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This was originally printed in the extraordinary fanzine Pretense 5, which won the 2004 Fan Quality Award for best slash zine, and contains the story that won Best Story as well, "Bittersweet Symphony" by Corby. It's a wonderful zine. If you'd like to buy it -- and it's FULL of good stuff -- go here:

Ashton Press - Pretense 5

I thank Annie Wortham for including "The Undefended Territory" in the 'zine even though it wasn't strictly speaking slash ... it's really more of an episode, with strong elements of friendship. To be honest, I think I like this story the best of any Stargate I've ever written. It's long, though. Multiple parts ahoy! (Not body parts. Get your mind out of my gutter, or fork over some rent!)



STARGATE SG-1
The Undefended Territory
Julie Fortune
originally printed in Pretense 5 by Ashton Press

Part 1

“PX4-373,” Jack said out loud, and watched his breath fog on the ice-cold air. “Yep. What a paradise. So glad we made this little trip, campers. It’s just … heaven.”

He gave it his richest sarcasm, which was a waste; his sarcasm wasn’t making much of an impact on the rest of SG-1. Daniel looked entranced, although there were—for once—no ancient doodads or moldy ruins for him to poke around. Carter was positively glowing like a kid at Christmas, blue eyes wide and glittering with excitement. Teal’c—well, Teal’c just looked politely interested. Not a surprise there.

And they were all bundled up like Michelin Men in arctic cold suits of fierce, eye-aching white. Kind of a blue-white, like the skin of a frozen corpse. Not that he wanted to think about that. Ever again.

“God, sir, look at it, it’s amazing!” Carter said. She’d come to a full stop, staring out over the—what was it? A landscape? Icescape? Nothing but ice and snow, far as the eye could see. Oh, pretty enough, Jack supposed. Colorful, even. There were waves of deep blues and cool greens trapped in the glaciers behind them—Carter had given him some technical explanation for that, but he’d been too busy wishing he’d worn warmer socks to pay attention.

None of the colors made a damn bit of difference. Everywhere he looked, there were ways to die. Freezing to death, for instance. He’d experienced that up in Antarctica, and next to being ripped apart by fishhooks, hey, it was his favorite death ever. Of course, he could slip and bash his skull open on the ice, also a charmer. Or drown, if the ice opened up and sucked him down into thick, dark water, slow-moving as a nightmare.

He shivered.

“Sir?”

He turned and saw Carter watching him with those enormous cornflower-blue eyes, clearly waiting for him to reply. She must have said something other than to comment on the view. He gave her a blank, I-wasn’t-listening look. Carter was so used to him by now, she didn’t even look annoyed.

“I said, I’d like to go ahead and start the recovery of the device that the MALP and UAV spotted,” she said. “If that’s okay, sir.”

“Sure, knock yourself out. Teal’c—” The order was unnecessary. Teal’c was already moving to help Carter, his bulk made even bulkier by the cold-weather gear. If anything, the Jaffa hated the cold more than Jack did, and on the up side, Teal’c would make damn sure this proceeded with ruthless efficiency, whatever sightseeing Carter might be inclined to do.

Part of Jack’s master plan. Get in, get out, get home before dark.

“I guess we set up the camp,” Daniel said. He didn’t move, though. He just kept staring out over that vast, cold field that stretched out to touch the vast, cold sky. “Wow. It’s really …”

“Freezing,” Jack finished sourly. He stomped back through ankle-deep snow to where the MALP sat half-buried in drifts. “Better send R2D2 back home, I don’t want to get billed for freezing its little gears off. One of these days, they’re going to start deducting it from my checks.”

“You get paid?” Daniel mocked as he moved to the DHD. Hey presto, thirty seconds later, the shimmering wormhole formed, trapped in the well of the Stargate, and Jack sent the GDO signal and guided the probe back home. Ah, home sweet home. Hot coffee, electric heaters, not having to worry about freezing the lining of his lungs …

Carter was saying something to Teal’c. He couldn’t catch the words, but their music sounded happy. Sweet. Maybe, by the time he and Daniel wrestled the tents into position and got coffee brewing, they could settle in for a nice chorus of wow, what a cool gadget, followed by packing up and getting the hell out. He didn’t know or care what kind of cool gadget it was Carter thought the MALP’s sensors had picked up, except that it had naquadah in it and therefore was worth chipping out of the permafrost. According to Hammond and Carter, anyway.

Man, he really didn’t like this place.

###

By the time the camp was set up and coffee ready, Jack could see there was something not right about what was going on below. Teal’c and Carter were doing a whole lot of standing and looking, not a lot of chipping the whatsis out of the ice. Nope, not looking good for his fond hopes of going home ahead of schedule.

“Hey, this really isn’t bad!” Daniel said. He’d stretched out on one of the camp beds, a hand behind his head as a pillow. “Hard to believe how warm it can get in here. Almost as good as home.”

“Heating elements,” Jack said absently. “They put ‘em in the fabric.”

“Wow. Expensive.”

“Cheaper than military funerals.”

Daniel sat up, staring at him warily. “You’re in quite a mood. Everything … okay?”

“Just peachy,” Jack said, and sipped coffee. His hands were finally warm again. If he pretended real hard, he could almost believe things were going well … What the hell were they talking about out there? They were supposed to dig up this thingie, load it on the sledge, and get it to the gate. Easy. It was supposed to be a six-hour mission, at most. Jack checked his watch; three hours gone already.

