Let me start by saying I won't be going on this field trip...' Jack began.

Cassie saw Mitchell's shoulders ease down.

'...and neither will Carter.' He concluded firmly.

'I think that's sensible.' Daniel jumped in. 'Until we establish whether the dragons can help her, we should avoid a repetition of what she went through before and given you, uh, shot at them before...'

Jack gave him a pointed look before he turned to Mitchell. 'It's your mission, Colonel.'

Mitchell sat forward. 'Yes, sir.'

Daniel adjusted his glasses. 'Cassie has to go: she's the only one who can communicate with the dragons at all.'

Jack looked at Cassie.

She tried not to squirm under his intent gaze.

'You up for it?' Jack asked.

Cassie nodded quickly. 'If it helps Sam...' she shrugged. She'd do anything to help Sam, just like any of them would.

Jack gave a resigned sigh. She knew he wasn't happy at her inclusion; that he would prefer it if she stayed behind with Sam. Cassie knew some of it was because she wasn't trained for dangerous missions but more than that, she figured a part of Jack still thought of her as the frightened kid they'd brought back from Hanka.

'If Cassandra Fraiser is going then I will accompany her.' Rya'c said firmly.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. It was his only protest but it was enough for Rya'c to bristle.

'I am sworn to protect her on this mission.' Rya'c insisted heatedly.

His father inclined his head.

Daniel raised his hand. 'I should go too.' He motioned at Jack and then at the walls. 'I think I understand a lot of their history now and...'

'And you're our first contact specialist.' Mitchell agreed with a nod. 'It'd be good to have you along.'

'I will remain with Colonel Carter.' Teal'c said firmly. He glanced towards his son, his eyes twinkling. 'I am sworn to protect her.'

It was a recognition that Rya'c had declared her his sister, Cassie realised; just as Teal'c considered Sam as such.

'Sounds like you have your team, Colonel.' Jack said. He leaned forward. 'I guess I don't have to state our priority here.'

'No, sir.' Mitchell agreed. 'Make contact; see if they'll help Sam; get back to the pyramid with everyone intact.'

Jack nodded. 'Then let's get to it.'

Preparations didn't take long and before she knew it Cassie was hugging Jack goodbye.

'Stick with Daniel if anything happens.' Jack instructed her gently. 'Even if he ends up dead he always comes back.'

She gave a half-hearted laugh and let go of him to turn her attention to Sam, who was once again writing.

'Sam,' Cassie murmured and crouched down at her side, 'we're going to get you some help.' She stroked Sam's hair. 'Hang in there.'

Sam didn't respond and Cassie felt the lack of response keenly.

'All will be well, Cassandra.' Teal'c murmured beside her.

Cassie rose and briefly hugged the Jaffa. 'Look after her.'

Teal'c let go of her and she moved to join Daniel by the doorway.

Jack looked over at a restless Mitchell. 'Good luck.'

Mitchell gave a brisk nod. 'Let's go, people.'

They headed out.

It was a two hour walk to the gate and Cassie felt her stomach churn uneasily as she followed Daniel through the jungle. It was butterflies, Cassie told herself; just butterflies.

Monster butterflies.

She was nervous about approaching the dragon at the Stargate which was only natural given the last dragon had attempted to carry her away. She wondered at that. Maybe it had sensed the naquadah in her; maybe it would have attempted to communicate somehow when they had landed somewhere.

Puff skipped back to her and sent a wave of reassurance. It was happy. She could tell it was hopeful of something. She figured it wanted to help Sam too.

Cassie repressed a sigh. She had walked through the Stargate; she had faced off against the Cult of the Dragon; she had been carried away by a dragon and survived. She could do this. She could attempt to make first contact with the dragons and convince them to help Sam.

An hour into the walk and Cassie was finding the heat oppressive. She could feel a trickle of sweat travel down her spine, cutting its way through a layer of sun-cream Teal'c had insisted she put on. She really had to learn a defence against the eyebrow.

She breathed in deeply. There was a heavy scent of perfume in the air from pink and orange flowers that looked like someone had crossed an orchid and a rose. It was stifling; like walking into the front of a department store clouded with spray perfume. But Cassie loved the riot of colour that bordered the pathway. Daniel had told her that formal processions of the Goa'uld's retinue would have made their way back and forth down the same path.

A shiver went through Cassie.

'You OK?' Daniel asked, falling back to walk beside her.

'Just creeped out at the idea that the Goa'uld once walked along here like we're doing now.' Cassie admitted.

'Well, the Goa'uld is long gone.' Daniel said.

