Disclaimer: Don't own them. Made no money off this story. So when I die, it'll be as a poor and obscure writer whom nobody remembers. (Thank goodness for anonymity!)

Brain Power

by Linda Bindner

Sam Carter would never forget anything that happened that day. It was the day her life irrevocably changed. And as horrible as it all seemed to be in the middle of the adventure, it all began so innocently. She was shocked afterwards when she thought about how quickly her entire life swerved onto another road altogether than the one she had been obliviously taking until then.

It started at 0900 Saturday morning. She had already pulled apart the remains of a shielding device that SG-12 had brought back through the 'Gate the day before, anxious to see if she could figure out how such strong shields could be produced by such a tiny power source as the one used by the Androsians of PRC-774.

She had just set the last piece of the puzzling 774 device in its new resting place on the floor in front of her workdesk when her lab phone rang. Luckily, she was on the same side of her lab as the phone, so wading over to it through the parts laying scattered across her floor was much simpler than it would have been in other circumstances.

Carter, she distractedly said into the black handset of her phone.

Hey Sam? It's Daniel, came the answering reply into her ear.

Daniel! Sam said, her voice now colored in delight as she forgot about the device's parts she'd been studying and paid more attention to her phone conversation. What's up?

Funny that you should ask that, he instantly replied.

Why..? Are you stuck to the door again and need help getting out of your office?

Daniel's voice sounded slightly peeved when he responded, Oh, ha ha.

Sam smiled as she reminded him about that mission and device from PRV-999 that excelled in creating very sticky situations for all involved. Finally she stopped laughing and was able to ask, Then what can I help you with?

Nothing like that thing from... Oh, God, I can't remember the designation of the planet that thing was from, he muttered. I'm spending too much time with Jack, I see. She laughed a second time at his comment, but didn't say anything so he could go on. Anyway, this particular device that I'm staring at doesn't seem to be covered in some kind of strange adhesive like that one last time... He paused, and Sam heard the rustling of papers over the phone as he flipped through a notebook. It's...

Daniel, Sam stopped him, finally taking pity on the poor archaeologist. Does it have something to do with the mind control the inhabitants of P2C-429 showed to us yesterday?

Yyyyeeeeaaahhh, Daniel hesitantly said. It's something along those lines.

Sam was confused. What do you mean?

Daniel readily replied, Well, the old man...

Tardel, Sam supplied for him.

Yeah, that Tardel guy... He told me that the mind games they all can play... the telepathy, the mind motivation, the levitation... all that comes from these little machines that that Goa'uld left behind when he abandoned their planet thousands of years ago.

Yeah, that woman... Alayna I think was her name... She told me and Teal'c the same thing when you were with Tardel in that library... museum... She paused, unsure what kind of building that Daniel had visited. That thing they have, she lamely ended.

Okay, Daniel spoke rapidly then. Just so long as we're on the same page.

Sam sighed. Was he ever going to get to a point? Then she realized what she had just thought, and smiled, thinking that Daniel wasn't the only person on base who could claim that he had been spending too much time with a certain General of their acquaintance. Daniel, go on, Sam commanded even as a grin wormed across her face.

Daniel quickly insisted, I'm getting to my point, really. That machine thing that Tardel gave me for analysis right before we left... I've translated the writing on the outside of the container, and wondered if you wanted me to transfer it to your lab for you so that you can take a look at it?

Wow, Sam said, dumbfounded at his thoughtfulness. She hadn't even had to ask to see the machine first. That would be great. Then she looked at the semi-mess of the 774 device that still lay scattered across her floor in an order that only she understood, and balked. Uh... I was working on a thing from PRC-774 this morning, and have the parts all over my lab. I should really pick it all up before you drop something new on me. When were you gonna be done with that machine?

I'm done now, came Daniel's reply. But I still have to call Siler for a cart to wheel it down to you. It's not heavy, but it is an awkward piece. He fiddled some more with some pages before him. Give me ten minutes... I'll be there by then.

No problem, Sam said. It'll give me time to clean up my mess and put it all somewhere out of the way. She glanced at the jumble, then around her lab, deciding that the back area of the room might be big enough to contain all the parts she wanted to move. I'll see you in a few minutes.

Okay, got it. Bye.

Bye. Sam hung up the phone receiver, then stared at the nearest pieces of her current puzzle on her floor. She wrinkled her nose. I wonder how that piece modifies that one? She gazed at two pieces near her right boot, then squatted down to examine them more closely, forgetting in twenty seconds flat what she had promised Daniel.

Ten minutes later, Daniel was knocking on her lab doorway. Heloooo, he called. Sam?

Down here! she yelled back as she sat playing with three of the parts under her worktable.

I'll... um... just... Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. Well, I can carry it as far as that first edge of your table, so that's where I'll put it.

Wherever, Sam answered, distracted again by what she was doing.

Daniel grabbed the machine he had been wheeling around on a borrowed cart, and moved it off the cart to one corner of her work table. Okay... That should do it. Just be careful! Don't run your hands over it or anything!

Thanks, Daniel! Sam called, still paying more attention to the 774 parts in her hand than to what Daniel was saying, certainly not enough to realize that what Daniel had said didn't make sense. See you at lunch!

1200 sharp, Daniel reminded her, thinking more about his lunch than what he was leaving for Sam. You know how Jack hates it when we're late!

Unless he's the one who has to be late, she mumbled, but added, I promise to be there today, ready to eat blue Jell-0!

I'd get some for you, but I already know that Jack will have some... See ya then! Daniel slowly wiggled the cart around, then left the lab.

Sam poked her head out from under the table to watch him go, then peered curiously at the 429 machine that Daniel had just brought. It was humming in a barely audible tune as it rested so innocently on her lab table. Well... She glanced at her mess. Guess it's time to move all this to the back of the lab...

But after her first trip to the room's back quarter, she happened to glance again at Daniel's machine, and the next thing she knew, she had begun looking at it more closely. She used a convenient rag to scoot it along the top of her lab table to rest nearer her computer, where she had the cables and wires necessary to run a metal composite. She was soon absorbed in the data displayed on her computer screen.

