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The Footprints I Left Behind

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This is not, Cassie thinks as bullets fly over her head, the best first day ever.

She ducks, but doesn’t stop working. All she has to do is get the bleeding stemmed enough to get Lt. Sanchez through the Gate, and he’ll be okay. But if she doesn’t stop it right now, he won’t make it back to the SGC. Her plastic gloves are slippery with blood, and she has trouble keeping the bandage in place long enough to secure it.

“Damn it, Doc!” Captain Hailey is above her now, firing her P-90 at the rogue Lucian Alliance soldiers who’d ambushed the team on this planet. “I told you to get the hell through that Gate!”

“Sanchez can’t be moved yet!” Cassie yells back. “So unless you want him to die out here, I suggest you--”

“Talk less, work more!”

Cassie bites back a curse and ignored the concussive explosions of machine gun fire barely two feet from her ears. Just a little more...yes! She checks the bandage once more to make sure it’s going to hold, then motions to the other two officers from Sanchez’s team.

“He’s good!” she shouts over the gunfire. “Get him through the Gate!”

“You too, Doc!” Hailey shouts.

Cassie scrambles out of the way so Kwan and Roberts can lift an unconscious Sanchez off the Stargate platform and carry him through the wormhole. As they struggle to provide cover fire and escape, Cassie grabs the P-90 from Kwan’s hands and motions for her to keep moving. “I’ll help Captain Hailey cover you, just get him out of here!

“Oh, no.” Hailey shakes her head. “No way. I am not losing a newbie because of the goddamn Lucian Alliance.” She quickly shoots over Cassie’s shoulder, taking out another Alliance soldier. “Through the Gate, doctor. Now!”

In one motion, Cassie slings her medical bag over her shoulder and manages to take out the sentries attacking from the other side of Hailey. “And I’m not about to watch you fall through the Gate behind me with a bunch of bullet holes!”

Hailey actually laughs, and she and Cassie find themselves backing towards the Stargate together, guns out in defense as more Alliance soldiers appear over the hilltop. “I didn’t think you cared, doc.”

“I don’t,” Cassie says. “I just don’t want you to make more work for me.”

“Hell of a first day, huh?”

Cassie remembers the stories her mom and Sam told her about their first days at Stargate Command. “It could be worse.”

Hailey snorts, shooting a soldier who gets too close. “Tell me about it.”

Suddenly, a high-pitched whine breaks over the din. Cassie frowns. “What’s that noise...?” She trails off as an Ori fighter hovers above the treeline, reinforcing the Lucian Alliance soldiers. Its canon starts glowing, and the whine gets louder.

“Oh, shit!” Hailey grabs Cassie’s arm and hauls her back. “Time to go!”

“How the hell did the Alliance get their hands on an Ori fighter?”

“That’ll be an excellent question for the debriefing,” Hailey says as they dive through the Stargate.

The fighter’s canon shoots, and Cassie jumps through the wormhole just time time--

--to be spat out onto a thick bed of grass.

“Ugh.” She coughs and rolls out of the way as the wormhole disappears. “Crap.”

“Pretty much my thoughts exactly.”

Cassie sits up and looks around for the source of Hailey’s voice. The captain is sitting propped up against a rock, holding her side. Cassie rushes over to her, doctor’s instincts kicking in and pushing her other questions aside. “Let me see.”

“I’m fine.” Hailey brushes Cassie’s hands away. “Just need to rest a minute.”

“When you get your medical degree and field certification, I’ll take your opinion under advisement.”

Hailey shoves Cassie away with more force and stands up. It looks like it takes more effort than it should. “We need to find cover and figure out what the hell just happened.”

Cassie rolls her eyes, because they clearly select SGC military officers for extreme stubbornness. “Well,” she says slowly. “We’re not in Cheyenne Mountain.”

“Really?” Hailey chuckles, then winces. “I never would have guessed.”

Cassie doesn’t know Captain Hailey that well, but even after one day she can tell that this is a woman who doesn’t show weakness to anyone, ever. The fact that she’s not even trying to hide her pain worries Cassie more than anything else. “No one followed us through the Gate,” she says. “And only our people went through ahead of us. They’re not here, which is probably good. Neither is anyone else, though, which is definitely good.”

