Sam's hands were steady as she waited.
The sun beat down on her, merciless, and the heat radiating from the tar paper of the roof was worse, but she had her position and there was nothing to do about it anyway.
The rifle was ready on its tripod and aimed, though she kept her linen jacket over it, fearing a reflection would give warning. She wouldn't get another chance like this for months.
She could hear the sound of the marching band at the front of the parade. They were playing "The Saints Go Marching In". She wasn't sure whether she should laugh or cry.
She did neither.
With one hand she wiped the trickle of sweat from her temple onto her jeans. The wig kept her scalp from sunburn, but it was cheap and didn't breathe.
The noise increased as the band came around the corner -- they were all dressed in black and gold, and had to be baking as much as she was. Behind the band was a team of girls twirling batons, and behind them another group of teenagers in uniform like a JROTC troop. Yet these kids were wearing Jaffa armor, and the banner in front of their group was black with a golden symbol on it. It was the same symbol and the same flag on every flagpole from Sydney to London.
Real Jaffa followed behind them, and Sam was sure that she was the only one watching who understood the meaning of each forehead bearing a different symbol. There was another pause and then an honor guard of Jaffa bearing the flag's symbol on their foreheads
Then finally, carried on a wave of cheers and applause, was the open-top limousine with her target.
She took her thin jacket off the rifle and bent to the scope, finding the mayor first. She briefly considered putting a bullet through his head, too. Brainwashed, implanted, or a collaborator, it didn't matter anymore. There was no way to be sure. But he wasn't important.
She shifted the rifle slightly, looking, and the face snapped into focus.
A well of pure hate rose through her, choking, making her hands tighten on the rifle, wanting to shake.
Smiling, waving, he looked so genial that her stomach rebelled.
He had done this, created this horribly parody of America with himself in charge and spread it around the world through the same combination of covert infiltration, intimidation through the careful use of weapons of mass destruction, and a pleasant manner that tricked people into believing his lies, even while their friends and family vanished.
It took all her will to push the rage away, and reach for cold deliberation. She had a job to do today, and with any luck Cam was doing the same in D.C. Two clones was a drop in the bucket, but at least it was a statement that resistance was still alive.
She centered the scope cross-hairs on the smirking evil face, and on a slow breath, pulled the trigger.
The earplugs cut into the noise, but not the recoil which shoved into her shoulder
The shot had been clean, and she looked up to confirm the results.
What the --?
Baal was still waving, still smiling. He definitely still had a head.
Shit. Clean miss. How the hell had that happened?
Knowing it would steal precious time, she fired again, determined to get him.
He was waving, as if nothing had happened.
She didn't dare to pause afterward. The instant she pulled the trigger, she was gathering her stuff. The parade was stopping, dissolving into chaos, and the crowd was screaming. The Jaffa and police would soon be looking for the shooter.
She broke the rifle down and shoved it into the bag at her feet, left the tripod behind, and ran for the stairwell.
The dim light and cool air was like night after the bright heat, and she nearly missed the first step. But she ran anyway, trusting her feet to find the steps. All the while her heart pounded off the seconds.
She fled down to the second floor and the door she'd propped open. She pulled the chair in after her, so the door would slam and lock behind her, to give herself some more time.
Moving through the deserted office hallway, she saw the empty cubicles through the glass walls.
It was a Tuesday but the building was empty because of the holiday. A flicker of memory passed through her mind, of being on base as a kid - all the flags, the gun salutes and fireworks. Picnics with the other families. And now Baal had destroyed that, taken it over for himself, like everything else.
Her hands tingled with her anger, but she had to push it down, not think about it or her failure to get him. It would be a bigger failure to get caught.
At the end of the corridor were the glass doors that led out to a garden where the worker bees ate their lunch and took cigarette breaks. She had picked the lock on the way in and it opened for her easily.
The heat hit her again, muggy and thick. At the edge of the garden, she knelt on the bench and peered over the hedge and wall behind it, to the delivery area below. There was no one, not yet.
She slung the bag over her head and let herself over the wall. The worst moment was hanging by her hands, knowing she made an excellent target. But then she dropped the foot or so to the pavement, and straightened. Another look around proved she was still alone.
Smirking a little at Jaffa incompetence, she headed down the alley toward the opening at a jog.
There were people now, moving away from the parade in a panic at the gunfire. Her only consolation was that at least she had ruined Baal's parade, even if she hadn't killed him.
She turned with the crowd, moved with them for a little while, then across the next street and into another alley. Hiding from view, she dumped the long blonde wig into the dumpster, fluffed her wet brown-dyed short hair, and put the white linen jacket over her obnoxiously pink tank-top. Now if anyone had glimpsed her on the roof, she wouldn't look like that woman.
Feeling more secure, she returned to the main street and joined the crowd walking away.
She entered the side door of their small rental house and called, "Cassie?"
"Sam!" Cassie rushed into the kitchen. "God, I was so worried!"
