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Chapter 141: The Secret Base Part 1
Chapter 141: The Secret Base Part 1

Outside PU-9623 System, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)


Catra stared at the display floating in the middle of the room. "That's not really detailed," she complained. It really wasn't. It was a very rudimentary 3D-model.

"That's the best we can do with our scanners from orbit," Sam replied. "We extrapolated some structures, but… we'll need a magic scanner close by to get more details." After a moment's pause, she added: "We only got those results after we adjusted the bot's sensors with the data from Alpha."

Catra hissed again. "That's a First Ones base?"

"It's a possibility," Sam replied.

"I don't know what would be worse," Jack said. "Apophis having technology to block our sensors, or Apophis having access to an Ancient base."

"The second," Jakar said. "I consider it most urgent that we take out both his fleet and his base. This takes priority over confirming Taweret's position."

"Yes," Glimmer agreed. "We can't let Apophis get his hands on such a base."

"He might already have his hands on the base," Jack said, pointing at the structures directly above the underground's base. Those were standard Goa'uld fortifications. "You don't throw up that kind of base in a day or two, and that mound next to the base doesn't look natural or old."

"Our scanners don't show a shaft leading to the base," Entrapta objected. "And that would show up - unless he managed to build them using First One materials. Though even then, we should have detected the effects of such a structure on the surrounding earth and stone."

Jakar nodded. "Yes. Even with our digging technology, we cannot build our bases without leaving such traces. Though detecting them is beyond the standard Goa'uld sensors."

Or so you think, Catra added silently. But that was a discussion for another day.

"They could be using a ring transporter," Sha're pointed out.

"Yes," Sam agreed. "We have to assume they have access to the base, and for a while at least - we don't know when he first discovered this system."

"That makes it even more urgent that we strike as soon as possible," Glimmer said.

"The task force stands ready to launch an attack on the enemy fleet at a moment's notice, Supreme Commander," WrongHordak said. "We are plotting their courses and adjusting our calculations so we can drop on them from hyperspace."

That would ensure they would surprise the Goa'uld - since they could only jam their comms for a short while and couldn't block them from entering hyperspace, that was essential if they wanted to take the Goa'uld out without allowing them to alert Apophis by comms or couriers. But it was dangerous. The risk of colliding with an enemy ship upon exiting hyperspace was low - though not zero - but the task force would be dropping into knife-fighting range. Even technologically inferior ships were dangerous at such ranges.

But that wasn't Catra's primary concern. "Even if we take out the fleet in the system, the base will be able to react."

"We can destroy them from orbit," Glimmer retorted.

"Quickly enough to stop them from contacting Apophis? Or activate a Stargate they might have?" Catra shook her head.

"We don't have the planet in our data banks," Sam said. "But they could have brought one to the planet."

"Apophis probably doesn't want to spend weeks on every booty call," Jack said.

"He would not want to leave Taweret so far out of his reach, lest she might turn the forces guarding her," Teal'c agreed. "He would want to be able to reach her - or have her reach him - through a Stargate. Though that could be inside the base or in the flagship of the fleet - either offers advantages and disadvantages for him."

If he had the Stargate on a ship, it would allow him better control over it - and over the ship's crew. But he would need a shuttle or a ring transporter to reach the base. And more people would know when he arrived - or Taweret took off. And Catra had a feeling that Apophis would want direct access to the base. It just seemed to fit the snake better.

"Even if they do escape, they'll report that a Horde fleet attacked them. Apophis has no reason to suspect the Alliance," Glimmer pointed out.

"Yes. But if we just destroy the base, we won't know what they worked on there - and whether or not they managed to flee with completed projects," Catra said.

"And Taweret would escape," Sha're said.

Jakar slowly nodded. "Yes, I think we should ascertain what kind of research they are doing in the base. And whether or not it is functional."

Adora nodded. "Yes. We don't want them to panic and open a portal to another dimension."

Catra clenched her teeth. That had been her lowest point. She had almost destroyed Etheria - killed everyone - through her obsession. If there was a risk that Apophis was working on a similar project… "We need to find out what they're doing there - and stop it." Permanently.

Adora nodded again. "And we need to take the base and destroy their fleet at the same time." She looked at WrongHordak. "This will require close coordination."

"And a trip in a stealth shuttle," Jack added as WrongHordak saluted Adora.

*****​

PU-9623 System, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Enemy patrol approaching."

Adora turned her head to look at the screen in front of her at Sam's report. Yes, there was a patrol of two Death Gliders on a course that would take them closer to the shuttle. Not very close, though - certainly not near enough to risk a collision. And with the stealth generator active, they had no chance to spot the shuttle either.

She still tensed up for the next few minutes while the two Death Gliders passed the shuttle. She trusted her friends with her life, and she knew the stealth shuttle worked, but you could never be completely sure.

"I feel like I'm in a submarine with a destroyer passing above us on the surface," Catra whispered.

"We're not in a submarine," Jack, predictably, complained. "This is a stealth shuttle."

Adora frowned at Catra - she was sure that her lover had just said that to rile up Jack.

"Feels like a submarine running silent," Catra retorted.

"It's more like a stealth fighter. Submarines don't fly," Jack said.

"Stealth fighters generally don't transport more than a pilot. Unless it's a movie," Daniel pointed out.

"We don't talk about that movie!" Jack snapped.

"What movie?" Sha're asked.

"A stupid action movie made by a guy who had no idea about planes!"

"A popcorn flick."

"I believe they are talking about 'Executive Decision'."

"We aren't talking about that movie, Teal'c!"

"My mistake then."

Catra snorted. "We really need to watch that at the next movie night. It sounds like a riot."

"No, we don't!" Jack protested.

"I believe I can acquire a copy for such an occasion."

"I think we have that movie on file somewhere," Bow added. "We have a lot of military movies on file to, ah, study."

"It's not a military movie. It's a disgrace."

Adora looked at Catra. "What kind of movie is it?"

Catra shrugged. "I never watched it. I only know Jack hates it."

"Any Air Force member hates it!"

"Ah, Jack, I don't think that's correct. I am sure there are at least a few airmen and officers who like the movie despite any, ah, artistic liberties the producers might have taken." Daniel smiled a bit apologetically.

"There's nothing artistic about that movie! They…"

"The Death Gliders have passed," Sam reported.

"...right. Continuing towards our destination."

Adora looked at the screen again. The system's habitable planet was coming up. Too far away still to spot with the naked eye, but the sensors were covering it already. And updating their information.

"Two Ha'tak's in orbit. One geostationary over the base, the other above the planet's north pole," Sam summed up.

"Weird arrangement," Catra commented. "What good is the one at the pole?"

"We don't know. There's nothing on our scanners in that area," Entrapta said. "It's… Oh!"

"'Oh'?" Adora winced. When Entrapta sounded like that, it usually wasn't good news.

"Look at the power readings, Sam!"

"Oh! Those are… I didn't think a Ha'tak had so much power available," Sam said.

"They don't," Entrapta said. "At least, they can't generate so much power. But…"

"...they can receive so much power from the ground," Sam finished for her. "From the base."

"Microwave-based power transfer? But our scanners would show that…"

"Something similar, probably. There is feedback on another frequency… Look at this readout!" Bow cut in.

"Oh!"

Again! Adora twitched.

"So, what is going on?" Catra bluntly asked.

"Oh! It looks like the base is feeding a lot of power to the Ha'tak above it. The readings are getting clearer as we close in," Entrapta replied. "Look at the stress the ship's suffering!"

"Those vibrations aren't good for its structural integrity," Sam agreed.

"But why are they doing this?" Bow asked.

"It's a test," Sam said. "They're testing power transfers."

"What for?" Jack asked before Adora could ask the same.

"Possibly as an experiment, sir," Sam told him.

"Related to the dimension travel thing?"

"We have yet to confirm that, sir."

Bow nodded. "They're testing power transfer. What are the odds that they are testing a new weapon system as well?"

"Oh! Like a dimensional cannon? Ripping open a dimensional rift to damage your target? Or move it into a pocket dimension like Despondos?" Entrapta perked up.

"If they are experimenting with a weapon like that, we must stop them at all costs!" Glimmer snapped.

"And we need their data to know what they have done so far."

"Proceed," Adora said. "But avoid the Ha'tak - and don't fly through the area below it." She didn't feel like risking being imprisoned in another dimension. Like Angella…

"Yeah, that wouldn't be a smooth ride," Jack said as he changed course. "Would be damn embarrassing if we get taken out by accident without the snakes meaning to attack us. We could never live that down."

"I think the more important problem is that we wouldn't survive it in the first place, Jack."

"Power spiking!" Sam snapped.

A moment later, the shuttle's alerts went off, and Adora's screen flickered - followed by the entire shuttle shaking.

"That was… a multidimensional release of power," Entrapta reported. "I think."

"A what?" Jack asked with clenched teeth. Several of the alerts on his display were still lit, Adora saw.

"They vented that power into what might have been an attempt to create a rift, sir. That's only a hypothesis, though."

"Great. Whatever it was, it played haywire with our systems. The Stealth generator was just flagged as damaged. Won't last much longer."

Adora drew a sharp breath. They were too close to the enemy to withdraw easily. Too close to the planet to survive another. She could call in the task force, but that would leave the base untouched during the attack. And they were so close… "Take us down in the target area. Quickly."

They would continue with the mission.

*****​

PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

They entered the atmosphere at high speed. Not quite dangerous, not fast enough to risk losing control, but it was a rougher ride than recommended and would require a thorough maintenance check afterwards, according to the manual even though the inertial compensators of the craft did their job.

Samantha Carter knew that very well since she had written part of the manual for the stealth shuttles and knew its specs by heart.

Not that the craft wouldn't have gone into maintenance anyway, what with the damage it suffered because of its proximity to whatever experiment Apophis - or Taweret - was running on the planet. Entraptra, Bow and herself were struggling to keep the stealth generator running while they plunged towards the planet's surface. Between the stealth field and the effect from the radiation released by the dimensional venting on all sensors, they would hopefully remain undetected - Sam had charted a course that had them on the side opposite to the base for the re-entry and on the southern half of the planet so the thermal effects of the manoeuvre would not be too obvious to any close observer.

But there was always a risk, and they would have to find a hiding spot for the shuttle - one close to the base so they could reach it on foot. The special coating and shielding could only do so much, and Sam didn't think that Apophis had sent Jaffa to this planet who were lax in their duties.

So, while the General brought the shuttle down, she left handling the sputtering systems of the shuttle to her friends and focused on the sensors, scanning the area near their target for caves and valleys with cliffs. Anything big enough to hide the shuttle from above. She already had an earlier overview from the spy bots and the shuttle's sensor readings on approach, but that was not up to date and left a lot of area to cover,

The shuttle levelled out a few yards above the surface of the planet's main ocean when she found a narrow gorge with dense vegetation that should fit their shuttle. She plotted a course that would lead them over rougher terrain to make them harder to detect with sensors and sent it to the General. "This is our destination, sir."

"Good work, Carter!" He flashed her a quick smile as the shuttle shifted and adjusted its heading.

She nodded, hiding her own smile, and went back to helping the others keep the shuttle's system working. It wasn't looking good. Whatever backlash that experiment had created had overwhelmed their shields, and even hardened systems had suffered. She ran a quick calculation. It wouldn't have affected a frigate or other capital ship, even the Flower II classes entering the Royal Navy would be fine, mostly, but it would wreak havoc on any smaller craft, such as shuttles and fighters. And destroy spy bots.

She checked the network. Yes, most of the bots near the planet had been destroyed or rendered inoperational.

"The stealth system is not going to hold for much longer!" Bow called out from the aft. "Its power supply is fluctuating. I'm manually compensating, but I can't keep that up forever!"

"I'm switching the system to the main power. It'll slow us down some, but the fluctuations will stop," Sam retorted. They were still too far from the target area to lose their stealth. Rerouting the connections didn't take long. "Switching in three… two… one!"

Done.

"The fluctuations stopped. Stealth field holding."

But it was weakening anyway - the projectors had to be damaged. It could be just some misalignments from vibrations, but the power fluctuations likely had done more serious damage. Sam would have to check later. And think of a way to harden the systems further. A lot of missions would be affected if they couldn't trust the stealth shuttles.

"Alright, folks!" the General called out. "It's not going to be the Beggar's Canyon, but it's going to be close enough, so hold on tight!"

"What do you mean, 'close enough'?" Glimmer asked just as the shuttle sped up again - and entered a narrow gorge for the last leg of their trip.

The General was a good pilot. Even though he spent most of his time on the ground, he requalified regularly. And ever since he had received his personal stealth shuttle, he had taken it out whenever he could find the time. He knew the shuttle probably better than most pilots.

Sam told herself that, repeatedly, but she still felt her stomach sink when she glanced out through the cockpit and saw the steep walls of the gorge loom far closer than she was comfortable with while the shuttle wove through tight turns with more speed than she thought was safe.

She had to trust the General. And even if they hit the walls, the shuttle was sturdy enough to survive a glancing contact. And the inertial compensators should let them survive a frontal collision as well, provided the General managed to slow down enough in time…

It doesn't look as if he's even trying, a small voice in the back of her head added as she looked away and focused back on her screen and data.

Minutes that felt like hours later, the noise from the engines changed - they were finally slowing down. Sam looked up again and saw that they were hovering, slowly gliding below a slight overhang, brushing aside dense foliage until they were above solid ground. Right on top of the marker she had set on the map.

"Welcome to yet another snake planet!" the General called out with a smile that almost managed to hide his own exhaustion.

"Switching off the stealth system and powering down," Sam announced before she took a deep breath.

They had arrived. Now, they had to reach the base and deal with whatever was going on inside. Without being spotted by the guards. But at least they weren't depending on a failing shuttle any more.

*****​

Near Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Catra glanced up, checking the sky - or the canopy of dense foliage, in this case - above them. "Sloppy," she commented as she jumped over a fallen tree trunk, landing lightly on the soft soil behind it.

"What is sloppy?" Adora asked as she - with slightly less grace - jumped over the trunk as well, her boots leaving deep imprints next to Catra.

"This." Catra motioned with her head at the trees around them. "In Apophis's place, I would have cleared the entire area of the jungle around their base. Clear the lines of fire and remove cover." Sure, it would make it obvious where the hidden First Ones base was - unless it was a hidden Horde base - but Apophis had built a damn base above it, so that was no concern any more.

"Ah." Adora looked around as well as their friends caught up.

"Are you having flashbacks to the Whispering Woods?" Glimmer asked while she struggled to get over the tree herself until Bow gave her a boost. "Ugh. We should restore magic to the planet."

"Just so you can teleport past a tree?" Catra snorted.

"We're gonna save the magic light show for emergencies," Jack said as he quickly climbed over it. "Like turning a dangerous snake or Ancient contraption into a potted plant before it destroys reality."

As it had almost happened before. On her orders. Catra pressed her lips together.

"I'm not sure feeding so much magical power into a potential threat is a good idea," Glimmer retorted. "We don't know how it would react. It might trigger the very effect we want to avoid."

"Yes. We had to use magic to power the gate on Etheria!" Entrapta had no trouble having her hair carry her over the trunk. "It wouldn't have worked otherwise. On the other hand, without magic, it shouldn't be threatening reality as we know it. Probably."

That wasn't very reassuring, in Catra's opinion.

"The Ancients were magitech users," Sam added, climbing with the help of Entrapta's hair. "So, they might have left artefacts able to power whatever experiment they are doing with magic or similar energy."

"If you tell me that we can't blow it up because it could absorb that power, too, I'm going to be annoyed," Jack said.