She looks around, trying to get a quick lay of the land. If there are no immediate threats, she might be able to convince Major Hailey to let her look at her injury. The planet is heavily wooded, though the area leading to the Stargate is clear; Cassie remembers her own planet was covered in flat farmland. It smells similar, though, and Cassie is momentarily a child again, running through damp soil after the fertilizing Nirrti Jhakkara rains fell each spring. She knows this air, thick and wet, though there’s a tickle on the back of her neck that’s new. The air feels charged here. The Jhakkara were only downpours, but Cassie suspects the rains on this planet are accompanied by far more lightning than she feels like experiencing firsthand.

So. Priorities.

Cassie leans back on her haunches and raises an eyebrow at Hailey. “Let me just check you over, and then we’ll figure out what to do next.”

“Why do I feel like you’re not exactly giving me much choice in the matter?”

“I’m not.” Cassie shrugs. “But I don’t want you to think I’m dismissing your concerns out of hand, either. You know, since you’re the senior military officer here and all.”

Hailey smirks, though it looks more sickly than snarky. “Thanks.” But she leans back against the rock and doesn’t fight Cassie when she lifts her shirt and begins prodding the tender flesh, so Cassie figures she’s won this round.

“No problem. Now hold still and let me clean this wound. Then we can start figuring out where the hell we are and how we get back to earth.”

“Fair enough,” Hailey says. “Some first day, huh?”

Yeah, Cassie thinks, Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty typical one.

XXXXX

Cassie doesn’t think the Major’s ribs are broken, which is good; they’re pretty damn bruised, however, which will make moving around hurt like hell. Unfortunately, moving is exactly what Hailey is insisting they do right now.

“Look, if I’m not going to puncture a lung,” she says, “then we need to get out of this open area and find someplace to take shelter.”

“I said I think your ribs aren’t broken.” Cassie huffs out a breath, fluttering her bangs off her face. “But without an x-ray or CT-scan I can’t be sure. So can’t you just sit still while I dial earth so they can send a medical team through?”

Hailey laughs, a short stuttering sound that comes a little too close to a wheeze for Cassie’s comfort. But Hailey just shakes her head and winces, and Cassie rolls her eyes; the Major is way too much like Uncle Jack for Cassie’s comfort, especially right now.

Hailey keeps laughing, until it finally breaks off on a sharp gasp. Cassie rolls her eyes again and presses a hand against Hailey’s back where her spine meets her ribs. She rubs, hard and slow, until Hailey’s breathing returns to something resembling normal. “Any particular reason you did that?”

“Did you really just say you wanted to dial the Gate?”

“Uh…yeah. That’s what we do when we get spat out on the wrong planet, isn’t it? Or did I read the orientation packet wrong?”

Hailey looks like she wants to laugh again, but just shakes her head. “Yeah, yeah. Under normal circumstances we’d just dial home again and send back a recon team to secure the Gate area.” She points behind Cassie. “But take a look over there and tell me what you see.”

Cassie turns around and takes her first good look at the Stargate since she got to the planet. In her defense, she’s been preoccupied with making sure Major Hailey wasn’t in immediate danger of dying or something. Cassie brushes her bangs back and humors Hailey. “I see the Stargate. It’s as big as the one at the SGC. I see the stone platform we crash-landed on; I think it ripped my t-shirt.” Behind the Stargate is the forest; Cassie figures the day is getting to her, because she could swear she sees sparks shooting off the treetops. She scans the other way, a bit further down from the platform, about ten feet. “I see the DHD—oh.”

“Yeah,” Hailey says. “Oh.”

The DHD -- the very important piece of ancient alien technology that allows them to dial the Stargate and go home -- is broken. The control panel looks intact, but there’s a huge, jagged hole ripped into the side of the pedestal, and a piece of what looks like dull, shattered glass is almost certainly the control crystal.

“Oh,” Cassie says again. “I guess this is a problem.”

XXXXX

Given that returning to earth is clearly, clearly not an option, Cassie is forced to relent and allow Hailey to lead them on a search for a defensible position.