An hour later, Sam was surprise by the sound of her CO's voice as he moved jauntily into her lab, as he always did, and greeted her. Hey, Carter, coming to get you for lunch... No delays this time! he admonished, shaking a finger at her. She was still too busy with the numbers on her screen to even look up at him. Jack put his hands out to run along the edge of her worktable across from her computer, and said, So whatcha...

That was when Sam remembered the parts strewn all over her lab's floor, but especially on the floor right by her table. She jerked her head up. Oh, Sir, look out for...

Jack found the parts she was warning him about when he tripped on the pieces scattered near her worktable. He pitched forward, his hands already out to scrub across her work surface. He jabbed at the 429 device in order to stop his forward momentum at the same time she yelled, Don't touch it! knowing about it's reputed mind altering properties, and injudiciously grabbed at any part of the machine she could reach to pull it away from his questing hands. He pitched into it, anyway, just as she was about to pull it away.

Sam felt a button shudder under her finger at the exact same instant that Jack's hand landed on the machine's other side in order to help him regain his balance. A bolt of some kind of energy arced like electricity between them for a blink of an eye before Jack bounced backwards, where he tripped again on the many individual parts, fell over the visitor stool she kept in her lab, and tumbled to the floor in an undignified heap among the 774 parts and pieces.

Sam was instantly galvanized into action. Sir! she called in a horrified tone even as she shook off the lingering effects of whatever it had been that had split the air between them a second ago. The oxygen in the lab still sparked a bit as she hurried around the worktable to join him on her floor, where he was already groaning with his head in his hands.

Ugh! Jack moaned. What truck hit me? he asked into his fingers.

Then Sam was beside him, crouching on the floor. Sir! she called again, her relief that he sounded just fine almost palpable in her voice. Can you sit up?

Crap he thought, and Sam heard his commentary in her head. Then he groaned again. Dizzy... Then he released a stream of his breakfast onto her right knee and the floor as he tried to sit up beside her.

Oh God, Sam thought to herself. He's throwing up... Not good. Aloud, she asked, Did you hit your head, Sir? I'm so sorry about all this mess...

Not your fault, Jack tried to say, but it came out slower than he would have normally said it. Doctor, he thought, and squeezed his eyes shut against the ceiling lights in her lab that he was staring at.

Good idea, Sam said just before she jumped up, hit the red alarm button on her wall, then rang the Infirmary. Medical emergency, Lab three, level 19! How I miss Janet at times like these!

Me, too, Jack's voice said inside her head.

A wave of sorrow then accosted Sam, so strong that she almost fell over, too, but she held on to her tenuous balance until the sensation passed. Jolinar, Sam thought. But that was an awful strong surge of her emotions.

What does Jolinar..? Jack's thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the medical team that Sam had called for. A bunch of people wearing white coats over their uniforms bustled into the lab and scurried around him.

Doctor Brightman immediately asked Sam, What happened? Details, Colonel, she tersely ordered as she entered the lab.

Sam immediately fell into the military routine of responding to orders. He tripped. We both touched the 429 machine at the same time, then he fell backwards over the stool and landed here on the floor. He said he was fine at first, then complained about being dizzy...

Headache Jack thought, and Sam dutifully reported his latest complaint.

He has a headache, too.

Brightman whipped a penlight out of her coat pocket the moment she heard Sam's comment. She flashed the light into Jack's eyes even as she asked, Anything else?

Sam tried hard to focus her thoughts on the General's condition on her floor and avoid the mess at the same time. Ironically enough, it was Jack's voice in her head that calmed her the most so that she could think. Steady, Colonel.

Sam took a deep breath when she 'heard' those words, then recited, He said a few things, but his voice seemed slower than normal, and he threw up, as you can probably see...

And smell, a technician jokingly said as he assisted Brightman in moving Jack onto the gurney that they had brought into Sam's lab.

Jack looked like he was trying to grimace at that comment, but it came out more as a frown that was intense enough to make the technician mutter, Sorry, that was out of line.

Didn't mean to scare him like that, Jack thought.

Sam glanced towards the medical technician. It's all right, Lieutenant. He didn't mean to look so angry.

Brightman's head came up with a start. You're speaking like you know what he's thinking, she commented. But she didn't wait for Sam's response, but barked at her medical team, IV, now! Vitals?

One nurse began spewing out numbers that meant nothing to Sam while a second nurse started an IV running into Jack's arm. Ow! he thought. Damn, that hurt! I hate IVs! Damn needlepushers!

Jack's comments made Sam smile. She felt the worry that was beginning to crowd through her mind at just the thought of her and Jack being able to read each other's minds abate at his slightly caustic thoughts.

Stay calm, were the words that flooded through her. She began to immediately relax as Jack was quickly wheeled out of her lab, surrounded by the people in white coats that still swarmed around him.

Caustic, Sam considered again. The General wasn't being caustic, though, just honest. You know, it's ironic, she thought as she followed them out of her lab. Jack's calming me when he's the one who's injured.

'Jack?' came the thought floating back to her as she hurried down the hall behind the medical team and their most recent patient. What happened to 'Sir?'

Sam was quickly embarrassed. Uh...

Sorry... Didn't mean to embarrass you, Jack thought back to her. Call me whatever you want.

They were in the Infirmary now, and Sam paid more attention to what the medical personnel were doing to Jack than what Jack was thinking at her. There were machines and personnel and instruments and... It was all an undulating mass of confusing parts to Sam who stood as much out of the way as she could.

General... Sir, Brightman was saying to Jack, shining her penlight into his eyes again. Sam's heart pounded in time with Jack's thudding head. How do you feel now?

Jack spoke for the first time in several moments. I'm... Quit shining that light, you stupid..! Go away! Head hurts... so tired. He took a deep breath, trying to relax his wildly pounding heart even as he attempted to answer Brightman. Sssssoooo.