"Welllll…" Entrapta cocked her head and shrugged. "We don't know? We need more data!"

"Great," Catra heard Jack mutter. "I'm not carrying all that C-4 back to the shuttle."

"I'm sure we can find a use for it, Jack," Daniel said.

Catra snorted and went ahead again. She had a base to sneak up to - they were halfway there, so they had to look out for patrols now. Their Naquadah-scanner might show every Jaffa and Goa'uld, and the odds of Apophis using humans on patrols were very low, but that didn't mean Catra could be sloppy.

Moving through the woods as if it was an obstacle course, jumping from trunk to trunk, her claws leaving gashes for the others to follow, she quickly put some distance between herself and the rest of their team.

The planet apparently had no birds or other flying animals, so she didn't have to worry about giving away her presence by disturbing a flock of those, but several small tree-dwelling animals scattered at her approach. She managed to grab one as she landed on a larger branch and quickly studied the squirming beast. It looked like a squirrel with longer claws. On Earth, no one would bat an eye except, perhaps, a biologist. It was nothing like the vermin she had seen in the Whispering Woods.

Probably a clue that this world hadn't been used for genetic engineering experiments, but Catra wasn't an expert.

She released the animal, waited until she spotted Adora catching up to her, then moved ahead again.

Half an hour later, she encountered the first sign of a patrol - tracks left in the dark soil. She didn't know how old they were, but Bow would be able to tell. But it meant they were now in the area the base guards patrolled.

Her ears twitched but caught nothing but her friends behind her.

Once more, she waited for them to catch up, then pointed the tracks out. Jack, Teal'c and Bow all knelt down to take a look.

"This was made by a guard wearing standard armour for Apophis's Jaffa," Teal'c said.

"Four of them, a day ago," Bow added.

"I'll take your word for it," Jack said. "So, how often do they run their patrols? And how often do they vary their routes?"

"Warriors are supposed to take different routes each day and have one patrol out in every sector at all times, based on the size of the garrison," Teal'c said.

Catra could hear the 'and woe to anyone who failed his false god' added without it spoken aloud. Teal'c had probably punished more than a few in his time as Apophis's Prime. "But this is a safe world, unknown to anyone, they have a fleet in the system and two Ha'taks in orbit. What are the odds they feel safe enough to get sloppy while slogging through the jungle?"

"I doubt Apophis will send any but his best, most loyal troops to guard his queen," Teal'c replied.

"For several reasons, not least because he wants them to guard him against betrayal by her," Jakar added. "But even so, in my experience, even the best troops tend to follow the same routes."

Catra shrugged. "I'll hear them before they spot us. Let's go."

She did spot a patrol on the last leg of the trip, but it was easy to keep out of their way - the Jaffa were limited to their eyes and ears, and those were not nearly as good as hers. Catra watched them from a hiding spot in the canopy while her friends hid a bit away. The Jaffa did look smart, all clean and tall, but they also looked a bit… tense. Not as tense as Horde scouts in the Whispering Woods, but those were warriors on a routine patrol where they didn't expect any trouble. Something had them on edge.

But Catra couldn't think of what that might be - there were no monsters in this jungle. At least none that she could spot.

*****​

Jack O'Neill couldn't help grinning while he studied the base in front of him through his binoculars. How he had missed sneaking up on a snake base, hiding under their very noses while plotting to blow it up! He had been behind a desk for far too long!

He inched forward a little more, a number of the thorns of the bush he was using as cover snagging on his fatigues, and used the button on the side of the binoculars to zoom in. Built with some fancy tech by Carter and Entrapta as a prototype, the binoculars allowed him to zoom in to almost magnifying glass level and switch between different vision modes, including thermal and low-light. And they were working great - he would have to light a fire under procurement's butts so they approved it for manufacturing at once. His troops needed this!

But that could wait. The mission came first. He studied the base. Massive walls that looked like they were taken from the set of Cleopatra, Jaffa in heavy armour patrolling on top of them between staff cannons mounted for air and ground defence, Death Gliders waiting on the pads inside… pretty standard snake stuff, except for the palace in the centre.

He zoomed in on it. It was a blocky structure, looking more like a bunker someone had gilded than an actual palace, rising higher than the walls around it. It was prime bombardment bait. But it also had balconies built into the front wall, and the top was covered by a pavilion, including a pool and lounge area. "Talk about lipstick on a pig…" he muttered.

He heard a snort from his left, where Catra was studying the base as well. "It makes Horde construction look fancy," she said.

Daniel would say something about different cultures having different styles and aesthetics, but Jack nodded. "I bet some billionaires without taste would love that style." And would probably add more gold to it.

Catra snorted again. "Good defences, though. And it's sitting right on top of the First Ones base."

As they had expected - the snakes preferred to keep tight control over crucial assets. Jack flipped through a few modes on his binocs until he reached the one he wanted. "Ah! There's the big reactor!"

"We already knew that from the orbital scans," Catra commented.

"But now we know where it's relative to the rest," Jack shot back. "And we can see the shield projectors. Now, if I were a ring transporter, where would I be?"

"You? In the living room so you didn't have to move to get a beer from the fridge," Catra said. "But a snake's transporter?"

"Taweret would want it close to her personal quarters but not inside them. She would not tolerate others walking through her rooms every time they needed to enter the base beneath." Jakar the snake commando cut in. "And her quarters will be near the top. She will want private access to the roof."

There spoke the snake expert. Though Jack had come to the same conclusions. Placing your quarters underground would be safer, but that wouldn't allow the snakes to look down on everyone else. He zoomed in on the roof. "Yeah, there it is - door in that fake tent on the side. I bet if we wait long enough, we would see her making a big entrance there." A bit far for a sniper, but Jack was sure he could do it. Not that he would - the odds of hitting the actual snake were slim, and killing the host wouldn't do anything but warn them of their presence while they possessed the next spare host. But it was a nice thought to have.

"You want to enter through the roof?" Catra asked.

If the stealth shuttle still worked, that would be ideal. Fly in, hover above the roof and drop down. "Unless Adora restores magic and Glimmer teleports us there, Or Carter and Entrapta somehow find a way to get the spare parts they need to repair the stealth system, I think we'll have to pick the side entrance," Jack replied.

And that meant getting through the gate - or over the walls.

"I guess we can't ambush a patrol and take their armour," Catra joked.

"Nope." There were few slaves around, Jack noted. The base didn't look old - he could see signs of recent construction, actually - and it must have been built quickly, meaning with lots of hands, so where were the workers responsible? Jack pressed his lips together. Apophis wouldn't move the workers constructing his secret base back to his other worlds. That would risk the base being revealed. So… What would a megalomaniac snake with no morals do to keep such a secret?

The answer was obvious and nauseating. Jack quickly scanned the area, but he didn't see any signs of mass graves. Or other possible disposal facilities.

And that was even more worrying.

"Let's look for blind spots and other weaknesses," he said. Before they looked for unconventional solutions. Jack would prefer to do this without magic. If they had to restore magic, Adora would probably wipe out the Goa'uld base by accident anyway, and while that wasn't exactly a bad thing, it would also alert the Ha'taks in orbit and the rest of the fleet - and the Ancient base deep underground.

No, they needed a more subtle way inside.

Fortunately, Jack thought as he zoomed in on a small ditch near the base of the walls, I might have found our way inside.

*****​

"You want to sneak in through the sewers?"

Adora winced at Glimmer's comment. They were out of earshot - Apophis's Jaffa had cleared a lot of the area around their base - but they were trying to stay hidden.

"It's not actually a sewer," Jack replied. "More like… a stream flowing out of their base."

"It's still a sewer - it carries all their waste away!" Glimmer retorted.

"And it is fed from a spring inside their base," Sam added. "There's no stream entering the base."

So much for using a clean body of water to sneak in, Adora thought.

"Can't be worse than infiltrating the Fright Zone," Catra said. "Or sneaking around there."

Glimmer glared at her. "We didn't sneak through the sewers when we did that!"

"We did, actually. When we went to rescue you and Bow," Adora corrected her.

"You didn't actually swim through the sewers!" Glimmer shot back with a glare.

"You couldn't have - some of the sewers there were so toxic, you needed protective gear," Entrapta said. "That's why the standard Horde uniform included a fully enclosed helmet."

Adora nodded. "And uniforms were resistant to environmental dangers."

"Is that why you're still wearing your old uniform?" Jakar asked.

"Ah…" Adora smiled at him, feeling a bit embarrassed. She didn't actually need that kind of protection as She-Ra. "They're also very durable and comfortable!"

"If you match the general body type they're made for," Catra added. "I always had to customise my uniforms."

It had been more a want than a need, as Adora remembered it, but that wasn't important right now. "So, infiltrating through the stream."

"Open Sewer," Glimmer said. "Perfuma would loath this."

"Anyone with a bit of common sense would loathe it." Catra snorted. "That's a disease outbreak waiting to happen."

"And you want to swim through it to get into the base?" Glimmer asked Jack.

"Well…" Jack shrugged. "We've got these fancy new fatigues, with masks that double as diving masks…"

"Not all of us have those," Glimmer said.

Adora wouldn't have any problems thanks to She-Ra's armour, but the others… Not everyone had the new fatigues, and even there, the masks wouldn't cover more than their faces. They were meant to be worn with a hood for full NBC protection.

"You'll survive," Catra commented.

Adora glanced at her lover. Catra's feet, hair, ears and tail would be exposed. And she knew that.

"It's not going to be worse than sneaking around in the seedier parts of the Fright Zone as cadets," Catra said with a snort.

Glimmer glared at her before scoffing. "Let's go then."

"Alright. We'll have to deal with sensors in the stream and the grate at the wall," Jack said.

"We can handle that!" Entrapta beamed. "We can hack the sensors - if they have any that resisted the effects of their experiments - and bypass the alerts when we cut through the grate. As long as we're not seen."

"Fortunately, the water's muddy," Jack said. "And we're going in at night."

"Muddy? More like shitty," Catra commented with another snort.

Adora didn't think it was funny, but Jack laughed at it.

*****​

The stream was shitty. Adora didn't want to take a closer look at what exactly floated on the surface as she approached the stream and watched the bot Entrapta, Sam and Bow had rigged up disappear in it. Peeking over Bow's shoulder, she could see the feed from the bot - or the sanitised overlay from its sensors depicting the stream's bed as it started moving upstream.

"Alright… now… where are the sensors?" Entrapta mumbled as she stared at her own tool.

"It doesn't seem that there are any," Sam said.

"So, they cannot protect their own sensors from their own experiments?" Jack shook his head. "I don't think Apophis will accept that."

"I concur," Jakar said. "Though that won't keep him from deploying a new weapon system if he deems it effective enough."

"We'll stop him before it comes to that," Adora said.

"We've reached the wall - well, under the wall," Bow reported. "Doesn't look like there are sensors either."

"But the grate itself is powered - a low current, but if it's cut, that will be noticed," Sam added. "Scanning the array."

"We need to cut here to reach the control module."

"Yes. But that's hardened material. We should access it from the side."

"Yes! Like that!"

"Drilling."

"Oh, look at that - it's a simple but working design! Tiny crystals!"

"Easy to circumvent, though. Just let me run a few calculations on my tablet… Yes. We'll need two of the thicker wires, and about… this long."

"Yes, I concur with Bow."

"Me too!"

It didn't take the three more than a few minutes to bypass what security there was and fix the cable the bot had trailed to the grate. And then it was time for them to start swimming. In the 'muddy' stream.

Just dive down and try not to think about it, Adora told herself, trying not to grimace. This was important. She had to do this. She was She-Ra.

She took a deep breath, grabbed the cable the bot had laid, and entered the stream. As soon as she was completely underwater, she started pulling herself forward, following the cable to the grate.

Five minutes later, she reached the grate. "I'm there!" she said through her communicator.

"Good! Cut the grate along the sides we marked!" Bow told her.

She summoned her sword and did so. "Done."

"No alert. We should be safe to follow you then." Catra said.

"OK."

Adora just had to wait for her friends now. And try not to think about what kind of stuff was floating in the stream.

*****​

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

While their small infiltrator bot went ahead to explore the rest of the base and they waited in the stream, Samantha Carter made a mental note to build a prototype uniform that doubled as a drysuit with full-body protection as soon as she found the time. The odds of it getting approved were zero - the cost alone doomed any such proposal; the new spacesuits had been a struggle to get through procurement even though the need for such suits was obvious - but Sam would be able to use the prototype herself next time she had to swim through a sewer.

She shuddered and suppressed the urge to run her gloved hands through her hair. Focus on the mission, she told herself. This was just like having to crawl through mud in basic. Only worse.

The spy bot was circling the central bunker - or bunker/palace, as the General called it - and Sam was, hidden by the thick wall above them, watching its feed to mark potential entry points. Main entrance - too big to open without anyone noticing even if the squad of Jaffa guarding it were dealt with. Goa'uld megalomania working for them this time. Side entrance - small, heavily armoured, likely an air lock. And two guards in front of it. Second side trnance, other side… That one was a bit larger, with tracks of heavy machinery left on the ground in front of it. Still guarded, though. The roof was a possibility. But scrambling up the walls would leave them exposed to any guard watching from the perimeter or yard. There were gaps in the coverage by the patrols - she had analysed the pattern already - but they were not long enough to allow the group to reach the roof in time.

That left the balconies. Without sensors on them, they would provide cover and concealment while they dealt with the doors, and they were close enough to the ground to be reached quickly. Adora could probably throw people up to speed things up, and Entrapta's hair, while not long enough to reach the balcony from the ground, would further facilitate this.

Entering the private quarters of Taweret was a problem in itself, but securing or neutralising her was a mission objective, so they would have to deal with her anyway at some point, even if the Ancient base was more important. If the best way inside was through her?

Well, Sam had no problem with that. And there was the possibility that, Goa'ulds being Goa'ulds, they could access the ring transporter from her quarters, or close enough, to achieve the primary objective of the mission as well.

The final decision was Adora's - and the General's - of course, but Sam was sure they would agree with her reasoning when she motioned and held her screen out to the others to check.

She wasn't wrong. A few minutes later, with the spy bot tracking the guards, they rushed to the wall below the balcony, Adora in the lead. A running jump took her to the top of the balcony, trailing lines behind her. Lines Sam and the others attached to the harnesses built into their fatigues. Or just held onto, in some cases.

"Everyone ready?" The General asked in a whisper through their communicators. "Go!"

And the line went taut, then dragged Sam upwards as Adora heaved. Sam barely had the time to get her feet against the wall and push off before she was pulled over the railing and rolled over the balcony's floor. Entrapta had an even worse time - Sam's friend would have hit the floor head-on if not for her hair, legs twitching for a moment before she managed to straighten herself. She was smiling widely, though, and already reaching for her tool when Teal'c, the last of their group, smoothly slid over the railing.

"Clear!" the General announced.

"Working on the door," Sam replied.

"No sensors here either," Bow whispered.

But the door was armoured. They would have to work to crack the locks. At least it was an automatic door. If the Goa'uld had skipped any servos and just relied on servants to pull it open, this would take far longer.

As it was, thanks to Jakar's help - the agent had the most experience with the electronic locks on such doors - they cracked it in less than five minutes.

The quarters behind it were as luxurious as Sam expected. Not quite an exact copy of Amaunet's quarters on Saqqara, but they came close enough.

They quickly spread out through them, covering all rooms. There were no guards, and they found only two servants working in a side room. Teal'c and Catra stunned them before they could react.

And no Taweret.