“Shelter,” Cassies says, swatting at a low tree branch as they headed towards the cave Hailey had seen with her scope. “You said, ‘We need to find shelter.’ You did not say ‘We need to hike through half a mile of forest uphill.’” She glares at Major Hailey’s back. “Do I need to go over how I only think you don’t have significant internal damage again? Because seriously, my medical opinion is that this little jaunt of yours is a Very Bad Idea.”

“Less talking, Doc.” And oh, crap, there is a definite wheeze in Hailey’s breathing. “More walking.”

“More walking,” Cassie repeats under her breath. She pushes another branch out of the way, gasping and pulling her hand back.

Hailey stops and looks back. “What is it?”

Cassie stares at her and, surprised and a little curious. “That tree just shocked me.”

“It can’t have,” Hailey says. “It’s a tree.”

“It’s an alien tree.” Cassie wants to tell her how deceiving looks can be; after all, no one’s ever questioned were Cassie was born. “Are you seriously going to tell me you don’t feel how charged the air is?”

Hailey actually seems to consider that, which Cassie counts as a win. “The air, definitely. It must have seriously stormed before we got here, and it’ll probably rain again soon.” She shrugged one shoulder, looking doubtful. “You must have just gotten hit with some residual static discharge, or something.”

“Maybe,” Cassie says, but she knows she sounds as uncertain as Hailey. The Major moves forward again, and Cassie casts one last look at the tree.

If she didn’t know better, she’d swear the root system was faintly glowing.

They finally reach the cave, and Hailey doesn’t hide her sigh of relief as she settles herself onto the ground and leans against the cool rock wall. Cassie has to admit, as far as makeshift campsites on alien planets go, this one is pretty decent: small entryway leading to a large cavern, situated on high ground with a clear view of the Stargate, close enough to the forest to provide additional cover but far enough away to give them a clear view of any animal -- or anything else -- that might encroach on their space. Cassie is even satisfied with the proximity to the stream they passed on the hike up here.

All in all, a good place to sit tight and wait for the SGC to figure out what the hell happened and come get them.

Which, now that she’s actually able to sit and think about it...

“So.” Cassie joins Major Hailey inside the mouth of the cave, sitting down and finally, mercifully, shrugging out of her pack. “Status report.”

Hailey snorts and rolls her head sideways to look at Cassie. “I think that’s supposed to be my line, Doc. But,” she pushes herself into a straighter sitting position, clearly favoring her left side now, “I think it’s more important we actually figure out what our statusis, so.” She waves a hand towards Cassie. “Lead the way, Doc.”

“Okay, first of all? Either call me Dr. Frasier, or Cassie. Doc reminds me way too much of Un--an old family friend.” Because seriously, it’s getting pretty annoying, and Cassie has no idea how long they’ll be stuck out here.

“Really?” Hailey asks. “That’s what you’re starting with? All right, then, Doctor Fras...” She trails off, suddenly wide eyes visible even in the dimly lit cave. “Oh. Oh. I’m so sorry, I didn’t even realize you were--”

Cassie hurries to interrupt. “It’s fine, really.” She knows what’s coming next; she’s seen it enough from the SGC personnel who knew her mother. “I guess I didn’t realize you knew my mom. Aren’t you kind of...” Okay, now she awkwardly stalls out. This is going great.

“Young?” Hailey chuckles. It’s sounds different this time, lighter, like there’s an extra layer missing. Maybe it just sounds less cocksure. “Yeah, I get that a lot. ‘Youngest SGC recruit ever,’” she waves a hand through the air as she recounts the epithets. “‘Most promising Air Force cadet since Samantha Carter.’ I guess I should apologize for giving you crap before. If I’d realized who you were, I’d have offered to buy you a sympathy beer before the mission.”

Cassie recognizes her tone; it’s one of commiseration, that of someone who knows what it’s like to be living up to impossible standards, but to still strive for them anyway. Cassie knows she’ll never be Janet Frasier. She doesn’t want to be. But it would be nice if people stopped gawking every time she introduced herself in the infirmary.

Most promising Air Force cadet since Samantha Carter. Oh, no way... “Oh! I know you!”