He's tired, Sam called across the Infirmary, arresting the attention of everyone swarming around the General. They all sent Sam a glare for just a second, and Jack took the opportunity provided by the wandering gazes to curl up on the bed he had been transferred to. He rested in a fetal position, his eyes closed, his hands balled into fists under his left cheek.

Brightman reacted the minute she was again staring at him. She rolled him back over and pulled him straight in the same smooth move. General... Can you hear me?

God, not so loud!

Sam instantly piped up, He says he hears you just fine.

Jack thought, Good save there, Major.

I'm a Colonel, not a Major, Sam quickly thought back at him.

You are? Jack replied, thinking. That was fast. Who promoted you this time, and how come I never heard about it?

Worry crept through Sam's mind like a fog on a river. You did, Jack... Sir... Jack.

I'm fine, Daniel, came his perplexing response. Stop worryin' so much. Do geeks always worry so much? God, you sound just like Carter.

Sam would have been even more worried, but she instead instantly felt incensed at the fact that he had labeled her a worrier.

Jack, I am Carter, she thought. Carter, the worrywart, apparently.

You are? You're not Daniel? Jack was trying to read Sam's thoughts and listen to Brightman's next question at the same time. He was having limited success.

General, do you know where you are? Brightman again inquired.

SGC, Jack mumbled, his eyes still shut. And what idiot made me a 'General?'

Brightman smiled, then commented, His sense of humor sure seems to be intact.

But distress flooded through Sam when he didn't remember his promotion to General even as the doctor spoke, and there was no calming thought careening through her mind on the wake of the feeling this time. Sam bit her lip as her eyes narrowed. She couldn't keep so much concern to herself, though she tried. Says he's tired... Doctor Br...

Brightman responded, but not to the beginning of Sam's query. Uh-oh.

Uh-oh.

Sam felt tension arrow through her stomach. She fought down a rising tide of panic at the doctor's soft exclamation. What? she barked out. What is it?

Brightman whipped her head around to face Sam again. You heard that? she asked in a fast tone.

Uh.., Sam stuttered. Yeah. In a manner of speaking.

Crap, Brightman muttered then. Or was that Jack?

Whichever... Sam gave a ghost of a smile as panic again engulfed her. She fought the feeling down again by saying, Heard that, too.

Brightman sent a wan smile in return to the Colonel standing at the other side of the Infirmary. That's okay, Colonel...

She's a Major came Jack's contradictory thought.

Sam suddenly snaked her hands up to cradle her head. Stop! No, this isn't right!

Brightman strode in two hasty steps over to Sam and pulled her hands down. Colonel! Sam didn't hear her next comment over Jack's sleepy mental correction of Major! ... right? Brightman was again asking.

At that point, Daniel careened around the corner of the Infirmary, calling, Jack! Jack! He caught sight of Jack lying on the Infirmary bed, and he panicked. He's gonna be okay, right? What the hell happened?

The noise was again swirling around Sam, causing her mind to whirl with all the sounds accosting her. She raised her hands up to cover her face again.

Jack's voice drifted over to them under the confusion. Leave her alone... She's fine, jusssssst confuuuussseedd. His sleepy voice turned into a mumble, and he once again rolled to his side and curled up.

Ohhhhh, Daniel said then in a voice of doom and gloom. He helped Brightman in yanking down Sam's arms when he turned to her. You didn't touch that 429 thing at the same time that Jack touched it, did you?

Sam forced her voice out through clenched teeth, You said not to touch it, not that we shouldn't touch it at the same time.

Daniel shot back, Did too!

Sam instantly replied, Did not!

Did!

Not! Jack called over. He still didn't bother to open his eyes. I'll beat him... pizza... leave you alone, he thought, then sighed, still sleepy.

Sam glared at Daniel. He said he'll beat you with a sticky cheese pizza if you don't leave me the hell alone!

Daniel's head whipped around to stare at Jack, all curled up on his bed, his eyes closed, his hands balled into fists beside his head, then back to stare at Sam. He didn't say anything... But you did!

Brightman held up her hands, commanding silence. All right, there's something more than the General's condition going on here.

I'll say there is! Daniel exclaimed.

Dr. Jackson? Brightman asked. Care to elaborate?

Frustrated, Daniel gestured at both women with his hands held out. The 429 machine... It's right there on the casing, in the writing..! Says 'Don't touch!'

Sam sighed in exasperation. Like I can read writing that's not in English!

Brightman gazed questioningly at Sam. You can hear the General's thoughts? Read his mind?

Sam simply nodded. He says he's tired, she reminded. And what was that 'Uh-oh' thing about?

Brightman blushed a flaming red. You weren't supposed to hear that. I said it in the General's direction, but I thought he was unconscious at the time.

Sam felt the hazy blur that was Jack's presence in her mind growing fainter. He wasn't unconscious then, but he soon will be.

That caught Dr. Brightman's attention again. She turned back to stare at Jack, then at the monitors, checking his vital statistics. Get me a shot of TPA, now! she barked. MRI, too. Move! she yelled to her technicians.

Daniel's face took on a puzzled expression, and he mouthed TPA? to Sam, who shrugged. Doctor? he asked.

But Brightman ignored him. She ignored Sam. She kept her gaze trained on the monitor showing Jack's brain waves as her personnel scurried around Jack, unhooking what could be unhooked and hooking everything back up to portable monitors. The team wheeled him down to the X-ray lab as Daniel and Sam stood alone, still ignored when Dr. Brightman followed her team out in a rush and flurry of white coats.

Alone, the silence descended on Sam like a brick wall. She immediately turned to scream, Don't take him like that! but the personnel were gone.

Sam instantly dissolved into tears as another sensation of panic ripped through her. Nooooo! she cried, only peripherally aware of Daniel's hands on her arms.

Sam! Sam! he frantically called.

Sam took a shuddering breath, and tried to pull herself back together. I'm all right, Daniel.

You don't sound all right, he commented.

That was Jack... panic... she brokenly insisted.

Teal'c suddenly jogged into the Infirmary. ColonelCarter, DanielJackson...