'You said the Goa'uld lost control of the Dragon Queen.' Cassie murmured.

'If I had to guess I think the Queen found some way to free herself.' Daniel rubbed a handkerchief over the back of his neck. 'There's a roughly drawn picture in the lower corridors of the pyramid of the dragon losing the necklace. I think it was drawn by one of the fleeing human servants.'

'Ah.' Cassie grimaced. 'So, just to recap; we're going to face dragons who helped defeat a Goa'uld?'

Daniel grinned at her. 'Well, not the same dragons.' His brow creased. 'At least I don't think they're the same dragons although who knows how long they live.'

'That's not reassuring.' Cassie pointed out dryly.

'Well,' he offered with a smile, 'we've defeated our share of Goa'uld too.'

'You.' Cassie corrected, carefully stepping over a large vine strewn across the path. 'You've defeated Goa'uld.' She had stayed on Earth hiding in the bushes.

'Don't underestimate yourself.' Daniel advised. 'You can do this.'

Cassie fell silent. She wished she was as sure as he seemed about her ability to communicate with the dragon.

'We'll be right beside you.' Daniel continued.

Puff ran back to her and another wash of confidence flooded over her. Puff believed in her too. Cassie took a deep breath. She could do this; she could. Sam's life depended on it. But she really wished her flask contained vodka and not water. She shook away the feeling.

In the distance, the Stargate glinted brightly under the glare of the two suns. They were almost there. They had decided a direct approach would be best but as Cassie continued walking, she was aware of the open space between them and the Stargate; open space that left them vulnerable to attack.

There was a movement by the Stargate and Cassie felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle; her skin broke out in goose-bumps. They had been spotted. She knew it as well as she knew her own name.

Mitchell signalled them for them to stop and she realised that he had spotted the same movement ahead. The Colonel squinted down the path. 'What are we thinking? Do we continue?'

'Let's keep walking.' Daniel said firmly.

Mitchell tilted his head and sighed. 'You sure about this about, Jackson?'

Daniel shrugged. 'Apparently I'm the first contact specialist.' He said dryly.

Mitchell sighed. 'Yeah, that's what I thought.' He took a step forward.

Ahead, the dragon by the Stargate took flight.

They all froze.

Puff growled a warning as the dragon in the sky approached. It sailed over them; the backwash of its wings slamming into them and sending them staggering.

Mitchell swore. 'Take cover!'

'No!' Daniel countered, holding his ground. 'Just wait!'

The dragon circled overhead and suddenly plummeted out of the sky with an eerie cry.

Cassie raised her arms to protect her eyes as it landed on all four legs in front of their small group, sending a shower of dirt into the air. She coughed violently as the dust hit her lungs. She couldn't see through the cloud of debris.

'Weapons!' Mitchell ordered.

'Wait!' Cassie ran forward and grasped his arm before he could aim.

The large red dragon in front of her focused on her; its head snapping in her direction. It opened its mouth...

And suddenly, Puff was in front of her, its wings fully extended to protect Cassie, its head lowered to the ground and a cry of warning screaming from its mouth.

Emotions bombarded Cassie as her baby dragon seemingly communicated with its own kind. Anger, she recognised immediately; protectiveness – it considered Cassie its family just as deeply as Rya'c did, Cassie realised. It wouldn't let the larger, and presumably, adult dragon hurt her.

Cassie caught another emotion from the red dragon as it reared back; surprise. It was surprised although Cassie couldn't tell whether that was because Puff was with them or because Puff was protecting her.

The red dragon sat back on its haunches and regarded the younger blue-green baby with a faintly quizzical air. Puff folded its wings into its sides and also sat down.

Cassie closed her eyes as she felt Puff's emotions; a remembered emotion of hurt and pain; of loneliness. Her heart ached. She'd felt that same way once. All alone and so scared. But then the emotions changed; joy, its pain healed but regret and worry...Puff was telling the red dragon of their meeting, she realised.

'What's going on?' Mitchell whispered.

Cassie cleared her throat and tried to speak. 'They're talking, I think.'

The red dragon's head swivelled towards them and its yellow eyes blinked at them.

Mitchell lifted a hand in apology. 'Don't mind us. We'll just be over here minding our own business.'

The red dragon was relieved. Cassie read its emotions as it apparently conversed with Puff. There was an overwhelming sense of relief at the baby's survival; at its return. But there was also concern. It considered them as dangerous; as an unknown quantity. Puff tried to reassure the red dragon but it sent Puff a wash of emotion that Cassie couldn't figure out.

'Cassie?' Daniel inquired softly.