Hailey runs a hand over her face and mutters something really rude under her breath. “Awesome.”

“What? No! No, it’s totally fine.” In fact, she has a feeling Hailey will actually appreciate this. “I overheard Uncle Jack talking to Mom and Sam once about a training exercise once. He was afraid Sam’s ‘hand-picked scientist-soldier’ was going to use some fake foothold scenario to try and take over the earth.” Cassie offers a sly grin at her compatriot.

“I was in on that!” Hailey squawks indignantly, holding her side. “What the hell? He was scared,” she grumbles. “The other trainees thought Dr. Jackson had turned into a Goa’uld. It would’ve served him right if I did take control of the Stargate.”

Cassie snorts out a laugh, and she has a sudden flash of what it must have been like for Jack O’Neill to deal with Jennifer Hailey and Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter on the same day. Uncle Jack may have helped raise her, but Cassie’s finding she likes Major Hailey a hell of a lot more as today goes on.

“So, Major--”

“Jennifer.”

Cassie blinks. “Hmm?”

“Jennifer. If I can call you Cassie, you can call me Jennifer.”

“Ah. So, Jennifer, what do you think happened to us?”

She takes a moment to consider the question. “I think the energy flow of the wormhole was diverted to another Stargate due to a superconductive overload.”

Cassie blinks again. “Say that again? In English, please.”

Hailey -- Jennifer -- rolls her eyes. “Sorry, sorry. I’m an astrophysicist, but I don’t get to do the science thing nearly as much as I’d like to these days.”

“Too busy babysitting rookies?”

Jennifer’s lips press together tightly, embarrassment creeping into her words. “You heard me?”

But Cassie laughs, because it’s funny now. It was funny this morning, too -- god, was it only this morning that she was preparing for her “first” trip through the Stargate when she overheard SG-12 teasing Jennifer about leading yet another training mission offworld? -- but for a different reason: in some ways, she’s more familiar with the the Stargate and galactic travel than Jennifer is. “Yeah, but I get it.” She quirks an eyebrow up. “Believe me, I get it.”

You don’t even know.

“Man,” Jennifer chuckles ruefully. “First days at Stargate Command. This has to be about as bad as it gets, right?”

Cassie shrugs. “It could be worse.” She doesn’t say, my first day on earth I almost blew up the planet, because that is not exactly conducive to building trust. Instead, she says, “The first day of med school, they give us dead bodies to cut open. We’re both still breathing, so I’m counting today as a win.”

“That’s a hell of a way to look at things,” Jennifer says.

“It’s the only way I know how to look at things.” Cassie hears her mother’s voice, ”If you’re still alive then there’s hope. You’ve survived everything the universe has thrown at you; don’t ever give up.”

Cassie misses her mom so much her bones ache. Janet Frasier would know what to do in a situation like this.

“Hey.” Cassie sees no reason to get maudlin right now, not when they have to figure out where the hell they are and how to get home. “Seriously, what do you think happened?”

Jennifer sighs and runs a hand over her hair, smoothing a few strands down. Cassie frowns and does the same; there’s more static in the air, and it’s making her bangs even more annoying than usual. “I think that damn Ori fighter blasted the Stargate while we were still demolecularized in the wormhole. The excess energy caused the wormhole to jump to another Gate between earth and P18-734, and...” She waved a hand towards the mouth of the cave. It was rapidly growing darker as a storm moved in.

“Here we are.”

“Here we are,” Jennifer nods. “The good news is that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It isn’t even the second time. Or the third.”

Cassie doesn’t know why anything about the Stargate program surprises her. Today may be her first day, but she grew up with the stories. Hell, she is one of the stories. “There’s actually a protocol in place for losing a wormhole, isn’t there.” It’s not even a question.

“Yeah. Track the original path of the wormhole between earth and the planet in question, and then there’s an algorithm designed to extrapolate the most likely Stargates along the same route that the wormhole could have jumped to. But there’s still a certain amount of probability and flat-out guesswork involved,” Jennifer grimaces. “It could be a while before they pinpoint this planet for recon.”

“And without a control crystal to power the DHD on our end—“

“The Stargate’s just a big piece of metal,” Jennifer finishes. “Yeah.”