"Aren't queens supposed to laze around and have grapes fed to them in their rooms?" the General asked.

"If she's not here, she's either somewhere else in the bunker - or in the base below us," Jakar stated the obvious. "We would have noticed her guard detachment moving outside."

"Unless she's in a ship," Teal'c objected.

Jakar inclined his head. "True."

"Well, wherever she is, we need to get a move on," the General said. "Where's the ring transporter?"

"Outside the quarters!" Entrapta announced. "Well, that's where our scanner shows an amount of processed Naquadah that matches the amount used in a transporter."

The General nodded. "Good enough for me. Let's go. We have a base to take over. Or blow up. Whatever it takes."

Catra was already moving towards the exit.

*****​
 
Chapter 142: The Secret Base Part 2
Chapter 142: The Secret Base Part 2

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)


Catra stopped and cocked her head at the door, but she couldn't hear anything from the area outside Taweret's quarters.

"Anything?" Adora asked.

Catra shook her head. "She's got good insulation. Probably paranoid about spies overhearing her," she said. "Any cameras you can access?" she added, looking at Entrapta, Sam and Bow.

"Nothing," Entrapta replied. "The electronics they use here are pretty simple."

"Anything more complex probably does not survive the experiments," Sam said.

Right. This feels like infiltrating a Princess Alliance stronghold, Catra thought. Just without the magic defences. "So… we just open the door then and deal with whatever guards are placed outside?" She flexed her claws in case anyone had any doubts about what she meant.

"There will be guards outside," Sha're said. "And they will be familiar with Taweret's servants. We can't fool them with a disguise, either."

"Yes," Jakar agreed. "I fear subtlety won't help us here."

"Then blunt measures will." Jack grinned. "That's more my style, anyway. But we should try not to alert the entire base."

Catra looked at Adora, then flashed her fangs and nodded. "No problem."

They positioned themselves, Jack and Bow behind them, zat ready respectively arrow notched, and waited for Sha're to operate the door. The servos whined - Entrapta mumbled that they were just a tiny bit underpowered - and the door started to slide open.

Catra dashed forward as soon as the gap was wide enough, then jumped to the side, vaulting over the guard to the left of the door. She twisted in the air, head pointed down, and lashed out, slicing into the man's throat with her claws, and whatever he had been about to scream turned into a wet gurgle as blood shot out of his mouth.

On the other side, Adora tackled the guard into the wall, knocking the breath out of him, then smashed his head into the floor, helmet still on.

Catra landed on the floor, legs bending, gathering power to pounce - but an arrow hit the third guard, glue covering his entire head, and he stumbled, trying to rip it off, only for his hands to get stuck. A moment later, he dropped, shot with a zat - like the fourth guard.

"Clear," Jack whispered.

Catra nodded and moved ahead, jumping over the growing pool of blood around her target. Her ears twitched, but she didn't hear any alerts going off or anyone moving nearby. That was… suspicious. Shouldn't the ring transporter be guarded as well if it was nearby? She reached the corner and stopped, crouching low on all fours to peek around it.

There was a door, armoured, but she couldn't see any guards. Was Apophis trying to hide it in plain sight? She moved past it to check the next corridor but found no guards there either - though she could hear a patrol below her.

The others had reached the door in the meantime, so Catra doubled back. "Careful," she hissed. "There should be guards here. And if they aren't outside…"

"...then they are inside," Jack finished.

"Peekablue would be very useful right now," Glimmer commented. "But we can't linger. Let's go in before we draw more attention. We can take out any guards inside."

Probably. Catra still had her suspicions.

But Jakar was already cracking the lock, so she moved to get ready for another charge.

When he stepped back and to the side and she heard the servos starting to work, she tensed, ducking low so the others would be able to shoot over her head. Almost… now!

She launched herself forward, landing on all fours, claws digging into the floor as she whirled, ready to launch herself at… nobody? She sniffed. The air had a touch of… locker room smell?

Before she could narrow it down, the others rushed in, weapons aimed, and came to a stop as well. The room was, but for the controls for a ring transporter, empty.

"Well…" Jack shrugged. "I guess even we get a break sometimes. Unless it's a trap. It's probably a trap."

"Scanning!" Entrapta announced. "I don't detect any explosives. Or poison. Or anything else."

"The controls are secured with a code, but I can crack it," Jakar announced. "It's not very sophisticated."

Catra expected that. Any security measures on stuff you used every day had to be easy to use, or half the troops would end up skipping them just for convenience.

"And done… It's set to automatically pick one pre-programmed location," Jakar said.

"Alright. First wave: Me, Adora, Catra, Glimmer and Bow," Jack said. "The rest of you come down once we give the clear."

That sounded reasonable to Catra, and she stepped into the transport area. The others followed. Sam looked as if she wanted to argue, but she held her tongue.

"Beam us down, Scotty!" Jack said.

Catra snorted, and Jakar nodded. A moment later, the transporter started. Rings rose around them, and Catra felt a tingling sensation while her surroundings faded away.

And then she had to suppress a sudden urge to retch. It stank. Worse than a cadet barracks a month without any inspection. Glancing around, she saw the source - they were in a large room packed with people. People who shied away from them. People dressed in rags.

"I guess that's where the slaves disappeared to," Jack muttered next to her. "Should have taken Daniel with us."

"Yes," Adora agreed. She smiled at the slaves, but they looked even more scared. "Let's call the others and…"

A rumbling noise, quickly replaced by a whining sound that kept growing stronger, drowned her out. Then, the entire room trembled, and Catra's ears were assaulted by shrieks of panic. She clenched her teeth and slapped her hands over her ears, hissing with pain. What the…

It stopped as soon as it had started. Replaced by a buzzing in her ears - no, near her ears.

Her communicator had frizzed out.

"My tablet!" Bow complained. "They must have run an experiment!"

Hell! Catra bared her teeth. That meant half their gear - if they were lucky - just got fried.

"Carter? Carter?" she heard Jack snap.

No answer.

They had lost contact with the rest of their group.

*****​

Holding Area, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Jack O'Neill stopped trying to use his communicator. It was obviously broken. As were all the communicators on them. It wasn't a catastrophe, though - they might have lost contact with half the team, but Carter and the others were at the ring transporter controls. They could just get them out again. And would as soon as they figured out that their comms had been wrecked. Which would take Carter about a fraction of a second.

Actually, she should have already used the transporter to get them out again. She would have tried to contact them after they had arrived - certainly after the experiment went off. That meant… "What are the chances this wrecked the transporter?" he asked.

"Uh…" Bow sounded evasive. That was a bad sign. "I don't think it would be destroyed. They wouldn't risk that, I think, would they?"

"I don't think they would keep doing those experiments if they wrecked their transporters every time," Catra said.

Jack agreed with that. But why hadn't the others transported them back yet? Had something happened to them?

"They're afraid of us," Adora whispered.

Right. They were surrounded by slaves. Jack looked around. The people were trying to put as much distance between them and Jack and his friends as possible - pressing themselves against the walls in some cases. At least there were no kids here - just adults. No older people, either. Yes, those were the missing workers. And they looked maltreated - gaunt in most cases. Starved.

"You don't need to be afraid of us!" Adora spoke up before Jack could think of the best way to handle this. "We're here to help you!" She smiled at them.

But the slaves just cringed and looked even more afraid.

That didn't deter her. "We're here to save you!" she went on.

Jack suppressed a groan. They had to find a way to save themselves first.

"I am She-Ra, Princess of Power. These are my friends: Queen Glimmer of Bright Moon, General Jack O'Neill of the Tau'ri, and Bow and Catra. We've been fighting the Goa'uld."

Jack winced. That could backfire - had backfired in the past. Some of the snakes' slaves took their religion seriously.

But there were gasps.

"She-Ra? The goddess?"

Adora winced at that. But before she could deny that, Jack whispered: "Don't deny it. They need to trust us." If they suddenly swarmed them…

One of the slaves - a young woman - slowly approached, almost crawling on her knees. "We've felt your blessing, goddess! You healed us!"

And speaking of healing… She had a barely healed wound on her leg, Jack saw.

"Please help us!" A middle-aged man added. He was cradling his left arm.

"We will," Adora said. " Ah… you don't need to kneel. We'll get you all out of here."

"As soon as our friends get the transporter working," Catra muttered under her breath.

"I still can't reach them," Bow said. "And my tablet is…" he trailed off with a grimace.

Broken beyond fixing, then. Jack nodded. Most of the slaves still looked afraid. Or knelt. Or both.

"If needed, Adora can restore magic to the planet, and then I can teleport us back to the others," Glimmer whispered.

Jack nodded. And Adora could blast a way to the surface with all the magic.

"Uh, that might not be the best idea, guys," Bow whispered. "That experiment broke my tablet and our communicators."

"Yes?" Jack looked at him.

"It broke the magitech in both," Bow said. "I checked."

Jack frowned. That meant…

"But the magic hasn't been restored to the planet yet," Glimmer said.

"They're experimenting with magitech," Bow confirmed. "Must be First Ones technology."

"Like the portal in the Fright Zone," Catra whispered.

"But… magitech works well with or without magic on a planet," Adora said.

"Yes. Normal stuff. But these are dimensional experiments…" Bow bit his lower lip again. "We don't know what they'll do with magic available. If the First Ones built whatever the Goa'uld here use with magic in mind, the experiments could have vastly different effects."

Jack grimaced. Things were already dicey enough without such a boost. "Let's save that for our Plan B."

"Yes." Adora nodded. "But we need to get those people out. We can't leave them here to suffer."

Jack looked around for a door or anything. They wouldn't just use a transporter to access this room, would they? Sure, it would improve security and make escaping all but impossible without outside help, but… None of the slaves were avoiding parts of the walls. They would, if they had ever seen such a door. "It looks like the snakes really limited access to the room to the ring transporter." Damn. Jack hated it when his enemies played it smart.

"Yes, they did," Catra agreed. She looked around as well. "But this doesn't look like First Ones style."

She was right! The walls were built in the same style, from the same material, as the base. "This was built by the snakes," Jack said. "And I don't think that they worked through the transporter for that." He didn't think they would have been able to start working in the middle of the solid rock and soil here. So… "They must have dug a tunnel from which they excavated the room," he said.

"And that might still be around - just sealed off!" Catra grinned and looked at the walls. "Time to check!"

*****​

Adora clenched her teeth and tried not to show it; these people were looking to her to be saved, and she couldn't do anything for them. Some were even praying! And their expressions… She didn't know what was worse, the fear or the hope.

She was such a fraud!

"Adora! Come here!" Catra called out, interrupting her thoughts. Her lover was standing at a wall, waving, while the poor people nearby were moving away - slowly, on the ground, as if they were afraid to stand.

Which they probably were. Adora clenched her teeth again and joined Catra. "What did you find?"

Catra grinned, flashing her fangs, and rapped her knuckles against the wall. "There's a hollow space behind this wall!" she announced with her ears twitching.

Oh. Adora couldn't hear anything like that, but she trusted Catra. "So Jack was right."

"I knew it!" Jack grinned and walked over to them, followed by Bow and Glimmer. They caused more movement amongst the prisoners - some cringing away, others slowly following them, shy, scared smiles on their faces as if they didn't dare to hope.

Adora had the sudden urge to crush every Goa'uld here for doing this to them. She struggled not to show her anger, though - the prisoners would be scared even more.

"So, do your thing, holder of the holy drill!" Catra quipped.

But the prisoners around them gasped, repeating 'holy drill', and more started kneeling.

Adora shot her lover a glare. That was her fault!

Catra snorted in return, apparently unimpressed.

Sighing, Adora changed her sword into a pickaxe, prompting even more gasps and prayers. She ignored them and stepped up to the wall. Glancing around, she made sure everyone was far enough away so they wouldn't be in danger of being hit by fragments, then raised her pick and hit the wall. Hard.

The wall all but exploded in a cloud of dust, and she felt shards and pebbles hit her. She drew her weapon back and watched the dust settle, revealing a crater almost a foot thick.

Behind her, Catra whistled, Jack made a comment about anger management, and the prisoners' prayers increased in volume.

Sighing, Adora swung her pick a few more times, opening a hole to reveal a wide tunnel. Wide but rough, she noted.

"That doesn't look very structurally sound," Jack commented.

"No, it doesn't," Bow agreed, moving forward to peer into the tunnel. "Most of the support struts look haphazardly placed."

"Guess they weren't meant to last long," Catra said. She cocked her head, frowning. "I think I heard some crack from them."

"Maybe Adora opening the hole has put more pressure on them," Bow guessed. "Or the experiment - the tremors we felt might be building up tension in the rock."

"And they probably have been running a lot of them - this was the second in a day," Jack added. "Better hurry up and get us out of here."

"And them," Glimmer said, nodding at the room.

Of course. Adora nodded, then turned to face the prisoners. "Stay here. We'll open a way and then get you out."

"Yes, goddess!" a young woman said, bowing her head amongst whispers and murmurs.

Adora wanted to correct her, but this wasn't the time for that. Instead, she turned and looked at the ceiling. If she restored magic and used the power it granted her, she could blow a hole to the surface. Like she had done in the Eurondan bunker. But that would endanger everyone above them, and if the whole thing collapsed… Better save that until they had no other option. She nodded, pressing her lips together. "Let's hurry!"

She stepped into the tunnel, but Catra dashed past her, leaving small tracks in the dust on the ground. Ahead of them, the tunnel turned, and Catra stopped at the corner, kneeling and touching the ground.

"It's wet," she said, rubbing her fingers and looking back at them.

"That's probably why they changed their heading," Bow said. "If there's a water vein ahead, they could have flooded the tunnel if they had kept going straight ahead. They also treated the walls here with some sealant." With an almost sheepish smile, he added: "My brother Dig is a miner."

Ah. Adora nodded and eyed the walls of the tunnel there. Yes, she could see some sort of coating there - but some water was still seeping through. On the other hand, there was no pool on the ground. Maybe it evaporated? The tunnel was pretty warm.

Catra, meanwhile, was already moving around the corner. "Damn! They collapsed the tunnel!" she hissed.

Adora followed her. She was correct - debris, rocks mostly, filled the tunnel. They were trapped! She would have to use magic to get them out!

Catra moved forward, picking up a rock and looking at it. "Blast traces."

Jack peered at it as well. "Yeah. Looks like from a staff weapon." He glanced at the ceiling, then at the rocks ahead of them. "If they shot the ceiling to collapse it, and the rock ended up here, then the blockade can't be too large."

Adora nodded. That made sense. "So, I could dig through it."

"You might bring down the ceiling if you do it, though," Bow pointed out. He glanced around. "We need to support the ceiling before you start digging."

"With what?" Jack asked. "Adora can't keep it up if she's also supposed to dig."

Bow smiled. "We can build stone arches. Like for bridges. Adora can cut the pieces from the walls of the prison."

That sounded doable. Jack looked sceptical, but Adora was already headed back to the prison. She trusted her friend.

And they had to hurry. People depended on them. The prisoners. And their friends back in the base.

She wouldn't let them down.

*****​

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Samantha Carter resisted the urge to once again try to raise the General on the comm. The communicators were fried - she had checked herself. Crystals shattered by whatever exotic effect those multidimensional energy experiments caused. It was almost certainly a magical effect - based on magitech, of course, since there was no magic available to directly power the technology used - to affect the crystals like that, although it was theoretically possible that a wave interacting with the crystals on just the right frequency would have worked as well. Theoretically. But that wouldn't have affected the other crystals in their gear, which had also broken when the entire room shook.

