Chapter 21

The Jaffa tossed Jack through the cell door, slamming it shut before the prisoner had a chance to gather his muscles and launch a doomed attack against the alien warriors.

Jack gave the bars a solid thump with his fist, momentarily stymied. He couldn't help but to recall that last scene in the cloning chamber as his hands went over his face and despair consumed him. Why the hell did it have to be Carter? What about him? It wasn't like they could clone him anyway, right? Why not just clobber him for awhile if that's what gave them their jollies? It was his job.

Hell, it was his life. The System Lords could do what they wanted to him - he didn't mind. But to do it to one of his team - to Carter in particular...

If Ba'al wanted to do the one thing that would be sure to hurt Jack the most, even more than leaving him with the knowledge that he planned to eventually erase the love he felt for Carter from his clone's reality - if he ever succeeded in cloning him, that is - it was to let Jack listen to her suffering, then to be forced to watch her die, knowing that he couldn't do anything to help her. Ba'al knew what he was doing - he had to give him that.

Jack's despair was cut short as sympathetic hands pulled him back from the bars. “General, what's..?”

More voices interrupted Reynolds' inquiry.

“Did you..?”

“Is the Colonel..?”

“What happened?”

“How did you..?”

“Were you cloned again?”

“What's going on?”

Finally Teal'c's rumbling voice sliced effortlessly through the cacophony. “Where is SamanthaCarter?”

Jack felt a vise cleave his heart in two. “She... Ba'al...” His gaze landed on Daniel's form, and he had a vague second of noting again that Carter had been right as usual in claiming that Daniel had been cloned. That was why Daniel was even here. He should know by now that no matter how crazy Carter sounded, what she theorized was most always true. But right or not, he couldn't keep the despair and sorrow out of his voice as he choppily explained, “Ba'al tried to clone me - but couldn't. Then he - hurt Carter, and now he...” He couldn't do it, keep his voice emotionless, like he was giving a report at the SGC. How could this possibly be emotionless, anyway? Jack's horror grew as he finished, “He's ordered the Jaffa to cut off Carter's legs... to get me to tell about...” How not to mention the Asgard? “About the cloning thing,” he settled on at last. “Then we can watch her... bleed to death.”

What?!” Daniel barked, momentarily so frightened by Jack's words that he ignored how silly and idiotic they truly sounded. Stunned and sick, he immediately turned to regard his fellow SGC coworkers. “We can't let that happen - we've got to get bandages... get things ready... in case... uh...” But at a loss, Daniel's voice trailed away as the situation truly asserted itself:

Even if Ba'al meant what he said and nastily cut off Carter's legs, even if she was still alive by the time the Jaffa brought her back to the cell, and even if, by some miracle, they managed to stop the bleeding and she was still alive... they would remain locked in this dirty cell meant for far fewer people than was currently housed in it. The reality was that they couldn't get out - all twenty-six of them had tried, on numerous occasions. The lock was a relatively simple construction, easily picked... if one knew what one was doing... and one had the tools... which they most certainly didn't.

Daniel was letting his despair slowly take over his expression when the most unexpected thing suddenly happened. From the rear of the crowd, Major Jan Brody of SG-15 spoke up.

“If what General O'Neill says is true, or if it isn't, we can't take that chance,” she barked, much like an Air Force General in her own right. “Let's get ready. L&D, girls - I've got tourniquets - you...” and she pointed at several female airmen converging on her position. “... and you, you, you, and you - bandages. Go!” And without further words, she and every other female in the group began removing their pants.

Such an unusual action of course left all the men - Jack, Teal'c, and Daniel included - ogling the frantic women in stunned disbelief. Brody was fiddling with the hidden bootlaces tied to her thighs as the others continued to mysteriously undress.

Finally, Daniel sluggishly asked, “Uh... what are you doing?”

Brody didn't pause in her self-appointed mission as she explained, “As the senior ranking medical officer on this mission, I outrank even General O'Neill for the duration of this medical emergency. As of this minute, I'm taking command of the mission.” Abruptly she took in their amazed expressions that were trained on her all-but naked butt and barked, “I expect you all to be completely professional! No ogling, no teasing, no stupid comments - be airmen!” She now toed off her boots so that she could take off her outer pair of pants, revealing several pair of underwear. “General, we need intel! We don't even know where we are.”

“Uh...” Despite what Major Brody had already said about ogling, Jack found himself staring, too stunned to go on.