'I don't know.' Cassie answered reluctantly. 'I think Puff is trying to convince it we're the good guys but I don't think it's buying it.'

'Try talking with it.' Daniel encouraged.

Right. Talking with it. That was what they were here to do. Cassie cleared her throat.

The red dragon's head turned toward her abruptly and Cassie took a startled step backwards. Mitchell held his ground as did Rya'c and Daniel. They surrounded her, Cassie noted; all of them protecting her.

Cassie stilled. She straightened and looked directly at the adult dragon. Please, she thought strongly; please; we need your help. She thought of Sam; of the brilliant woman Sam was, of how injured she was. Please, Cassie reiterated; help us.

There was a flicker of shock that emanated from the red dragon. It sent a look towards Puff who gave a huff as though to say: 'I told you so.'

Cassie focused as a storm of emotion ran through the red dragon. It was disturbed by her. She couldn't help think she had made things worse.

The dragon sent a wave of something towards the small baby. A command, Cassie surmised given the way Puff lowered its head to the ground in disappointment. The red dragon gave a sudden cry and took to the air. They all ducked and raised their arms again as another cloud of dirt rose into the air. When Cassie looked up she could see it hovering above them expectantly.

Puff turned to her and gave a small whiny cry. She could feel its regret as though it was her own. It bumped its head into her legs and she knelt down to hug it.

'You have to go home?' Cassie asked sadly.

Puff burrowed its head against her chest. Sadness at their parting filled her up until she couldn't tell what of the emotion was Puff's and what was hers. Puff moved away from her and with an inelegant run, leapt into the air to join the adult, its wings flapping wildly as it lurched unsteadily in the air.

The dragons turned and flew away, towards the Stargate and beyond.

'Cassie?' Daniel asked urgently.

Cassie shook her head; blinking back tears. 'They're going home.'

And taking with them the hope of healing Sam, Cassie thought; defeated. They had failed. She had failed.

Chapter 17:

Cassie sat on the bottom of the pyramid staircase, her hands wrapped around the mug of coffee she had hoarded after lunch. She watched as Sam was escorted around the forum by Daniel, Jack and Teal'c. Daniel would stop and point at the plants engaging Sam's mind for a moment or two; Jack would counter, lifting his hands from his gun to gesture as he made some strange observation or joke, and Teal'c would simply be there; an oasis of calm for Sam whenever she needed a break from the other two. It was very much their usual by-play despite Sam's injury.

Rya'c sat down beside Cassie. He watched the antics of his father and friends as silently as she did. Cassie felt her muscles slowly start to unknot; her gut started to untwist. She felt the nagging bite of failure again despite Daniel's suggestion the previous evening that when Jonas and Vala showed up they could try again. With a cargo ship they could find the dragon's territory easier and Daniel thought making contact with the dragon matriarch might make a difference. Jack had countered that it was one thing making contact with a singular dragon; another to tackle the Dragon Queen deep in the heart of her home turf.

Cassie sipped her coffee, relishing the faint bitter taste. She breathed in deeply and took in the vista before her; the wild, green tangle of jungle around them; the white square of the forum with its patches of green; the mountains in the far distant rising up into the azure sky.

It was beautiful planet, Cassie thought. It was so different from Hanka with its temperate climate and cool forests, the grassy plains where blue and purple wildflowers would blossom in the spring. She felt a twinge of homesickness for the first time in years. She'd like to go back one day, Cassie realised. She wanted to go back and pay tribute to her family; to her mother and father who given her life; to the brothers and sister she had lost.

The brother she had found stirred beside her and she turned to him.

'They belong together.' Rya'c said simply, gesturing out at the four people in front of them.

'They always have.' Cassie agreed.

Rya'c lifted his chin. 'I used to believe the Tau'ri had taken my father from me.' He shook his head. 'It was only after I proved my own worth as a warrior that I realised that they had given me my father by freeing him from Apophis, the False God.'

'I wanted to be them.' Cassie confided quietly. 'When I was little; I wanted to be like them; to be a hero and save the world. I don't know why I stopped.'

But she did. It had been the moment Sam had told her that her Mom had died; the brilliance of Janet Fraiser snuffed out on some bloody battlefield under an alien sun.

A breeze rushed by them and sent her hair flying.

Cassie brushed the red strands back absently. 'I was going to be a teacher.'

Rya'c glanced at her.

'Back on Earth,' she explained a little self-consciously, 'I was going to be a teacher.'

'A worthy calling.' Rya'c said.