Maybe Apophis had realised that they used magic and was working on a countermeasure to counter their magitech-based weapons and sensors? And not merely their magitech gear, she added silently as she looked at the controls of the ring transporter.

"The transporter is out of action," Jakar said, straightening from where he had been bent over the console. "According to the readings, it's 'resetting'."

"Yes!" Entrapta nodded emphatically, her hair fanned out, holding up panels from where she was looking at the interior components of the transporter. "The crystal matrices have been knocked out of sync. Resynchronising will take some time, but I didn't find any critical damage. Except for serious wear on many components, though that's still within safe parameters. Just that they could really use some maintenance and replacements soon."

"It seems that the multidimensional energy discharges are severely affecting their own technology as well," Sam said. That wasn't a sign of a mature - or safe - technology.

"We knew that already from the way they avoid using sensors in the base," Jakar said.

"We suspected. We still suspect - this is just more support for that hypothesis," Entrapta told him with a grin. "But it looks sound. Although we still don't know what they are trying to do! We really need to sneak into the research base!"

We really need to contact the General and the others, Sam mentally corrected her friend. They were cut off, their only way back disabled - temporarily disabled. But they just had to wait, she reassured herself. As soon as the transporters finished resetting, they could get them back.

As long as the group stayed within the transporter area - the ring transporter swapped the entire area between the rings with the target area. But what were the odds of the others staying put? Sam clenched her teeth. After losing contact for too long, they would assume the worst and try to get back on their own. Probably fearing that Sam's group needed help. Any second those transporters took longer to reset increased the chance of their friends leaving the transport area. "We need to prepare a message in case they have left the area," she said. If only they could repair their communicators - or their radios. Those hadn't survived either. They needed tougher, hardened comms. With more redundancy. Keep backup systems turned off. That should render them more resistant to such attacks.

"Someone is coming," Teal'c interrupted her thoughts.

"Guards?" Sha're asked, zat'nik'nel ready.

"I presume so." Teal'c cocked his head. "Several walking in step."

A squad, then. Sam clenched her teeth. They should hide - if they were discovered right now, the mission would fail. And they would be caught in the middle of a base, with half their group missing, including their strongest. But hiding would mean abandoning the others… She pressed her lips together. She hated it, but they had no choice. "We need to leave," she whispered.

"But…" Entrapta started to say.

"Now!" Sha're cut her off. "We cannot get caught."

No one else argued. Jakar was already moving to the door where Teal'c stood. Sam could hear the steps herself as she joined them - still a bit away but closing in.

"This way." Teal'c led them into a side corridor.

Sam let the others pass, then followed them. Right before she turned the corner, she caught a glimpse of a Jaffa patrol walking past the side corridor towards the transporter room.

That had been close. Too close.

She could hear them talking but couldn't make out the words.

"One is complaining about the smell," Teal'c said in a whisper next to her.

Her eyes widened. The smell? They had cleaned up some, enough not to leave tracks on the floor, but… She felt herself blush, silly as it was.

"They blame it on the 'prisoners' - and someone not airing the room after the last transport," Teal'c went on.

Oh? Sam blinked. That smell - the stench of the air that the transporter had brought back when she had sent the General's group down! After swimming in an open sewer, it hadn't seemed too bad, but the Jaffa had noticed. And if there was no transport scheduled…

"They might blame it on a lazy slave," Jakar whispered.

Might. Or, if they were diligent, check the transporter logs. What were the odds for either? Should they take the guards out? Sam tensed.

Teal'c shifted next to her. "They said the transporter is now working again."

Sam gasped. That soon? "We have to take them out and secure the transporter!" she hissed. And then save the others!

But she could hear the transporter activating on the way to the room, and when she entered, the last ring was just vanishing into the floor. There was no sign of the guards.

"It smells different," Teal'c commented.

Then the Jaffa had chosen a different destination than the one the others had gone to. Well, that didn't matter - they still had the old destination in the memory banks of the transporter and could…

She blinked, drew a sharp breath and rushed over to the console. A quick check confirmed her fear: The memory banks had reset as well. They had lost the transporter's addresses!

Sam felt the sudden urge to shoot whoever was responsible for running these experiments under such conditions.

*****​

Holding Area, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Bow's idea had worked out. Or was working out - Catra watched as Adora finished the last support arc under his direction. Glimmer, holding a flashlight to illuminate the entire operation, was beaming as if she had come up with the idea, of course, but that was to be expected.

Catra glanced back towards the holding area, where a few of the slaves were peeking in. From their spot, they couldn't see anyone except Catra since she was standing at the corner - the perfect place to keep an eye on them and her friends. Well, almost perfect place; the wall was a bit too wet to lean comfortably against.

Two of the slaves realised that she had seen them - they must have good eyes since Catra was quite a bit away from them and the tunnel didn't have lighting installed - and ducked out, but the woman who had greeted Adora first stayed, staring straight at Catra.

Catra grinned and waved, and the woman bowed her head. She didn't try to enter the tunnel, though, so she wasn't about to disobey Adora's orders. Good. They couldn't fight whatever guards were in the area ahead with a bunch of poor slaves behind them.

On the other side of the corner, everyone took a step back as Adora started on the last part of the mass of gravel and rocks blocking the tunnel. A few hits with her magic pick reduced the stuff to rubble, which she scooped up after changing her pick into a huge shovel and spread it along the tunnel's walls, leaving a narrow path in the middle free. Catra would have to tease her about being a magical construction worker later. Once they were out of this pit.

She moved forward before Adora had finished fully clearing the blockade, quickly climbing over the remaining rocks and squeezing through the narrow opening on top.

"Catra! We don't know what's on the other side!" Adora complained.

"That's why I am going in," Catra replied, looking around.

"It's not safe! It could collapse!"

Catra eyed the ceiling. It didn't look particularly unstable or stable, so that was good enough for her. And it was only a few yards to a door - Goa'uld style, she noted - in front of her.

It should be safe enough.

She slid down the rubble on this side and approached the door. It was covered in dust and apparently hadn't been opened since the roof had collapsed. She could see where whoever had closed it had pushed back more rubble and rocks that must have fallen into the area behind the door. That was a good sign - it meant this part hadn't been abandoned. And the walls next to the door looked different. Familiar. She had seen that kind of metal before.

Behind her, she heard magic metal strike rocks, followed by a familiar grunting noise, then some huffing. Adora must have cleared away the last of the big rocks blocking the way and was squeezing through as well.

"Catra!"

"Just doing some recon," Catra told her with a grin before nodding at the door. "Look at the walls."

Adora peered at the metal, her armour shining brightly enough so even her eyes could see it, and frowned. "First Ones architecture."

"Yeah." Catra nodded. "Looks like we're at the underground base."

"Let's hope it's the right one!" Jack joined them, followed by Bow and Glimmer.

"Ring transporters don't have the range to reach other systems, and we didn't pick up any other potential bases in the system," Bow pointed out.

Jack grumbled in return. "So, can you crack this, or do we have to use my universal door opener?"

"Uh…" Bow smiled weakly and glanced at the ceiling. "I think we better don't use explosives." He moved to the lock. "I should be able to open this even without my tablet. It's pretty simple. Like the ones above."

Catra frowned. "So simple, the dimensional effects didn't wreck it?"

"Probably, yes," Bow replied, fiddling with the lock before he pulled off the dusty cover. "Yeah, definitely."

"So, they installed this after the experiments started?" Glimmer asked.

"Or they just didn't want to waste a better lock on a door leading to a tunnel they would collapse anyway," Jack suggested. He shrugged. "Whatever. Let's go through and see what we can do to ruin some snakes' day."

"And save their prisoners," Adora added, nodding firmly.

"Right."

"Let me check first if I can hear anything," Catra said, leaning forward to brush the dust off the door before pressing her ear against it. "No, nothing." Again, good insulation.

"Guess it'll be a surprise, then," Jack said.

Hopefully, for the snakes and not for us, Catra thought as Bow pulled out some more tools from his belt and started working on the lock.

A minute later, the door chimed and started sliding to the side - only to get stuck almost immediately. Catra heard the servos moving it whine as they strained.

"Ah… it looks like they blocked the door as well…" Bow said.

Adora scoffed and stepped forward. She grabbed both parts of the door, clenched her teeth and pulled.

Screeching, the metal bent as she tore it open, revealing a corridor behind it that looked very familiar indeed. First Ones style.

Catra cocked her head, listening. That noise would have alerted all guards in the vicinity. Though, depending on how big the base was, they might have gotten lucky and escaped notice.

Or not, she corrected herself when Adora stepped inside, and a figure appeared in front of her - no, a hologram. She scowled at the sight.

"Greetings, visitors. Please identify yourself," the hologram said in Light Hope's creepy voice.

"Ah, damn, here we go again," Jack muttered behind her.

*****​

Jack O'Neill was a human. Not an alien. That he had some alien genes that made some broken-down robot think he was an alien didn't change that. He wasn't a witch, either, but that didn't apply here. He had known meeting another Ancient AI was a possibility, but he had hoped it wouldn't happen.

Adora, though, was smiling. "Hello! I am Adora - She-Ra. These are Catra, Glimmer, Queen of Bright Moon, Bow, General O'Neill and Jakar/Mats."

The hologram bowed. "Greetings, Adora, General O'Neill. Welcome to Research Station Beta."

Jack sighed. Once again, the damn robot was ignoring everyone else but Adora and Jack. Wait… unlike Alpha, this bot hadn't told them that the station was at their disposal. "Who is in charge of the base?" he asked.

"That information is classified, General O'Neill."

Damn. Jack glanced at Adora, who was frowning. As were the others. Someone else had already taken over the base?

"There's a First One here?" Adora asked.

"That information is classified," the bot - presumably Beta - repeated itself.

"I'll take that as a yes," Jack said. "Whoever's in charge is working with the snakes," he said in a low voice.

Catra nodded and whispered: "Can't trust the bot."

Adora cleared her throat. "What about the prisoners in the room behind us?"

"Those are test subjects."

Test subjects? Jack clenched his teeth. So that was how Apophis was disposing of the slaves who knew too much!

"Test subjects?" Adora sounded livid.

"What experiments are they running here? More genetic engineering?" Catra asked.

The bot didn't react until Adora repeated the question: "What experiments are you running here?"

"That's classified as well."

"I don't think this is going to get any better," Jack said. "We should…"

"We want to talk to whoever is in charge," Adora said, taking a step forward. "I assume you have already informed them of our arrival."

"That is correct."

"How long until the guard spider bots arrive?" Catra mumbled, looking around. Before Jack could say anything, her ears twitched, and she hissed: "Incoming!"

"Take cover!" Jack waved, falling back to the door.

Adora, of course, took a step forward, sword changing into a shield. "We haven't attacked them," she said.

The hologram tilted its head to the side. "I'm following my orders."

"It's Light Hope all over again!" Catra snarled, moving to the side as Bow and Glimmer fell back.

Jack could hear running steps now - several of them. He crouched down and aimed his gun down the corridor.

"This is not necessary. We just want to talk to whoever is in charge of the base!" Adora said, raising her voice. "We don't want to fight you!"

The bot didn't reply.

A few seconds later, the first rank of the Jaffa rushed around the corner, and Jack greeted them with a burst from his carbine that struck the leading Jaffa in the chest, punching through the armour.

The Jaffa went down while his comrade fired his staff weapon.

Adora caught the blast on her shield and charged. She crashed into the Jaffa in the lead, sending him flying back - and into the second rank, who was just getting over the fallen Jaffa. All went down, and before they could get up again, Bow hit them with a glue arrow.

Then Catra landed next to them, claws slashing down. Blood flew, and she dropped to the floor a moment before a volley of blasts flew over her head. One blew a hole into the wall behind her, the others were caught by Adora.

Jack snapped off another burst but then had to hold his fire while Adora made short work of the rest of the Jaffa in close combat.

"I think we need to have a talk with the guy in charge about his hospitality," Jack said. A quite serious talk. Probably dead serious.

"Yes. And about their treatment of prisoners," Adora agreed, then turned and started running down the corridor.

As the rest of them followed her, Jack hoped she had an idea of where she was going.

He caught the bot's hologram fading out, smiling in that creepy way of hers, when he glanced over his shoulder to check their rear.

That rust bucket also needed a serious talking-to.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

The centre of the base had to be somewhere ahead of them. And there would be its current commander. Adora was sure. Pretty sure. She knew the layout of the base from their scans - approximately, at least; First Ones technology made scans from a distance a bit tricky - and Research Station Alpha was built similarly.

It didn't matter that much, anyway. The base wasn't that big, and as long as they kept moving, they would reach the command centre sooner or later. As she had been taught in cadet training, it was better to make a decision and act than do nothing.

She turned around the next corner, shield held in front of her - and caught a volley of staff blasts from a squad of Jaffa waiting in ambush on it. Clenching her teeth, Adora rushed them. They got off another, more ragged volley before she bowled them over.

Behind her, she heard a scream cut short, followed by a zat going off twice, and then Catra was at her side. "More incoming." She nodded at the corridor to their right.

"How many Jaffa are down here?" Jack complained as he joined them.

"As many as Apophis thinks are needed to keep our mysterious First One in line," Glimmer replied.

"Well, he's rapidly losing his safety margin," Jack commented, crouching to aim down the corridor.

"They've stopped!" Catra hissed. Her tail swished behind her.

Adora sighed and moved forward. If the Jaffa didn't charge in screaming praise for Apophis, they would either prepare an ambush or throw grenades around the corner. Neither would help them. This was a senseless waste of lives, and once Adora met whoever was responsible for this…

She heard a staff weapon going off, and a Jaffa was thrown out of cover, crashing against the wall to her side - hit in the back, she realised.

More shots followed, and she ran forward, turning the corner - just in time to see one Jaffa smash the face of another with the butt of his staff weapon, sending the warrior reeling, before flipping the weapon and firing point-blank into the man's chestplate.

Most of the gore and blood splattered against her shield. A few shards of the Jaffa's armour bounced off her own as the victim collapsed - on top of another corpse on the ground.

Before she could say or do anything, the remaining Jaffa dropped to his knees.

"Goddess! Please spare me! I have rejected Apophis for your wisdom and mercy!"

What? Adora blinked.

"I have seen your fury and felt your blessings on Saqqara when you showed your might against Apophis!" the warrior continued with his face pressed against the floor - halfway into a pool of blood, she realised. "Please accept me in your service!"

"Ah…" Adora hesitated, then forced herself to smile at the man even if he couldn't see her. "What is your name, warrior?"

"Atak, Goddess!"

"Killed his own squad," Catra commented in a low voice behind her.

That was true. Could they trust him? Could this be a ploy? Adora didn't know. But if he was genuine… Would Apophis really try such a trap? After going to such lengths to hide his defeat? And would the Goa'uld think of such a plan when they didn't trust each other at all? She didn't think so.

She slowly nodded. "Welcome to the Alliance, Atak."

"Thank you, Goddess!" the Jaffa loudly said.

Adora heard Jack groan behind her but ignored him. "Stand up and face us, please."

"As you command, Goddess." Atak slowly rose, averting his eyes.

"I am She-Ra, Supreme Commander of the Alliance," she told him, trying not to wince at the blood on his face. She could sort out that she wasn't a goddess later. "These are Glimmer, Queen of Bright Moon, Bow, Catra and General Jack O'Neill."

Atak bowed towards her friends. "Your chosen companions. I saw them fight at your side against Apophis."

So, he must have been among the guards they fought on Saqqara. And she probably healed him afterwards, when she restored magic to the planet.