Brody ripped the two laces she meant to use as tourniquets off her legs and handed them both to an unmoving male colleague. “Make yourself useful - hold these!” Without fanfare, she began to remove her many pairs of underwear as her fellow females also took off either their boots, pants, or underwear... to reveal even more underwear.

“You men!” Brody brusquely said as she continued to struggle. “Any of you wearing cotton briefs, take them off - cotton absorbs blood better than boxers. And if it helps to stop the Colonel dying - you won't mind freeballing it for a while. Now General...” Her attention had wavered for only a moment. “Fill us in - where are we, what's going on, what's Ba'al planning?”

But the men were still too stunned to do anything more than watch. Glancing up, Brody finally noticed the continuing stares of her male colleagues. “What? Haven't you guys ever seen a woman's naked legs before?” Her frustration gave way to anger, and she practically spat, “What did you think we did on all those girl's nights we had? Dish about all the cute guys on base? Come on! We bandied around ideas about how to carry supplies on a mission that would still help us even when our vests and weapons were taken.” Finally managing to pull off several pair of underwear at once, she threw a wicked grin in the direction of her ogling colleagues, as if she'd decided that since they were staring in astonishment, she might as well really astonish them. “I've heard that some of the larger busted girls even hide things under their breasts - truly a sight to see.” She giggled now at the continued silence. “At least we're not taking our shirts off for your enjoyment, too.” She sent an evil grin in the General's direction. “Even Sam Carter has said that breasts are one of the few things that every female has and that any male captor will automatically ignore.” She wrinkled her nose in concentration as she then began working on the braid in her hair. “And have you ever noticed that all Jaffa are men? They would never think to look under breasts or in hair for concealed supplies.” She was now yanking her hair out of its twisted French braid, working her fingers into the middle of the strands, clearly probing for something. “The worst any captor can do if they find our secret supplies is to take them. And besides...” Anger now expended, she smiled a fully wicked smile and indicated her breasts. “As they say, if you've got 'em, don't just flaunt 'em, use 'em!”

And that's just what the women were doing - using every part of their anatomy that they possibly could, whether they were large busted or not. The maxim of 'if you got it, use it' obviously also included their clothing. Two of them even took off extra pairs of BDU pants concealing second pairs of pants underneath. One tall woman threw her extra pants at Jack, yelling, “Here, General - put these on - they might be short, but at least they won't fall off!”

The even taller Captain Ally Schumann sent her second trousers sailing in Teal'c's direction. “These might be big enough to fit you, too.” Second Lieutenant Lynn Bennett pulled off four extra pairs of cotton underwear and handed them to Ariana Law, a civilian linguist on SG-10, who was diligently using the tiny razor blade that Major Brody had finally fished out of her hair to cut off any soiled sections of the underwear she was being given and to rip off the top piece of elastic. Civilian anthropologist Ashley Verstrate was just as industriously gathering up the material left after Law had finished carving them so that they were in a neat pile easy to get to. She was also encouraging the men to hand over their cotton briefs as quickly and quietly as possible while Jack finally thawed enough to give his report.

“We're all on Cimmeria.”

“Cimmeria?” Daniel retorted as he divested himself of his pants. “We were captured on PXR-595 - that's light years from Cimmeria! What are we doing here?”

Teal'c responded, “Clearly this is where Ba'al's cloning facility is located. He needed to clone you. You were transported to it.”

The same type of thing had happened to all of SG-2. Major Coburn reported, “We were infiltrating a Goa'uld vessel when we were shot with zats... then we woke up here.”

Bosworth of SG-13 agreed. “That same thing happened to us - we were ambushed.”

“On PC7-141,” Balinsky filled in.

Senior Airman Travis Fortune continued, “And weren't we on some ship for awhile? It was always dark - so it was kinda hard to tell.”

Now fully in control of himself again, Jack broke in to ask everyone, “And you were all brought here?”

As one, they all nodded, except the women, who were still busy with what they were doing.

Jack tried hard to ignore what that was. Fortunately, no one had taken her shirt off yet. “And I bet there was some kind of cloning-you-all ceremony,” he continued, trying to ignore the women. “They would need clones for taking over the SGC.”

“They did clone us!” Arie Law exclaimed from her place on the floor. “At least, there was some kind of machine that we all were sent to.”

“But we didn't know it was for clones!” Captain Connor insisted. “And we had no idea we were on Cimmeria... or about the SGC thing!”

A worried expression fell over Colonel Edwards's face as he turned to Jack. “They're not really taking over the base, are they, General?”