Cassie's lips twisted. 'But not mine.' She sighed heavily. 'I think I've been fooling myself. I think I never really stopped wanting to be...' she motioned with her cup toward SG1, 'them.' She shook her head. 'Maybe Will did me a favour.'

'Will?' Rya'c's face creased in confusion.

'My ex.' Cassie explained. 'He dumped me a couple of months ago. He had someone else. He wanted to be with her more.'

Rya'c's face grew angry. 'He dishonoured you.'

Cassie grinned suddenly. 'I punched him.'

Rya'c nodded in approval. 'This is good but I should challenge him to a fight to the death regardless.'

Cassie's mouth fell open; a brief flicker of panic stirred. 'You're kidding, right?'

'I am your brother, Cassandra Fraiser.' Rya'c said formally. 'I cannot let such a slur to your honour to go unchallenged.'

She stared at him and just caught the twinkle in his dark eyes. She wagged a finger at him. 'You almost had me.'

Rya'c shrugged. 'My wife has told me often that women are more than capable of defending their own honour.'

'You love her very much.' Cassie noted, trying hard to keep the jealousy out of her voice; she wished someone loved her as much as Rya'c evidently loved Karyn.

'Yes.' Rya'c agreed enthusiastically. 'I will be glad to return home to her.' He leaned in conspiratorially. 'We are with child.'

Cassie smiled widely. 'Rya'c! Why didn't you say...that's great!' She couldn't quite believe that he had left his pregnant wife to help them with the mission but, in reflection, she realised that it had been a matter of honour to find his father. And Karyn was undoubtedly safe on Hak'tyl with Ishta.

'Karyn is convinced she carries my son.' Rya'c said brightly. 'But I think I would like a daughter.'

She was going to be an aunt. The knowledge made her happy. Cassie nudged his knee with hers. 'Does Teal'c know?'

Rya'c nodded. 'I told him on our first night here.'

Cassie smiled and waved at the four SG1 team-mates in the forum. 'You know he's probably told them already.'

'Told them what?' Mitchell threw himself down to sit beside Cassie on her other side.

Cassie and Rya'c exchanged a look.

Rya'c opened his mouth to reply but stopped suddenly. He pointed into the sky. 'Something approaches!'

Mitchell raised a hand from his gun to shield his eyes.

'Is it a cargo ship?' Cassie asked urgently but she was already talking to air. Mitchell and Rya'c were both on their feet. She threw her cup to the ground and was running after them before she knew it, clattering over the slippery moss and patchy white stones to close the distance between her and SG1.

Mitchell was yelling; a warning, Cassie realised. Even if it was a cargo ship, they had no guarantee it was Jonas and Vala. There was an outside chance someone else could find them - like the Lucian Alliance.

Jack seemed to understand first. He shouted at Teal'c who simply picked Sam up in a fireman's hold. Daniel turned to look at the sky and was pulled away by Jack. They were all running...

They met in the middle and turned back for the pyramid as one...

In the sky, the object grew larger and Cassie slowed as she recognised the shape and form as the cargo ship.

'Cassie, get into the pyramid!' Jack ordered. 'Go!'

'But...' Cassie started to protest but a look at Jack's stern features had it dying on her lips. She made for the steps.

Behind her on the forum, Jack took position behind one dragon; Mitchell another. Both of them looked fierce and determined; both of them held their weapons with an innate ability that spoke of experience.

Cassie tried not to think about the possible danger to them; tried not to think of the sacrifice they were making placing themselves in the frontline to cover the rest of them as she made it into the safety of the pyramid.

They entered the great hall at a run. The air cooled Cassie's heated skin and she stood breathing heavily in the middle of the room.

Teal'c gently placed Sam down.

Sam gazed up at the Jaffa with wide, frightened eyes. She didn't understand what was happening, Cassie surmised, as she stooped to sit beside Sam and placed an arm around her.

'It's OK, Sam.'

Sam shifted, curling up inside Cassie's embrace and Cassie swallowed her shock at the trusting gesture even as she clasped Sam to her tightly. She lifted her eyes to see Teal'c and Rya'c, weapons in hand, leaving to support Jack and Mitchell. Daniel pulled his handgun from its holster and took position by the doorway. He sent her a wry smile. 'Don't worry. It is probably Vala and Jonas, and, you know, we're over-reacting.'

Cassie held onto Sam and wished she'd thought to pick up her zat.

The silence stretched.

Cassie could hear was her own heart beating at a fast canter inside her chest; the rough intakes of breath that she made. Sam's quiet mutterings, equations and things that Cassie couldn't make sense of, sent puffs of air across her neck even as the other woman held on tightly to her.

