For disclaimers and author's note see Part I
The sudden bang of something at the back of the cargo ship startled Vala out of her memories and she blinked. She shifted in her seat. Sam had done a good job with the engines; she had somehow managed to get them working to two hundred per cent of their usual efficiency. They were making good time.
A brief glance at the monitors assured her they were on course and would reach Earth within a few hours. Vala wondered what they were going to do when they got there. Sam had been a little vague beyond actually getting to Earth – or rather Tago. The astrophysicist had sequestered herself in the back of the ship and Vala had hardly seen her since they had started their journey. She hadn’t wanted to intrude. Sam was dealing with a massive loss and Vala figured Sam needed some time alone to come to terms with that; Vala knew she did.
Sadness flooded her anew; the boys, the SGC, Earth itself…all lost. She should have known it was too good to last. She sighed and pushed her melancholy away. She had lost a home before – more than one – she would survive; it was what she did.
She powered down the engines and got up to, stretch. Her entire body ached. She needed to rest and she figured Sam did too. The Tago weren’t going anywhere. She bent over, touching her toes with an ease that pleased her. She ran her hands down the supple leather that clothed her with glee. She didn’t mind the SGC uniform in many ways but it was ugly and she was so much more comfortable in the ensemble she had put together; black leather pants and a tight black turtleneck top that covered everything but moulded to her body. Sam had raised her eyebrows when she’d caught sight of Vala but hadn’t said anything.
‘Why have we stopped?’ Sam asked, moving to glance out the front at the myriad of stars. ‘Is something wrong?’
Vala took her time, straightening. ‘We’ve been travelling for hours; we need to rest.’ She noticed that Sam hadn’t changed into the clothes Vala had bought for her. Sam still wore the SGC uniform; her silver dog tags glinted against the black t-shirt and the black BDU pants were streaked with dirt and crumpled.
‘I’m not tired.’ Sam said, gesturing at Vala with something that resembled a wrench.
‘Fine,’ Vala pushed past her into the back of the ship, ‘I need to rest.’ Her hand went to her growling stomach. ‘And eat.’ She went over to the goods she had managed to haggle in the market. It was surprising how popular her old uniform had been when she had gone to trade. She had managed to net them enough food for their journey; the tools Sam had used to fix the ship and some additional fire-power. Of course, her negotiation skills were better than most, Vala prided herself as she reached into a bag and plucked out an apple. She took a large bite as she busied herself setting out the rest of the meal.
‘Vala,’ Sam said her name impatiently, ‘we’re almost there!’ She waved behind her at the cockpit.
‘Exactly.’ Vala said around a mouthful of apple. ‘Shouldn’t we rest before…whatever it is you have planned?’
Sam looked over her shoulder and back at Vala. ‘Are we safe here?’
‘We’re cloaked and you’ve got the proximity sensors working.’ Vala shrugged. She placed a blanket on the floor and laid out the food. She patted the spot by her. ‘Come and eat.’
Sam looked over her shoulder again and Vala could almost see Sam’s mind considering her options. The blonde sighed heavily and walked over. She dropped to sit cross-legged beside Vala and took the hunk of bread Vala offered her with a nod of thanks, setting her wrench aside.
Vala took her knife and cut a slice of cheese. She handed it to Sam and took a portion for herself. She finished her apple hurriedly and made short work of the simple meal of bread and cheese. She reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of Della’s brew. She knocked the top off with her knife and took a large swig. She wiped the top politely and passed it to Sam. Sam took the bottle, grimaced and took a large gulp before she handed it back. Vala took another appreciative sip before she lowered the bottle and regarded Sam thoughtfully.
‘What?’ Sam asked. She picked up an apple and taking out her knife began to peel it carefully.
Vala flicked her pony-tail over her shoulder. ‘You surprised me.’
Sam arched her eyebrow elegantly. ‘Oh?’
‘Yesterday, when you kissed me.’ Vala expanded. She pointed the bottle at Sam and smirked. ‘I didn’t think you would.’
Sam shrugged. ‘It was only a kiss.’ Her eyes dropped to the apple she was carefully continuing to peel. ‘It seemed like the easiest way of getting the ship although if I’d known he would have caved so quickly when his, uh, tackle was threatened I would have gone that route first.’
‘Well, you’re a very good kisser.’ Vala commented dryly. ‘General O’Neill is very lucky. Or was, very lucky. Well, obviously not lucky given recent events and Earth getting destroyed but…’ she stumbled to a halt as Sam glared at her. She raised the bottle and smiled guilelessly. ‘Sorry. Was I not supposed to know?’
Sam ignored her and turned back to the apple.
Vala sighed heavily at the lack of confirmation. She only suspected that Sam and the rather yummy General were involved after hearing snippets of conversation here and there, not to mention that the two gravitated towards each other like magnets whenever they were in the same room.
‘SG1 had to kiss the tribal council of Nbii to secure the mining rights on P8X752.’ Sam said suddenly breaking the silence. ‘Six men and six women.’ She finished peeling with a flourish, the unbroken peel falling to the floor in a beautiful spiral. ‘Every member of SG1 had to kiss every member of the council.’
‘Really?’ Vala began smiling. ‘Tell me more.’
Sam smiled at the memory. ‘Teal’c puckered up immediately...’
Vala could believe that; Muscles had never let anything fluster him. ‘And Daniel?’
‘You know Daniel. He was happy enough to embrace the Nbii way of doing things.’ Sam’s smile widened. ‘He just told the Colonel – I mean, General O’Neill, although he was a Colonel back then, he told the Colonel that it was just a kiss and what was he fussing about.’
‘I take it the General stepped up eventually?’ Vala remarked, taking another sip of the beer before she gave the bottle back to Sam.