“Ah, hell.” Carter and Teal’c were trudging up the hill, two ice-white figures against an ice-white backdrop. Everything cold, even the sky. The sunshine had melted from gold to a weak pale silver; it shed no heat at all. What’s this place like when it storms? Better not to think about that.

“What?” Daniel demanded.

“They’re coming back.”

“That’s bad?”

“Probably.”

A minute later, Teal’c and Carter pushed their way into the cramped shelter. As Carter pushed her parka hood back, she peeled off the thin knit balaclava that protected her face from frostbite. Her hair was matted close to her skull, but she automatically fluffed it—such a surprisingly feminine gesture, from Carter, who rarely made them. Her eyes were still glittering with excitement, and her smile had enough wattage to run a small city for a week. “Sir, good news.”

“Oh, I doubt it,” he said grimly. “But surprise me, please.”

Her smile lost a little of its forward momentum. “Well … it looks like there’s a lot more here than the initial survey detected.”

“Ya see?” Jack looked over at Daniel. “Never the good news. Never.”

Teal’c stepped forward, pushing the hood back from his dark head, and—how often did this happen, Jack wondered—smiled just as widely as Carter. “O’Neill, I believe we have found an abandoned Goa’uld complex.”

“Yes!” Carter jumped in. “The device we detected appears to be a damaged naquadah reactor, left behind when they evacuated. They seem to have left a lot of stuff. We think they were under attack. We do show signs of blast damage to the buildings.”

“Sam, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see any, ah, buildings,” Daniel said.

“Under the ice. Well, technically, one still standing, and it looks like it’s in an ice cave, about one hundred meters down. But if we can get to it, imagine the kind of technology we might be able to recover!” Carter’s enthusiasm was like a drug. Jack watched Daniel get high on it, and even Teal’c was grinning like a fool. “The best news of all is that there seems to be an area just to the south of the damaged reactor with a natural crevasse. I think we can make it down into the cave structure. If we can gain access to the complex …”

Jack held up a hand. “Whoa, Carter, we’re not going down into any ice cave on the off chance that the Goa’uld left behind dirty laundry and some cans of Spam. No.”

“But sir—”

“No.” He stared at her, made her believe he meant it. “I’ll get on the horn to Hammond. It’s his call, but I’m recommending we don’t even start this without a full technical crew.”

Carter took it the way she did all his orders she didn’t agree with—she avoided his eyes, nodded, and set her face into a can’t-convince-me mask. Not that Carter would openly defy him, but he didn’t like the wedge being driven. Her lack of support could lead to Daniel deciding it would be okay to do an end-run around orders.

“I’m only going to explain this once,” he said, and made sure he touched Teal’c with his gaze, then drilled Daniel hard, to let them know he wasn’t kidding around. “It’s too easy to die in a place like this. It’ll turn on you, kids. Ask the Goa’uld who had to leave this stuff behind—if they left it behind, and aren’t down there frozen into snaky little ice cubes. Do the scans, but we are not going down there. Am I clear? Recon only. No exploring.”

“Crystal, sir,” Carter said immediately.

“Doubt it,” he replied. “Humor me.”

Daniel shot Carter one of those looks—scientists commiserating over oppression by the military. Never mind that the military would be the ones handing over the folded flag and choking out the thanks of a grateful nation. They could feel oppressed all they wanted. SG-1 was going home together this time, whole and healthy.

They were not going to have a problem here.

###

“We’ve got a little problem here, Colonel,” General Hammond’s clipped baritone voice said. Jack stood at the DHD, staring at the shimmering blue surface of the event horizon as if it might suddenly tune in a picture of his commander, shiny bald dome and all. It didn’t, of course, but the radio signal was coming through loud and clear. Clear enough for him to hear the anxious babble in the background.

“Problem? Can’t be, sir, we’re not even there to cause it,” Jack said, struggling mightily to hold on to his cheerful tone. Don’t do this to me. Not now.

“It’s SG-8. Appears that they brought back some biological contamination from PX5-329. Don’t think it’s anything serious, but we’ve instituted a lockdown here until Dr. Fraiser gives us the all-clear. Nobody in or out.”

Jack felt the first flickers of true foreboding fire up inside. “Sir, you do realize that we’re on a planet that’s just about as balmy as, oh, Antarctica? And we both know how much I like Antarctica, General.”

Hammond knew, but that wasn’t going to change his answer. “It shouldn’t be long. You carried supplies for an overnight mission, didn’t you?”

“Yes sir.” It wasn’t the supplies he was worried about.

“Weather’s clear?”

“So far.”

Hammond paused, talking to somebody else, probably. When he came back, he sounded grimmer. “Colonel, I have to go. I agree that SG-1 is to do preliminary surveys only. You are not to attempt any kind of recovery from this Goa’uld installation without backup.”

“Yes sir. And, ah, any time frame on that backup would be greatly appreciated, sir.”

“We’ll get a message to you as soon as things sort out on this end. Until then, Colonel, keep yourselves warm out there. SGC out.”

“Sierra Golf One out.” Jack turned back into the wind as the wormhole disengaged, and took another survey of the weather conditions. The temperature had dropped off another five degrees in the past hour. Darkness was coming, heralded by the most glorious layered-brass sunset Jack had ever seen on any world; he eyed it mistrustfully and keyed the radio again. “Carter. Teal’c. Daniel. Back to the tent. Let’s get out of this crap before we freeze something off we might need later. Coffee’s on me, and if you ask real nice, I might throw on a DVD and some popcorn.”

Carter and Teal’c acknowledged. He looked down at the ice plateau and saw two white-suited figures break from whatever they were doing and toil separately back up toward the camp.