What was happening outside, Cassie wondered anxiously. Surely the cargo ship had landed; surely they knew if it was Vala and Jonas by now or someone else...

There hadn't been any sound of gunfire but then she hadn't heard anything. The hall was insulated against the noise in the forum apparently. Worry about the rest of the team outside nagged at her incessantly.

Daniel suddenly moved. He straightened and gestured towards her even as he holstered the gun. 'It's OK. It's Teal'c...' he started smiling, 'and some guests.'

Cassie rubbed Sam's shoulder soothingly and let out a long breath. 'See, Sam? It's OK. It's Jonas and Vala.'

She could hear voices getting closer as the group made their way up the passageway towards the hall.

Sam inched away from her and slipped out of her hold. Cassie handed Sam the notebookand pencil reluctantly. Sam immediately began writing, rocking back and forth as she scribbled. Cassie got back to her feet just as the group entered. She saw Vala first and felt a rush of relief; the former thief had made it back to the cargo ship; hadn't been killed by the Cult.

Vala skipped across the hall and grabbed Cassie. 'Cassie!'

Cassie patted Vala's back. 'Vala.' She winced as Vala's grip tightened. 'Need to breathe here.'

Vala inched away and beamed at her; her eyes sweeping over her critically. 'You look terrible.'

'Thank you,' said Cassie dryly. Her gaze went behind Vala and Jonas gave her a small wave. Cassie moved to welcome him.

They hugged briefly.

'You found them.' Jonas said softly. The memory of their conversation in the cargo ship when she had confided her belief that she was meant to find SG1 came back to her and Cassie nodded, flushing.

'Technically, we found them.' Mitchell drawled.

Cassie shot him a look.

Mitchell held up a hand; his blue eyes twinkling at her irrepressively. 'I'm just saying.'

'You made good time.' Daniel commented as the group made their way into the hall and gathered around the brazier. 'We weren't expecting you for another day at least.'

Jonas slid a look towards Vala. 'Someone decided to take a short cut through an asteroid belt.'

Vala grinned. 'We made it didn't we?' She shrugged. 'And besides, we sent a message to the SGC telling them everything so if we had been destroyed by an asteroid, everyone here would have still been rescued.'

Jonas opened his mouth to argue and Daniel placed a hand on his shoulder.

'I wouldn't bother.' Daniel said with a sympathetic smile. 'She'll win.'

'Thank you, Daniel.' Vala said primly. She caught sight of Sam and the lively amusement faded from her mobile face. She made her way over to her and frowned when the other woman didn't move. 'Samantha?'

'Vala,' Cassie began but she stopped; unsure how to explain.

'What's wrong with her?' Vala asked bluntly.

Jack cleared his throat. 'We have a lot to catch-up on.'

In the end, they sat around the hall, drinking coffee and exchanging stories. Vala explained how she had zatted the DHD on Cartegia, causing the wormhole to shut down just before she ringed away. She was certain the lock device was fried and even if the Cult wanted to travel through the Stargate, they couldn't.

Cassie caught the look Jack and Mitchell exchanged and realised both men had been concerned about the possibility.

Rya'c and Cassie's covered their arrival quickly before Daniel retold the story of SG1's original mission and Sam's injury. He explained how they had tried to heal her; their theories about the dragons and how they had tried to elicit their help.

'Dragons?' Jonas asked incredulously. 'As in actual dragons?'

'Let me guess,' Daniel replied, lifting his mug, 'you thought they were Unas?'

Jonas nodded. 'You?'

'Unas.' Daniel agreed. 'But they are clearly dragons.'

'Fascinating.' Jonas murmured.

'Yes.' Jack said dryly. 'Fascinating.' He turned to Vala. 'You think you can help Carter? Cassie thought you might have better luck with the device.'

Vala shook her head regretfully, sending her pigtails flying. 'I mean, I could try but...' she sighed and gestured at Sam, 'I've never heard of the Goa'uld healing device working on this type of injury.' She frowned. 'But then I've never really heard of this type of injury.'

They all looked despondent. Cassie tried to keep her own disappointment from her expression; tried to hide that she had secretly hoped that Vala would be successful with the device where she had failed.

'So, we're back to the dragons as our only option of helping Sam.' Daniel said.

Jack looked unhappy at the pronoucement, and he wasn't the only one.

Cassie sighed; her belly churning with worry.

They were going to have to find the dragon's den and face down the Queen after all.

Chapter 18:

'How come you get to go and I don't?' Vala complained, wiping a hand over her sweaty brow. She lounged back against the gold wall of the cargo ship cockpit and pouted.