‘Eventually.’ Sam raised the bottle. ‘Daniel has this great photo of him kissing the tribal Chief.’ Her smile faded. ‘Had.’ She took a long drink and gave the bottle back. She began to cut the apple, nibbling on the thin slivers of fruit.
Vala knew Sam had told her the story to distract her but she respected the boundary; Sam’s relationship with the General was clearly off limits as a topic of conversation which was fine; there were relationships that Vala didn’t talk about either like the one with her estranged husband, Tomin and then there was Adria…she sighed and took a slug of the brew. ‘I once had to kiss a Lutillian frog to secure a trade deal.’
‘A what?’ Sam asked.
‘A Lutillian frog.’ Vala waved the bottle. ‘It’s a green, slimy six foot creature that’s worshipped on the planet of Lut.’
Sam stared at her and Vala looked back evenly, assured that her dark eyes were giving nothing away. She’d learned to bluff very well given sometimes she had to rely on the occasional scam for her survival.
‘You’re making that up.’ Sam pointed the knife at her.
Vala smiled widely. Maybe she was; maybe she wasn’t. She started to reach for another apple and pulled her hand back. They had limited food and they needed to stretch the rations. A pang of regret shot through her. She had got used to the limitless supply of anything she wanted on Earth. It wasn’t the first time she had gone without, Vala reminded herself and given events, she doubted it would be the last. She took another gulp from the bottle to cover the grumble of remaining hunger. She gestured at the apple rind by Sam. ‘You’re good at that.’
‘I used to watch my mother do it when I was a child. I remember she would sit at the kitchen table with a tiny paring knife. I really wanted to be able to do it and she would tell me that she would teach me the trick of keeping the rind whole when I got older but we never got round to it.’ Sam bit her lip as the knife sliced through the white fruit again. ‘She died before she could.’
Vala looked away from the sadness on Sam’s face. Samantha Carter had obviously been a devoted daughter.
‘A couple of days after the funeral, I found the knife and peeled an apple.’ Sam grimaced. ‘I sliced my palm open. My Dad was furious.’ She looked up suddenly with a frown. ‘What about your parents?’
‘What about them?’ Vala retorted, taking another sip from the bottle.
‘You don’t talk about them much.’ Sam pointed out, finishing the apple and dumping the core into a rubbish bag along with the peel.
‘Not much to tell.’ Vala said firmly. ‘My mother and I, well, we didn’t really get along and my father,’ she pulled a face, ‘well, less said the better, really.’
Sam gave an understanding smile. ‘I didn’t get along with my Dad either not until Selmak.’
‘Your father was a Tok’ra.’ Vala remembered. Daniel had told her that much – along with a warning that Sam missed him very much and that Vala should probably not mention him unless Sam brought him up.
‘He had cancer. Selmak cured him; gave him a second chance.’ Sam said quietly. She sighed. ‘We were closer after although I didn’t really see him much the year he died.’
‘Why not?’ Vala asked bluntly.
‘Our Alpha site was attacked. We didn’t know if it was a Tok’ra or a Jaffa who had given away the intelligence. The Tok’ra decided to withdraw from the alliance after that.’ Sam shook her head and reached for a cloth to clean the knife.
‘That was the other time the self-destruct was set.’ Vala deduced. She looked at the remaining liquid in the bottle and handed it back to Sam. ‘When you survived?’ She hoped Sam would take the hint and tell her the story.
Sam finished the beer and set the bottle aside. ‘We were working on a weapon to stop Anubis’s super-soldiers. My Dad and I had just perfected it when Anubis attacked.’ Her blue eyes unfocused and Vala could see Sam was back in her memories, reliving the moment in her mind. ‘Dad and I ran for the hills but we had one of the super-soldiers following us. The blast hit and…’ she shook her head, ‘there were trees everywhere, dust. I remember being thrown,’ she gestured, ‘and when I woke up I had a huge splinter in my thigh; everything hurt.’
‘But you survived.’ Vala said softly.
‘The super-soldier was hunting me,’ Sam continued as though Vala hadn’t spoken, ‘I had the power unit for the weapon and I knew it wouldn’t stop until it got it. I hid in the forest for…I don’t know how long.’ Her eyes closed briefly. ‘It was so close to finding me.’
Vala sat forward. ‘What happened?’
Sam stirred as though Vala had disturbed her thoughts. ‘Oh you know the usual.’ Her fingers plucked at her laces. ‘The SGC sent a UAV with a missile so I tried to blow up the super-soldier with it.’
‘You blew up a super-soldier with a missile?’ Vala exclaimed loudly, her eyes widening in shock.
‘Tried.’ Sam repeated. ‘I failed.’ She took a deep, shaky breath. ‘It rose up from the rubble like some…monster.’ Her hand rubbed her thigh as though to reach the long-healed wound. Her head dropped. ‘And then…’
‘And then?’ Vala prompted urgently.
‘Teal’c.’ Sam cleared her throat. ‘He just…he just appeared and started shooting at it. He distracted it and gave me time to get behind a pile of rocks. Colonel O’Neill killed it.’
‘They had been searching for you.’ Vala said out loud. ‘Despite the self-destruct.’
‘They wouldn’t give up on me.’ Sam said. ‘They wouldn’t leave me behind.’ She looked up and her eyes were filled with tears and pain. It arrowed straight to Vala’s heart and she felt the sting of responding tears in her own eyes.
‘But they have.’ Sam’s voice broke; her grief rolling over her and pulling her under. She brushed her hands over her face, desperately denying the tears that were falling. ‘They’ve left me behind, Vala. They’ve left me behind.’ She turned away as though to hide.
Vala hesitated uncertain at what to do. She scooted across the floor cautiously and gently pulled Sam into her arms. The other woman resisted for a moment before she curled up around Vala, resting her head on Vala’s lap as she cried, silent and deep sobs that shook Sam’s slender frame. Vala stroked her hand over Sam’s hair, over her shoulder, trying to soothe Sam, trying to soothe herself as her own tears slipped down her cheeks.