They fall quiet, and Cassie looks out the mouth of the cave. It’s so dark now that she can barely see anything, though the edges of the forest that surrounds them still look to be faintly glowing. She’d dismissed it as a trick of her eyes before, but it’s even starker now, and Cassie knows there’s way more about the galaxy she doesn’t know than she does.

“Okay, am I crazy,” Jennifer says, “or are the trees glowing?”

XXXXX

“I told you.” Cassie is getting very tired of repeating herself. “You are not going out there to investigate! You need to give your ribs a chance to heal, not to mention the fact that there’s a freaking hurricane outside the cave!”

And indeed, as soon as Jennifer had mentioned seeing the strange light along the treetops, the first gust of wind had rushed through the forest, creating a high-pitched wail as it concussed along the cave mouth. Not long after, the rain and lightning had started, and not stopped.

That was three hours ago, and they’re still having this argument.

“We need to know what’s causing the trees to glow,” Jennifer insists. “If it’s just a natural phenomenon, great, but what if it’s not? We haven’t explored the area at all; we’re just assuming that we’re alone here. We need the intel if we’re going to make any kind of strategic decision.”

Cassie just points outside, where another flash of lightning illuminates the soaked landscape for a few seconds, before plunging them into near-darkness again. They’d made the decision to conserve the batteries in their flashlights, so for the time being, the only source of light came from the constant cracks of electricity from the sky. “Do you see that? Do you seriously think anyone is out there in that?”

“We don’t know, which is why I want to check it out! If they’re natives of the planet, they could easily have adapted to weather like this or know how to survive in it.”

“Anyone dumb enough to be out in a monsoon is not going to pose much of a threat to us.”

“I’m not just worried about people.” Jennifer shifts against the stone wall of the cave, and Cassie resists the urge to check on her. Again. Apparently, this generation of SGC personnel appreciate doctoring about as much as her mom’s did. “There’s plenty of other crazy shit out there: animals, other life forms, energy beings.”

Cassie knows the universe is weird. She grew a bomb on her heart once.

“And the simple fact is,” Jennifer continues, “we’re alone out here. We don’t know where we are, we can’t dial earth, we don’t know how far along in the search they are yet, if they’ve even determined that the wormhole jumped Gates and didn’t do something else. Right now, we need every advantage we can get, and that means we need information.”

“That...is not the most unreasonable thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jennifer snorts. “Thanks. Now.” She stands, slowly, wincing and bracing herself against the wall, “Does that mean you agree?”

The thing is, Cassie does agree. To a point. “I’ll go,” she says.

“Uh, no.”

Cassie narrows her eyes and shoves her hands onto her hips, adopting the stance she’d seen her mom take countless times. Until she’d gone away to college, every doctor’s appointment and medical test had been done in the SGC infirmary, both for pragmatic reasons (that pesky Naquadah in her blood) and because it made her mother feel better. It didn’t matter what she’d been there for, inevitably, she would see her mom rule the infirmary with an iron fist and whip recalcitrant military personnel into shape, whether they liked it or not.

“Uh, yes,” Cassie says. “You’re injured, and I’d like you to get as much rest as possible. I’ll stay within eyesight, but I am going. You,” she points a finger, “are going to stay here and try not to puncture a lung and drown in your own fluids.”

They continue staring each other down, and Cassie’s half-afraid she’ll be forced to do something stupid like poke Jennifer in the side to prove her point about incapacitating injuries when, finally, Jennifer sees reason and relents.

“Fine,” she says, shaking her head. “You’ll take the first look. But only go to the treeline, stay where I can see you, and get the hell back here at the first sign of trouble.”

“You mean like being trapped on an alien planet in the middle of a rainstorm?”

Jennifer glares at her.

“Okay, yes, I will stay in sight.” She looks outside, where another flash of lightning only briefly provides visibility, though the trees, she’s still shocked to see, continue giving off a faint glow afterwards. “For certain values of ‘in sight,’ anyway.”