Jack blew out a breath as he pulled on the pants he'd been given. “They are. Carter figured it out.”

“Of course she did,” Daniel muttered, now stripping off the briefs he wore. He successfully paid no attention to his nakedness as he then threw the briefs to Arie Law in order for her to magically turn them into a bandage clean enough for the Infirmary.

In a hushed voice, Jack then told them everything he could recall, particularly highlighting Carter's concerns about SG-13 and Daniel in his report. As he talked, he absently watched Jan Brody efficiently replace her clothes as if she had done this very thing a million times before. She then continued to fumble with her hair, finally pulling two pieces of dark wire from the black strands she'd just freed. She handed them to an amazed man standing beside her, then fished around for more booty.

“French braid,” she told the man who stared at her in even further amazement. “A French lets you hide a lot more things in your braided hair than just a regular braid.” Her amusement at this situation ratcheted up another notch as the man's expression now furrowed in confusion at her names for her braid. “It's much easier to French braid than to put in a herringbone.” The confusion deepened, and Brody's laughter peeled throughout the cell. “You know - herringbone. Like that elf's hair in 'Lord of the Rings'”

As one, every scientist in the room suddenly grunted an 'ah' of understanding.

Jack grimaced: it figures that the scientists would get it while he felt too stupid to be in the same room with them. The fact that Carter would also know what Brody was talking about galled him even more.

In the meantime, all the men stared at Brody's dark wires in more confusion. “They're for picking the lock on the door,” Brody was forced to explain in irritation, as if all her male colleagues were still infants.

Connor abruptly asked the question that was just now beginning to form in Jack's mind. “If you women always had all this truck with you from the outset, why didn't you do something about our situation before now?”

Jan Brody barked a laugh. “Before, none of you guys knew about what we were doing... and what you didn't know couldn't come out under torture.”

“Now we'll have to think of someplace else to hide our things,” Ally Schumann said in a low voice, as if she considered this inconvenience to somehow be all her colleague's faults.

Brody barked another laugh. “But we had no idea where we were or what was going on... and this has never been an L&D.”

“L&D?” someone redundantly asked.

“Life and Death situation, L&D for short,” replied Bennett in clipped tones, as if she thought what she was saying was so obvious that she shouldn't have to say it in the first place.

Any more explanations were cut off when an agonising scream ripped through the quiet chatter in the cell. It went on for what seemed eternity, crawling up their spines and shivering their toes. The blood simultaneously drained out of twenty-six faces. They all turned to regard the General, who stood rooted, silent, and clearly sick by what he'd just heard.

“Sam,” Daniel guessed, his voice a whisper, saying what they were all thinking.

Clearly she had regained consciousness long enough to more than likely lose it again.

With renewed energy, the women continued to prepare, ignoring blatant nakedness to concentrate on what they were doing, determined to save a life if they had to, or at least to do everything they possibly could when the time came.

Now all business, Brody hissed, “You four!” She pointed at the four men nearest to her. “Your job is to be her tourniquets until we can tie these bootlaces I just gave you in place.” She indicated the man she'd handed the strings to that she'd first pulled from her thighs, then went on with her instructions. “Put your hands together with thumbs touching, and spread your fingers wide, like this.” She demonstrated with her own hands. “Place them on this part of her thighs, all the way around her legs, and squeeze like hell, the minute she comes back into this cell. He and I will tie on the bootlaces as fast as we can, and they'll be our real tourniquets. You four do the bandages,” she instructed her four female counterparts. “Get that bleeding stopped if it's the last thing you do. You all know how.” She briskly turned to Daniel and Jack. “Jackson, you pillow her head. General, you talk to her and keep her distracted, especially if she's conscious, though I expect she'll have fainted. But no matter what, she'll be alright if she thinks she'll be alright. You're the only one she really listens to.” She looked as if she understood what she was asking of the General. “Do what it takes... but you've got to keep her alive!”

Now she looked as if she knew exactly what she was asking.

Distracting Samantha Carter was a job for the mythological Superman in a situation where there was no alien doohickey just sitting around for her to figure out. For their talk to be serious enough to successfully distract her for them, he would have to discuss the one thing sure to bowl her over enough to keep her alive: feelings, specifically his... for her, and he'd have to talk about them in public. Nothing less was sure to be interesting enough to take her attention off her lack of legs, off the fact that she could potentially be bleeding out, off the multitude of other injuries she was suffering just now, off the pain that was sure to be so intense that it would be enough to drive her insane.