‘We’re here.’ Vala declared as she established a high orbit around the planet Tago. It was indeed purple – a swirling mass of purple with glimpses of orange land masses. It was colourful but Vala felt herself wishing for the calm blue and green that had been Earth. She could only imagine how Sam felt as the other woman slid into the passenger seat to stare down at the sphere below them.
They’d fallen asleep after their crying jag – much needed sleep in Vala’s opinion although both she and Sam had woken with stuffed up noses and sore throats. Sam had hardly spoken during breakfast and had remained in the back for the remainder of their journey.
Vala believed the other woman was feeling slightly embarrassed for breaking down, for showing emotion. Vala had pretended not to notice and her act of normality seemed to be working on relaxing her discomfited companion.
‘Personally, I think it’s a perfectly horrid colour for a planet.’ Vala said comfortingly.
‘It is weird.’ Sam agreed dryly.
‘So, what’s the plan from here?’
Sam cleared her throat. ‘Actually, I don’t really have a plan.’
Vala looked at her surprised.
‘I mean, I will have a plan.’ Sam corrected in a rush. ‘I just don’t have a plan,’ her lips twisted, ‘yet.’ Her hands reached for the laptop she had connected up to the ship’s systems. ‘Maybe we can find where they’ve got that pyramid device and…’
‘Take it?’ Vala brightened. Finding stuff and taking it; one of her specialities.
‘Take it and reverse it somehow.’ Sam glanced at her apologetically. ‘I know it’s not much of a plan.’
Vala shrugged unconcerned. She was used to making things up as she went along. She found that usually the universe had a way of interfering with plans. She got to her feet and yawned, stretching.
‘This is interesting.’ Sam’s eyes narrowed on her laptop monitor. She typed some instruction into the computer and waited impatiently, her fingers tapped restlessly on the console.
‘What?’ Vala asked impatiently. She stood behind Sam and peered at the monitor trying to make sense of the readings on the screen.
‘The energy field is reacting with a usually benign substance in the atmosphere; that’s why it’s purple.’ Sam murmured. She tilted her head. ‘It’s changed the chemical composition and made it highly combustible.’
‘So why isn’t the planet in flames?’ Vala asked idly, gesturing at the Sun in the distance.
‘Good question.’ Sam said thoughtfully. She rubbed her nose. ‘It must be just at the right position; far enough away from the Sun for it to be cool enough not to ignite it.’ She pursed her lips.
‘Sam?’ Vala asked cautiously, not liking the dangerous look that had chilled Sam’s blue eyes.
Sam’s gaze didn’t shift from the planet in front of her. ‘A sustained burst of weapons fire from this ship will heat up the chemical; it would set the sky alight and it would start a chain reaction. The whole planet would burn.’
Vala stared at her before she laughed nervously, wagging a finger at the other woman reproachfully. ‘Oh, you almost had me.’
Sam didn’t reply and Vala recognised that the avenging warrior was back. Vala found herself suddenly wishing for the Air Force officer with her logic, common sense and adherence to rules, duty and honour.
‘Sam.’ Vala said warningly. ‘You can’t be serious.’
Sam levelled a cool gaze at her that had Vala sobering abruptly.
‘OK.’ Vala said slowly. ‘You are serious.’ She sat down again. She was aware her heart was beating a little too fast as she struggled to find the words to…to what? Stop Sam? After all, wasn’t this Sam’s right? The Tago had destroyed Earth. But this was genocide; if Sam did this, there would be no way back for her.
‘You don’t want to do this.’ Vala blurted out.
‘They killed…’ Sam’s voice cracked and she took a steadying breath, ‘they killed everyone, Vala. My family; my friends. They destroyed my entire planet. They deserve to die.’
‘Not all of them!’ Vala argued passionately. ‘Only some of them. Probably whoever’s in charge. You can’t blame the entire planet.’
‘Watch me!’ Sam shot back.
‘This isn’t you!’ Vala burst out frustrated.
Sam laughed harshly. ‘You don’t even know me.’
‘Maybe not,’ Vala acknowledged tightly, ‘but I don’t think everyone who did know you would believe you were capable of…genocide.’
‘There are probably children down there.’ Vala continued ruthlessly. She paused as she wondered what the Tago children looked like and shook her head. ‘Probably very ugly children but I don’t think you want to kill them and…’
‘Stop!’ Sam snapped suddenly. Her blues flashed at Vala. ‘Stop trying to be Daniel!’
Vala’s breath caught in her throat at the well-placed verbal jab. She ignored the flutter of pain and responded with anger. ‘Then stop being something you’re not!’
Both of them glared at each other.
Vala took a deep breath, willing her heartbeat to slow. ‘When I was a host,’ she began, ‘I had to watch Quetesh burn planets; I won’t watch you. If you do this, you do it alone.’
Sam flinched and her gaze jerked away back to the planet. Vala watched as the inward struggle played out on Sam’s pale face.
‘We’re not as good as you think we are.’ Sam said quietly. She shifted position in her seat but her eyes remained forward, fixed on the planet. ‘Daniel and I were on Chulak once. We saw a tank of infant Goa’uld at the temple. We captured one to take back for study. When I made to leave, Daniel stood there just looking at the tank.’
Vala held her breath.
‘I think I called his name and he turned to me and said something about how they would all take hosts in the future, take someone’s life…and I,’ she stopped, her voice thick with tears; it took her a moment before she could continue, ‘and I told him that if we killed them when they were young and helpless, that we would be no better than the Goa’uld.’
‘What did Daniel do?’ Vala wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
‘He shot up the tank.’ Sam said simply. ‘He killed them all.’ She blinked back her tears and stared at the ceiling. ‘I think it was the first time I just didn’t understand him. I mean, it was Daniel.’