“Look,” Jennifer says. She walks over to the mouth of the cave and sits down, just out of the range of the worst of the rain. Cassie thinks this is as much of a concession to her injury as Jennifer will give. “I can’t help it, okay? I’m the military officer here. Anything even remotely dangerous should be my job, not the civilian’s.”

Cassie has to chuckle at that. “I’m not sure that traveling through the galaxy using technology built by a race of aliens who don’t even exist anymore is especially safe.”

Jennifer laughs too and nods, acknowledging the point. “True enough. But you know what I mean. Look what's already happened, and this is only your first time offworld.”

“No, it isn’t.”

Cassie’s true history is something of an open secret at the SGC, she knows; the people who were there when she first came to earth or who worked closely with Janet know, but for everyone else...well, General Landry agreed with Jack and Sam’s assessment of “need to know.”

Well, Cassie is a doctor first, and everything else comes after she’s ensured her patient’s safety. Cassie knows she can set Jennifer’s mind at ease, just a little bit.

Jennifer stares at her. “Say that again?”

Cassie nods. “You heard me. I’ve been offworld before. A lot.”

What?”

In for a penny... “I was born on a planet called Hanka. I didn’t come to earth until I was eleven years old, after the Goa’uld Nirrti killed my people. Janet Frasier adopted me and raised me as her own daughter.”

She’s not sure Jennifer even blinks, though her mouth does fall open slightly. “Oh, my god. You’re an alien?”

“At this point, I’ve spent most of my life on earth.” Cassie laughs. “But if it helps, my paperwork does say I immigrated to the US from Canada. So I’m still officially an alien, anyway.”

Jennifer doesn’t say anything. Another flash of lightning allows Cassie to see that her eyes are kind of wide.

“Um.” Maybe this isn’t her best idea ever. “Is this going to be a thing? Because I thought it’d be better if you knew I’d actually been offworld before. This,” she gestures outside, “doesn’t scare me.”

“Huh,” Jennifer finally says. “You know, a whole lot about you just started making sense.”

“Oh?” That’s not quite the reaction she expects.

“Yeah. I’ve never seen a rookie handle Gate travel so well. Or handle getting shot at on their first day, come to think of it.”

They both laugh, and Cassie knows she was right to tell Jennifer. It’s been so long since she said the words aloud that they almost feel funny on her tongue. She’d never been anything but Cassie Frasier, stubborn, headstrong daughter to her mom. “Yeah, well, this isn’t my first rodeo. So to speak.”

Jennifer laughs too, though hers is a tad more incredulous than Cassie’s. “Using some of that Tau’ri slang, there?”

“It seemed appropriate.”

Jennifer seems to relax at that, and Cassie is surprised at how relieved she is. This is the first person she’s told where she was from; her mom, Sam, and the others at the SGC all already knew. It’s strange how such a small distinction makes such a huge difference.

“So,” Cassie says, “are you going to let me go investigate the weird alien glowing trees?” Then, because earth-born or no, she’s still a doctor, “And are you going to stay right here and not aggravate your injury even more?”

“Yes, Doc.” But there’s more resigned teasing in her tone than the brittle hostility of earlier.

Cassie sighs and sips her flak jacket all the way up to her chin, unrolls the hood from the weather pocket along the back of her neck, and braces herself. She stands at the foot of the cave, holding up an arm in front of her face in a futile effort to block some of the wind and rain. Another lightning strike lights up the sky, and Cassie looks behind her to see Jennifer sliding back down to the ground, her P-90 expertly braced in front of her. Cassie smiles; Major Jennifer Hailey is injured, not defenseless. The wind shifts directions, and rain pelts her face. “This is going to suck, isn’t it?”

Jennifer smirks. “Oh, yeah.”

“Awesome.” Cassie straightens her back and heads out into the storm.

XXXXX

She makes it to the tree line when another flash of lightning blinds her, and she trips and lands face first in a puddle. But the icy mud is nothing compared to the shock when she realizes that the roots of the trees are pulsing and glowing. She gets out of the water just in time before the roots begin sparking, electricity plainly crackling along the forest floor like current on a copper wire.

“Huh,” Cassie says. “That is not what I was expecting.”

XXXXX

“This is amazing,” Jennifer says, not looking up from the root. “I would kill for a mass spectrometer right now.”