Well, at least someone knows I'm a 'Colonel,' Sam muttered under her breath, and frowned.

'O'Neill, Teal'c went on. Where is he? I heard an accident had befallen him...

Daniel's soothing touch moved from Sam's arms to hold back the barreling bulk that was Teal'c on a mercy mission. I don't know yet what's going on. He looked to Sam. Okay, Sam, spill.

As quickly and concisely as she could, Sam recounted for her friends all that had transpired in her lab and in the Infirmary. Daniel listened without asking any questions, for once, though his face became grimmer with each word she said.

Daniel again grew more and more agitated as soon as Sam finished her spiel. The writing... It warns that no one should touch that machine who doesn't want to be linked...

'Linked?' Sam repeated.

Telepathicaly connected, Daniel corrected himself. That's what I was trying to tell you. He again wrapped his fingers around Sam's bicep. It's a machine that 'links two souls already united until they become one mind.' That's what I was trying to say!

Daniel! Sam stared at him in exasperation. Why didn't you tell me this when you left it in my lab?!?

I did! Daniel retorted.

You told me about the mind thing, but not that two shouldn't simultaneously touch it! she reminded him yet again.

Daniel muttered darkly, but it was too quiet for either Sam or Teal'c to hear. Louder, he asked, Did you and Jack touch it at the same time?

Right when he tripped! Sam explained, her exasperation was quickly moving into irritation by then.

What exactly happened that's so wrong with Jack, anyway? Daniel thought to ask.

Sam groaned, and pushed her palms into her eyes. Give me a minute! she testily requested. I need to do some research on this TPA stuff that Dr. Brightman was ordering.

Okay, Daniel said, his hands up, showing his agreement with her. You go look. Teal'c and I will be waiting right here for you.

Sam nodded once, then jogged out of the Infirmary without another word.

Daniel looked to Teal'c. Did she seem..? I don't know... off... to you?

How so, DanielJackson? Teal'c asked.

Daniel heaved a sigh then. She sounded and acted a lot like Jack would have in this situation, he announced. Or maybe it's just me who thought that.

Teal'c's hands met behind his back. It was not 'just you.' Teal'c replied in a quiet voice.

Great, muttered Daniel. Two Jacks...

* * *

Ten minutes later, they decided to wait for news about Jack over steaming cups of coffee in the Comissary TPA, Sam immediately began to report. Then she hesitated. She gazed at Daniel and Teal'c sitting across from her. You guys aren't going to like this, she announced on a rush of air.

Tell us anyway, Daniel ordered. He blew on his own coffee, then took a cautious sip.

Sam's brows drew closer together in a frown. Softly, she answered his order, It's what they give a person during the first few hours of a stroke.

What?! Daniel blurted. Does that mean that's what's wrong with Jack? Then he negated his own question. But he's so active! He can't have a stroke! Did this come on by him hitting his head on the floor, or..?

Sam glared him into silence. I don't know, Daniel! she said, worry making her sound aggravated again. He didn't complain about hitting his head, but he did say things about being tired, dizzy, he was already talking funny when we were in the Infirmary, and he said that he had a headache. Those are all classic symptoms of stroke, she informed them, her voice little more than a whisper now. If that's what this is... She didn't finish her comment.

Oh God, Daniel said in a voice full of doom. I had no idea it was that bad.

We do not know anything for certain yet, Teal'c reminded them. Let us not jump our rivers before we see them.

That's 'cross our bridges before we come to them,' Daniel said, now sounding tired as well. But you're right, Teal'c. We really have no idea what's happening.

Drink your coffee, Sam told him. Then we can go back to the Infirmary after we're done. Maybe Dr. Brightman will be able to tell us more by then.

Daniel nodded, but when he looked at his coffee, the sight of the brown liquid made him queasy for the first time in history. I don't feel so good, he said, and he pushed his cup away from him.

Sam sighed, but didn't say anything more.

* * *

Dr. Brightman heaved a breath of relief in the steadying quiet of her office, for just a second or two of relaxation. Then she dialed her desk phone, and waited. When she reached an extension operator, she requested, Doctor Lassom, please.

Again she waited a moment as she was transferred, and another phone rang. Then, after only a brief pause, a man responded to the summons. Dr. David Lassom, he briskly answered.

Brightman was relieved again that he was in his office to take her call. Dr. Lassom, this is Dr. Alisen Brightman. We met at the convention on Neurology in Dallas last month, and...

He interrupted her. Of course, I remember you, Dr. Brightman! You had such sterling questions! We talked for several hours... How may I help you today?

Brightman leaned back in her military issue chair, and smiled. Yes... well... Dr. Lassom... I was wondering if I can possibly ask you a few more questions this afternoon?

The enthusiastic reply came quickly. Of course, of course! By all means, go ahead.

I guess what I really need is your expertise, Brightman said in a quieter voice. I have a patient who in the past has received multiple concussions, who's now suffering from fatigue, headache, slurred speech, and vertigo, and his motor responses are becoming more and more sluggish as time wears on. I was wondering if there's any diagnosis you might possibly attribute those symptoms to?

Lassom's reply was immediate. Sounds like a stroke of some kind, but I don't want to jump to conclusions too quickly.

Neither do I, Brightman replied. But I did have the same initial diagnosis in mind. However, I thought I would call you and get another opinion before any more time goes by.

Did this person suffer a neural injury of some kind? he inquired next, curiosity sounding loud in his voice.

Not that is known, but it's a possibility, Brightman admitted.

MRI?

Inconclusive at this point.

Was TPA administered at any time?

Yes, about thirty minutes after the patient was admitted, which was five or ten minutes after the incident...

Hmm, Lassom commented. Fast admittance. You're working on some military base, you said, if I remember correctly?

Brightman gave a wan smile at her phone, and only replied, Yes, and that's all I can tell you. Besides this particular patient doesn't seem to be responding to the TPA. Heart rate and blood pressure are still elevated, and confusion seems to be setting in, not to mention the tendency of the muscle tone to freeze and become rigid when touched.