Vala nodded understandingly. Daniel was a good man. The act Sam described seemed so at odds with that picture but suddenly, the memory of Daniel with a gun stood over Adria when she was a child popped into Vala’s head and she shivered.
‘I never blamed Daniel for doing what he did, I mean after Apophis…I think he had all this anger; all this hate.’ She brushed away the last of her tears. ‘And I can feel it now and it’s so strong.’
Vala held her breath.
‘But it’s not enough reason.’ Sam concluded. ‘It’s not enough to destroy a whole planet.’
She faced Vala clear-eyed with a calm sanity about her that had Vala inwardly collapsing in relief.
‘I should get back to finding that device.’ Sam said. ‘We’ll send them back to their own reality.’
‘And I should make us some lunch.’ Vala said brightly. She got up.
‘Vala.’ Sam stopped her as she got to the doorway and looked over her shoulder at her. She seemed unable to say anything but Vala smiled and nodded understandingly. She might not be Daniel but it seemed she’d done just fine as herself.
‘I think it’s time for plan B.’ Sam mused absently as she chewed on her bottom lip.
‘Did we have a plan A?’ Vala asked wryly, leaning back and propping her legs on top of the console. She regarded her knee high leather boots with satisfaction.
Sam shot her an exasperated look but it was edged with amusement and Vala smiled back at her. The last twenty-four hours had been beyond boring. They had scanned; and they had scanned, and they had scanned some more. Vala had never done well with inaction.
‘Plan A was finding the device by scanning the planet for the metal element.’ Sam reminded her briskly. ‘Only there’s so much of the metal on the planet and the energy field is too dispersed to get a fix on an exact location.’
‘And plan B?’ Vala asked dryly.
Sam made a face. ‘I guess at the location.’
Vala raised an eyebrow in an unconscious mimic of Teal’c. ‘Guess?’ She waved a hand. ‘As in?’
‘Guess.’ Sam repeated.
Vala looked at Sam.
Sam looked back at her. She broke first; waving a hand in Vala’s direction. ‘I know it sounds crazy…’
‘Crazy.’ Vala agreed cheerfully.
‘But I think I know the location.’ Sam stressed. She tapped at the model of the planet revolving in technicolour on her laptop monitor. ‘I think the device exists in a fixed point in both realities; the Tago’s original reality and this one.’
‘So you think the device has to be at the same spatial coordinates as it would have been in our reality?’ Vala frowned.
‘Exactly.’ Sam said. ‘Now on Earth the device would have been at the SGC before,’ she paused and took a breath, collected herself again, ‘which would be here on the Tago planet.’
‘OK.’ Vala swung her legs down from the console and got up to take a look at where Sam was pointing.
‘Now there’s a structure,’ Sam hit a few buttons and a fuzzy picture of a pyramid came into view, ‘the device must be in there.’
Vala practically pressed her nose up to the monitor.
Sam hauled her back. ‘The picture was the best I could do with the ship’s sensors.’
‘We need to get a closer look if we’re going to identify a point of entry.’ Vala sat back down and cracked her knuckles, preparing to break orbit. Breaking into locked buildings was something she could do. ‘We should take the ship in.’
‘We don’t know if we go through the energy field if they’ll spot us.’ Sam argued. ‘We may only get one shot at this.’
‘And your point is?’ Vala asked lightly but she held off moving the ship.
‘My point is that we need to be ready to move when we do go in.’ Sam waved a hand. ‘We need to get a pack of equipment together; supplies in case we get stranded and…’
‘You need to change.’ Vala inserted.
Sam glared at her.
Vala wrinkled her nose. ‘The Tago may have a heightened sense of smell and your clothes…’
‘OK.’ Sam interrupted her. ‘Point made.’ She sighed. ‘We also need to work out how to find the device once we’re in the building.’ She pondered it for a moment. ‘Maybe I can track the source of the energy when we’re closer to it.’
The next hour disappeared in preparation. Vala waited impatiently as Sam bathed and changed in the small bathroom in the cargo ship.
‘Sam!’ Vala called impatiently. She tugged on the cuffs of the three-quarter length leather jacket she had slipped on over her outfit.
The door slid open and Sam walked out. The brown leather pants Vala had chosen rode low on Sam’s hips while the simple vest top wasn’t quite big enough and it clung to Sam like a second skin. A thin section of Sam’s midriff was left uncovered revealing flat, toned muscle.
Sam sighed. ‘Are we ready?’
Vala smiled and picked up the brown leather bomber jacket that matched the pants. She handed it to Sam expectantly.
Sam shrugged it on and made a face.
Vala grinned and walked back to the flight controls. She and Sam slipped into their positions. They broke orbit.
‘This is it.’ Vala said as they began their descent.
Sam peered out of the window and clutched at the dashboard. ‘You’re going in too fast.’
Vala bit her lip and pulled back on the controls. Sparks flew off the ship’s hull and she had a momentary fear they’d set the sky alight.
‘Vala,’ Sam said warningly, ‘pull up!’
The ship evened out and zipped across the strange orange landscape.
‘See.’ Vala shifted position in her chair. ‘There was nothing to worry about.’
Sam gave a sigh and looked at her monitor. ‘Cloak is intact. I don’t think we were detected.’
‘Setting course.’ Vala said briskly.
A few minutes later, they hovered over the pyramid.
‘I think we should use the rings.’ Vala said helpfully. ‘If it is a pyramid we should be able to locate them.’ She crossed to the ring panel and pressed the buttons. She nodded. ‘They work.’
Sam’s lips firmed. ‘OK, then.’
They left the cargo ship hovering on autopilot. The rings transported them into a small room. The Tago guards were taken by surprise. A quick burst of fire from Sam’s P90 and both guards went down, dead. They jogged across to the door and Sam nodded at Vala, covering the former thief as she shorted the lock. The door slid open. They peered down into a corridor. It didn’t look as though the weapons fire had been overheard but they made their departure swiftly.