When Cassie realized what she was seeing – or thought she was seeing, because she still doesn’t quite believe it – she’d traced the root network as well as she could. The entire forest, it seems, is connected, with tendrils overlapping from tree to tree, seemingly extending far beyond their sheltered area. Most of the roots are deep enough underground that they aren’t visible when lightning strikes the forest.

But they’re there. The roots are everywhere.

“Even without a molecular analysis, it’s pretty obvious this is some sort of…biological conduit.” It’s the best description Cassie can come up with. “I mean, look at this! It’s retaining a charge even after the lightning dissipates.”

“It’s almost like the root system is one circuit board or something.” Jennifer is enthralled by the discovery, and had eagerly helped Cassie dig up a few of the roots that crept under the cave floor. She’s got her tablet out, and a few engineering tools that Cassie doesn’t even know the names of, but they’ve allowed her to somehow hook up the roots to her computer and run some basic tests. “It’s like an organic polymer, but biological, not chemical. And way more efficient than anything we’ve developed so far on earth.”

Cassie nods distractedly, scraping a piece of the root into a test tube from her med bag. She intends to run a full analysis as soon as she’s back at the SGC. Organic energy conversion could have serious implications, especially for field medicine.

“Oh my god.” Jennifer’s voice is breathy and choked. “Oh…oh my god.”

Cassie’s head shoots up. “What?” she asks. “Is it your ribs? What happened?”

“This…this can’t be right. No way can this be right!”

What?”

Jennifer looks up from her laptop, the screen plainly illuminating her wide eyes and gobsmacked face. “According to these readings, the energy flow in the root system is a byproduct of the rain, not the lightning.”

“Huh?” Cassie still doesn’t get it. “So what? What’s the difference between…” Oh. The implications of what Jennifer is saying suddenly hit her, and Cassie is fairly certain that her expression is identical to the other woman’s. “Oh my god.”

“Fusion,” Jennifer breathes. “The plant’s cells are being changed at the atomic level when an electrical current passes through the water. The energy being released along the root system…it’s nuclear fusion.”

This is so much bigger than just field medicine. Cassie’s not even sure she can wrap her mind around what this means. Organic fusion in a natural environment…it will change the entire face of human scientific progression. And it isn’t even something they’ll be taking from another race (Cassie’s never felt entirely comfortable with even minor similarities between humans and Goa’uld). “This is…I don’t even…”

“I know!” Jennifer’s face lights up. “And we don’t even know how far the root system extends!”

“Every tree on the planet must be like this,” Cassie says. “It’d have to be, right? I mean, the same way all humans and plants and animals on earth share the same basic genetic makeup because of the common environmental background, whatever evolutionary factors created this would be the same across the whole planet.”

Jennifer nods. “Even if this started as a random genetic mutation in a particular plant or tree species, if the rest of the planet hadn’t adapted to something like this, it would’ve destroyed itself years ago.”

“Or been stripped bare.” At Jennifer’s confused look, Cassie explains, “The Goa’uld. If they’d have known about a planet where something like this was possible, they would have tried to take advantage and incorporated this into their technology. And then other Goa’uld would have gone to war to get access to a renewable energy source like this. And if they couldn’t—“

“They’d have taken the trees and as much of the planet as possible out with them in the process,” Jennifer finishes.

Cassie nods, swallowing hard. She’s intimately familiar with what the Goa’uld were willing to do to advance their own agendas. She hasn’t thought about her Mamo and Babo in years. She thinks they’d be proud of the woman who grew out of the ashes of Hanka.

She knows Janet would be proud of her, which is why it’s time to figure out how to get her patient back home.

“So,” Cassie says. “How long do you think we’ll have to wait for the SGC to figure out that the wormhole jumped Gates and come find us?”

To her surprise, Jennifer’s smile turns gleefully wicked. “Who said anything about waiting around for them?”

XXXXX

“This is not exactly what I meant when I said ‘let me do the heavy lifting.’” Cassie grunts and trips on the stone pedestal the Stargate sits on. It’s still slick from the previous night’s storm, and she’s spent the whole morning digging up the roots nearby and wrapping them around the Stargate’s outer ring.