Two. One, two.

No three.

Well, of course. What else could he have expected? “Daniel?” No answer. He keyed the radio again. “Daniel, get your ass in gear. Look at all the pretty snow later.”

And finally, there was a click, and Daniel’s voice. “Jack …” He sounded faraway. Laced with static. Dazed. “Help …”

Fear started as a slow cold burn in Jack’s stomach. “Daniel?” he asked.

“Screwed up,” Daniel whispered. “Sorry …”

Jack was already moving, heading down the hill too fast, angling to intercept Teal’c and Carter. They’d heard the transmission as well, he could see it from the way they were turning to scan the landscape. He was bellowing well before he got to them. “Carter! Where was he?”

“Mapping the west area, over there—” She gestured at a featureless white plate of ice. No sign of Daniel. “He was right there, sir!”

“Shit!” Jack set off across the ice, grateful for high-traction boots. I knew it, I knew this would happen … his skin crawled as if the three insulating layers of his arctic suit had turned to ants. “Danny? Daniel, you still there?”

“Here,” Daniel whispered in his ear. Static crackled the word.

“What happened?”

“Fell.”

Jack came to a sudden stop, gestured at Teal’c and Carter to do the same. If Daniel had fallen through the ice, there was no way to tell where it might be rotten. “Slowly,” he rasped. Breath burned in his lungs, and he was suddenly aware of stiffness in his joints, the stinging cold on his few inches of exposed skin. The cobalt-blue sky had turned a thick, leaden gray washed with blood-red and cold orange. How fast could a storm come up here? Too fucking fast.

Ice cracked under his feet. Jack lunged back, quickly, and saw a hairline fracture skate off toward the horizon. Carter grabbed his arm and dragged him farther out of range. “Belay, sir,” she said, and wrapped a rope around him. She was right, of course. Teal’c was already belayed to Carter.

Jack went prone on the ice and did a slow elbow crawl out onto the white surface. No more cracks, but he had the breathtaking feeling that he was crawling over a thin false ceiling, below it a great big black nothing.

He couldn’t see a goddamn thing. He wrestled himself on a few more feet and keyed his radio. “Daniel?”

“Here.” Daniel sounded stronger, not as dazed. “God, Jack, I’m sorry. I’m in some kind of a shaft—can’t see anything but sky overhead.”

“Hey, at least you got an oubliette with a view.”

“Didn’t think you knew what an oubliette was.”

“Deep narrow pit. Been there, bought the souvenir mug. Hang on, I’m comin’.”

Deep breaths. Nothing but ice, no sign of … there. The ice dipped into a hollow, slid away into darkness. No way to tell how unstable the edges were. Jack pulled in another breath, puffed it out white on the cutting-cold wind, and ventured another few inches out.

Ice crackled like crumpling tinfoil. He froze.

“Jack?” Daniel’s panic-pitched voice echoed up out of the hole, then sounded an eerie instant later in Jack’s earpiece. “Right here!”

Jack cautiously craned his head over. No sign of life down there, no light. He blinked, let his eyes adjust, and finally picked out the pale oval of Daniel’s face, the glint of light on his glasses. “Hey,” he said, in as offhand a tone as he could manage. “So. Exploring, huh?”

“Not by choice, no.” Daniel chuckled, but Jack could here the shakiness underneath. “Tell Sam she was right, though—some kind of opening down here. I got jammed in tight before I got the whole ride.”

“Oughta ask for a refund.”

“Uh … Jack … little problem …”

“Yeah, I’ll get a rope down to you.”

“That’s not the problem.”

Of course not. Jack squeezed his eyes shut. “Enlighten me, Daniel.”

“I’m stuck. And—” Daniel’s voice faltered. “I can’t feel anything below my waist.”

Jack winced silently, forcing his voice to stay cool and confident. “Well, it’s cold, you know. Probably nothing. Your arms free?”

“Yeah.”

“Hold one. Carter? You and Teal’c on?”

“Yes sir,” Carter came back immediately. “We’re right here, sir. How do you want me to get the rope to you?”

“Toss it. I don’t like the looks of this ice.”

“Will give you a three count, sir.”

Three, two, one. The rope slid across the ice; Jack grabbed it, and paid it out into the hole. “Okay, Daniel, rope’s coming down. You grab it, wrap it around your chest under your arms, we’ll pull you out. Simple.”

Nothing from Daniel but labored breathing, but the rope snapped taut about a minute later, and Jack could hear things rustling on the other end.

“Ready,” Daniel finally said. And Jack felt some of the tension let go in his chest. At least he can’t fall now. Or at least, not without taking all of us down with him. Oh, he wished he hadn’t thought of that.

“Teal’c?” Jack yelled back. “You and Carter, pull, I’ll do what I can from here but I don’t think this ice is going to take much strain. Nice and easy.”

“Understood, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. His warm baritone sounded utterly competent. “We are pulling now.”

The rope went tight. Tighter. Jack felt the tension even through the thick padding of his gloves.

“Jack—” Daniel, panting. “Ah, God …”

He yelled. Not a scream, not quite, but enough to raise the hair on the back of Jack’s sweating neck. “Daniel?” he shouted. “Teal’c, hold on. Daniel?”

No answer. Dead weight on the rope. And finally, a muttered, “Shit, that hurt.”

Jack wasn’t even aware he was grinning until he felt the strain in his cold-numbed face. “Suck it up, Daniel, we’re the tough guys, remember?”