Lassom sighed. Still sounds like a stroke to me. You said that the MRI was inconclusive?

Yes, though there are a few slightly shaded areas in the brainstem region. I'm thinking about ordering a second MRI in another thirty minutes, to see if there's any progression. What I'm wondering about is if you can possibly think of any other drug I might try administering, or something I can do that might alleviate his symptoms, or...

Lassom sighed again. Unfortunately, you're already doing what should be done. Ordering a second MRI is an excellent idea, but that will only give more information, not a cure. If rigidity is already setting in to the muscles, and this seems to be an event that's centered in the brainstem area, there's not much more you can do after administering TPA. There's experimental drugs, of course, but nothing approved by the FDA, and almost impossible to get your hands on, especially in time.

Brightman grimaced. That's what I thought you would say. An unrelated neurological event seems to be interfering with the TPA as of right now. You're the third neurologist that I've contacted about this case, and each doctor that I've talked to has made the same diagnosis that I originally reached. I was just wondering if you have any suggestions or advice?

Well... Lassom hesitated. Any family or loved ones available? Sometimes just the presence of someone familiar works wonders for a patient.

No family that I know of, though one person seems to be closer than any others, and I've been keeping her nearby to...

You know, the fatality rate in brainstem strokes is quite high, Lassom helpfully continued. I can quote statistics if you like.

Brightman grimaced. No, I think I'd rather not know the precise numbers at this point, but thanks for the offer.

A shrug sounded loud in Lassom's voice. No problem. Once more came the sigh over the line. Has this patient fallen unconscious at any time during this affair?

Brightman heaved a large breath of air. No, not yet, though with the amount of fatigue this patient seems to be suffering, and the vertigo...

Slurred speech, too, you said?

And mounting confusion.

Hallucinations?

None reported so far. Any advice?

Sounds like a classic case for the physiatrists and rehabilitative medicine. I wish I could give you more advice, but what I know might not come in handy until later... there's several drugs that can make a big difference then, but they're for muscle spasticity and tone. None of it will stop any event from taking place.

Again, that's what I was afraid you would say, Brightman said, then ground her fingers onto the eyes.

I might be able to tell you more if I can see the MRIs for myself, but...

I'll see about sending you copies of them if it comes to that, Brightman promised. Thanks for your time, Dr. Lassom.

Call any time, and please, keep me informed, Dr. Brightman, Lassom requested.

I will. I may be calling you again in the near future. Thank you. Good bye.

Good bye.

Lassom's concerned voice disappeared as Brightman returned the receiver to its cradle. She heaved yet another sigh, then gathered herself together enough to page SG-1 to come to the Infirmary. She didn't know what she was going to say to them yet, but she had to tell them something, and soon. Alisen Brightman took a last deep breath prior to being the dreaded bearer of bad news.

* * *

Sam Carter stared at Dr. Brightman in shock. A what? she asked again in incredulity. Repeat that for me. Her comment came out like a question more than a statement.

I talked to three different neurologists, all with the same conclusions that I reached, and with the same advice: a stroke of some kind, and that I should administer TPA. But there seems to be something about this mind device machine... What were you calling it? she asked Colonel Carter.

Sam quickly said, It's a mental link of some kind, I think, brought on by the energy output that I explained.

Brightman nodded. I'm not sure quite what it was, but there's a definite elevated white blood count and a higher amount of estrogen in his system.

Estrogen? Daniel asked in surprise. But men are born with more testosterone in their bodies, not estrogen!

Yes, I know, Brightman immediately said. I can't explain it.

Daniel decided that it would be best if he just moved the conversation along. And this estrogen amount... It means..? What?

Brightman sighed. It means... She paused. Nothing's conclusive at this time.

Then make your best guess, Daniel sharply said.

Brightman shuddered. I was hoping that you wouldn't ask for that. She grimaced, then schooled her features into her strongest 'medical trauma' expression. The bad news... My best guess is the General is suffering from a brainstem stroke that has the potential to leave him paralyzed, if he lives, and that's not a certainty by any means. On the other hand, there have been huge gains made in the field of rehabilitation and drug therapy specifically targeted at the brainstem area that...

A hitch sounded from Sam then, cutting into Brightman's recitation. So what are you saying here? she asked, her voice harsh as she tried to contain her overflowing emotions. That he's... he's..?

I'm sorry, Colonel. Brightman's voice grew softer, less clinically detached. The next twenty-four hours will tell us a great deal. So far, both MRIs that I've ordered are unpersuasive, so there's no point in jumping to conclusions at this point. We have to remain calm and...

But panic was again clawing at the back of Sam's throat. You remain calm if you want to! she yelled. Isn't there something you should be doing for him, something..?

Sam. It was the soothing voice of Daniel that cut her off. Dr. Brightman is the best, or she wouldn't be here at the SGC. The fact that she knew when she needed to call back up says a lot. Give her a break.

Carter? came a feeble thought then. Jack's voice. Or his thoughts. It felt like he was calling across a great barrier or distance, and that distance was scattering his cry. But the wave of panicked, frightened emotion that crashed into Sam's subconscious mind was not nearly as weak. You kay?

Fine, Sam automatically thought back at him, giving him the same answer she had given him for eight years. The fact that he believed her now as little as he had ever believed her... meaning, not at all... It didn't give him much of a feeling of reassurance.

Jack, I'm fine, really... Sleep Sam thought at him then, and she felt the haziness in his mind intensify as he finally let himself relax and slip into unconsciousness. Sam was amazed again - he'd been fighting the draw of oblivion because he was concerned for her, how she was coping with all this, not because of what was happening to him...

Jack was very quiet after that, and Dr. Brightman was finally able to fully brief the team and Colonel Reynolds, General O'Neill's second in command, as to what could be expected in the near future.

I'll be blunt, Brightman began the minute they were all seated around the Briefing Room table. Sam found herself fidgeting with a pen as the medical doctor spoke, and she was able to appreciate the fact that she was fussing with an inanimate object, as Jack had often fussed with things in the past, and they were all talking about the General. The connection between the two was ironic enough to make Sam smile... sort of.