"Yep. Our little dust off with dear old Apophis. How is he doing, by the way? And what are his people doing here?" Jack asked.

"And who's in charge here?" Catra added.

"The Goddess Taweret has joined Apophis as his queen," Atak replied. "She rules this world - and commands this base." He bowed again. "Apophis bade us to obey her as we would obey him. I have rejected her as I rejected him."

"Good," Adora said. But Taweret was in command here? She was a Goa'uld, not a First One. That made no… She blinked again. "Does the base - Beta - answer to her?"

"That's the blue glowing hologram," Jack added. "Talks about orders a lot and is generally annoying."

Atak nodded. "Yes, Goddess. The base answers to her."

Catra cursed next to Adora, as did Jack.

Adora wanted to curse as well.

Taweret must have a host with the First One gene. Or a First One.

Things were far worse than she had thought.

*****​
 
Chapter 143: The Secret Base Part 3
Chapter 143: The Secret Base Part 3

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)


Samantha Carter faced her situation in a calm and logical manner. They had lost the address of the transporter to which the General and the others had gone. And they had no means to reestablish communication with them. In addition to that, Sam's group was currently trying to avoid detection in a Goa'uld base manned with elite troops since, with the absence of Adora, they didn't have the means to fight their way out of the base, much less take it over. And the multidimensional energy experiments the Goa'uld were running on the planet had wrecked half their electronics and all their magitech gear, making it impossible to call for help from the fleet outside the system and severely hampering their ability to subvert the enemy systems. Those were the negatives.

On the positive side, between her and Entrapta, they should be able to come up with ways to compensate for their current technical difficulties. If their own gear and tools didn't work, they would appropriate the enemy's, which, presumably, would still work. Even though, Sam had to amend that thought, not perfectly, as the wiped memory of the ring transporter had illustrated. Further, they weren't completely helpless. Teal'c was one of the deadliest fighters Sam knew and, as importantly, intimately familiar with the enemy's troops and tactics. Sha're had inside knowledge of the enemy's strategy and planning habits, and Daniel was not only an expert in Goa'uld history and culture but also a savant when it came to interacting with different and alien cultures. Although Sam wasn't quite sure yet how that would help them in their current predicament, she had been surprised by him before. Positively. And they were currently in the ring transporter room of the base, without guards to worry about.

All in all, their situation was far from the worst Sam had ever experienced. Critical, no doubt, but they weren't doomed. Of course, as a member of SG-1, her standards were probably a bit skewed…

"Do we have any clues to find potential addresses in the memory banks?" she asked. Randomly trying addresses had been a staple at Stargate Command at the beginning, and even after they had acquired lists with the coordinates of gate systems, they had been looking for more systems - especially systems unknown to the Goa'uld, in the hope of finding allies against them. Which actually had worked out beyond their wildest hopes when they had stumbled upon Etheria's Stargate. But that didn't work with ring transporters - the coordinates for those had to be much more precise than those for a Stargate, where you just had to 'hit' the stellar system, and the Stargate would do the rest. Which could cause problems by itself if there were more than one Stargate in a system, but… She focused on the problem at hand.

"No," Entrapta replied. "The energy used by the transporter could narrow the potential destinations down, but we don't have enough data to correlate anything. We would need to observe a lot more uses. And compensate for the energy loss caused by the slight damage to the transporter. So…" She pouted. "... it's not going to work well enough for this mission."

"And we can't follow the smell," Daniel said with a rueful smile.

Sam snorted, more to reward his attempt to replace the General's dark humour than because it had been a good joke. "Let's bug the transporter so we can record the next addresses," she said.

"But didn't you lose most of your tools?" Daniel asked.

"Most but not all," Sam replied.

"Yes!" Entrapta beamed. "And we're limited to very simple, sturdy systems. But if we make them tiny enough, and add a non-crystal or chip-based way to store data, it should work!"

"'Non-crystal or chip based' data storage?" Sha're asked.

"A tiny printer!" Entrapta was already bent over the open console controlling the ring transporter. "I saw an ad for a printer and bought one to check the mechanics. If we use thermal printing - well, the principle, it'll be more like branding - we should be able to rig something up to transcribe the addresses and coordinates the transporter uses!"

"Yes." Sam smiled. It would be a challenge, but if they repurposed a soldering tool and constructed some sort of controls from composite metal that bent when heated, they could make this. They just had to…

"If I may make a suggestion," Teal'c interrupted her thoughts. "Since the Jaffa working for the false gods have used the transporter after its memory was wiped, they must have known the address and entered it."

Sam grimaced as she finished his suggestion. "And they will have that written down so it won't get erased when the transporter's memory bank suffers another wipe due to accumulated damage. We just have to find those notes and take them."

"Indeed." Teal'c inclined his head.

Sam tried not to feel stupid for missing the obvious solution to their main problem. At least the General wasn't here to tease her about it.

On the other hand, if the General were here, she wouldn't have had to come up with such a plan in the first place.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Great. Just great. A Goa'uld with a First One as host. In full control of a First One research station, aided by a crazy bot. "That explains the stupid experiments," Catra muttered. "But why haven't they released their guard bots yet? We've just been facing Jaffa." And they could handle the Jaffa in their sleep. Maybe even without Adora.

Adora looked at Atak, but the Jaffa defector shook his head, bowing deeply. "Forgive me, Goddess, but I do not know what Taweret is planning. I am merely a guard; I was never taken into her or Apophis's confidence. Not even before the defeat he suffered at your hands."

Catra snorted. With two of Apophis's Prime going rogue, it made a lot of sense that Apophis wouldn't trust them, much less the rest of his guards.

Adora smiled at the Jaffa. "There is nothing to forgive. You did not offend me - in fact, I am proud that you rejected Apophis and Taweret. I don't expect you to know all their plans."

But it would have made things easier if you did, Catra silently added.

"Thank you for your mercy, Goddess!" Atak bowed so quickly, drops of blood were sent flying from his face.

Catra leaned into Adora and whispered: "Maybe add some divine decree about washing your face?"

"Catra!" Adora shook her head. "But we need to find Taweret. Do you know where she is?"

Atak straightened immediately. "Yes, Goddess! In her command centre! I can lead you there!" he said, nodding.

He didn't move, though. What was he waiting for, a written invitation? Catra blinked. Damn - he was waiting for orders from his goddess! She glanced at Adora.

Her lover was nodding. "Please do so!"

"As you command, Goddess!" Atak turned and started marching back from where he had come.

"I can't wait for him and Priest to meet," Jack muttered. "They'll probably debate the proper titles of their goddess for days. Or have a schism over it."

"Jack!" Adora hissed while Catra chuckled.

But she was already moving faster to catch up with Atak. He seemed genuine, but as the humans said, better safe than sorry. If this was a trap, then she wouldn't let him lead them into an ambush.

Though as loud as his steps were, he might lead them into an ambush anyway without wanting to. On the other hand, the Jaffa would expect them to sneak, so this might actually be quite cunning - if he had thought about it. She would have to ask him later.

They reached another T-junction. No guards here - but Atak stopped before leaving their corridor. "The command centre is to our right. It is heavily guarded."

Catra cocked her head. She couldn't hear anything from that direction… Wait! That sounded like metal faintly creaking. Someone must be shifting in their armour.

Behind them, the others arrived. "Command centre to the right," Catra whispered. "Probably guarded."

"Goddess!" Atak bowed again.

"Let's take them down." Adora was mad, Catra could tell.

But Catra also knew her lover could control herself. At least enough not to kill Taweret's host, who was, probably, innocent. Though if they were a First One, that was more of a maybe - Between the Heart of Etheria and Research Station Alpha, Catra had seen enough to know that the First Ones hadn't been nice people. Or good people. She-Ras were the exception, of course.

"Let's go!" Adora nodded, changed her sword into a shield, and stormed around the corner.

Catra was hot on her heels. She heard cries of surprise and alert a moment before the first staff weapons fired, clenching her teeth as the wall next to her exploded from a hit that had missed Adora's shield.

They never learn, she thought as Adora crashed into the Jaffa formation, sending them scattering. One spun away and crashed into the wall next to her from the impact. Catra quickly veered off, slashing her claws through his neck guard and kicking the staff weapon he was still holding away.

Another had managed to keep standing even though he had been pushed to the door at his back and was swinging his staff to aim at Adora. She simply moved her shield, and the explosion from his own shot took the idiot out.

It barely scratched the door, though - obviously, the First Ones had taken care to protect their command centres.

"Let me check if there's…"

But before Bow could finish, Adora had stepped up to the door, pushed the slumped-over body of the Jaffa aside and rammed her newly changed sword through the gap in the middle.

Yeah, she was mad. Using - and killing - slaves as 'test subjects' would do that to her, Catra knew.

But just when Adora was starting to twist her blade to open a gap in the door, Catra heard a humming, steadily increasing noise again, and the whole room started to tremble. "Another experiment!" she spat.

"But… there was none scheduled!" Atak blurted. "I heard no order to fetch more test subjects, either, since the alert."

They were using the slaves for experiments when their base was under attack? Catra shook her head. That went beyond stupid! Even for Goa'uld. But maybe not for First Ones.

"We have to stop them!" Glimmer gasped.

"We will!" Adora spat as the sound grew louder and the vibrations stronger. With a guttural grunt, she leaned in, reached into the gap - and tore it open.

And Catra jumped on her head, then pushed off, to the side, into the room. There was a line of Jaffa firing at Adora and behind them a woman wearing more gold than fabric - Taweret!

Catra flashed her teeth as she twisted, touching the ground, launching herself at the Goa'uld, her claws digging into the ground. This was…

Everything turned white.

*****​

"CATRA!"

Jack O'Neill was still blinking, trying not to get blinded by the sun that had suddenly lit up the room or hit by the staff weapons he heard firing when Adora's scream made his ears ring.

"CATRA!"

Jack heard heavy footsteps, followed by more shots and screaming. And screeching metal.

He should have expected this. Or something like it. Still blinking rapidly, he cursed himself as he followed Adora into the room - just in time to see her grab the last Jaffa standing and lift him over her head.

The snake - Taweret - shot her with a ribbon device, repeatedly, but Adora just snarled, then hurled the struggling Jaffa at the Goa'uld with enough force to throw her several yards back, into and over a console.

"Where is Catra?" Glimmer asked next to him.

Jack glanced around. He saw a snake and a dozen Jaffa on the ground, dead or unconscious, several weird Ancient devices, but no cat woman.

"Where is CATRA?" Adora screamed. She strode forward, grabbed the dazed snake by the throat and lifted her up. "What did you do to her?"

"Adora!" Glimmer blurted out.

"What did you do to her?" Adora repeated herself, shaking the snake like a ragdoll.

"Adora!" Glimmer ran towards her. "Stop!"

Jack clenched his teeth. That was why you didn't date your fellow team members. Adora was losing it in the middle of their mission. "She can't answer if you choke her to death," he said - and tried not to flinch when Adora turned her head and glared at him with an expression that made a shiver run down his spine.

This is Adora, he told himself. She won't turn on her friends even when mad with grief. Or so he hoped.

"Please, Adora. Jack's right," Bow said.

"Don't kill her - you'd kill her host," Glimmer added.

Adora froze for a moment, then drew a sharp breath and released the snake.

Taweret fell down to the floor, wheezing and coughing, collapsing to her knees. Before she could recover, Adora grabbed her arm and tore her ribbon device off, crushing it in the process.

The research heads back home won't be happy about that, Jack thought. He pushed the thought away. He had to focus. "What did you do?" he asked.

Taweret didn't even look at him. She was staring at Adora, who was towering over her. "Who… who are you?" the snake asked, then coughed. "What are you?"

"This is Adora."

Jack whirled, raising his gun to his shoulder. Beta's hologram was floating there, smiling.

"She is the new commander of Research Station Beta," the bot went on. "The station is at your disposal, Adora."

"What?" Jack blurted out together with everyone else - even the snake.

"You are no longer in charge of this research station, Queen Taweret," the bot said.

"Traitor!" the snake spat. "I am your commander! A First One! You said so!"

Beta's smile didn't change. "Your mental state is in doubt. Adora is the obvious replacement."

"I am your goddess!" Taweret screeched before starting to cough and holding her throat.

"What are your orders, Adora?" Beta asked.

"Ah…" Adora blinked. "What did she do to Catra?"

"The subject used the station's experimental dimensional gate projector in a misguided and fairly desperate attempt to trap you in another dimension. Predictably, it failed, but your friend was caught in its effect." The bot lowered its head. "I attempted to stop her, but I could not countermand her orders no matter how wrong. I am sorry."

Jack narrowed his eyes. The bot tried to stop the snake? Yeah, right.

The others looked shocked, though.

"Catra's trapped in another dimension?" Adora gasped.

"Like…" Glimmer trailed off.

Jack winced. Yeah, that would hit a nerve.

Taweret tried to scramble away, but Adora grabbed her head before she could scoot more than a yard. "Where did you send Catra?"

The snake must have found her spine again since she spat at Adora. "You'll never find her! None of the slaves ever got back!"

For a moment, Adora looked like she would murder Taweret on the spot. But she shook her head and scoffed. "That's what you think." Turning to Beta, she said: "How many Jaffa are still active in the research station?"

"Two squads of four each are securing the power generator and the dimensional gate projector, Adora," the bot replied.

"We need to take them out. And we need to secure the entrances," Jack said.

Atak nodded. "We can turn off the ring transporter we installed in the base, Goddess."

"That would cut off our friends as well," Bow said.

Jack pressed his lips together. What were Carter and the others doing, anyway? They should have gotten the transporter working by now.

Adora hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Let's secure the base and lock Taweret up somewhere. Then we'll find the others and take out all Goa'uld forces in the system." She turned to Beta. "And then we'll get all our friends back. No matter the cost."

Beta beamed. "Research Station Beta is at your disposal, Adora."

Jack couldn't help thinking that she looked like a scientist who had just gotten an unlimited research grant from the government. And why was she ignoring him? It wasn't as if he was an alien, but she had addressed him as one before, like Alpha, hadn't she?

*****​

"The research station is secure. The transporter has been deactivated."

Adora nodded at Beta's report. She had taken out the remaining Jaffa while Bow had disabled the ring transporter with Glimmer and Jack. The survivors were now secured in a 'holding area' Beta had opened. Taweret herself was locked in what Beta had called a 'containment field' - force fields like those the Horde had used in their cells, just without actual walls. They had stripped the Goa'uld of all jewellery beforehand, of course - Goa'uld liked to hide their weapons and tools as jewellery. Or they liked using their weapons and gear as decorations. It was hard to tell.

Adora glanced at the woman glaring at her from her 'cell' in the corner and sighed. She had almost killed - murdered - Taweret's host. A victim of the Goa'uld - and a prisoner of war. Technically, at least. Adora shook her head at her own… lapse. She should have known better than that. She was the Supreme Commander of the Alliance. She would have to do better than that. Even after what the Goa'uld queen had done to Catra.

She clenched her teeth, struggling with the rage and desperation filling her. Catra was… trapped in another dimension. And it was all Adora's fault - she should have expected a trap instead of rushing in.

But she would save her love. And everyone else that Taweret had used in her evil experiments. She would get Catra back! She had done it before, she would do it again!

But you haven't been able to save Angella, a small voice whispered in the back of her head. It sounded like Shadow Weaver.

She pushed the thought away. She couldn't dwell on that. Not now.

"We've disabled the transporter," Bow announced when he returned with the others. "Temporarily. I can easily turn it back on, but I can't do it by remote - not without my tablet."