Five minutes later, they stood in the bowels of the pyramid. The interior reminded them both of the Goa’uld motherships and neither could help the tension that tightened their muscles and quickened their breathing. They hid in the alcoves, astonished to see humans walking through the building. Sam theorised that some humans must have been allowed to evolve along with the Tago on the planet, ending up as slaves.
They were making their way to another stairwell when they were forced to dive into a nearby room when they heard the sound of approaching guards. The room was small and airless. The gold walls were adorned with intricate carvings. Sam spotted a console and made her way over to it.
‘Sam?’ Vala questioned breathlessly.
‘Watch the door.’ Sam ordered. She began interfacing her laptop quickly. ‘Well, this confirms it.’
‘What?’ Vala demanded in a stage whisper.
‘Their language.’ Sam waved at the monitor. ‘I think it’s a form of Goa’uld.’
‘They’ve gone.’ Vala declared, checking outside. She made her way over to Sam and read over her shoulder. ‘It is a form of Goa’uld. I recognise these accents.’
‘Can you read this?’ Sam asked urgently. ‘My Goa’uld is rusty.’
Vala nodded. Her experience with Quetesh had left her with a very good understanding of the language. ‘This is an access point into the main computer system.’
Sam relinquished the keyboard to Vala and pulled up another chair. ‘Can you get into their directory?’
‘What are we looking for?’ Vala asked as she tapped in the commands.
‘Information on the device.’ Sam said, nudging Vala over to get a better view of the screen. ‘Try searching under reality machines.’
Vala made a moue of disbelief but followed the suggestion. Her eyes widened. ‘Bingo.’ She pulled up the file. ‘I think this is it.’
‘I think you’re right.’ Sam said reading as fast as she could translate. ‘They were engaged in a war with the Asgard in their reality.’
‘A group of their operatives found a Stargate and a reality mirror on a distant planet. They knew the Asgard planned to trap them in a time dilation bubble and thought both might be a means to escape.’ Vala continued.
‘They don’t have a Stargate.’ Sam sighed. ‘Well, that explains why we couldn’t dial here and why they used ships to attack the Alpha site and the Tok’ra base.’
‘They couldn’t get the Stargate to work but they were able to use the reality mirror. Operatives were sent out to test the various realities and find one suitable for domination.’ Vala said. ‘I think it’s safe to say we know which one they chose.’
‘But the mirror couldn’t be transported from the planet where they found it.’ Sam stumbled on the translation. ‘So they decided to build their own reality device, one that when activated in the new reality would transport the planet.’
‘The pyramid device.’ Vala supplied. ‘They built it, went through the mirror to our reality and left it in the ruins of PY8742 where we found it. It was fitted with some kind of sensor that recognised when it got to Earth and that would be its cue to activate.’ She frowned. ‘I don’t understand. The Tago took quite a risk that we would find it.’
‘Maybe, maybe not.’ Sam murmured. ‘I think they gambled on us being a little bit like them.’
Vala raised a questioning eyebrow.
‘Attracted to shiny objects.’ Sam explained.
Vala couldn’t argue with that. ‘But it could have taken us years to get to that planet. It’s sheer luck that we went there at all.’
‘I don’t think time mattered to them.’ Sam mused out loud. ‘I think the Asgard must have successfully trapped them in a time dilation bubble. So, no matter how long it took for us to find the device, when they were pulled into our reality probably only seconds or minutes would have passed for them.’ She finished. ‘Clever.’ She frowned and tapped a link on the screen. ‘Can you bring up this file?’
‘What is it?’ Vala asked, following Sam’s instruction.
‘The specifications for the pyramid device.’ Sam murmured. ‘This is interesting.’
‘I’m sure it’s fascinating.’ Vala commented. She pulled a face. ‘I understand Goa’uld but I don’t understand this.’
‘I do.’ Sam bit her lip. ‘The basis of the pyramid device is similar to the Ancient mirror – when someone touches the mirror an energy field is emitted that transports them from one reality into the next but the pyramid device is designed to work differently.’
‘By transporting objects to another reality without actually touching a mirror.’ Vala surmised.
‘Right,’ Sam gestured, ‘the device emits the same energy field.’ She stabbed a finger at Vala. ‘Only it doesn’t work.’
Vala glanced around. ‘Oh I don’t know. I think it kind of worked.’
‘Kind of.’ Sam agreed enthusiastically. ‘The Ancient’s reality mirror allows for full reintegration into the other reality but this device is unable to fully complete the transport.’
‘That’s why the planet still needs the device to be switched on.’ Vala said.
‘Right, and why the Tago need those badges when they’re outside the field and attacking the rest of the galaxy. It must be transmitting the field through sub-space somehow.’ Sam shook her head. ‘That’s not important.’
Sam’s lips firmed with determination. ‘They weren’t able to perfect the pyramid device before they had to plant it in our reality but now…’
‘Now they can.’ Vala completed. ‘OK, so we have to get to the device before they complete it and make this permanent?’
‘But if they’re working on it, it’s likely to have a lot of guards around it.’ Sam pointed out.
‘I don’t know,’ Vala waved at the empty room, ‘they don’t seem to be all that great at security. I mean, if they were, wouldn’t they have noticed us looking through their system.’
Sam pulled a face. ‘Yeah, there’s something I didn’t tell you. When I was accessing the system, well, it kind of, well, accepted my access code.’
Vala stared at her. ‘So,’ she pointed at Sam, ‘what you’re saying is…’
‘I think there’s another me on this planet.’ Sam expanded. ‘A Tago reality version of me.’
‘That’s a scary thought.’ Vala winced as she realised she’d said the words out loud but it was scary.
Sam cleared her throat. ‘We have another problem.’