“No, you’re the tough guys, I’m the crybaby civilian.” Daniel’s voice was shaking.

“Ready when you are,” Jack said. “Tell us when to pull.”

“Yeah, okay. Just—just give me a second.”

“Sure, take your time, not like we’re not having a good time freezing our nuts off, dangling you over the edge of a pit that COULD COLLAPSE ANY MINUTE!”

“Jesus! Sorry! Okay, pull!”

“Yes, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said soothingly. There might have been a hint of a smile in it. “We are pulling.”

Smooth and easy. Jack watched the ice around him, alert to the possibility of another collapse, but everything looked good.

Real good.

He should have known that was the moment when things would go really, really bad.

“Jack?” Daniel’s voice wasn’t even dopplering now, it was simultaneously registering in the earpiece and Jack’s ear; he was just a couple of feet down, almost out. “Do you feel that?”

He did. A sudden feeling of the world on pause, something weird, something vast …

Somewhere in the distance, the clear strong sound of ice shattering.

Something vibrated underneath him, as if the ice had come alive. All the fear he’d pushed down erupted like a volcano in the pit of his stomach.

“The ice is moving!” Carter screamed behind him. “Sir! It’s shifting!”

“Pull!” Jack screamed back, and twisted around, planted his boots against two tiny fragile upthrusts in the ice, and put his back into it. “Pull him out now!”

They did, God, they did, pulled so hard and so fast the rope slid through his gloves before he could grab tight. The ground was shaking now, undulating like waves. Up above, a section of blue-and-green striped glacier sheared free at the top, slid in a majestic storm of white down the mountain, hit an outcropping, and shattered into a million knife-edged chips that tore through exposed rock like paper.

When the wreckage hit the ice sheet, it made a sound like the biggest bass drum in the world, followed by a high thin singing ripple as the vibration tore through the permafrost.

How deep is he? How deep—

The ice cracked under Jack’s ass. He let out a yelp and kept hauling but he could feel the hole sucking him closer, gravity reaching …

Daniel’s white parka hood popped out of the hole. In its shadow, just an anonymous face disguised by a white balaclava, but those were Daniel’s wide turquoise eyes, his glasses frosted with chill. Awake, alive, thank God.

Jack threw out a hand and grabbed Daniel’s and yanked, hard.

Daniel slid out into his arms.

The ice let go underneath them with a crisp, singing pop. He saw it in Daniel’s eyes, a second before he consciously knew they were going down—an acceptance, an eerie kind of knowledge. No time to say hold on or I’m sorry or this sucks.

He was still reaching for breath when they fell into the dark.

###

One second they were there, Daniel and the colonel, and the next they were just … gone.

Sam blinked, sure the light was fooling her, but in the next instant a massive shock tore through the ice and she was down, sliding out of control.

The rope around her waist was taut. I’ve got them! Except, of course, that she was sliding, too …

… toward the empty yawning darkness that had swallowed Daniel and the colonel.

Something snapped tight around her, almost chopping her in half, and air exploded out of her lungs and left her empty and gasping. Oh, God, that hurt …

Teal’c was holding her rope, his feet planted precariously on the ice. He was all that stood between her and the deadfall. She went stiff; the pressure of the rope cutting into her from the colonel’s belay rope was intense, and her own was sawing her in half from the opposite direction.

Not good.

“Major Carter!” Teal’c yelled. She lifted a hand to let him know she was okay, but couldn’t get enough breath to talk. “Colonel O’Neill! Daniel Jackson!”

Nothing in her ear; nothing from either the colonel or Daniel. Maybe they were too far down for the signal to reach, maybe …

She didn’t want to think about the maybe. She reached down and carefully took hold of the belay rope that stretched and shivered its way down over the edge of the ice, into darkness. Even hauling on it with all her strength, she couldn’t move it but an inch or two—no leverage, upper body strength less than half what Teal’c could manage … but enough slack to let her breathe, at least.

She gagged for air, felt it sear cold as knife blades in her lungs, and said, “Teal’c, pull me back, slowly.” Thank God, her voice sounded steady, low, controlled, the voice of a military officer in charge. In charge of what, exactly? In charge of two men hanging by a thread …

Teal’c didn’t answer, but she felt him comply as the strain around her torso took on torturous pressure. She grunted under the strain and tried to hang on, tried to force her lungs to keep pumping, felt every muscle shaking under the stress as Teal’c pulled her slowly backward, one inch at a time. She tucked her elbows close and tried to put the maximum torque into keeping slack in the belay rope; it eased the pain in her midsection a little, but replaced it with a hot, trembling fire in her biceps.

Can’t hold it.

Can’t.


She didn’t consciously let go, but the rope skidded through her gloves and slammed taut again, an umbilical cord dragging her back to the womb of the earth.

She heard Teal’c curse in his native tongue, breathlessly, and felt herself slide.

Teal’c was sliding, too. Oh God.

Three feet to the hole.

Two feet … sliding …

Her foot slammed into an upthrust of ice, and she braced herself, screamed breathlessly, and somehow hung on for the precious few seconds necessary for Teal’c to get his footing again.

“Major!” Colonel O’Neill’s voice sounded in her ear in a hoarse rasp, made a ghost by distance and pain.

“Sir?” She didn’t sound so steady anymore. Under the layers of insulation she was sweating, trembling, flushed with terror.

“Cut the rope,” he croaked.

“No sir!” She felt her belay rope tugging backward, knew Teal’c was trying again. She braced herself harder and took up a tiny bit of slack in the umbilical. “We’ll get you up …”

“No. Cut the rope, Carter. Orders.” He didn’t sound dazed, he sounded iron-hard. As always.