Well, root. It’s taken her all morning just to get one into position. Manual labor is hard.

Jennifer is seated in front of the DHD, her tablet connected to one of the inner crystals. She doesn’t even look up. “I offered to help, but you got all doctor-y and refused. You thought I’d strain my injury even more.” She looks up long enough to roll her eyes before returning to work.

“Shut up.” Cassie wipes the sweat off her forehead, a little disgusted when her hand comes away tacky with dirt. She’s still covered in dried mud from last night, and frankly, she can’t wait for a hot shower. She knew offworld conditions were seldom ideal, but this is just ridiculous. She walks over to the DHD. “What are you doing, anyway? The control crystal was completely destroyed.”

“Some of the memory crystals are still intact. I’m using the unique constellation key and earth’s address to basically reverse-dial this planet and get its location.”

“Oh.” Cassie is suitably impressed. Actually, Jennifer’s entire plan is impressive. If she hadn’t insisted on investigating the forest during the storm, it’s entirely possible they never would have discovered the incredible truth about the trees on the planet. But once they had -- fusion! Actual, real, cold fusion! -- Jennifer had determined that the energy discharge from one lightning strike through the root system would be enough to power the Stargate and open a wormhole back to earth. It would just require a little bit of hard work and some really good timing on their end of things.

More like, a crap ton of hard work, and given the luck Cassie’s had on her first mission so far, she’s not too confident about the timing thing.

But Jennifer is confident, at least in her calculations. And she’s sure there’s enough latent charge in the roots from the last storm to keep six chevrons locked in place for ten minutes before dissipating. That should be plenty of time for Cassie to turn the Gate’s inner ring into the first six positions of earth’s address when the next storm starts brewing, leaving only the final chevron to lock into place following the power boost from a fresh lightning strike.

So, it’ll come down to timing, a whole lot of luck, and Cassie’s upper body strength. Awesome.

“You could just let me help you—“

No.” Cassie’s adamant about this. “I have not been keeping you in one piece just to see you puncture a lung and die of exertion before you even get back to earth.”

Jenner purses her lips. “We’ll see.” She doesn’t flinch, but Cassie knows she wouldn’t have been sitting all morning if her ribs weren’t still bothering her.

The now-familiar tickle along the back of her neck grabs Cassie’s attention from her stubborn patient. “Finish up what you’re doing,” she says. “I think another storm is coming in.”

XXXXX

It takes way, way longer than ten minutes to turn the Stargate manually. Cassie’s in great shape, but she’s not Teal’c.

The storm is bearing down on them completely by the time Cassie’s able to lock the sixth chevron into place, her efforts hampered by the wind, rain, and having to release the Gate every time lightning struck. But the Stargate is glowing, the Naquadah in her blood singing along as it powers up. She wonders if maybe it’s allowing her to operate the Stargate with her bare hands, because if she lets herself think about it too hard, she knows there’s no way she should be able to do what she’s doing. But it’s a question for another day. She’ll have plenty of time to research the connection between her Naquadah and the Stargate.

Her first mission with Stargate Command may have gone belly-up, but no way in hell is it going to be her last. Cassie thinks her mom would be proud.

“Are you ready?” Jennifer shouts to be heard over the screaming wind. “I think the storm’s about overhead of the trees this root line comes from!”

“Ready!” Cassie stands at the edge of the pedestal, out of the direct path of the root’s current, prepared to run over and push the ring into the final position once a lightning strike charges the plant and Gate. She feels rather than hears Jennifer come up to stand beside her. “What?”

To her surprise, Jennifer laughs, rain soaking her to the bone and streaming down her face. “So what do you think? Worst first day ever?”

“You know what?” Cassie says. “No. We found a planet no one else seems to know about, discovered organic cold fusion, and, hey! The rain is even washing away all the mud!” She wipes a hand over her forehead for show, and laughs as well. “All things considered, not bad for my first mission!”

Jennifer nods in agreement, and turns back to watch the storm above the forest. Cassie keeps watching the Stargate, ready to run forward as soon as lightning strikes.

Yeah, she thinks, smiling proudly. Not a bad first day at all.