‘Only one?’ Vala said wryly. She considered the thought that there might be another Samantha Carter standing between them and the device was enough of a problem.
‘You need to leave.’ Sam said.
Vala blinked. ‘Excuse me?’
‘I couldn’t be sure before but now I’ve seen the specs, I know.’
‘Know what?’ Vala asked impatiently.
‘That this is a one-way trip.’ Sam said bluntly. ‘Once the device is switched off, everything in the field will cease to exist in this reality and will be moved back into the Tago reality. That means anyone who is on this planet.’
‘Oh.’ Vala blinked. She hadn’t considered what would happen when they switched the machine off.
‘You need to get back to the ship and take off. I’ll wait thirty minutes.’
‘But…’ Vala began to protest.
Sam held up a finger. ‘Vala,’ she smiled sadly, ‘you have been great about everything, probably greater than even you realise, and I’ve appreciated everything you’ve done but you have to leave.’
Vala found herself speechless.
Sam took hold of her hand. ‘You’re the best hope in our reality for getting through to Adria.’ She pressed her lips together as though to control her emotions. ‘You have to go.’
Vala squeezed Sam’s hand tightly. She swallowed hard and looked at Sam. ‘I can’t just…’
‘Yes, you can.’ Sam insisted. ‘You’re a survivor, Vala, and our reality…’ she took a shaky breath, ‘our reality needs you.’
‘It needs you too.’ Vala argued. ‘There has to be some way…’
‘If there is, I will find it but you need to get to safety now.’ Sam patted her hand and released it. ‘That’s an order.’
Vala nodded slowly. She could do it. She could follow Sam’s order. She got up and smoothed her hands down the front of her outfit. ‘Sam…’
Sam stood up; determination written all over her face. ‘It’s been an adventure.’
‘Yes.’ Vala said huskily. ‘It has.’ She sprang forward and hugged Sam before the other woman could say anything. Vala didn’t wait for the hug to be returned, she hurried from the room. She made it to the end of the corridor when she heard the sound of running footsteps. She ducked into an alcove and watched as a team of Tago appeared and ran into the room she had just left.
Sam; they must have registered the computer usage, after all, Vala thought. She turned and made her way back down the corridor stealthily, taking cover. She watched as Sam was apprehended and the lead Tago warrior ordered the team to take her to the throne room. From the look of calm on Sam’s face, Vala realised, the military officer had planned it. Sam probably figured that she could argue her way into seeing the device.
Vala sucked her lip into her mouth and closed her eyes as Sam was marched away. She could leave Sam and get to the ship or she could follow and be there for her just in case her plan went awry and she needed help. She hovered indecisively. Maybe she was the best hope of getting through to Adria; maybe she wasn’t. Adria had never listened to her before…Vala sighed. If Sam could find a way to remain in their reality to save herself, she could find a way for both of them. Her lips firmed; she clasped her zat closer and inched out after the guards.
The closer they got to the throne room, the busier the corridors appeared. It took Vala a few minutes to pick out a serving girl and to grab her. She knocked the girl unconscious and dragged the body into an empty room. She swapped clothes, taking a quick moment to regret the loss of her leather outfit.
Vala adjusted the revealing bustier and hoped nobody would notice it was the wrong size. She hid the zat in the wide pocket of the full skirt and rejoined the corridor. It led inevitably to the throne room.
It was the usual Goa’uld fare; opulent gold and luxurious fabric all put together without any semblance of good taste. Evidently the Tago hadn’t been able to lose the Goa’uld gene for bad decorating when they had evolved as humanoids. Luckily, the room was also very busy; soldiers, followers, servants and slaves milled around the room in a haphazard fashion. Vala sneaked in and pretended to be rearranging the floral displays at the back. Her eyes scanned the room and widened at the sight of the pyramid device in the far corner on a pedestal. It was glowing faintly with sporadic purple pulses of energy. There were two guards in front of it but Vala figured they could be easily dealt with. She searched for her team-mate.
Sam was in front of the throne, flanked by two guards. The throne was occupied by a bored looking Tago dressed in gold robes and not very much else. Vala skirted the room to get a better look and sighed inwardly at the defiance on Sam’s face.
‘You will bow before your God Ra!’ The Tago guard ordered and the room quieted in anticipation of the imminent confrontation.
Sam simply raised an eyebrow.
Ra’s beady eyes flashed ominously. The Tago guard kicked the back of Sam’s legs and she fell forward onto her knees. Vala winced; that had to hurt.
Ra got to his feet and circled her. He grabbed her chin and forced her into looking at him. ‘You died two days ago!’
Vala frowned. Presumably the Tago Sam had died. She wondered why briefly. She carefully began to creep towards the pedestal.
‘I’m not your Samantha Carter.’ Sam admitted forcefully. ‘I’m from this reality.’
Ra’s eyes narrowed. He flounced back to his throne. ‘Kill her.’
‘And then who would finish the reality device for you?’ Sam said smoothly.
The guard pointed his weapon at Sam and for a strangled heartbeat Vala thought it was all over.
‘Wait.’ Ra ordered. He stroked his talons over the arm of his chair. ‘Why would you finish it?’
‘We have another two outposts. You agree to leave the rest of my people alone in this reality and I’ll finish the device.’ Sam bargained.
Vala took another step towards the pyramid device.
‘I don’t need you to finish the device.’ Ra sneered. ‘I am a God!’
‘Then I’ll guess I’ll have to do this the hard way.’ Sam said evenly. It was the only warning she gave them. In one fluid motion, she punched the Tago warrior, knocking him to the ground, and grabbed the weapon pointed at her. She fired it at Ra before anyone could react.
The shot sent Ra flying into the back of his chair, a gaping wound in his chest. He was clearly dead. Panic erupted at the death of their God. Screams filled the room; shouts and yells.
Sam spun and fired at the second guard who was clumsily trying to bring his own weapon to bear.