Jonas grinned at her as he sat down in the pilot's seat. 'It's my cargo ship. I go wherever it goes.'

'You know that excuse is getting rather old.' Vala grumbled.

Cassie hid a smile at their bantering as she sat down in the passenger seat Rya'c vacated for her. The Jaffa moved to stand behind her.

'Besides,' Daniel said as he and Mitchell entered from stowing the supplies in the back, 'you have naquadah in your blood and we don't know if you can communicate with the dragons safely.'

'We'd rather not end up with you in the same position as Sam.' Mitchell added.

Vala sighed heavily. 'Fine. I'll just...' She pointed at the door.

'Bye!' Daniel gave her a small wave.

She glared at him but she made her way out of the cargo ship. Mitchell followed her to close the door.

Jonas waited until he saw Teal'c and Vala had walked back to the pyramid steps before he took the cargo ship up into the sky. He cloaked the ship to give them greater stealth.

'So where to now?' Jonas asked.

'We should head to the Stargate and keep going.' Mitchell suggested. 'Puff and the other dragon flew off in that direction.'

'It was also the direction that the dragon attempted to carry Cassandra Fraiser towards.' Rya'c agreed.

Jonas made an adjustment to the flight path and the cargo ship swerved and looped through the clouds.

Cassie settled back and watched the jungle underneath them. They were way past the Stargate and the spot where she had fallen after zatting the dragon. The early morning sunshine was bright; it glinted dully off the metal of the ship and Cassie found herself blinking as sunspots obscured her vision. She turned away from the view and glanced around the small team.

Jonas was the only addition to the group that had set out in search of the dragon a couple of days before. She could tell that he was excited at the prospect of meeting them despite the danger and the circumstances. He'd been enthralled by the descriptions of Puff and how the baby dragon had been so protective of her.

Their mission, as Jack had stated several times at that morning's briefing, was purely recon. They were to find the dragons' location, make an assessment of numbers and threat; to gather intel so they could determine what the best way to approach them might be. Jack had suggested Cassie should stay behind but Daniel had argued for her inclusion again; if they did run engage with the dragons for any reason, Cassie was the only one who could communicate with them. On one hand, she was pleased that she was considered so vital that she had to be included, and on the other, she was incredibly apprehensive. Their previous attempt at convincing the dragons to help them with Sam hadn't gone too well and she couldn't help feeling that had been her fault somehow.

The cargo ship suddenly rose steeply.

'Woah.' Mitchell suddenly moved to stare out of the windshield.

Cassie followed his gaze and her mouth fell open a little. The jungle landscape was giving way to a vast mountain range. Beneath them the green lush environment disappeared and yellow and brown rock took its place. The ground rose up sharply. The mountain was huge and Cassie couldn't see any paths along its rocky side; it seemed uncompromisingly inaccessible.

'I guess they're not keen on visitors.' Mitchell murmured.

'Would you be?' Daniel replied. He stood just behind Jonas, one hand on the back of the pilot seat. 'They were oppressed by the Goa'uld for a long time.'

'Uh, I think I see something.' Jonas slowed the cargo ship as he gestured toward a dark cloud ahead of them almost covering the horizon.

'I don't see anything.' Mitchell complained.

Daniel leaned forward. 'It looks like a swarm of birds.'

Rya'c pointed as the cloud shifted formation. 'Those are not birds.'

'It's the dragons.' Daniel said, a note of awe in his tone.

Cassie's mouth went dry as she took in the size of the swarm. 'There has to be dozens of them.' She was suddenly massively grateful for the cloak that kept them hidden from view.

'Can you get us closer?' Mitchell asked urgently.

Jonas shot him a look. 'Is that wise?'

Mitchell's lips twisted. 'We need to know what we're up against.'

'With all due respect,' Jonas said, 'I think we can see what we're up against just fine from here.'

Daniel cleared his throat before Mitchell could argue. 'Maybe we should try going around them and seeing what's on the ground.'

Jonas acquiesced and took the cargo ship down. They skimmed the surface of the mountain as they gave the cloud of flying dragons a wide berth. They crested a ridge and Jonas brought the cargo ship to a halt as they looked out at the sheltered canyon below them.

As far as they could see, there were dragons nesting; dragons of every shape and size; of brilliantly jewelled green, red, purple and gold, and some of a plain muddy-brown hue. There were groups of young dragons scampering along the ground; in and out of nests as they played. A mud bath took up one corner of the canyon and they could see some dragons rolling in it; letting the suns bake it into their scaly skin.

'Well, we found them,' said Mitchell. 'Here there be dragons,'

'Lots of dragons,' agreed Daniel.