A moment of weak panic accosted Jack - he seriously thought about pulling his chicken act and trading assignments with Daniel. There was nothing more that he would like than to not rock the boat right now.

But then his immutable will asserted itself once more, and his panic attack was under control in record time. He couldn't chicken out again. Sam would never forgive him this time... if she lived, that is. The place he currently held in Carter's life was not as secure as he had always dreamed it would be: nothing had really been firmly decided. He felt that she had his heart and had had it in all its entirety for quite some time, but she might not think so. That earlier schmaltzy bit in Ba'al's clone room may have been an act on her part. She might have been bent on nothing more than making Ba'al as frustrated as hell in the only way she knew how.

Contrarily, if she died, he would too. The moment he had that thought, the decision of what to do was easy for him. Resolve spidered through him until he was determined that she would live or he would die keeping her alive.

And so he nodded in agreement to Major Brody, knowing full well what she was asking. The term 'crunch time' had never felt so descriptive before.

Major Brody had just rebraided her hair when crunch time came sooner than they expected. They heard the familiar thump of Jaffa footsteps in the corridor, and hurried to hide their booty from sight lest it get confiscated, to straighten clothes, and to look lost and forlorn. The emotion wasn't hard to display - they were all aware that it would be amazing if they actually pulled this off, and that sliver of doubt was enough to make their faces as drawn as drawn could get.

Once it started, it happened quickly. The Jaffa appeared, Colonel Carter slung halfhazardly in one of their arms. Her own arms dangled at the Jaffa's sides, making her appear dead already. She was a mess of broken bones and dirt. An ever-widening pool of blood collected while the cell door swung open. None of the captives entertained even a notion of escape when, completely impassive, the Jaffa simply tossed her through the open door. If Jack hadn't coincidentally been right at the front to catch her, she would have crashed to the hard stone floor.

It could only have taken seconds for the Jaffa to slam and relock the door, and to then clank away in a loose formation, their faces maddeningly composed. Jack's and Daniel's frantic movements to lower Carter to the ground and try to stem the bleeding at the same time got them through the seconds it took for the final Jaffa warrior to vanish around the corner nearest their cell. Then, in a coordinated burst of movement, the SGC personnel exploded into action.

The four designated men immediately formed tourniquets with their hands at just the right place on Colonel Carter's thighs for the flow of blood dripping from just below her still-intact knees to be cut by half. Moving furiously, Major Brody and Captain Spovak tied the bootlaces in their hands as tightly as possible given that they didn't have anything on hand to twist the laces tighter. Brody ordered the victim's legs to be propped up to help slow any remaining bleeding, and the intense fight to completely stop her bleeding as quickly as possible began.

Jack was oblivious to all the hectic activity going on around him. Using his first two fingers of his right hand, he probed Carter's wrist, then her neck, relieved by the fact that he finally found a pulse. However, just in the time that his fingers dug into her skin for her pulse, that steady rhythm of her heart slowed perceptibly. Terrified that it would stop altogether, Jack launched into the first ramble that leapt into his mind.

“I won't bother telling you that you won't die right now, Carter. We won't let you, but you know that. You won't believe me, anyway, no matter what I say. But I have faith in you - you won't die now, and to top it all off, you'll end up saving our asses to boot.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to add something, but swallowed his comment at the last second. He did lean close to Sam's left ear and say, “Yeah... what he said.”

Surprised, Jack blinked. That was probably the most succinct he'd ever heard Daniel be since he'd met the archaeologist.

“Hey Carter,” Jack went on. “I know that my total faith in you must be annoying as hell, but you can't argue that it's well-placed faith.” He winced. “Actually, you probably can argue with me on that. Tell you what... you live through this, and I promise that you can bite my head off about it later.”

Daniel snorted a laugh, which sounded strange in this dire situation, but at the same time brought an amount of macabre entertainment to the scene.

All of a sudden, without any effort on his part whatsoever, Daniel faded from Jack's awareness to be replaced by the gruesome killing memories that had been paraded in that cloning room of Ba'al's. Coming at him out of nowhere, the memories jumbled together with new memories of all the slugs Carter had been forced to endure on his account, forging inexplicably together to accost his mind before he could stop them.

Now, without a speck of doubt, Carter knew everything there was to know about him, too: the good, the bad, and all the sordid parts in-between. She now had intimate knowledge of what a horrible monster he had been for much of his life, and this latest bleeding bout was all for his benefit as well. If Carter lived through this, she was sure to hate his guts for the rest of her life.