Vala used the confusion to knock out the first pedestal guard with an oversize vase. She picked up the weapon he had held and shot out the Tago soldier Sam had punched. He had recovered and had been poised to hit Sam.
Sam’s head snapped around and her shocked eyes met Vala’s. She smashed the gun she held into the Tago guard to make sure he stayed down. Vala barely noticed as she ducked a punch from the second pedestal guard. She landed a blow to his stomach but it barely made an impact.
Vala smiled weakly at the Tago who snarled at her. It suddenly jerked and fell forward, as a blast of Tago weapons fire hit its body. Vala looked up to find Sam stood with the gun perfectly aimed.
Sam ran over to Vala and grabbed the device. They both ran for the door. Sam yanked Vala back as Tago warriors started pouring through. They vaulted over a table and Sam pushed it over to give them cover as the wall above them was peppered with blasts.
Vala peeked out. A line of Tago guards had formed on the other side of the throne room. They were trapped.
‘Surrender!’ The lead Tago soldier yelled.
Vala looked at Sam. ‘What now?’ She hissed.
Sam looked at the device in her hands and back at Vala. ‘We can switch it off.’
‘And be trapped with the Tago in some time bubble for the rest of lives?’ Vala shook her head.
More weapons fire had them both flinching and huddling closer.
‘We don’t have a lot of time.’ Vala pointed out, clasping the gun she held tighter. ‘You said you’d find a way back to our reality.’
Sam sighed. ‘There is a way back.’ She admitted reluctantly.
‘So?’ Vala demanded. ‘What is it?’
‘The device exists in our reality so I’m fairly sure if we’re holding onto it, it’s probable we’ll end up in our reality when the energy field is turned off.’
‘Great.’ Vala remarked with relief. ‘So that’s what we’ll do.’
‘The problem is that the device exists in the same spatial coordinates.’ Sam added urgently.
Her blue eyes met Vala’s insistently and Vala suddenly got it. Earth was gone, destroyed when the Tago planet had taken its place. The device in their reality would be drifting in space. If they ended up back in their own reality holding that device, they would end up the same way; drifting in space.
They would die.
And Vala suddenly understood that had been Sam’s plan all along; it was the reason why she had tried to send Vala back to the ship.
Vala breathed in sharply. ‘Why not?’ She asked abruptly. She flicked her hair over her bare shoulder and smiled bravely at Sam. ‘Survival is highly overrated.’
Shots impacted the table and both women huddled together closer. Sam slung the strap of her weapon over her shoulder and offered the device to Vala. Vala shoved the gun she held into her skirt and held the bottom while Sam kept hold of the top. Her eyes met Vala’s. Vala held her breath as Sam’s hand hit the amber jewel.
The light was blinding.
A cold rush of electricity skittered over her skin, creating waves of goose-bumps in its wake.
The briefing room of the SGC appeared below them in a rush of colour.
She was falling.
Vala gave a small scream as she hit the ground hard, the breath leaving her body in a rush. Her stunned dark eyes met Sam’s as they stared at each other.
They were alive.
They were alive and in the SGC.
In the briefing room.
On the floor.
A throat being cleared had them both turning to look at the bemused faces of General Landry, General O’Neill and their SG1 team-mates.
O’Neill was the first to recover as he motioned at Sam. ‘Carter.’ He smirked as his eyes travelled over her outfit and widened appreciatively. ‘Nice of you to drop in.’
‘Sir?’ Sam’s voice was shaky. Emotions raced across her face as her eyes swept around the room and took in the faces of everyone around them. Love, joy and relief, disbelief, the fear she might be crazy all scrambled Sam’s features and Vala recognised that she probably had the same gawping expression on her own face.
‘Is that thing supposed to be glowing?’ Mitchell asked as he pointed at the device they were still holding.
Vala’s head snapped back to the pyramid device. She let go of it and scrabbled away. Sam threw it to the floor and reached for her weapon.
‘Everybody down!’ O’Neill yelled reading Sam’s intent.
Vala felt Teal’c move to cover her as they both crouched under the desk. The sound of the weapon firing and then gunshots filled the air loudly. Silence descended abruptly. Vala accepted the hand Teal’c offered her absently. The Jaffa had been the only one not to flinch during the shooting. Vala made her way back to Sam. Daniel and Mitchell joined them. O’Neill was already beside Sam with a handgun pointed at the device – he had grabbed it from an SF. Apparently, Sam shooting at the thing had been enough to convince O’Neill that he should do the same.
They all looked down. The device was in bits.
‘Well, it’s stopped glowing.’ Mitchell placed his hands on his hips.
‘I think it’s dead.’ Vala remarked happily.
‘Indeed.’ Teal’c murmured beside her.
Sam and O’Neill lowered their weapons.
‘Anyone want to explain what just happened here?’ Landry said gruffly.
Vala and Sam looked at each other bemused.
‘General,’ Sam broke in, ‘what just happened,’ she gestured at him, ‘from your perspective?’
Landry exchanged a confused look with O’Neill who shrugged.
‘The rest of SG1 returned about thirty minutes ago from Murai. We were about to start the debriefing when you and Vala appeared in mid-air holding that device.’ Landry straightened, puffing out his chest. ‘Aren’t you supposed to still be with the Murai?’
Sam held up a hand to stop Vala from talking; she subsided with a huffy sigh. ‘What day is this?’ Sam asked.
Daniel frowned worriedly. ‘Monday.’
‘Monday.’ Sam looked at Vala. ‘Today is…’
‘Saturday.’ Vala supplied happily.
‘The pyramid device didn’t work properly.’ Sam theorised out loud. ‘Instead of transporting the Tago planet into our reality, it must have engendered some kind of reality swap within the energy field. Earth was never destroyed. It was just in the Tago reality in the time bubble.’