They hugged, and Sam let Cassie hold her for a moment before pushing away and letting the bag fall to floor with a clatter. "I'm fine. I got away clean. But I didn't get him."
"I know," Cassie said, "I was watching t.v."
After stripping off the jacket and throwing it over the chair, Sam yanked open the fridge to grab a water bottle and nudged the door shut with her hip. "He's using holograms now," she bit out in disgust. "Coward. He won't even come out of his rat-hole on his own very special holiday."
She had gulped down at least half the bottle before she realized how quiet Cassie was being. Not that she'd ever been chatty, but after all these years of being their little resistance cell of two, Sam could tell when something was wrong. "What is it?"
"I was watching t.v.," she repeated, but with a strange emphasis. Then she spilled the bad news. "They caught Cam in D.C. It's all over the news. I'm not sure if he actually got the clone there or not, since they're not showing that part, but they keep showing the arrest. That's why the Baal here was a hologram; he had warning that some attempt --"
Sam heard Cassie's words from very far away. She brought the water up to her mouth and swallowed like an automaton.
Cam. Not him too.
That left her. Of all the members of SG-1, she was the only one left. O'Neill first, he'd disappeared in the days following the first of Baal's bombings and was never heard from again. But one by one, each had been taken away from her. Even poor Jonas, trying to escape the Ori, had wound up in Baal's net.
Well, no, there was one more. A little laugh escaped her with the wild thought that Makepeace was probably still alive and in Leavenworth. He'd been the leader of SG-1 once, after all. Maybe she should go break him out. At least she could be pretty certain Baal had never bothered to brainwash him or implant him with a symbiote, and Makepeace had always been good in combat, whatever his other shortcomings.
It was a pleasant fantasy, which crashed on the reality that her face was well known to Tau'ri Security Police, and she was unlikely to get close to Fort Leavenworth.
"Sam?" Cassie gripped her arm and guided her into the living room, and onto the couch. "Here, sit down."
Sam inhaled a deep breath, feeling more like herself. She quirked a little smile at Cassie. "Sorry. It's just... Damn, not Cameron too. Are you sure?"
Cassie nodded. She didn't look all that shocked by the news - not as much as Sam certainly - but then, Cassie'd been through so much, she was pretty immune to shock these days. Sam had thought she was too.
"The footage seemed real," Cassie said. "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Baal let Cam's face go on camera just so we would see it and know."
Sam nodded and let out a heavy sigh. It was Baal's way of taunting her and the rest of the resistance. It had worked, for a moment. But now the shock was disappearing and she could start planning again. She drained the rest of the water bottle and set it on the side table. "Maybe you're right. We should get in touch with some of the others. Get more organized. We'll head to Atlanta. Reynolds was there, last I heard."
After a moment of silence, Cassie said, "Sam, there's more." .
"Reynolds, too?" she asked, dreading an affirmative but half expecting the worst.
"No, but that's probably only a matter of time," Cassie said. She pointed to the television. "Look. They're showing it again."
It took Sam a moment to orient to what the picture was showing, especially while the television was muted. She expected it to be Cam's arrest, but then she realized it was the parade here.
She watched, frowning, not understanding what she was seeing. Why was the news showing this? Nothing had happened to Baal. He was fine, and she hadn't been caught. The parade had dissolved into panicked chaos, but that was hardly something Baal wanted on t.v. Nothing went on television that he didn't approve, although he was canny enough to leave most things as they had been. Sam had joked once that she might have forgiven a lot if he'd taken away the reality shows.
But then she realized why Cassie had wanted her to see this. Her stomach went tight as the camera suddenly zoomed to the other side of the parade, and into the audience lining the road. A small figure fell.
"Oh my God," she whispered. She hadn't even thought about it, so infuriated that Baal hadn't bothered to show up to get killed, using a hologram instead.
But a hologram was only light. It was little more than colors shining on the air itself. A hologram couldn't stop a bullet.
"One of the girls died at the scene, the other is in the hospital," Cassie told her, and her voice was flat, almost cold. "She won't make it."
Sam turned to her, frowning, with a tendril of something cold creeping down her spine.
"Not that I particularly care," Cassie said, with a small shrug. When her voice shifted to a Goa'uld harmonic, Sam wasn't surprised exactly -- the horror was consuming her, a cold wave rising from the inside. No, this couldn't be.
The Goa'uld-in-Cassie said, "But the people demand swift justice, and that's what they're going to get. Your usefulness is pretty much at an end anyway."
Sam threw herself from the couch, intending to get to the sliding glass door and escape. But the thing in Cassie was faster, slamming her down to the rug. Sam grunted and tried to struggle, but Cassie was no tiny little girl anymore and hadn't been for years. She was now all woman, younger and stronger than Sam, with all the self-defense and hand-to-hand tricks Sam herself had taught her. Worse, she was a woman infested with a Goa'uld that gave her double human strength.
"Oh no, Samantha," the voice purred into her ear, one hand pressing down on her neck. "You can't leave so soon."