“No!”

“Do it!” A full-throated bellow. It must have used the last of his breath. She felt tears welling hot in her throat, but she fumbled for her knife, clumsy with anguish and gloves and chill. Oh God I can’t, I can’t …

Orders. At the last, it was always about following orders, and O’Neill knew that. He was counting himself and Daniel as already lost, and his focus was to save the rest of his team. Her and Teal’c.

As his 2IC, she had no choice.

And yet she heard herself say, “Negative, sir, we’re going to get you out of there.”

“Damn it, Carter …”

“Sir, don’t make me do this!” It was a cry from the heart, dripping with blood and pain; too much raw emotion in it, they’d always kept such a careful distance, always known the boundaries. But this … not this. Not by her hand.

The ice shattered that she was bracing herself against. She let out a yelp, slid, felt her feet cross the black line of the drop, and heard Teal’c yell something in her earpiece.

God, God, God …

Jack O’Neill screamed her name. Not a plea for rescue, a demand, an order.

And at the last, she obeyed.

She sliced the carbon-steel blade cleanly through the rope. The sudden release of tension slid her backwards, and she kept sliding as Teal’c took up slack, pulling her to safety.

No sound from the darkness where the end of the rope whipped over the edge and disappeared. No thud of bodies impacting, no sound from the radio.

A cold gust of wind splintered her with ice crystals, and she blinked and felt the crackle of frozen tears on her skin.

No.

Then she was safe, and Teal’c’s arms were around her, lifting her to her feet, but she couldn’t feel anything except that tactile sensation of the rope, the knife, the absence of their weight pulling her down. I just killed them. I just … Samantha, the woman, the friend, couldn’t deal with that. It would tear her apart.

Major Sam Carter sucked down a deep, cold, empty breath, fought for distance, and said, “Let’s go.”

“Go?” Teal’c asked, plainly disbelieving. She glanced at him, read the pain in his brown eyes, and looked away.

“The Stargate,” she said. “They have to send a rescue team.”

“General Hammond indicated there is a problem at the SGC …”

“Ask me if I give a damn what their problems are.”

###

Jack remembered falling, but not landing. That, he figured, was a plus.

He blinked, saw nothing but darkness, and felt something wet and sticky burn his eyes. Oh yeah, that was blood. He went to wipe it away and discovered he couldn’t actually move his arms. Total whiteout panic for a second, and then he realized something was holding him down.

Daniel. Unconscious on top of him. Well, this was fun.

“Daniel,” he whispered. Wanted to bellow, but there wasn’t that much strength left in him, frankly. “Hey. Wake up.”

Daniel didn’t. Jack shifted, groaned and forced his body to roll; Daniel slid off of him in slow motion, boneless, and thudded limply onto the ground. Ice. Whatever.

Holy buckets, that hurt. Jack lost control for a minute, lying on his side, shaking. Something cracked in there, deep down. Collarbone, ribs, maybe all of the above. At least he could move his arms, and (he checked) his legs. Knee felt like shit, but that was to be expected. The cold always played hell with it.

He wiped blood from his eyes and saw the place wasn’t actually dark, more like a dim gray from the glow of the sunset still burning overhead—oh, about a million miles away. A tiny little circle of sky, like an optical illusion. Like a nightmare.

“Daniel?” he asked. His voice was a little better, but still rough. “C’mon, Dr. Jackson, up and at ‘em.”

Daniel’s blue eyes slowly opened, blinked, then focused vaguely in his direction “At who?” he whispered, and his eyelids fluttered closed again.

“Whoever. Wake up.”

“Awake.”

“Are not.”

“Am too …” Finally, Daniel’s eyes cranked to half mast again. His pupils were way too wide. “Head hurts.”

“Yeah.” Jack was brusquely unsympathetic; he was the one with the bloody scalp wound, after all. “Anything broken?”

Daniel licked cracked lips. “Give me a minute.”

Four words. That was an improvement. Jack left him alone and tried cautiously getting to his knees. It hurt, but so long as he kept his left arm immobile it wasn’t so bad. He needed to field-strap it, but the thought of taking off his parka didn’t have much attraction at the moment. No wind down here, but the place was chock full of cold.

Time to take inventory. His flashlight was still in one piece. The inner pockets of his parka had chemical heat packs for use in emergencies, plus emergency rations, water, all the necessaries. They could survive, provided rescue didn’t lollygag around.

Daniel rolled over on his back, staring upward. “Jack? Where are we?”

“In a hole.” Jack stood up, braced himself against dizziness, and aimed his flashlight around. “Oh, look, that opens on to an ice cave.” That was so not good news. The ice shift overhead would have made any caves unstable, at best. And the opening overhead could disappear any time. Jack reached up and keyed his radio. “Carter? Teal’c? Come in … “

No answer. He shot a look at Daniel, who might have shrugged somewhere under the bulk of his padding. “Well, I can hear you,” Daniel said, and tapped his earpiece.

Jack wasted a perfectly good sarcastic look at him. “Helpful. Okay, guess we’re on our own,” he said, and pocketed the flashlight long enough to reach his uninjured arm down toward Daniel. Daniel grabbed it and got up, with a soundtrack of groans. “You can feel your legs again, huh?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Let’s use ‘em,” Jack said. “See if we can find another way out of here.” He pushed away from the wall, staggered, and almost went down; Daniel’s hands on his shoulders were all that kept him upright.

“Hang on, Jack, you’re bleeding. Sit.”

