Let Sleeping Cats Lie
Daniel stirred the fire with a stick and idly watched the sparks fly into the air. He poked the flames one last time, grabbed his mug of coffee and leaned back, propping his back against his pack. This was one of the nicer planets he'd been on, he thought, glancing at the view. The stargate was located a couple of miles from the edge of a large lake or freshwater ocean. There were no trees, rather lots of large hardy looking bushes dotting the sandy landscape along with the occasional boulders and rocks. The climate was warm and pleasant with a faint breeze coming in off the ocean. During the day, they'd seen the occasional bird soaring high above them, and one or two small rodents scurrying away during their short hike to their campsite.
There had been no ruins for him to look at, and it had taken Sam just a couple of hours to gather her samples. All in all, he thought this trip was more of a vacation than a mission.
They'd had a rough few weeks, all of them. First running off to Hell to rescue Jacob, then having to repel an alien invasion. Although he'd certainly had the easiest part of that adventure, having basically slept through it all, Sam and Teal'c hadn't been as lucky. Both of them had emerged from the foothold situation more than a little battered. Which was likely the root cause for this trip to the beach.
Daniel knew all too well that if you suggested to either Sam or Teal'c that they needed time off, the offer would be rebuffed. However, disguising a forty-eight hour leave in the guise of a mission, chances are they'd never know what hit them.
He heard a rustle from the left and turned to see Sam crawling out of her small tent. She shuffled past him, the laces from her untied boots dragging in the sand. "Sam? You ok?" he asked.
She waved her hand at him and headed towards the nearby dunes. Figuring that she was answering the call of nature, he simply shrugged and turned back to his coffee. As good of an attitude she might put forth at other times, Sam was not a morning person. He'd learned years ago to give her a wide berth until she fully woke up. And sometimes even longer than that.
He sat back and pulled out a small electronic device, taking care to mute the sound on the solitaire game so he wouldn't wake the others. The hand held lighted game had been a gift from Janet during one of his infirmary stays, and he found it indispensable during watches.
Three games of Vegas style solitaire later; he looked up and then glanced at his watch. Sam shoulda been back by now. It didn't take her THAT long to take care of business.
He got up and set down his game, cautiously walking in her footsteps. "Sam?" he called softly, not wanting to wake the others. He crested the top of one dune and saw the track of footprints leading off to the distance, illuminated by the vibrant moonlight of the planet.
He turned and hurried back to the camp, knowing that if there was something out there, he wouldn't be helping Sam by getting caught in the trap himself. "Jack?" he called, whapping the side of his tent. "Jack, wake up."
Daniel pulled the flap back and then reared back as he was greeted by the business end of a P-90. "Damnit, Daniel," Jack said, lowering the weapon. "What's wrong?"
"Sam went off towards the dunes about half an hour ago. I thought she was just using the facilities but she hasn't come back yet."
"Son of a…wake Teal'c," Jack ordered, reaching for his boots.
Within minutes the three men were awake and alert, Teal'c kneeling beside Sam's tracks. "Major Carter's stride was most unsteady," he said.
"She just…waved at me and walked right by," Daniel said. "I thought she was just sleepy. You know how she is."
"Yeah, Miss Merry Sunshine she ain't. Let's go reel her in," Jack ordered, tightening his grip on his gun.
The trio started off, Teal'c in the lead. They crested the dune and slid down the far side, the sand seeping into their boots. Jack scanned the horizon hoping to catch sight of his missing team member. He wracked his brains, trying to figure out what would make her wander off. She hadn't been acting odd, or any odder than usual. And she was too well trained and experienced in gate travel to just lark off. Which meant if she was gone, she was gone for a reason.
Teal’c snapped his staff weapon up, arming and aiming it in one smooth move. “O’Neill?”
Jack tensed, bringing up his rifle to bear, his eyes scanning the situation. “Where the hell did they come from?” he demanded, edging closer to Daniel and Teal’c.
“I do not know, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied, closely studying the creatures around them. “They seemed to appear from nowhere,” he said, eyeing the dozen cats that were surrounding them. They were huge animals, easily several hundred pounds each. In the moonlight it was hard to be certain, but they all looked to be varying shades of tawny golden brown. Two of them sat on their haunches while the rest paced. In the warm night air, Jack could smell the musky odor of the animals.
Mentally he calculated the odds, narrowing his eyes as one of the cats yawned revealing large ivory fangs. Moving slowly he flicked off the safety on his rifle, readying the weapon for use.
“I don’t want to hear it Daniel. These things might have gotten Carter.”
“If they wanted us dead, we would be already,” Daniel reasoned.
“For all I know, they like to play with their food. I don’t wanna kill them, but you know how I feel about cats.”
“O’Neill,” Jack turned to Teal’c and followed the man’s line of sight. Relief warred with concern at the sight of Carter shuffling her way through the sand.
Jack tensed, expecting the cats to make a move. “Carter,” he whispered harshly as she approached.