With embarrassing ease, she flipped Sam onto her back, sitting on her hips with a hand holding both her wrists against the floor..
Cassie smirked, head tilted to one side in a very familiar expression.
God, why had she never noticed when Cassie started doing that?
"Baal," Sam spat in disgust. Baal's smirk widened. "How long have you been in her, you son of a bitch?"
Cassie shook her head in mocking pity. "Were you really so naïve to believe you weren't watched? It was rather amusing to watch you flail around and plan these little acts of rebellion, I admit. And perhaps if you'd been more ruthless, you might have been actually dangerous to someone besides innocent bystanders."
"How long?" she demanded again, furiously, and was ashamed of how her eyes pricked with tears. She wanted to believe it was only weeks, but she feared years. Years of Cassie screaming silently right in front of her, begging for help, and Sam never hearing her....
And Baal gave voice to her nightmare. "Before the explosions in Los Angeles and Chicago."
Even though she was already on the ground, she felt like she was falling. And falling, and there was nothing and no one left to catch her.
Cassie's face seemed sympathetic for a moment, aping an emotion Baal didn't have but could mimic to manipulative effect. "Pity I had to play to your maternal instinct for Cassandra. You're still attractive for a human." Fingers stroked Sam's cheek gently.
She shuddered and went very still, as though a scorpion was before her and any movement would lure it to strike.
But the sounds of car doors slamming outside prevented anything else, and the two of them waited as the sound of many booted feet ran up the walk, through the front door and into the foyer.
"I have her contained," Baal called out, as four police officers and then armored Jaffa came into the room. With ease, Baal pulled her to her feet.
The presence of Jaffa meant the "real" Baal, so she wasn't surprised when the familiar host sauntered into her living room. He was wearing the same grey suit as his hologram, and looked more like a banker than a world conqueror.
He first saw "Cassie", and for an instant she wanted to laugh - it was like watching two cats eye each other and circle with their fur puffed out and claws ready. How did the clones ever manage to work together?
But the hostility faded, at some silent agreement, and Baal's gaze settled on her. He nodded once, in neutral, perhaps even respectful greeting. He didn't use the Goa'uld voice either, which she had always found a disconcerting habit. "Colonel Carter."
"Is this really you, or are you hiding behind holograms some more, so little girls die in your place?" she taunted.
"And which of us fired the weapon that killed her?" he returned calmly. "You should be more careful about your target." She couldn't find anything to say to that. It was the simple truth. She'd killed a little girl. Two. No, three girls counting Cassie, since she'd never, ever seen that Cassie wasn't there. She'd been too angry, too careless. Too busy remembering what had been taken away and not paying attention to what she still had.
Baal didn't look away from her but asked the room at large, "Where's the weapon?"
Baal-in-Cassie answered, "The bag in the kitchen."
Baal gestured negligently for the Jaffa to go fetch it then folded his arms. He asked, his tone curious, but cutting as a blade, "I understand your growing desperation, but surely you and Mitchell could've done better? These suicidal solo missions were really not what I expected. Where's the organized resistance? O'Neill and Jackson did better against Ra with six guns and the slaves of Abydos, than you've done in four years."
And that hurt, though not the way he intended it. Because she'd stayed away from being part of any underground partly to avoid risking them with her own notoriety, but mostly for Cassie's sake.
And "Cassie" knew that. Cassie smiled at her, finding it a funny joke, and Sam's right hand fisted. But then it loosened again. Hitting that smug face would only hurt Cassie, and she'd already done enough of that.
Baal sighed a little, when she said nothing. "I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm taking you from the game because you were sloppy, not because you fought." His eyes slid past her to the television and she followed his gaze to see a school photo of a cute little girl with a big toothy grin spread across the entire screen. "Pretty, wasn't she?" he murmured. "The people will be howling for blood by dinner time."
She realized that Baal didn't have to do anything except tell the truth. She had handed him actual facts that this Baal and probably all the others were going to use in their propaganda to make the rebellion look worse than his rule.
He held up a hand and made a sharp gesture toward her, ordering the Jaffa. "Take her to processing."
One small part of her, somewhere in the back of her mind, snarled about how she had to resist. She should steal a zat off the belt of the nearest Jaffa and turn around and shoot Baal with it. She could make a break for it and run back to the kitchen and through the side door. She could, at the very least, fight and force them to drag her away.
But she looked at Cassie -- who was still Cassie, somewhere in there, she hoped -- and she thought of two other little girls laid out on the asphalt, and all she could do was whisper, "I'm sorry, Cass. So sorry."
The cuffs felt sharply cold around her wrists.
As she walked past Baal, she could barely find her hatred for him anymore. He was a monster, but was she any less of one?
She paused her steps and said to him, "You win."
He answered with easy arrogance, but without the smirk she expected, only a small nod. "Yes. I have."
Surrounded by Jaffa and human police, Sam continued through the door to the wilting heat outside.