He wasn’t in the mood to sit, but somehow he was doing it anyway. The warm comfort of the parka hood eased away, and he heard Daniel take in a chilled breath.

“I’m going to have to take this thing off.”

“Which thing?”

“This hood thing.”
“It’s called a balaclava, Daniel.”

“Then I’m going to have to take this balaclava off.” Jack closed his eyes as he felt the fabric stretched and pull away from his skin. It wasn’t until he felt it snap off and expose his face to the chill that he realized the damn thing had been soaked with blood. “Oh, man.”

“Just a scalp lac. Bleeds like a son of a bitch, but nothing serious.”

“Shut up and hold still.” Daniel was stripping off his gloves, which was a stupid thing to do at this temperature. He followed it up by shoving back his parka hood and taking off his own balaclava.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Shut up already.” Daniel’s warm fingers probed at Jack’s head. “I don’t know if this would qualify as a laceration, more like a scalping. You’re bleeding like a fountain, Jack. I’m going to have to get a bandage on it.”

Daniel unzipped his parka and fumbled around with the pockets, finally pulled out the first aid kit. Jack squeezed his eyes shut as Daniel applied pressure to the wound. Thank God for small favors; that would probably have been hurting like mad in hot weather, but in this sub-zero freeze it was only a little uncomfortable.

“You need stitches,” Daniel said finally.

“Yeah? How many?”

“Thirty?”

“Sweet. The jarheads are always telling me chicks dig scars.”

“Yeah?” Whatever Daniel was doing, it was starting to hurt. “Any empirical evidence it works?”

“Oh, yeah, those guys get major action. Not Major, as in rank … which is …” And I can’t believe I just said that. “Ow! What the hell are you doing?”

“Applying pressure. Might keep you from saying something you’ll wish you hadn’t.”

It seemed to take forever, but Daniel finally had him bandaged up like some road-show version of the Mummy; they had an argument over who got the one relatively clean balaclava. Jack lost, mainly because he couldn’t fault Daniel’s assessment about which of them had just lost two pints of blood, and pulled the damn thing on to hold the bandages tight.

“What now?” Daniel was trying to rub blood off his hands on the scraps of gauze before putting his gloves back on. Shaking, Jack noticed. His hands were too pale. Nothing Jack could do about it, though; he had no body heat to share, even if he could convince Daniel to let him try. And it’s gonna hurt worse, Jack thought. This wasn’t the kind of situation that got better.

Daniel looked up at him as he jammed his stiffened hands back into gloves. “Jack? You okay?” His face was a white blur in the flashlight glow, too stark. The cold wasn’t even giving him a false blush anymore. Core temperature dropping …

“We need to keep moving,” Jack said. “Carter said there was some kind of a intact building. Maybe we can fire up some heat.”

“I don’t think you’re in any shape to move right now, Jack.”

“This?” Jack shrugged. “Ah, hell, I’ve lost more blood than this in a hockey game. C’mon, Danny boy. Let’s find out what the nice Goa’uld left for us down here.”

“Um, when you hit your head, did you, you know, really hit your head?”

Jack sighed, struggled up to his feet, and limped off down the narrow freezing confines of the ice tunnel.

###

“I’m sorry, Major.” When had the general’s voice ever sounded so compassionate, and so unyielding? Sam struggled to keep her feet as another freezing blast of wind charged down the mountain; she hung onto Teal’c for support. “We can’t send a rescue team. We’re in deep trouble here ourselves, and we absolutely cannot spread this thing off-world.”

“But sir—” she shouted into the wind. The shimmering blue of the wormhole looked warm and inviting. She wanted to dive through it, grab Hammond by his shoulders and shake some sense into him. Good thing it was a one-way connection. “Sir, conditions here are deteriorating, and we don’t know how badly they’re injured! We have to have help or …”

“I understand the stakes. Dr. Jackson and Colonel O’Neill could die. But Major, you have to understand that I’ve got five body bags already filled here at the SGC, and ten more victims are in critical condition in the infirmary. We don’t know how bad this thing is going to get. I absolutely cannot allow any personnel offworld until we know we won’t carry this contagion out with us.”

Five dead. That was like a splash of cold water. “Who are the casualties, sir?”

“Sergeant Wilkins, Major Tomlinson, Captain Karradine, Lieutenant Johnson, and Sergeant Thornton.”

Sam knew two of them well … Tomlinson and Karradine, both of SG-8. Karradine had been one of the rare female officers serving on field duty with the SGC, and one of the few with family. A husband and two kids, Sam remembered. God. “I’m … I understand, sir.” She hesitated for a second, then threw her last card on the table. “Can you at least send a message for us to the Tok’ra?”

“Major?”

“Let them know we need help, give them the gate coordinates here? Maybe they can spare a rescue party.”

Hammond didn’t answer for a few seconds, then came back on with a new crispness in his voice. “Yes, we can do that, Major. We’ll send the message immediately and relay your coordinates, let them know your situation. We’ll also send the MALP back, along with a full kit of gear that may be of some help. Anything else?”

“No, sir, thank you. And … good luck, sir.”

“You too, Major. Colonel O’Neill’s come through worse, and so has Dr. Jackson. We have to believe they’ll make it through this as well.”

“Yes sir. Sierra Golf One out.”

She watched the wormhole disengage then turned to Teal’c. “Now we wait,” she said. He inclined his head.

“Perhaps we should wait in the shelter.”