Which had been damaged by the multi-dimensional experiments. Adora nodded. "That leaves the ring transporter in the holding area." Where the slaves were.

"That's where the others will head to," Jack said. "We can't disable that."

"They would have reached us already if they could," Glimmer said. "They must be unable to use the transporter."

Adora pressed her lips together and looked at Atak. "You said it usually takes a few minutes for the transporter to reset after an experiment."

"Yes, Goddess!" Atak bowed his head instead of nodding. "But it doesn't usually take this long."

"It might have been damaged by the experiments," Bow said. "If it gets reset by the effects, then it is affected. It could have accumulated minor stress damage with each experiment until something serious got broken."

If the transporter was damaged, Sam and Entrapta should be able to repair it. It might take them a bit of time, though, depending on how severe the damage was. That was the best case. "We need to contact them. Can you control the ring transporters here?" she asked Bow.

"Once I crack Taweret's controller, yes," he replied. "But that will take a while."

"So, we'll disable the ring transporter in the holding area until you can control them," Adora said. "And evacuate the slaves to the station here." She turned to Beta's holographic projection, which was floating nearby. "Do we have sufficient quarters for them?"

Beta nodded. "Yes, although with limited comforts."

"What does that mean?" Jack asked.

"They will have to stay in crowded quarters with limited supplies."

"Is it better than their current, ah, quarters?" Adora asked.

"Yes."

Adora nodded. "Good. Prepare the rooms. We'll fetch them."

"As you wish, Adora." Beta faded away.

Adora turned to the others. Bow would have to come along to disable the transporter. And she wanted to keep Atak close to her. Just in case. But someone would have to stay here and both guard Taweret and the control room of the station."

"I'll keep an eye on the snake," Jack said with a wry, humourless smile.

He was the best choice - he had the Ancient gene. Although… "Beta," Adora spoke up.

Beta's projection reappeared. "Yes, Adora?"

"Jack's in command until I return."

"I assumed that already, Adora." Beta glanced at Jack. "But it is good to have confirmation about your chain of command."

"He also outranks Taweret," Adora added. "Actually, she has no authority over you."

"I also assumed that."

Jack frowned. "Speaking of Taweret, are you aware that the real Taweret is a parasite controlling a First One host and not a First One?"

"Yes." Beta nodded.

"And you let her take over the station?" Adora blurted out. How could Beta have allowed this?

"I surrendered the station to the First One Zahra. She then voluntarily surrendered her body to Taweret," Beta said. "Apparently, she considered that a great honour and ordered me to obey her religious figure as if she herself were giving the order. Since that order was given before she became a host and I lacked any other legitimate authority figure to countermand it, I was bound to obey her."

That explained it. Zahra must have been a slave conditioned to worship Taweret.

"Just following orders, huh?" Jack commented.

"Yes." Beta smiled. "That was what I was built for."

Adora grimaced. On the one hand, she knew that blind obedience was a terrible idea for any organisation. Especially if the First Ones were involved. On the other hand, having the bot in control of a First Ones research station acting on their own wasn't a good idea either. Not at all. And if Taweret's host was a true believer in the Goa'uld's divinity… Well, that could wait for a moment. They had to finish securing the station,

She nodded. "Let's go. And once we're back, you'll tell us everything about those experiments."

"Yes, Adora."

*****​

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Alright! We've hacked the security system! As far as you can call it a security system, of course. It's more like a bunch of sensors that all report to one central authority, though as far as we can tell, at least, the readings aren't integrated there."

"It's probably just guards watching screens," Samantha Carter summed up Entrapta's explanation for the others.

"Yes. Their experiments must really handicap their security," Entrapta agreed. "That's why setting up a proper lab and testing grounds is so important!"

"Their loss is our gain," Sha're said.

"Indeed." Teal'c nodded slowly. "But it behoves us not to underestimate Apophis's guards. They will be very alert - as soon as they suspect our presence, they will put the base on alert and mobilise all available warriors."

"So, we best not get noticed." Daniel smiled, but it looked a little forced.

Sam could understand that - they needed to either steal the coordinates the guards used from under their noses or ambush a patrol with them. Either was a challenge. Ambushing a patrol without alerting anyone might be easier, especially with the security sensors under their control, but sooner or later, the rest of the guards would notice the missing patrol and react accordingly. Sam would really prefer to avoid that until they had linked up back with the rest of their team.

She looked at the feed on the screen Entrapata and she had cobbled together - 'sturdy enough', according to her friend, to survive the next experiment. Unfortunately, the security centre wasn't covered by the cameras. But the two corridors connecting to it were, and when the doors opened, parts of the interior were revealed.

And that didn't look promising. Sam had spotted at least three guards inside. Probably more - the room was large, and a decent part of it was not visible from the cameras' angles, even with the doors open.

"They might be keeping the guards ready at the security centre," Teal'c said, "in order to direct them to any possible security breach at once without interference." He looked at Sam. "Taking all of them out without raising an alarm might be difficult."

And if Teal'c said that, it meant impossible - at least for the team they had available. Unless… "The security centre is supposed to be protected against gas attacks, right?" Sam asked.

"It's a standard precaution," Teal'c replied.

"Yes. Poison gas used to be a staple for assassinations and coups in the past until most System Lords adapted," Sha're agreed. "It hasn't been used much lately, as far as I know."

"That means they will have an internal oxygen supply," Sam said. "But will they have adjusted that for the interference from the experiments?" The base was rather new, after all, and people tended to cut corners when rushing things. The security system showed that already.

"Oh!" Entrapta smiled. "But where do we get poison gas?"

"We don't," Sam replied. Not technically, at least. Then she started to explain.

*****​

Samantha Carter looked up at the ventilation duct's opening. Entrapta's hair was waving at her. So, everything was ready. Good. She checked her screen. She couldn't see any patrols in the area. And they couldn't wait any longer any more - the risk of being detected was too great. She tugged twice on the strand of hair and watched the screen again.

For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then the doors flew open and a dozen Jaffa rushed out of the centre, followed by a cloud of smoke before the doors closed again. An alert sounded in the base as well, and Sam tensed. That was the largest weakness of their plan. If the Jaffa were too stubborn or suspicious…

On the screen, she saw two patrols rushing towards the service centre. They were carrying firefighting gear. She smiled and took a deep breath - it seemed their plan was working. Now, if everything else worked out…

She pressed her lips together as the seconds passed. On the screen, the Jaffa gathered in front of both doors, extinguishers ready. Sam made a mental note to study the gear afterwards - this would also give them intel about the damage control skills of the enemy fleet.

Then the doors opened, and the guards, wearing full-face helmets, rushed in to fight a fire that had never been real. And as she had hoped, the Jaffa seemed to assume that the life support unit had simply broken down - at least they acted like that was the case; Sam was sure that if they suspected enemy action, they wouldn't stand around complaining.

"All done!" Entrapta's voice sounded above Sam's head. "The unit was easy to sabotage!"

She looked up and saw Entrapta wriggle out of the ventilation duct. Even a person as small as her friend had trouble fitting through them. Without her hair, she wouldn't have been able to move quickly enough through the ducts - or at all. But she had managed. And now the Jaffa would be busy airing out and repairing their security centre.

"I got pictures off their sheets!" Entrapta announced as her hair tendrils set her down on the floor. "It felt like back in the Fright Zone! We should travel through ventilation ducts more often! It's efficient and fun!"

Sam smiled. "I'll take it under consideration. But let's head back to the ring transporter." And get the others back, she added to herself as they quickly moved along the planned route back to the others.

Her good mood vanished as soon as she tried to use the transporter, though.

The receiving transporters were not active.

*****​

Unknown Location, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

When Catra finally could see more than blurry spots, she found herself floating and staring at nothing. "Adora?" she asked, turning around. Adora had been right behind her. And a bit to her left.

But Adora wasn't there. Her head swivelled frantically while she looked around and above and below. Nothing. Just white emptiness. She was floating in…

She drew a sharp breath when she realised what had happened. She had charged into a trap, foolishly thinking she had the drop on the enemy, and now… Was this the afterlife? Dying was supposed to hurt, though. On the other hand, if she had been killed so fast, she didn't realise it until now, would it have hurt?

But what would have killed her? Some disintegration ray? The Goa'uld had the technology, zat'nik'tels proved that, but they took three hits to completely dissolve your body. But they might have improved on that - this was a research station. And they had used slaves as test subjects…

Her eyes widened. This wasn't a Goa'uld research station but a First Ones! And one dealing with multidimensional energy discharges or whatever Entrapta and Sam had called it. And she had heard the sound of another such experiment when they had breached the room, and so…

She closed her eyes and hissed through clenched teeth.

…she was probably in another dimension. Or dead. Couldn't exclude that.

Not that it mattered, Catra guessed. Not when she was stuck floating in nothing. At least it was bright and not dark. Being lost in total darkness would be worse. Much worse.

Not that she had much to look at - just herself.

She looked down at her body, wriggling her toes for a moment, unsheathing and sheathing her claws. She didn't feel dead. Or weird. She cocked her head, moved her ears and tail, stretched. Everything felt like it should.

And yet… She sniffed the air. She smelt her sweat, but only traces of smoke, dust and the stench from the slave area. But nothing else. This weird space where she was floating had no scent of its own. And no sound - her ears didn't hear anything.

Maybe she was dead, and this was the light you supposedly saw when dying. And the afterlife was an eternity floating in nothing.

She hissed again and forced the thought away. She wasn't dead. She was just… trapped in some dimension. The others would come for her. Adora wouldn't abandon her. She would do everything to get Catra back. They would have taken control of the research station now. Soon, they would bring in Entrapta and Sam. And call in Hordak - he had experience with dimensional travel.

No, it wouldn't be too long before Catra would be saved. She just had to be patient and wait. She could do that. Just do nothing. Enjoy the quiet. Relax. Rest.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Still no scent. No sound other than her breathing. It was peaceful. And the temperature was fine. Not warm, but not cold either.

She stretched again and shifted around. It was like being out in space. Just without a spacesuit. But the lack of gravity was the same.

Still, it wasn't the best spot for a nap. She didn't need a bed, but a patch of sunlight would be nice. Floating in the sun, warm and comfortable… She sighed at the thought.

And felt her skin grow warmer.

She opened her eyes with a gasp. What the… There was a sun? She turned her head, then had to jerk away, closing her eyes. Yes, there was a sun. But how? Had she been moving all this time? Or had she travelled into another dimension? Or…

A soft sound made her ears twitch, and she turned. Another light, a bit away, not nearly as bright as the sun, had appeared - and was fading. Replaced by… a glowing person?

She squinted. The person was floating like Catra was - and turning around. As soon as they saw Catra, they flew straight at her.

Catra blinked. That was… Her eyes widened. That was… "Adora!" She had found her! Just as Catra had known she would.

Adora came to a stop in front of her. "There you are! Don't be afrai… Catra?"

"Adora!" Catra beamed at her. "You found me!" It was her. Although she was wearing her old outfit, Catra noticed. The one with the skirt and shorts.

And she was glaring at Catra with an expression that made her flinch.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Carter and the others were still out of contact. Not missing - they were probably raising hell in Apophis's base on top. Just unable to contact them for technical reasons. Jack O'Neill was sure of that. Pretty sure.

Besides, if the Jaffa had fought the others, or even just detected them, they would have contacted her scaly majesty at once, and they hadn't received a call on the station's comm so far. Unlike the snake's comm, or the Etherians', the station's FTL comms had been 'specifically hardened to resist the experiments' side effects', as the bot had described it, and Taweret had had a set of those comms moved to the base on the surface. Unfortunately, it was in the security centre there, so the odds of Carter and the others being able to use it weren't great - and if they managed to get control of the comms, they wouldn't take the risk of trying to contact the underground station and alert Taweret.

It was really annoying that they had comms back and still couldn't reach the others. At least they had been able to use the station's FTL comms to reestablish contact with the task force outside the system.

"...so, stay ready to launch the prepared attack on our signal," Jack heard Adora order in the background.

"As you command, Your Divine Highness!"

"It is remarkable that you have been able to subvert our ancient enemies." The Bot's projection appeared next to Jack, almost startling him.

"They've seen the light," he replied with a twisted grin.

"The task force is ready to take out the Goa'uld forces in the system," Adora announced, walking over to them. "Now, Beta, tell me everything about the experiments you were running here!"

"Yes, Adora." Beta nodded. "As you are already aware, this station - and myself - were built to conduct multi-dimensional research. As you likely know, bridging alternate realities is possible, but travelling there is quite dangerous due to the entropic cascade effect. Because of this, this station was tasked with finding safer ways to reach alternate universes and came to build the Dimensional Gate Projector."

"Yep, of course, entropic cascade stuff, we know everything about that." Jack nodded, then glanced at the others. They seemed as lost as he felt.

"Good." Apparently, the bot wasn't programmed for sarcasm.

Wait! Jack blinked. "Are you talking about the Quantum Mirror?"

Beta cocked its head, looking confused. "I am not familiar with that designation."

"That alien device that allows travelling to an alternate reality," Jack said. "Daniel used it once and went to a universe where Earth had fallen to the Goa'uld. That was why he could warn us about Apophis's attack. It kinda looks like a mirror. Sort of." He made vague motions with his hands to show the outline.

"I am not familiar with such a device," Beta said.

That was weird. Shouldn't an Ancient bot know about that device?

"Where is it? This could significantly advance our research!" Beta had an almost eager expression.

Scratch that, Jack amended his thoughts as the bot leaned in, definitely eager. He had seen housewives looking more distant while pressed against Target doors on Black Friday.

"It was destroyed, actually," Bow said. "Because it's so dangerous. The energy needed to breach the dimensional barrier is so massive, a containment failure could have wrecked reality itself."

Beta glared at him. "That's not a reason to dismantle it! That's a reason not to fail an experiment!"

Jack couldn't help thinking that he wasn't really sad that the people who programmed this bot were gone.

"What's done is done," Adora cut in. "What exactly were you doing here? What did happen to Catra?"

"Your, ah, friend was targeted by a portal that was part of an experiment using unstable dimensions as a travel medium to reach alternate realities," Beta replied.

"Unstable dimensions?"

"Proto-pocket dimensions," Beta explained. "Generated but not yet completed. The theory is that they will be able to bridge alternate realities that are so close to ours, that the entropic cascade effect will not appear. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to verify this so far." The bot frowned. "But recently, Taweret had changed the parameters of the experiment. Instead of retrieving test subjects to refine the mechanics of safe dimensional travel, she wanted to focus on its use as a means to remove starships and other objects from our universe - even though this had already been demonstrated successfully during the war against Horde Prime."

Jack blinked. They wanted to weaponise this? Wait - the debris they had analysed earlier! "You've blown up Horde frigates?"

"Yes." Beta nodded. "Although it was an unsuccessful test for transporting starships, it worked as a weapon and removed a threat to this station."

Damn! Jack clenched his teeth. If they had attacked right away with the task force, they would've run straight into this…

"If it already worked as a weapon, why were you doing more experiments with it?" Glimmer asked.

"The power requirements and side effects of dimensional travel prevent its use as a ship-based system, especially when installed on a vessel using inferior technology such as a Ha'tak, though Taweret was determined to change this. So far, she hasn't succeeded." Beta sounded actually smug about this.

"The power transfer to the Ha'tak in orbit!" Bow exclaimed.

"Yes. The damage to the ship has been more limited than in her first attempt."

First attempt? The missing Ha'tak! Taweret must have blown it up in an experiment. So, they didn't have to worry about Ha'taks sending Horde frigates into other dimensions. And if Jack had anything to say about this, they would never have to.