'They are a sizeable number.' Rya'c agreed grimly.

There weren't just dozens of dragons, Cassie thought, half-panicked; there were hundreds.

Mitchell gestured out at the canyon walls. 'They have sentries posted along the edges: look!'

Daniel nodded. 'There seems to be a meeting place over there.'

Jonas scooted them closer; careful to stay high enough not to disturb the dragons. The place where Daniel had pointed towards was a naturally raised circle of stone surrounded by four massive boulders. A silver dragon held court in the centre.

Cassie wet her lips. The dragon looked identical to the one in the pictures in the pyramid. 'Is that...'

'The Queen.' Daniel supplied. 'It looks like the one in the pictures but it must be a direct ancestor.'

'Wow.' Jonas murmured. 'She's...stunning.'

Cassie felt something brush across the surface of her mind. She blinked. 'Uh, guys?'

They all turned to her.

'Something just gave me a mental nudge.' Cassie explained hurriedly. Her hands dug into the leather arms of her chair.

'Maybe we should...' Daniel began.

'Get out of here?' Mitchell finished.

Jonas nodded. 'Sounds good to me.'

Suddenly below them, the Dragon Queen's head swivelled towards them and froze as she looked up at the exact spot which marked their position.

They all stared back.

'Uh, she can't see us, right?' Mitchell asked hurriedly.

Jonas frowned. 'We're cloaked so I don't see how.'

'She sensed me.' Cassie said anxiously. 'That's how she knows where we are.'

'How?' Jonas demanded.

'Never mind how,' Mitchell ordered, 'let's get out of here: now.'

Jonas set his hands on the control and turned the cargo ship away from the glaring Queen; back in the direction they had flown. He stopped abruptly.

The swarm of dragons they had seen in the sky was heading directly towards them at speed.

Cassie's heart skipped a beat.

Mitchell swore. 'This is bad.'

'Very bad,' agreed Jonas.

'We could fire on them!' Rya'c suggested. 'Warn them away!'

'No!' Mitchell said. 'That would give our position away.' He looked over at the Jaffa. 'How good are you at flying one of these buckets?'

'He's better than me.' Jonas motioned for Rya'c to take over from him.

Rya'c moved into the pilot's seat and took the controls. Immediately, the cargo ship dived. The swarm moved to intercept.

'How do they know where we are?' Mitchell demanded.

Rya'c tried another evasion; looping up and over, down and under, trying to shake them. The swarm matched his every move.

'I hate to say it, but this isn't working.' Jonas clutched the back of Cassie's chair, trying to keep himself upright as the cargo ship lurched to the right.

'They're following the shift in the air currents.' Mitchell's blue eyes hardened. 'You have shields right?'

'Right!' Jonas informed him quickly.

'Then: full stop.' Mitchell ordered.

Rya'c glanced at him but he brought the cargo ship to a halt.

'Brace for impact!' Mitchell said.

Cassie gripped her chair and watched as the swarm of dragons rushed at the cargo ship. Somehow they didn't hit it; they broke off just in front, rushing around the vessel as though they knew its exact shape; their collective force buffeted it making it rock wildly from side to side despite its technology. Cassie felt her stomach roil in protest as the dragons stopped and the ship steadied as Rya'c engaged something on the console.

'I think I'm going to be sick.'

It took Cassie a moment to realise it had been Jonas who had spoken and not herself. He had placed a hand over his belly.

'Me too.' She agreed.

'Me three.' Daniel held up his hand. 'Are they gone?'

'They're coming back!' Rya'c said, looking at the ship's sensor.

For a second time, the ship rocked under the force of the dragon hurricane.

Cassie felt sweat bead on her upper lip; her heart was racing as she held onto the chair. She could see them flying past, a mass of wings and legs...they circled in the distance and came at them again...

'They're trying to force us down!' Mitchell realised out loud.

'Here's a thought; maybe we should let them!' Daniel suggested, hanging onto the pilot's seat tightly as the ship was shook for a third time.

'This is a recon mission, Jackson!' Mitchell pointed out.

'Sure, because it's not like any of those have ever gone wrong before!' Daniel retorted. He staggered over to Cassie. 'Can you communicate with them?'

'I...I haven't felt anything from them!' Cassie stuttered, nervously.

'Try!' Mitchell implored her.

Cassie darted an anxious look at Daniel who gazed back at her encouragingly. She closed her eyes and tried to sense the dragons. There was nothing. She wet her lips as the ship rocked under the dragons' attack again.