‘What?’ O’Neill asked nonplussed.
‘For the last six days, we’ve been under the impression Earth had been destroyed.’ Sam reported quietly. ‘We thought you were dead.’
‘Not dead.’ O’Neill reassured her.
Vala rolled her eyes at the two of them; she had no reason to be so restrained and she wanted to celebrate. She whirled around and, before Daniel could react, she kissed him passionately. She released him and he staggered back apace, adjusting his glasses.
‘Vala…’ Daniel began with a hint of exasperation.
Vala sighed dramatically and she grinned wickedly at Sam. ‘You know all things considered, I think you’re a much better kisser.’
Teal’c’s eyebrow shot up.
‘Oh, now you are definitely explaining that.’ O’Neill said, stuffing his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels as Sam blushed furiously.
‘Well, it’s a rather long story,’ said Vala breezily, taking a seat and placing the Tago gun on the briefing room table as the others sat down too; it was going to be an interesting debriefing.
Vala stared up at the blue sky. It was empty of clouds; just filled with sunshine and a wide expanse of bright blue nothingness. It was fabulous. She stretched, enjoying the feel of the bumpy ground digging into her back, the brush of the short grass against her fingertips; the scent of the grass and earth filled her nostrils. She closed her eyes and gave a murmur of satisfaction.
‘Daniel told me you were up here.’
Her eyes snapped open and she watched as Sam lowered herself to the ground and stretched out.
‘This is a great spot.’ Sam commented as she wriggled to get comfortable.
‘Yes.’ Vala agreed mildly annoyed to have her peace disturbed. ‘It is.’
‘So,’ Sam began, ‘you’ve been quiet since we got back.’
Vala huffed a little. After the marathon debriefing, it had hit her hard. One minute their whole world had been gone and they had been about to die – ready to die even – and the next…everything was restored and they were alive. Vala could admit to herself at least that she was a little thrown and needed to take a moment to catch her breath even if she didn’t want anyone else to know. Luckily, their debriefing had led to a surge of activity – especially given their report about the attack on the Alpha site. The SGC had sent teams immediately to retrieve the bodies and bring them home while also sending teams to check on the Beta and Gamma sites. Sam, who had seemed to have recovered her balance amazingly quickly had also started putting together a mission plan to destroy the reality mirror the Tago had initially used. While it was likely the Tago were trapped again in the time bubble in their reality, no one wanted to take the risk of them appearing again.
It had been easy for Vala to slip away in the chaos. But that morning, in the quiet aftermath, everyone else seemed to know she was struggling despite her efforts to pretend everything was fine and had kept dropping by her quarters. As much as part of her enjoyed the attention, Vala had finally sought refuge on top of the mountain. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘OK.’ Sam agreed readily beside her.
‘There’s nothing to talk about anyway.’ Vala said after the silence had stretched on a little too long for her nerves to stand.
‘Nope.’ Sam said cheerfully.
‘I mean, the fact that we were prepared to die…’ Vala’s voice trailed away abruptly. And there it was; the reason for her disquiet. She had been surviving for so long, there had been a part of her that had welcomed the idea of stopping; finally having it end. She had truly been prepared to die – not for any noble reason, not because she was devastated by the loss of Earth and the friends she had made but because she was tired. It was an uncomfortable thought – and the one that had kept her from sleeping.
Sam cleared her throat. ‘We should probably go back to that tavern where we got the ship.’
Vala wondered at the abrupt change of subject. ‘Maybe we shouldn’t.’
Sam looked at her inquisitively.
‘I mean, Dolon isn’t going to be too happy we lost his ship.’ Vala pointed out dryly. The ship had been within the energy field and was stuck in the Tago reality.
‘We can handle Dolon.’ Sam said confidently.
Vala laughed. She was certain they could handle Dolon too.
‘Besides, I couldn’t help noticing you had some of your stuff there.’ Sam held her gaze. ‘We should go and get it; bring it home.’
Vala’s eyes widened. Home. She had a home. ‘I guess we could do that.’
‘Good.’ Sam said. ‘I’ll arrange it with General Landry.’
Vala nodded. They continued to lie in a comfortable silence.
‘You know the story I told you about the Alpha site?’ Sam said eventually. She didn’t wait for Vala to answer. ‘What I never told you was that when the super-soldier rose up out of the rubble, I just sat there waiting for it to kill me.’
Vala looked over at her in surprise and found Sam looking back at her with quiet understanding. ‘I was exhausted from running for so long; tired of having it to fight it on my own and I…for a split second, I just wanted it to end.’
Vala turned away and stared into the blue again. Maybe Sam did understand. Sometimes it hurt to be the one that survived all the time. Maybe that was the real reason why she had stuck with Sam rather than going her own way like she usually did.
‘Of course what I forgot was that I wasn’t alone.’ Sam continued.
‘You had your team-mates.’ Vala supplied, folding her hands neatly over her stomach.
‘And yesterday, I had you.’ Sam said.
‘You did have me.’ Vala agreed as the thought settled warmly around her like a hug. And she’d had Sam. She turned over onto her side, propping her head up on her hand. ‘Does this mean I get one of those SG1 badges now?’
Sam smiled broadly. ‘Come on. The guys are waiting for us; there was talk of cake.’ She jumped up and helped Vala to her feet.
Vala wiped the seat of her pants, made a face at the grass stains and turned her face back up to the sky. ‘I’ve never liked the colour purple.’ She declared incongruously as they started back towards the mountain. ‘Or the name Tago.’ She continued. ‘That was definitely their first mistake.’
‘Second.’ Sam countered. She smiled smugly. ‘Leaving us alive; that was their first.’
Vala grinned as Sam disappeared into the mountain. The former thief looked back over her shoulder at the sky in all its blue brilliance. When there was someone to share it with…well, maybe survival wasn’t highly over-rated after all.fin.