"This ends now. Your only goal is to find Catra - and the others - and take them back!" Adora ordered.

"This will require more experiments, Adora. With test subjects as before."

Beta sounded too eager again, in Jack's opinion.

*****​
 
Catra blinked. That was… Her eyes widened. That was… "Adora!" She had found her! Just as Catra had known she would.

Adora came to a stop in front of her. "There you are! Don't be afrai… Catra?"

"Adora!" Catra beamed at her. "You found me!" It was her. Although she was wearing her old outfit, Catra noticed. The one with the skirt and shorts.

And she was glaring at Catra with an expression that made her flinch.

Oh dear. I can think of a few posibilities here, most of them are not particularly good for Catra.
 
Chapter 144: The Secret Base Part 4 New
Chapter 144: The Secret Base Part 4

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)


"We're not using people as test subjects!" Adora snapped at Beta.

The bot's projection frowned. "But how else do you suggest we develop the technology necessary to recover your friend? As I explained, since Queen Taweret had ordered the experiments' parameters changed, we have made no progress with the recovering part of the project."

"We'll find another way!" They had to! And they would! "We'll get Entrapta and Sam working on this. And Hordak."

"I am not familiar with any of these people," Beta replied.

"Smartest women in the galaxy," Jack commented. "Except for Hordak, of course."

Beta cocked her head sideways and looked at Jack. "If Hordak is not as smart, why would she be included in the research?"

"I meant he's not a woman," Jack explained.

"Ah."

"He has experience with transporting people into other dimensions," Adora said. That was how Hordak had arrived on Etheria while it had still been trapped in Despondos. Oh. "We'll also have to go through the databanks on Etheria that remained from Light Hope." She clenched her teeth at the thought of Light Hope's actions, Mara, and everything else that had gone so wrong.

"Light Hope? I am not…"

"...not familiar with that person, yes, yes," Jack cut in.

"She was a bot like you," Adora explained. "She transported me from this dimension into Despondos when I was a baby."

"Oh. Another like Alpha and myself?" Beta perked up. "And you have access to her data about dimensional travel?"

"We don't know. She was destroyed during the war against Horde Prime," Adora said. "But she wasn't in control of a research station like you and Alpha are."

"And yet she managed to transport people to and from other dimensions? We must recover as much of her data as possible! This could massively advance our research here!" Beta nodded eagerly. "And, of course, this could be crucial for recovering your friend."

Yes, of course - Adora should have thought about this immediately! Mara had been able to transport the entire solar system of Etheria into Despondos! Adora should be able to recover Catra. Especially if she had the power from restoring magic to this world at her disposal.

But she didn't know how to do it. She bit her lower lip. If she tried this and failed, wielding the power of a world's magic, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Then I can't fail, she thought, nodding again - before remembering what Beta had said about not failing experiments. Maybe…

"Adora?"

She blinked. "Yes, Glimmer?"

"You were kinda… zoned out." Glimmer smiled a little weakly.

"Sorry!" Adora matched her smile. "I was… thinking about alternatives." She shook her head. "First, we need to contact the others. And quickly." Before something else went wrong.

"You could use the dimensional gate projector to deal with Taweret's guards," Beta suggested. "The coordinates of their base are known. And this would net us more data about dimensional travel, potentially facilitating your friend's recovery."

What? Send more people into another dimension? Even if they were working for Apophis, that would be cruel. Even if, once they could save Catra, they could save everyone, it would be…

"Our friends are also in that base," Jack reminded her. "We don't want to accidentally transport them into another dimension, do we?"

Right. Adora shook her head. "We're not using the dimensional gate projector on anyone."

"That will severely hinder our research into recovering your friend," Beta said.

"We'll manage," Glimmer told her.

"Yes, we will." Adora looked at the others. "If we can't contact the others, then we'll have to clear the base ourselves. The guards still haven't tried to contact Taweret, so they haven't been caught."

"Using a transporter requires an active transporter as a destination," Beta told them. "Otherwise, the energy used will be released in an uncontrolled and usually highly destructive manner."

"We're aware of that," Jack said. "Don't worry."

His smile was a little too toothy. It reminded Adora of… She didn't want to go there. "Let's go," she said. "Jack, stay here."

He didn't like that. Not at all - his expression told her that. She understood, of course; she wouldn't want to stay back when they were going to save Catra. But he was the only other 'First One' here with them, and while Adora didn't think Beta would betray her, there was just something about the bot that made her wary.

And judging from the glance Jack sent at the bot before he nodded, he felt the same.

"Yeah, right, sure."

"Let's go!" Glimmer was already moving.

Two minutes later, they were at the ring transporter, and Bow was checking the controls.

"The transporter in the Goa'uld base is active," he reported.

Adora nodded and drew her sword. "Send me up first." She could handle staff weapon blasts from an ambush. The others couldn't. "Give me a minute to get clear before you follow." And to clear the room if necessary.

Glimmer frowned at her but didn't argue. Bow nodded, and Atak straightened. "Yes, Goddess!"

Then Bow pushed a button, and the rings rose around Adora. She took a deep breath and tensed. If this was a trap…

The world shifted, and she appeared in the base transport room - surrounded by her friends, all of them aiming their weapons at her.

"Uh… Hi! Sorry for being late!" She smiled at them.

*****​

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Samantha Carter lowered her weapon and nodded at Adora. And tried not to feel slightly annoyed at the fact that her plan to get the coordinates for the transporter had just been rendered redundant. "What happened?"

"Adora! You're back!" Entrapta. "How are the others? Did you find the base?"

"Yes, we did," Adora replied. She lost her smile, though, Sam noticed. "We captured Taweret, dealt with her guards and secured the research station. But we lost Catra - Taweret used an experimental gate projector to transport her into another dimension, and we need to get her back!"

Sam drew a sharp breath. Lost in another dimension? The odds of Catra surviving that weren't good. Not at all.

Entrapta gasped. "Like Angella?"

Sam winced. Glimmer's mother had sacrificed herself to stabilise an interdimensional portal that had threatened to unravel reality.

"We don't know. Not yet. Things are different," Adora said as she left the transport area. "The others are fine. Ah! We also met Atak - he's a former guard for Apophis who deserted them and joined us." She winced. "He, ah, worships me."

Sam glanced at Teal'c. That was his area of expertise. Well, Jaffa deserters, not the religious part.

"I see." Teal'c slowly nodded. "He was on Saqarra then when we raided Apophi's palace?"

"Yes!" Adora nodded, then checked her watch. "The others should arrive shortly."

As if they had waited for a cue, the rings rose again, and the rest of Adora's group appeared. Except for the General, though.

"Jack's, ah, keeping an eye on Taweret and Beta, the bot controlling the station" Adora must have noticed Sam's reaction.

"Like Alpha?" Daniel asked.

"A bit too much like her, yes," Adora said, wincing. Then she straightened. "So! We've reestablished contact with the fleet. We can coordinate our attack on the base with the strike at Apophis's ships in the system."

"We've temporarily sabotaged their security centre," Sam informed them. "But that won't last."

"We don't need much time." Adora checked her watch again. "We'll take over the security centre; there should be a working FTL communicator there so we can contact Jack and the fleet and coordinate our attacks." She looked at Atak. The Jaffa was staring at Teal'c. Both nodded after a second. "Teal'c and Atak take the lead. Once we have taken the security centre, Sam, Entrapta, Daniel and Sha're guard it while we attack the rest of the base," Adora went on. "Everyone got that?"

"Yes," Sam said in unison with the others.

"Alright! Let's go!"

They followed Teal'c and Atak out of the room and quickly reached the security centre from which some smoke was still escaping. Despite that distraction, one Jaffa noticed them. His alert was cut down by Teal'c shooting him with a staff weapon, but the rest of the guards whirled and grabbed weapons.

It didn't do them any good, though - Adora charged ahead and smashed into them before they could form a line, continuing into the security centre.

Atak and Teal'c finished off the survivors before Sam could line up a shot. Adora had been more brutal than usual, Sam noticed as she stepped past the crushed and blown-up bodies. Sam did not doubt that Catra missing was the reason for that.

Inside the security centre, the smoke was on a nuisance level.

Adora finished the last guard as they entered and turned toward them. "Contact the fleet and Jack. Tell the fleet to initiate the attack so they strike in three minutes."

Sam didn't quite run, but she made sure to get to the comms first, then opened channels to the General and the Task Force.

She reminded her to stay professional when talking to the General and informed him of the plan before contacting the fleet.

Meanwhile, Entrapta had taken over the FTL scanners, and while Adora led the others out and Daniel and Sha're stood guard at the entrances, Sam watched the display of the system and Apophis's guard fleet while she mentally counted down.

Almost on the mark, the first wave of the frigates dropped out of hyperspace and immediately engaged the enemy. A few seconds later, the display was filled with emergency alerts and damage notices, followed by Ha'taks disappearing.

No surprise there - a Horde frigate outclassed a Ha'tak, and even with the frigates serving as troop transporters and their escorts hanging back, the task force significantly outnumbered the enemy. The outcome was never in doubt. One by one, the Goa'uld ships blew up or were crippled under the coordinated fire.

The two Ha'taks in orbit were no exception - the one in geostationary orbit over the base was literally shot to pieces that burnt up in the atmosphere while the remains of the one above the pole crashed into the main landmass of the planet.

And then the second wave, transporting the troops, moved in, entering the planet's orbit, shuttles detaching and heading down.

Sam didn't think they would arrive in time to contribute to the taking of the base. But they could secure it so Sam, Entrapta and Bow could start looking into what experiments the research station had been running - and figure out how to undo them and get Catra back.

*****​

Unknown Location, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Catra!"

Catra's ears twitched, and she drew back a little at the venom in Adora's voice. Her lover didn't show any relief at having found her - or any worry. "Ah… yes?" She managed to smile a little and started to raise her hand to wave. "It's…"

In the blink of an eye, Adora was in her face, one hand gripping her wrist like a vice.

"...me-OW!" Catra hissed through clenched teeth and resisted the urge to claw at Adora's arm. "Adora! What are you…"

"No more!" Adora buried her fist in Catra's stomach.

Eyes wide open, Catra coughed, almost folding around the blow. What the…?

"No more talking!"

The hand that had been holding her wrist now closed around her throat, preventing her from breathing. Catra gripped Adora's wrist with both hands but couldn't budge it.

"No more hurting!"

I don't know - I'm hurting badly right now. Catra would have laughed at her own thought if she'd had the breath for it.

"No more fighting!"

Don't claw her! Catra told herself as she struggled to loosen Adora's grip enough so she could breathe.

"It's over! You lost!"

No. Please. Adora… Catra moved her lips but couldn't talk. Couldn't get her throat free. Could only stare at Adora's furious - no, scornful - expression as she slowly started to fade.

And she couldn't help wondering if she deserved this.


*****​

When Catra woke up, her first reaction was surprise that she was still alive. Or was she? Then she felt the pain. Her throat, stomach and wrist hurt. Breathing hurt. She coughed, which hurt some more, and tried to breathe as softly as she could as she gingerly touched her throat with her good hand. Damn, Adora had really put the hurt on her.

She looked around. She was in a large room. In a force field inside a large room. And the style of the room…

"Bright Moon," she whispered, wincing at the pain.

She was in a cell in Bright Moon.

But how? And Adora… She had been wearing the wrong uniform. And… she had acted so… Was she in some alternate universe, as Sam and Entrapta had speculated about sometimes? Or… Had she somehow been transported back in time to the Horde War? And displaced to Etheria? Was that even possible?

Of course, it is possible! This was a First Ones research station. She scoffed at her own doubts, then clenched her teeth at the pain. Damn. If she wasn't dead - she still wouldn't rule that out - then she had come damn close. And at the hands of Adora. An Adora, at least. Not her Adora. Her Adora wouldn't do that to her. Not even if Catra deserved it.

She slowly got up, wincing at the pain in her lower body. Her fur would hide bruises, but she would still feel them. She hoped she wasn't bleeding internally. Though… If she had been taken prisoner, wouldn't Bright Moon's healers have looked her over? If only to ensure she didn't die before she was interrogated? Or judged?

But wouldn't they have fixed her throat, at least? She used her good hand to check her uniform. Of course, they had taken all the gear she'd been carrying. But they had left her the armoured uniform. Not that it would do any good against Adora.

She almost snorted but managed to control herself before she hurt her own throat some more. She was standing on a mattress. Just like she liked it - thin and solid, not like the fluffy pillows that Bright Moon's people called beds. But was that a kindness, or did her captors think it would be uncomfortable for her? Adora should know better than that, should she?

If this was a sign that her lover still cared about her… She smiled at the thought. Then frowned at her own foolishness. That expression on Adora's face… There had been no love. No care. No regret. Only judgement.

And Catra deserved to be judged. Especially if she was back in the Horde War. The things she had done…

The door sliding open interrupted her thoughts. She turned, clenching her teeth at the pain in her stomach and trying not to show it as she faced whoever had entered.

Adora. Or maybe She-Ra was more appropriate.

Catra swallowed - which hurt - as the other woman approached the force field. "Hey, Adora," she said without thinking.

She earned a glare and a deep scowl in return. "The Queen will see you. Don't even think of trying to escape."

She wasn't stupid. This might not be a dungeon, but the odds of escaping She-Ra here, and in her present state, were too low to risk it. If she was even going to try, of course. It wasn't as if she was innocent. And she had nothing to flee to - certainly not the Horde.

"The Queen? Glimmer?" Catra asked as Adora reached out and deactivated the force field.

"What? No. Queen Angella, of course!"

Oh, fuck!

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Enjoyed taking over the base, Carter?" Jack O'Neill grinned when he saw her enter the command centre, hiding his relief. Getting split up - unintentionally, even - was always bad. If Carter had gone missing… Well, she hadn't. But if she had, Jack would probably have reacted… badly.

"Sir." She nodded at him. Curtly. But he thought he caught a smile there. Good.

"Oh! This is a nice laboratory!" Entrapta said as she joined them. "Like Alpha! Did you standardise your research stations, Beta?""

The projection slightly turned. "Within reason. Depending on a station's purpose, customised equipment and layouts are required."

"Of course!" Entrapta nodded. "And this station was made to research interdimensional travel! How fascinating!"

"Yes." Beta barely nodded. "I hope that with the change of command, serious research can finally be resumed."

"Of course! We will do science to save Catra and the others!"

Jack winced. Entrapta's enthusiasm paired with Beta's attitude was a concerning combination. They'd have to keep an eye on them. Carter would be on the ball, though - he could trust her.

"Jack!" Daniel smiled at him. "Troops are landing and taking control of the base."
"I know, Daniel," Jack replied, nodding at the communication console. "I'm following the chatter."

"Oh, of course." Daniel looked a little sheepish for a moment. "You're going up, then?"

Jack hesitated a moment. He wanted to go up and handle the landings, but someone Beta accepted as its superior had to stay here. Just in case. "When Adora relieves me." On the other hand, Adora wasn't completely herself right now, with Catra missing. If the bot pushed the right buttons, things could turn bad as well. He'd have to trust Bow and Glimmer to handle her if that should be the case.

"Taweret." Sha're walked towards the force-field-thingie that kept the snake prisoner.

The snake glared at her. "Amaunet. You're working with the Tau'ri."

"No." Sha're's smile reminded Jack that she wasn't the sweet girl who had fallen for an awkward archaeologist on Abydos any more. "I am Sha're."