But Dr. Brightman was continuing. She pointed to a computer screen, which had Jack's last complete MRI images displayed. This area here, and she circled an area in the air above the monitor with the back of her pen. The circle concentrated at the back of the brain, near his spine. This is called the brainstem. The brainstem can then be split into parts, each part controling different bodily functions, but for our purposes here think of the brainstem as one big motor controling entity.

Sam immediately thought back to that time when the being they had called 'The Entity' invaded her body, then removed her consciousness into the MALP mainframe in the MALP Room before trying to destroy the entire base. General O'Neill... then Colonel O'Neill... had had to kill her body in order to stop it. It was basically a miracle that her 'essence' had been found and returned to her own body. It was more than a miracle that she was sitting here, listening to the doctor spewing out unfamiliar medical terms every other second. The similarities between her 'Entity' experience and what was happening to Jack right now was eerie; the loss of control in itself was enough to give her a major case of the creeps!

Dr. Brightman chose that moment to lower her pen from the computer monitor in front of her, catching and holding Sam's attention again. Now, here's a picture of a healthy brainstem. Brightman held up what had to have been one of her medical school textbooks with a page marked by a piece of paper. And as you can see, General O'Neill's brainstem is quite a bit more darkly shaded, though it's still not as dark as this picture... here... She flipped the book she was holding to show another page exhibiting another brain, one obviously diseased, one with several darkened areas. This is what an MRI image of a typical stroke patient looks like. She held the book up next to the computer image. You see? she rhetorically asked. The General's is quite a bit lighter. My hope is that it still looks to be lighter in color when we look at the third MRI.

Third? Colonel Reynolds asked for clarification.

Brightman explained, Since the first MRI was inconclusive, I ordered another one, and that too was inconclusive. I've since ordered a third, and it's been taken, but the results are now being transferred onto a computer disk in the medical lab. But that takes time, and this briefing was scheduled to take place before the third disk was completely ransferred. So I don't know the details yet, but if it shows images with this same light shading of gray instead of becoming darker gray, then we're dealing with a whole different scenario than in a typical brainstem stroke.

Daniel piped up then, asking the same question that Sam wanted to ask before she could even get her mouth around the words. She thought the question, but then had to remember that she wasn't talking to Jack, and had to actually ask the question aloud. By the time she recalled that she had to speak aloud, Daniel had already asked her question for her. Which Daniel often did, as he liked to talk so much. Sam grinned slightly again, but kept her attention fixed this time on the briefing.

Different how? Daniel inquired.

Brightman drew a deep breath before she answered while she pointed at the monitor. The darker area in General O'Neill's MRI images aren't as dark as they are in my textbook. It's my hope... not my experience... I don't have a lot of experience with head injuries beyond the more common concussion, she explained. So, it's my hope that this area will remain a lighter shade of gray rather than move to the darker shades you see in my textbook.

Sam swallowed her feelings of panic and managed to ask a question herself this time. Darker gray means more damage, and lighter gray means less damage?

Yes.

Colonel Reynolds sat forward in his chair. So what you're saying is that he might not be completely paralyzed, that some movement might still be possible?

Brightman sighed this time. Finally she admitted, That is what I'm saying, but the third MRI images might show that his stroke... and that's what my diagnosis is at this time... his stroke isn't as complete as it could have been. She rifled through several pages of the General's medical report that was in front of her. The interesting thing about the General's case is that there doesn't seem to be any indication of a rupture or a blood clot in his brain. That would explain why the TPA that we administered didn't work...

TPA? Reynolds asked, echoing her, but with confusion in his voice.

Brightman gave a tiny smile at his lack of medical knowledge. But then, most people knew approximately as much as Reynolds did. They knew what they had to know, and not much else. She explained, TPA stands for Tissue Plasminogen Activator.

Which is..? Reynolds queried.

Clot buster drug, Daniel filled in for her. See? he said then. I know a few things here and there about medicine. The he admitted, After Sam did her initial research into TPA, I did some more. Guess it paid off.

Brightman smiled. Dr. Jackson is correct. TPA is better known as a clot busting drug, but in the General's case, as there was no apparent clot to 'bust up,' the drug had little effect.

Reynolds let them all silently assimilate this information for a second, then asked, If there was no blood clot, what caused his stroke?

Brightman glanced over in Sam's direction. Then everyone was looking at her.

What? Sam asked in bewilderment. I didn't have anything to do with...

Actually, Brightman broke in on her comment to say. I think you did.

Sam stared at her for yet another horrible, silent moment. The way Brightman was staring at her made her think that everyone had decided that she had done this to Jack on purpose. But she could never do something like this to Jack! The idea was absurd!

At the same time, she was curious to hear how the doctor chose to explain her involvement in the incident. So she asked, Uh... How was I involved?

Doctor Brightman then swiveled her chair back around so that she could take them all in. Okay, we have a series of seemingly unrelated events that took place right before the General's stroke that could have caused that stroke. Since he didn't have bleeding or a clot, two of the usual causes of similar brain injuries, that narrows down the possible causes a bit.

Then Sam gave an incredulous grin. Oh, you don't think... It was clear that Brightman was now considering how Jack had entered her lab only to trip on the 774 pieces strewn over her lab floor, then fallen into that machine from 429, where he and she had been 'united as one' with an arc of... something. But none of that had been on purpose! No way! Sam incredulously exclaimed then. I didn't mean to do anything!

But it makes sense, Sam, Daniel was insisting. The machine from 429 specifically tells its handlers not to touch when someone else is already touching it, and then you and Jack both touched it... accidentally... at the same time anyway. And then there was that energy, or whatever you're calling it, between you two. And right after that was when Jack first started showing these weird symptoms. To end his dialogue, Daniel lamely noted, And Jack's so much older than you are... That could be why it affected him and didn't affect you.

But I didn't do anything, Daniel! Sam next declared. The way you're talking, it's like I planned this whole thing, and...