###

The coffee was hours old, but it was hot; Sam held the cup in trembling hands and tried not to think about the colonel and Daniel down there in the ice, freezing. The shelter was warm enough that she’d shed the parka, balaclava and gloves, but chilly enough now that the polar fleece second layer were coming in handy. Teal’c sat across from her, sipping from his own cup.

“I never asked you,” she said suddenly. “Do you like coffee?”

Teal’c nonexistent eyebrow twitched upward. “Yes.”

“I mean, we never really asked. We just assumed … we should have at least …”

“If I did not care for it, I would not drink it, Major Carter.” He studied her over the top of the steaming cup. “It is actually similar to a beverage commonly issued to Jaffa warriors in the field. It provides warmth and a mild stimulant to increase alertness.”

“Some things never change.”

“Indeed.”

Comfortable silence. She and Teal’c had been through enough together to just be able to sit, each with their own thoughts. That was a trick Daniel had never really learned; when she shared watch with him, he always had things to say, questions to ask. That fast, inquisitive mind, always moving. They all knew that when Daniel stopped talking, things were bad.

God, she missed him. She missed the colonel’s bad jokes and aggressive, hyperactive cheer … no, she couldn’t think about this.

“They will return,” Teal’c said quietly. She looked up and found him watching her, compassion in those strangely gentle eyes. “So we must believe.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “They will.” She put her coffee down and moved to the doorway, unzipped the entrance and looked out. Total darkness outside, and cold that turned her exposed skin to fragile glass. She hadn’t understood the colonel’s discomfort with this world until now; take away the spectacular beauty of this place, and what was left was nothing but death. The shelter of their heated tent felt very tenuous.

Their missing friends didn’t even have that.

Teal’c’s huge, warm hand touched her shoulder, settled and gently squeezed. “There is nothing to be seen,” he said. “We can do nothing until first light.”

“I know.” She reached up and held on to his fingers just for a second. “I just need—” She couldn’t even explain it, but knew somehow she didn’t have to. Teal’c withdrew his hand, moved around inside the tent, and suddenly there was a warm weight over her shoulders. Her parka. She gratefully slid her arms inside and held the comfort close.

Teal’c joined her at the door, looking out.

The two of them kept watch, silent through the short-rotation night, until the first rays of dawn streaked the gray sky and the gate rumbled and spat out blue fire from an off-world activation.

###

“Jack. Jack!”

Somebody was shaking him. He muttered at them to go away, because it was too cold, he was too stiff, too tired. Hurting. Couldn’t place the voice, but he knew it. Kawalsky? Ferretti? … no …

“Jack!”

The utter desperation in the voice made him open his eyes and slowly focus on the face. Dead white, that face, the eyes blank and reflective … God … his team lying cold in the snow, eyes blind, skin pale as moonlight … ice dusting blue-white skin … no …

“Jack!” The pale lips moved, and the light shifted and it wasn’t blinded eyes, it was Daniel’s glasses reflecting the light. Daniel. Still alive. “Stay with me. Stay awake.”

“… awake,” he murmured, and saw relief melt over Daniel’s tense face. “Cold.”

Daniel was doing something … Jack couldn’t focus on it, except that it involved tearing open a package. He closed his eyes. After a few seconds he felt Daniel unzipping his coat. Warmth settled on his chest. “Hot pack,” Daniel said, sounding breathless. “Hold still.”

Things were starting to come back in focus. The hot pack helped, gave Jack something to center on except the numbing chill. “You too. Hot pack.”

“No, I’m okay.”

Jack cracked his eyes open again and focused on Daniel. Not good. Face way too pale. Hard to tell under the layers, but he thought Daniel was shaking uncontrollably now. That kind of trembling came before coma and death. By the time Daniel realized he was in trouble, it would be too late.

“Sit,” Jack said, and forced some command strength into his voice. “Warm up.”

“I’m fine.” Daniel kept moving, but it was more like a stagger. He braced himself against the wall. “Just have to keep moving.”

“No. Sit.”

It wasn’t as if he agreed, more like he lost the strength to disobey. Daniel slid down the ice wall to a sitting position, hands limp at his sides. Something about his hands … Oh Jesus. “Where are your gloves?” Jack asked sharply.

“What?” Daniel blinked down at his bare, pallid hands. Tried to flex them and failed. “Oh. Um … I took them off.”

“Where?”

“Somewhere—had to open your coat.” Daniel looked around slowly. Jack cradled the hot pack closer and rolled to a sitting position. He scooted closer, spotted the gloves on the ice, grabbed them and held them out to Daniel.

Who dropped them. Jack tried to scoop them up and was surprised by his own clumsiness. Both of them, shaking like leaves. Second stage hypothermia, at least; core temps must be scraping the low ‘90s.

“Sorry,” Daniel mumbled, and sat back, clearly too tired to care. No balaclava, no gloves—ah, Damn it, he was half-dead. Even as Jack watched, his shivering was starting to die down. He was sinking into third stage. Just a short hop from that to oblivion.

Jack pulled the zipper on Daniel’s coat, reached in his interior pockets and found the last chemical hot pack. He tore it open, shook it and thrust it into Daniel’s bone-white hands.

Daniel’s face was almost blue in the glow of the flashlight. Jack stripped off his own gloves and laid his hands on top of the hot pack that weighed down Daniel’s frozen palms. He waited what seemed like an ice age before he felt his bare fingers tingling with warmth, and then reached out and put his hands on Daniel’s cheeks. It was like touching cold clay. He gently massaged the chilled flesh.