Now that she knew exactly what he was, she had to be so filled with disgust... when she was awake. There was no way in this Universe that she would ever have an iota of interest in furthering the fledgling relationship that she and Jack had begun on Thor's ship. She would be counting her lucky stars that she hadn't had time to get more involved with him than she had. The love she felt for him was sure to vanish, just as Ba'al wished. She would be so sickened by him, who had clearly killed so many people, she would...

At that point, Jack shut down his brain. He couldn't stand the thought of making Carter sick, couldn't acknowledge the idea that his last hope was now well and truly shattered, and that he had none other than his most scummiest of scummy enemies to thank for it. That thought made him want to hurl. He fought to get the nausea under control. He couldn't help Carter if he was throwing up. He hoped that his face betrayed nothing about his thoughts - Danny was just too observant for his own good. At any moment, he would see Jack turning green, and would wonder what he was thinking.

Then what would Jack tell him? Having one member of his former team 'in the know' as to Jack O'Neill was practically flattening him. What would he do if Daniel ever found out? And if Daniel knew, then Jack was sure that it was only a matter of time before Teal'c knew. The next thing, Teal'c would be requesting to return to Chulak. He'd say that joining the Tau'ri had been a mistake, that Jack O'Neill was not the noble man he'd thought him to be, that...

Jack forcefully reigned in his wayward thoughts. None of this mattered anyway if Major Brody and her hodgepodge medical team was unable to get Carter's heavy bleeding under control and fix her other injuries. There was still every probability that Carter would die.

Carter - gone.

That idea gave Jack chills, ironically distracting him from the memories he wanted above all things to forget. Yet even a distraction left him sweaty and trembling, his heart slamming against his rib cage. But he welcomed the accompanying self-loathing. It was better than a Carter-loathing...

He couldn't think about this anymore, not right now, not here. It threatened to completely obliterate him in a seconds. He needed a further distraction, fast.

So Jack immediately blurted the first thing that came into his mind, “I have doubts about Shanahan. It's true. Not doubts as to who he is... or what he is... though I had doubts about that, too. This time I mean doubts as to letting him tag along on this mission. I've felt kind of bad about him since the very beginning... and where is he? I wish I knew. It's almost like my doubts are being confirmed without me even trying. It's scary. And I had doubts about Jonas... Quinn, not Hansen. And doubts about Daniel...”

“Hey!” an indignant Daniel interrupted.

Jack ignored him. “And to be honest, I had doubts about a certain captain being as capable as she was pretty.”

Daniel's third snort almost derailed Jack from his monologue, but Jack continued as if Carter's life depended on his speech.

“You'd say that doubt was deserved.” Jack's voice turned skeptical. “And maybe it was... at first. But it probably wasn't.” His snort was self-deprecatory. “Maybe I just had a stick so far up my ass at the time that I needed you to yank it out for me. Maybe that Captain used that second Abydos mission to change my mind for me about scientists at a time when it wasn't so easy to change my mind... about anything.”

Carter suddenly coughed, and for one glorious second, Jack thought she was waking up, but she remained heavily unconscious. Instead, blood trickled down her jaw to drip onto her neck. Without missing a beat, Jack carefully wiped the string of red away. From that string of coughed blood he knew one or both of her lungs were punctured, or her ribs were badly broken, or she had internal bleeding. She could do little at this point except gurgle on her own fluids, and her breathing started to rattle with each breath.

Jack's heart skipped a beat, and his fingers probed frantically for a pulse. He was mentally preparing himself to begin CPR when he found her pulse again, fainter this time, but definitely there. He tried not to think about the fact that with every beat of her heart, she was pumping her blood out through her now useless legs. He wanted desperately for her to stop doing that, but at the same time wanted her heart to keep thumping away inside her chest just like normal.

Jack casually went on with his speech. “It was you who changed my mind, you know, Carter. It seems there's nothing you can't do. So of course my faith in you is annoying - you're annoying. Believe me when I say you're gonna be fine, and we're gonna get out of this yet. Have a little faith in me if you won't believe in yourself.”

Just then Major Brody triumphantly called, “The bleeding's stopped... or slowed. I think that does it!” She tied off the bandages with another bootlace that had magically appeared and sat back on her heels.

Just in time for a completely unexpected thing to happen next. Jack had just realized that he had forgotten to even mention his secret (or not so secret) feelings for Carter when a white light suddenly coalesced around her and she vanished right out from under his hands.

Chapter 22

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