No, Brightman said, pausing Sam in her tirade. That's not what we're saying. I'm saying that the energy output that you described could very well be what caused his stroke-like symptoms to begin with, but that any energy he was hit with at any time would also have caused much the same effect. She took another breath before she went on. It could have been a Zat blast, or as simple a thing as the General plugging a power chord into an outlet incorrectly and getting zapped... What I'm saying is that if it hadn't been the energy from the 429 machine, it would have been something else. And then if it had been that something else, you and he wouldn't have this neural connection that you seem to have now, and then we would have no idea what's happening to him if you weren't here to tell us his thoughts, and...

Reynolds interrupted. Wait a minute... Colonel Carter? he asked. You can hear his thoughts?

Sam sat for a frozen moment as they again all looked at her. She at last had to admit, Yes. There seems to be some kind of connection between us that...

But Brightman cut her off again. That's what I'm saying. This event would have happened eventually anyway, as far as I can tell, but we wouldn't have had access to his thoughts as we do now. Actually, it's incredibly lucky that you and he did touch that machine the way that you did. At least we'll be able to know what he's thinking through you instead of just having to guess in the case that he loses his speech abilities. She picked up the textbook she still had open. And that's the next thing I wanted to talk about. The way the brain's left side... here... She circled an area of the image again with the back end of her pen. It's a bit darker than anything on the opposite side... here... and as speech abilities are controled on the left...

Reynolds glared at her. Are you saying that General O'Neill won't be able to talk?

Brightman stared back. I'm saying that it's a distinct possibility.

The room erupted into sighs and spoken utterances of 'Oh my God' after she made that prediction. Reynolds sighed, and ran his hand across his chin in supreme aggravation. Okay, he said at last to Brightman. Bottom line this for me, he requested. What's the worst case scenario that you can think of in this instance?

Worst case scenario, Brightman repeated. In the worst case possible, the General becomes totally paralyzed, and doesn't move again, or he dies.

Sam felt her heart stop beating at the doctor's words, and a blanket of despair engulfed her.

But, Brightman went on, unaware of Sam's distress. I don't think that will happen in this case.

Okay, Reynolds was saying. Why?

Brightman went slow as she spoke. This isn't a complete stroke, since there is no indication of a clot or a hemorrhage... that's a case of internal bleeding onto his brain that would cause swelling that would in turn cause a stroke. What's happening here is that this only appears... right now, she emphasized. Right now it appears that we're dealing with only 'half a stroke,' if you will. The General could certainly have impaired coordination and motor skills, and he may lose his ability to speak, but he won't become what is known in the medical world as 'locked in'

That means no movement at all, like a patient is totally 'locked' inside his or her own body? Daniel was again translating her medical jargon for the others in the room.

Brightman nodded. Yes, that's a good interpretation.

Reynolds was humming as he continued to think. Okay... How does he get all that half movement back, then? Is there some kind of surgery or procedure that..?

Brightman smiled a grim gesture. No, I'm afraid that the only way to get back anything that is lost in this kind of incident is for him to be rehabilitated, taught to relearn what he loses.

Reynolds again asked what Sam was having trouble voicing. You're saying that he'll have to go through therapy, learn how to walk again, how to talk again...

Brightman picked up that litany, How to swallow, how to eat, how to make coffee in the morning... Just about everything.

Sam sat like a frigid lump in her chair once more, listening to the doctor's words, but only internalizing every other one spoken. She was busy visualizing the kind of life General O'Neill had to look forward to now, what he might be able to do in the long run. She had images of wheelchairs and other assisstive devices floating in her mind, and she knew without having to be told that Jack would hate that kind of existence. He was a man of action, not a man who would quietly become an invalid who watched TV all day long!

And what of the Air Force? Sure, he was approaching the age of his third retirement, but he still had so much to offer the Stargate program that retirement seemed like something that was far off in the future. He wouldn't like being retired anyway. He would go nuts with boredom in less than a week.

But now would he have any choice in the matter? Was he looking at a medical discharge in the near future? The ignominy that a medical discharge would seem to him would practically make his life unbearable, she knew.

Sam drew a shuddering breath, and tried hard to concentrate on what was happening around her. But she was growing more and more frantic with each passing moment. She knew that it would be best if she remained calm... she could hide her distress from the others in the room, but she could never hide her feelings from Jack, not now that he could sense everything she thought and felt the instant she thought or felt it. Her suddenly overwhelming emotions would smash into his damaged psyche, and then overwhelm him in a matter of seconds. She simply had to get control of her feelings!

Easier said than done. That tight sensation she always got just before losing her latest meal began to accost her as her thoughts continued to spin further out of control.

How can this be happening?!? she asked herself with a rising sense of hysteria. We've waited so long, done what we can to alleviate any suspicion...

Wait, what am I saying? she asked herself. Am I saying... that..?

Sam gave a start of horror as the thought of Pete ghosted across her mind, the first time she had even thought of Pete since this whole thing with the General had begun. Still feeling vague and stricken, Sam managed to consider that her engagement to Pete... She must have never subconsciously intended for it to go as far as reaching a wedding, that... Because of her feelings for Jack...

With only one strangled groan to act as a warning, Sam suddenly flew from the room, her hand over her mouth, and aimed for the nearest bathroom. She only just made it through the door, and didn't even have time to close the stall door of the handicapped restroom, the first empty stall she came to, before she lost the sandwich that Jack had made her eat at 2300 before ordering her off base the night before. She then lost her breakfast, and would have lost the coffee she'd had for lunch too, if the feel of a cool hand on the nape of her neck hadn't registered in her cloudy mind and stopped that feeling of tightness through her extreme surprise. The cool sensation felt like Janet's hand, but that was so impossible that it astonished her enough to distract her from throwing up.

Easy, Dr. Brightman was saying. Take deep breaths.

Sam did as she was told, and a few minutes later, found the energy to wash her hands and mouth in the sink along one wall of the bathroom.

Colonel Carter, Brightman asked in a hushed voice. I know that it's none of my business, but are you pregnant?