“Ow,” Daniel said, and batted at him weakly. Jack fended him off without an effort and kept massaging, trying to stimulate blood flow to frozen tissues. “Stop. Jack.”

“Shut up, Danny. I know something about frostbite.”

“Yeah. You and Carter,” Daniel said. He sounded exhausted. “Antarctica.”

“Yep.” Slow, gentle circles, working the crystallized skin along Daniel’s cheekbones. “Shoulda been there. Good time had by all. Parties, dancing …”

“Always wondered,” Daniel murmured.

“About what?”

“Carter. Antarctica.”

“What about her?”

“You know.”

“Don’t.”

“Do too.”

Jack smiled, winced as his cold-chapped lips cracked. “You asking if we fraternized?”

Daniel grunted. “Big word for sex, Jack.”

Yeah, right. As if that had been the first, second or last thing on his mind, what with the pain, the internal bleeding, the freezing to death. Grow up, Daniel. Jack started to blurt it out, then played it back in his head. Crazy like a fox, Daniel, making him think about something other than the cold. “Think I’d tell you?”

“No.” Daniel watched him with wide, cold-drugged eyes. “Can you stop doing that now? Hurts.”

“It’s supposed to.” Well, he’d done as much as he could; he really needed warm water to thaw Daniel’s skin properly. He sat back and felt the sting of cold take hold again in his hands, numbness in his fingers. Heat faded too quickly.

Daniel’s’ eyelids fluttered shut. Jack reached over and shook him. “Don’t sleep.”

“Fine,” he said without opening his eyes. “Talk to me.”

“Not about Antarctica. How long was I out of it, earlier?”

“A while.” Daniel’s earlier intensity had been the product of adrenaline, not strength; he looked drained now, barely able to sit upright for the shivers that racked him. Jack took the hot pack out of Daniel’s hands, kneaded the other man’s stiffened, still-chilly fingers, and threaded Daniel’s gloves back on.

Daniel suddenly asked, “So who’s Cooper?” Jack sat back fast, as if Daniel had turned Goa’uld on him. “Something wrong?”

“No. You—just surprised me.” Jack shook his head. “Where’d you hear that name?”

“You were talking about somebody named Cooper before. Seemed upset.”

Crap. Not supposed to talk about that, ever … “Somebody I knew once. Not important.”

“Sounded important,” Daniel murmured. “God … so cold …” His teeth chattered, and his shaking got worse. Actually, that was good, his temp was rising a little. Jack realized he was still holding the damn hot pack. He leaned forward and unzipped Daniel’s jacket, then hesitated. It’d be better to have it close to his skin, between the fleece and insulation layers; better chance of the warmth staying with him.

He debated for a second, then leaned forward and slid his hand up under Daniel’s fleece pullover, felt the textured weave of the man’s thermal top underneath. No body heat in there at all, he was cold as a marble statue. The fleece wasn’t tight enough to hold the hot pack in place; he positioned it and held it pressed against Daniel’s chest, waiting for a reaction. Daniel didn’t move.

“Feel that?” he asked. No response. Jack cursed and fumbled with Daniel’s clothes, pulled up his thermal shirt and got the hot pack underneath, right against his cold-marble skin. Feels like a dead man. No, he could feel the dull steady thump of Daniel’s heart against his palm. “Daniel. Hey!”

Nothing. Daniel’s closed eyelids looked thin as parchment. “No sleeping on the job, c’mon.” No response. Jack rubbed a knuckle on his sternum. “Wake up, Daniel. Right now.”

He did.

Vivid blue eyes slowly opened, and Daniel focused on him … and smiled. Not a smile Jack had ever seen from him before—not the kind of smile exchanged between friends, no matter how close. This was open, undefended, intimate with delight.

Daniel reached out to him with one cold, bone-pale hand. “Oh God … you’re here, mrawet … I thought you were … I had a terrible dream …”

Jack made his voice as gentle as he could. “Daniel, she’s dead. Sha’re’s dead. Remember?”

It was like killing her all over. Daniel flinched away as memory flooded in, and slammed barriers down between them, hard. He squeezed his eyes shut to hide the pain. “I’m sorry … “ He let his parka-hooded head fall back against the cold wall. “I thought she was—here—” His voice faded out, pallid and weak. “She looked so real.”

Ghosts followed close, out here in the cold. Jack knew all about that. He’d been talking about Cooper, hadn’t he? He kept his head down and made Daniel’s coat secure to hold the hot pack in place. With any luck, it would warm his core temperature a couple of degrees … buy him some time, anyway. Jack’s own little chemical heater was still burning under two layers of insulation, and he was feeling a little better. A little stronger.

Won’t help for long.

Daniel let out a sigh that barely fogged the air—sign of how cold he really was, internally. “So we’re going to die here, right?”

Jack held his hand out. “Not a chance. C’mon. We have to keep moving.”

Daniel just looked at him. “How many hot packs do we have left?”

“That would be none.”

“Oh,” he said. “And we’re not going to die. Right.” He took Jack’s hand and pulled himself part way to his feet; Jack helped him with the rest and braced him until he found his balance.

“Good to go?” Jack asked.

“Good to go,” Daniel agreed. Corpse-cold, pale, hurting, he was still able to stand on his own. He never looked tough, but there was something inside him Jack had rarely seen even in the most bad-ass of soldiers—tenacious, radiant courage.

Damn it, Daniel sometimes even made it look easy.

“Race ya,” Jack said.

Daniel didn’t quite smile, but it was still there, in his eyes.

They hobbled off together, into the dark.



End of Part 1

-- continue to Part 2 --