The woman ignored him, and shuffled forward, one of the cats walking at her side occasionally bumping into her leg, as if to guide her. She walked between the two sitting cats, pausing to pat the head of one of them. "Nice kitty," she muttered then shuffled past her teammates and towards the camp.
"Sam?" Daniel said, reaching out his arm.
"Let her go," Jack said.
"She's sleepwalking. You wake her up now she might startle our friends here," Jack said casting a quick glance at Sam who was stumbling down the other side of the dune.
The two lead cats gained their feet and approached the men. One by one they sniffed Teal'c, Daniel and Jack then turned and vanished into the dunes as quickly and silently as they had arrived.
"Let's go catch up with Carter," Jack said, relaxing a bit. They made their way back to their campsite, not surprised to find a cat sitting outside Sam's tent. Jack gestured and his companions held back. Jack slowly approached the tent. "Easy. I just wanna take a look," he whispered as he peeked past the cat to see his second curled up in her sleeping bag, her boots still half on her feet.
The animal looked up at him and slowly blinked, the hazel eyes almost luminescent in the brilliant moonlight. Its long tail flicked lazily in the sand and Jack swore he could hear the rough sound of the cat purring. "Thanks," he said softly.
The cat got to its feet and stretched. It gently rubbed its head against Jack's side then walked over to Daniel and Teal'c, repeating the maneuver. They watched it silently pad over the dunes, quickly disappearing into the gathering dawn.
Sam rolled over and stretched, frowning at the light filtering in through the walls of her tent. She looked at her watch and did the math in hear head. It was late, really late. The colonel never liked to get such a late start on the day.
She reached down and frowned again as she saw that her boots were hanging off her feet. She distinctly remembered taking them off before she'd crawled into her bag last night.
Tightening the laces, she cautiously stuck her head out of the tent. The guys were gathered around the fire talking quietly and drinking coffee. She made her way over to them and accepted the mug of coffee Daniel held out for her.
"Morning. Sleep well?" Jack asked.
"Umm…yeah I guess. I'm sorry. Did I over sleep or something?" Sam asked, picking up on the odd mood.
"You don't feel any different?" Daniel asked.
"No. Should I?" She asked cautiously.
"What are your memories of last night, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked.
"I went to sleep…then it was morning."
"Nothing…. Strange happened?" Jack promoted.
"Aah…I swore I took my boots off before I went to bed," she said slowly. "Why?"
"You ever had a problem with sleepwalking before?" Jack asked.
"Sleepwalking? No. Never," she said, shaking her head. "You're not saying that I…"
"You took off for a hike across the dunes about four this morning," Jack said.
"What? No, I…" Sam stopped, seeing the confirmation in her friends' eyes. "I don't sleepwalk," she insisted.
"Did not Doctor Fraiser warn that the drugs used by the aliens from P3X118 may have unexpected side effects?" Teal'c asked.
"I don’t think I call wandering off in the wee hours of the morning a side effect," Sam said dubiously.
Jack shrugged and got up, tossing the dregs of his coffee into the sand. "Unless it happens again, I don't think it's a big deal. Sara did it when she was pregnant."
"Well, that's not my problem…sir," Sam protested, rolling her eyes at her companions' looks.
"We'll just…tie you to your tent or something from now on," he quipped. "I'm all for going home unless either of you have a good reason for hanging around," Jack said, making a mental note to mention Sam's escapade to Fraiser.
Sam and Daniel agreed that there was no other reason for them to stay, other than playing in the sand. Within a couple of hours they'd packed up the camp and hiked the short distance back to the stargate. Sam walked with her friends, apparently not noticing their extra vigilance.
They reached the stargate and Daniel quickly dialed the gate. Jack ushered his teammates across the event horizon, turning to take one quick scan behind them. He paused at the sight of a large cat sitting atop a dune. Somehow he knew it was the same one that had ushered Carter back to camp last night. Feeling distinctly not-threatened; he merely nodded at the creature, then stepped into the wormhole.
Marquesas watched the human leave, then turned and made her way back to her pride.
"They have gone?" Quartney asked.
Marquesas nodded and sank down, the warm sand feeling good to her old bones.
"We must leave," Caztro said, his tail twitching nervously. "They will return."
"They mean us no harm," Quartney said as she watched her two cubs play in the distance.
"You have said that before," Caztro reminded.
"Yes, she has," Marquesas said, grooming herself. "However, we can not hide forever. The Time is nearly here."
"The TIME is a myth," Caztro spat, his hackles rising.
"You felt what we did," Keleton said sagely, moving in to sit beside his mate, Quartney. "These humans have been touched by the Nox. Their leader bears the mark of the Ancient. The woman of the Tok'ra. Chances are they have also come into contact with the Tollan."
"So, they have explored the universe. That does not mean that it is the Time," Caztro argued.
"You can deny the prophecies all you wish, Caztro," Keleton said. "The signs are unmistakable. The Time is approaching. It was our ancestors who fled to this planet and turned their backs on the universe. It was our ancestors who set these events into motion. And it is our generation that will have to remedy those wrongs. Like it or not, the Time is upon us. It is time for the Furlings to again take their place in the universe."