Sam nearly laughed hysterically at that question. No! she was able to laugh and bark at the same time. There's no chance of that!

Then why..? Brightman gave a start. I mean, I know that you four individuals on SG-1 are close, but you seem to be much more upset about all that's happening to General O'Neill than either Dr. Jackson or Teal'c. I mean, I didn't know that the two of you were that close.

Sam smiled a bit grimly. You mean, you think that we're close enough that it makes sense to lose my lunch over being told that... She couldn't go on, and stopped at what she was saying.

This isn't the end of the world, you know, Brightman said next as she helped Sam by handing her a towel to dry her hands and mouth with.

Sam reached for the paper towel as she noted, I don't see how you can say that, but then you don't know the General like I do.

No, I don't, Brightman admitted. I do know that things may seem very bleak right now, but there is a possibility for a complete recovery here. I've seen totally inexplicable medical miracles happen before. There's no reason that one can't happen right now.

Sam gave another mirthless laugh. I was thinking the same way earlier, but... She took a breath that calmed her enough to stop her attempts at crying out her fear and frustration, and said, But if I take what I know about the General, then stick it into the kind of life that he'll probably have from now on... If he even lives through this... She looked at Brightman, and sorrowfully shook her head. The tears that she had managed to push back at the start of her statement now started to trickle down her cheeks. She shook her head again. It may seem like a medical miracle to you that he's still alive, but to him life will be hell on Earth; it'll be Charlie, and Netu, and Sara, and Maybourne, and Ba'al, and leaving the team all over again, times ten. A sob tore through her to her infinite embarrassment, and she leaned heavily against the sink to give herself the time to compose herself again.

Brightman said to Sam, I don't know who or what most of those things you mentioned are...

Sorry, Sam then apologized. I sometimes forget that you've only been here a few months compared to the eight years that we've all been here. I keep expecting you to know about things that happened years ago.

No need to apologize, Brightman assured. My predecessor was a very close friend of yours, I believe, and...

Sam gave a miserable nod.

Brightman continued. I expect that she knew a great deal about all of you, so it's only natural that, as the CMO of the base, you expect the same of me, she said in an understanding so deep that it left Sam impressed, even in her spastic condition. But again, things will improve.

Sam was crying in earnest now. I don't see how, she choked. Life spent in a wheelchair, and without the ability to communicate or do much of anything, will...

Colonel, Brightman interrupted. I know I shouldn't be talking about this so soon, but I know you'll already be thinking in terms of medical discharge, the end of life as you and he know it, so I'll go ahead and jump right in. She took another deep breath, and Sam did the same, then she went on, Life spent in a wheelchair, or with any number of assisstive devices, may seem terrible to you or me, as if the General no longer has anything to contribute. Then she pierced Sam with her gaze. But we suffer from our own learned prejudices about life spent before, during, and after rehabilitation. What we both have to remember is that General O'Neill won't know what to think about himself now, either, and he'll take his cues from us, from Dr. Jackson, from Teal'c, from everybody either of you meet from here on out. What cues that he does take out of those future meetings is up to us. Besides, there's no indication that he'll spend his life in a wheelchair at this point.

Sam gazed at the doctor with a puzzled look on her face showing through her tears. But what..?

I'm saying that you have to remain as positive and bright faced as possible about all this, especially since the General can sense what you're thinking as well as vice versa. If you think that something can't be done, then it's a lot more likely that the General will think that he can't do it, and if he thinks that way, so will Colonel Reynolds, and Sergeant Harriman, and Sergeant Siler, and Lieutenant Brown on cook detail, and Captain...

I get the picture! Sam harshly interrupted. She went on in a softer tone, You mean that he thinks the way I think, and then everyone else will think as he thinks, and...

I know that puts a lot of pressure on you, unfair pressure, Brightman divulged. Especially when you probably want to curl up in a ball right now, and scream how unfair life is. But if you really take statistics and circumstances into account, it's a miracle already that even one of you on SG-1 is still alive, to say nothing of the fact that all four are still walking, talking human beings instead of worthless lumps, stuck with breathing with the help of ventilators. What kind of life the General has from here on out depends a great deal on what kind of life you think he can have.

Sam's tears were beginning to dry up as she listened to Brightman's soothing voice. So it depends on me being...

You have to believe that this isn't the end of the world, and as many atrocities as I know you've seen already in eight years working as a front line team for the SGC, this can't be as awful as it seems right now compared to that. Really, in contrast to all those things that you mentioned earlier, there must be at least one thing about today that can balance out the other terrible events of all that's happened over the years.

There is one thing, Sam thought, an idea slipping like a slithering snake, unbidden, through her mind. I can become... his.

She disregarded the thought the second it formed in her mind, but it was already too late. She'd had that thought now, and it would stick like glue to her, whatever she attempted to do to eradicate it.

And she realized that Brightman was right. It really was a miracle that all of them had survived this long, and that they were all in one piece. And Jack was still alive, as far as she knew. That was something to be thankful for. At least as far as she was concerned.

All right, Sam said, albeit a tad reluctantly. This might mean that I don't get the luxury of falling apart, but when have I ever had that luxury? she rhetorically asked. It was simple in the end, really. Jack needed her. She needed Jack. She was already missing his voice, now that he had slipped unconscious.

Okay, Sam said then. I guess you're right. And if now I have to learn everything there is to know about therapy, I guess that's what I do.

Brightman smiled for the first time all day. Good.

But what about the possibility of a medical discharge, and what happens to him if..?

Brightman interrupted, There's plenty of time to decide on things like that later on. She took hold of Sam's arm then. Let's just get through today, she suggested. Then we can re-evaluate tomorrow.

Sound advice. Are you sure that you haven't been talking to the ever-wise Teal'c lately? Sam asked, able to lightly tease now as they made their way out of the rest-room and back to the briefing. That sounds an awful lot like something he would say.

No, I haven't been spending time with Teal'c, Brightman admitted. But I'm sure that there's a great deal that I can learn from him, too.

Go on to Part II


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