Her mind pictured the silver dragon. Stop it! Cassie thought strongly. Please! Stop it!

Abruptly, the attack broke off and the cargo ship was steadied by Rya'c.

Cassie opened her eyes and breathed out slowly.

'They're falling back.' Mitchell noted tightly.

'Cassie?' Jonas inquired.

'I asked the Queen to stop the attack.' Cassie said nervously, turning to look at him. She shook her head. 'I don't even know if she heard me.'

'Oh, I think she heard you.' Daniel commented, gesturing back at the windshield.

Cassie swivelled round in her chair and froze.

The silver dragon hovered in the sky just in front of the cargo ship. Her yellow eyes peered into the ship as though she could see right through the cloak.

'OK,' Jonas said, 'I think you got her attention.'

You are Goa'uld! A voice whispered across her mind.

Cassie tried not to jump but she couldn't prevent the slight jerk of her body at the mental intrusion.

Rya'c looked at her concerned. 'Cassandra Fraiser?'

'She thinks we're Goa'uld.' Cassie managed to get the words out, past her dry lips. Fear skittered through her.

'Tell her we're not.' Daniel instructed gently.

Cassie nodded quickly. We're not Goa'uld.

A sequences of pictures appeared in her head; of herself healing Puff with the Goa'uld device; of healing Rya'c and Jack.

Goa'uld, whispered the voice.

A picture of Teal'c appeared; another of Rya'c.

Jaffa, whispered the voice insistently.

No, Cassie thought back strongly. We are not Goa'uld. We are of the Tau'ri. We defeated the Goa'uld and the Jaffa are free now.

Show me!

'Cassie?' Daniel placed a hand on her arm. 'What's going on?'

'She doesn't believe we're not Goa'uld, I think she wants me to show her the truth with my mind.'

The men around her all exchanged a concerned look.

'I'm not sure that's a good idea.' Mitchell said.

'You would be vulnerable to an attack.' Rya'c agreed.

'On the other hand, we don't have a lot of options here.' Jonas argued. 'Cassie communicating with the Queen may be the only way we have of convincing the dragons we're not a threat and beyond that, getting help for Sam.'

'He has a point.' Daniel said. 'We knew this was a risk when we took this mission.'

Had they? Cassie wondered if she'd been the only one who had naively thought they were just going to take a look and be back in the pyramid in time for dinner.

Mitchell sighed. 'The General is going to kill me.' He seemed to take a moment to weigh up their options before he waved at Cassie. 'You ready for this?'

Was she? Cassie thought of Sam. How could she not try? She nodded briskly.

'Go ahead.' Mitchell said softly.

Cassie pressed her lips together and tried to steady her breathing. She closed her eyes. If you want to see...

It was as though cold fingers clamped around her mind; reaching in to search through her memories...

The first team from Earth arriving on Hanka; the parties and the celebration of a new alliance...the building of the astronomy lab...

The plague and Nirrti...Cassie hiding in the bushes, Sam coaxing her to come forward, Teal'c reaching out a hand to her...

Her Mom examining her and the trip back through the Stargate...Earth and the SGC...the pain in her chest...the bunker and Sam coming back to hold her, to be with her even though Cassie could have blown up...

More, whispered the voice.

Cassie felt the cold go deeper. Pain spiked through her head and she stifled a cry even as she grimaced...

Not Sam! The Tok'ra threatening her. Jack comforting her and later...Sam curled up in the infirmary bed, tears in her eyes, so sad and devastated...

Sam talking with her about time travel and paradoxes and Cassie saving them in the future...

And her birthday party...kissing Dominic...the ability to move things with her mind and Nirrti crashing through the observation window...healing her...

More, whispered the voice.

Please, Cassie thought desperately. The fingers tightened in her mind, cold and harsh, ruthless and sharp. A rush of memories surged forward...

Sam telling of her of her Mom's death and the funeral; the sadness; the loneliness...

Remembered grief overwhelmed Cassie; she was drowning in it, tears seeped out of her eyes and ran unchecked down her face...

And Sam...wonderful, brilliant, quirky Sam...trapped in her numbers and equations, the sense of loss Cassie felt at the lack of recognition in Sam's eyes as she looked at Cassie and declared her pretty...

'Cassie!' Daniel's voice echoed dimly in her head as though his words were travelling through a long tunnel.

And suddenly the cold was gone.

Cassie opened her eyes.

Jonas was talking to her urgently, saying something but his face was blurry in front of her and the sound distorted so she couldn't make out the words. Her head ached; the pain too much for her to handle, and Cassie gave up her hold on consciousness.

Continued in Part VII.




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