The snake bared her teeth. "That won't fool…" She trailed off as her eyes widened, glancing at the others in the room. "You're the host?"

Sha're nodded. "I am free once more."

The snake drew back a little before narrowing her eyes. "How? You would be… The Tok'ra!"

Jack pressed his lips together. That was the kind of information the snakes really shouldn't have. If Taweret escaped and told Apophis that they were working with the Tok'ra, that would complicate things. Although Taweret had also seen She-Ra in action and knew that she was a First One. Well, the snake wouldn't be allowed to escape anyway.

"Amaunet is still alive. If you wish to survive, you will cooperate," Sha're said. "If you kill your host, you will share their fate."

"The Tok'ra don't take prisoners - they kill us!"

Sha're shook her head. "You can see Aumanet yourself."

And now the snake would know that the Tok'ra weren't calling the shots in this alliance. Well, if it was to save the poor girl serving as the host of the snake, that was OK.

Jack ignored the small voice in the back of his head telling him that the host was apparently a true believer and might turn traitor on them. This wasn't how the Alliance did things.

"Can you modify the force fields so Taweret cannot hear us?" Carter asked.

"I can," Beta replied, then looked at Jack.

Right. Of course. Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, do that."

A moment later, the force field turned slightly opaque. "The prisoner cannot hear or observe us any more," the bot announced.

Beta could have done that before, Jack knew. And he was sure that the bot was smart enough to think of it - or suggest it, just as it had made suggestions before. So, why hadn't it done so? Was this a ploy to ensure Taweret knew too much to be allowed to live? Or some sort of twisted test to judge how smart they were? In case Beta had another option to take over the lab?

Whatever the answer, they couldn't trust the bot. Not too far, at least. It had an agenda.

"So…" Entrapta glanced up from where she had been staring at one of the holoprojectors serving as screens. "You have a projector that transports a target area into another dimension. And you can vary the size of the target area and deploy it within a long range - not enough to reach another planet in the system, but if this planet had a moon, you could reach it."

"That is correct," Beta said.

"And you have been using it as a weapon against ships and were researching a way to install it on a ship," Carter added.

"Yes."

"But you're struggling with the side-effects destabilising the ship itself as the dimensional breach weakens the fabric of reality." Entrapta nodded. "It's not much of a structural problem unless you dial up the power used, but it wrecks the crystal matrices controlling the portal - and most electronics. And since the target area is variable, you can't install fields to block that interference because the field projectors don't have that range."

"Yes." Jack wasn't sure, but Beta looked more attentive now. "You have experience with this technology."

"Well… kinda? I helped build an extradimensional portal. But it wasn't stable, so the first test run kinda almost destroyed the entire world." Entrapta looked a bit sheepish. "We haven't done much work in that area since that. It was deemed too dangerous."

"Until now." Beta smiled.

Jack frowned. He really didn't like that smile.

*****​

Apophis's Base, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"We've finished taking control of the base, Ma'am!"

"Thank you, Major." Adora nodded with a smile. Her smile slipped at the thought that if Catra were here, she'd make a comment that the base was already secure and the landing forces had just to walk into the base and reach the key locations. Depending on her mood, it would be a quiet whisper to Adora or a comment to the Major in charge of the troops - well, under Jack, of course; those were his people.

But since Catra was missing, Major Martin merely nodded again - Jack had drilled all his people to avoid saluting in the field even though anyone could pick out Adora as the leader here - and left for his command post.

That left Adora to check the reports from the task force. They had secured the planet's orbit and finished boarding the enemy ships that hadn't been destroyed outright in the battle. Fortunately, the Jaffa in the crippled ships hadn't managed to blow up their vessels to deny them to the Alliance, but as far as Adora could tell from the first reports, the reason for that success was that the task force's frigates had destroyed the main reactors of the ships in question at the same time the engines had been hit. That probably meant that repairing the ships wouldn't be cost-efficient unless the Alliance wanted a Ha'tak for a special operation. Operating Goa'uld ships would also strain logistics for no real gain, and if you refitted them with Alliance tech, you might as well just build a new ship.

But that wasn't important right now. The system was under Alliance control, as was the planet - not that there was anything to control except for the base and the research station, anyway. And the camp they were setting up for the freed slaves, though that would take a while.

Still, things were in hand. And communications had been restored as well, though as soon as they used the portal to get Catra back, their comms would be down again. Well, if they didn't figure out a way to shield their regular communicators from the effects of the projector, they would just have to replace them again.

Anyway, it was time to get Catra back. Or, Adora corrected herself, to start getting her back. She looked at the soldiers in the security centre. "I'm returning to the research station. Major Martins is in command."

"Yes, ma'am!"

She walked - even though she wanted to hurry, running would have sent the wrong message to the soldiers - to the transporter room and told the officer in charge there: "Take me to the research station."

"Yes, ma'am."

A moment later, she was back in the station and on the way to the command centre. She passed a set of guards - Campbel and Isa - and entered the room.

"Supreme Commander Adora, you've returned!" Beta addressed her. "Research Station Beta is at your disposal."

Adora frowned. The way everyone else was glaring at Beta before looking at her was a sure sign that something was wrong. "So… what's going on?" she asked.

"Beta insists on using people as test subjects!" Sam blurted out.

What? Hadn't Adora made it clear that they wouldn't use people for their experiments?

Beta nodded. "Without using appropriate test subjects, the odds of recovering your friend are significantly reduced. I've explained this, but your subordinates do not accept it."

"We can use bots as test subjects. And animals," Sam said.

"Neither bots nor animals are an adequate substitute. The experiment requires a sapient mind to align with the target dimension," Beta retorted.

"What?" Adora also stared at Beta. "But you've used it on ships!"

Beta nodded. "When used as a weapon system, such as against ships, recovering the targets afterwards, or ensuring that they were not destroyed in the process, wasn't a consideration. Unlike when transporting people."

"Doesn't sound as if recovering the 'test subjects' was a priority either," Jack commented.

"Not under the prior commander," Beta said.

"But why do you need a sapient target?" Entrapta asked. "Don't you just connect two dimensions? We didn't need anything like that when we created the Portal."

"And Mara transported an entire solar system to an alternate dimension," Adora pointed out.

"That is very impressive. Any data from her experiment would be critically important for our research here," Beta commented.

Adora shook her head. "All the data was destroyed in the process. Now explain why you need people as test subjects."

Beta hesitated a moment, and Adora narrowed her eyes. That was suspicious! Then Beta inclined her head. "The projector does not target alternate dimensions directly. It uses a different dimension to reach them. One that is very receptive to alterations caused by people's thoughts. Only sapient beings can be prepared for this."

"That makes no sense!" Sam objected. "Why would you set things up like this? We've checked the data - the computer controlling the projector is perfectly capable of selecting alternate dimensions. You don't need to go through this hypothetical transfer dimension."

"The First Ones who built this station set the parameters for the experiment," Beta replied. "I lack the authorisation to change them."

"Well, so Adora can change them, right?" Jack said.

Beta turned to look at Adora. "Doing so would render the goal of recovering your friend impossible since she went missing in the original target dimension."

"Oh." Entrapta blinked.

Adora clenched her teeth. She couldn't abandon Catra. But she couldn't sacrifice others to save her, either. What should she do? What could she do?

"Why did the First Ones pick that special dimension?" Bow asked.

Beta didn't answer him.

Adora frowned. "Answer the question, Beta."

"Very well." Beta almost seemed to sigh. "This research station was built to find an alternate way to ascend."

Adora blinked. What?

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Ascend?" Samantha Carter hadn't heard this term before - not in relation to alternate universes.

"What is that?" Adora asked a moment later.

"To ascend is to reach a higher plane of existence, leaving this universe behind. According to my data, ascension grants the subject undergoing it great knowledge and power and eternal life," Beta replied. "However, the process has strict requirements - mental, spiritual and evolutionary. And once ascended, the subject cannot interact or influence this universe ever again."

"That sounds like the kind of promise made by a cult leader - if there's no way to report back, no one can prove it's a scam," the General commented.

Sam had to agree - this seemed to be a rather questionable process.

"It doesn't sound very different from what several major religions on Earth proclaim," Entrapta pointed out.

"That's different," the General snapped.

"How so?" Entrapta asked. "Many of them seem to promise a life in paradise after death."

"The existence of Ascension has been proven, and the process has been observed many times - most of the Ancestors of the First Ones ascended," Beta said.

"If it exists and works, why do you need an alternative?" Daniel asked.

"Fulfilling the requirements is challenging, and the Ascension itself is a lengthy process," Beta told him. "My creators wished to facilitate it. Another goal was to find a way to reach the higher planes without eliminating the possibility of returning to this universe."

That sounded like the Ancients might have had doubts about the entire process despite Beta's claim that it was proven to work, in Sam's opinion.

"Well, according to one of Earth's religions, finding enlightenment is supposed to be a process that takes several lives," Daniel said. "And, err, this sounds like a similar process. There might be shared roots, actually, for the concepts."

The General snorted. "So, the First Ones didn't want to abandon all earthly desires to ascend, huh?"

"I cannot comment on my creator's goals except for what I was told," Beta replied.

"I'll take that as a 'yes', then."

"Jack!"

"I'm calling it like I'm seeing it."

Daniel shook his head at the General. "You can't just assume that the Ancients were like us - they had a vastly different and more advanced culture. You shouldn't project our own morals and way of thinking on them or you'll make incorrect assumptions."

"Didn't seem like they were too different from us," Glimmer commented.

"Well, technologically, they were far ahead of us," Entrapta said.

"We're talking about their morals," Glimmer retorted. "They were willing to destroy Etheria to beat Horde Prime."

That was something many humans would have done as well, Sam had to admit. Some would have done it just to deny the world to the enemy. But Daniel was also correct - they couldn't just treat the Ancients as humans with better technology.

"Did you send Catra to those 'higher planes of existence'?" Adora asked.

Sam glanced at her and winced - her friend looked like she wanted to break something. Maybe Beta.

"No," Beta replied, seemingly unaware of the tension. "The experiment is still in the early stages. The dimension focused upon shares some characteristics with the higher planes of existence, according to our data. Mainly, that sapient minds can easily influence and shape it when exposed to it."

Sam frowned. She couldn't help doubting this.

Bow asked: "Why would sapience be required for that?"

"Lesser life forms are ruled by instincts and emotions. In order to ascend, you have to overcome both," Beta said.

"That sounds like straight out of a self-help book," the General said.

"It has been verified through experimentation, General O'Neill," Beta told him.

"I wonder what kind of experimentation that was," he retorted.

"Do you wish to access the data?"

"Ah… maybe later." And now he looked sheepish.

But Sam understood the reaction - some of the Ancients' experiments were beyond the pale. And she still hadn't heard a good reason for not using animals as test subjects. "But even if you need sapient minds to influence the dimension, you could use animals to test the transporting process."

"They would not deliver any new data. In order to retrieve a test subject, the projector relies on finding them through the changes they effect in the dimension compared to the base parameters."

"You're using their effects on the environment to find them?" Bow asked. "Like, tracking their steps?"

"It's a crude approximation, but essentially, yes," Beta replied.

"Well, finding Catra shouldn't be hard then - she tends to leave a huge impact wherever she goes," Glimmer joked.

Adora didn't laugh, though. "What is the problem then? Why do you need more test subjects?"

"While we have managed to track such changes, we have not yet managed to find a test subject to recover. The current hypothesis is that the process of tracking them takes too long to lock on to them."

Entrapta cocked her head. "I think we need to see the data for that."

Sam nodded in agreement.

*****​

Unknown Location, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"You know, I'm not going to run," Catra commented, trying to sound far more confident than she felt, when Adora grabbed her upper arm and all but dragged her towards the throne room.

"Yeah, right."

Catra suppressed a wince at the cold tone. "It would be pointless, wouldn't it? With you here, surrounded by guards, in the middle of Bright Moon…"

"That never stopped you before!"

That was true. The stupid things Catra had done in the past… "I've changed," she replied.

Adora scoffed in return. "I know you. You won't ever change."

Catra pressed her lips together and tried not to show how that hurt. This wasn't her Adora. She had to remind herself of that. She was in some alternate dimension or whatever. Her Adora knew her. Loved her.

She tried to shrug while they turned a corner. "I changed my hairstyle."

Catra almost stumbled when Adora stopped walking and turned to look at her. "That doesn't change anything!" she spat before turning away and continuing on.

That's weird, Catra thought. Adora had acted as if she hadn't noticed Catra's hairstyle before. Of course, it was just a new hairstyle - and she had lost her Horde headgear, couldn't forget that - but still… Catra would have noticed any change in Adora right away. And had as soon as she had seen this Adora.

Maybe this Adora didn't care enough about Catra to pay attention to such details. That hurt a bit more.

Maybe she's not as obsessed with you as you are with her? Maybe she has finally realised how worthless you are? a voice that sounded like Shadow Weaver whispered in the back of her head.

Catra clenched her teeth and hissed under her breath. She wasn't worthless! And Adora wouldn't do that!

Adora snorted. "Realised you can't escape, huh?"

Catra pressed her lips together. Adora had misunderstood her reaction. But she wasn't about to correct her. "I realised that from the start," she replied.

Adora just sneered in return.

They reached their destination before Catra could think of anything else to say. The guards at the entrance stepped to the side and opened the doors, revealing the throne room, and Catra had to suppress another hiss.

Angella was sitting on her throne, Glimmer standing at her side, both wearing… full regalia, was the term, probably. A dozen guards lined the carpet leading to the throne. And most of the Princess Alliance seemed to be clustered on both sides of the throne. Bow, Perfuma, Mermista, Spinnerella, Netossa and Frosta, who was still a preteen brat. No Entrapta, though. No Scorpia, either, but that was to be expected. Yeah, this must be before the portal. So…

Catra froze as she spotted another figure there, back in the corner to the side, flanked by two guards.

Shadow Weaver.

"What's she doing here?" she hissed halfway to the throne.

"Silence!" Adora spat.

She wasn't going to stay silent! Not with that snake in the room! But Adora tightened her grip on Catra's upper arm and pulled her along.

As soon as they reached the throne, Adora pushed Catra ahead. "I've brought the prisoner!"

"Thank you!" Angella smiled at Adora before scowling at Catra. Like everyone else here.

Catra clenched her teeth and straightened. She couldn't lose her temper. Not here. She had weathered worse. Those weren't the princesses she knew, anyway. Unless this was the past, of course. She focused on Angella and bowed her head. "Your majesty."

"Catra."

Catra suppressed a wince at the icy tone. So much scorn in a single word! "Yes." She swallowed a quip about not wearing out her name. She had to be diplomatic. This wasn't her world. Not her Adora.

Angella sniffed and went on. "The leader of the Horde. The woman who commanded the invasions of our kingdoms. The fool who almost destroyed the entire world in her crazed lust for power!"

Catra flinched - she had done that. And more. She swallowed, then straightened again, She could man up to her past. "Yes."

"You admit it."

"No point in lying." Catra managed to shrug. "I know what I did."

"And you're proud of it!" Angella spat.

"What? No!" Catra shook her head. "I'm not proud of it."

"Liar."

Catra jerked - Shadow Weaver had spoken up. She had forgotten about the woman's presence for a moment.

"I know you," Shadow Weaver went on. "You're full of pride even if the only thing you've achieved is hurting people."

"You don't know me!" Catra spat.

"I raised you." Shadow Weaver glided forward. Even with the mask, Catra knew she was sneering at her. "I know you better than you know yourself. I know what a failure and disappointment you are."

"I'm not a failure!"

Catra only realised that she had taken a few steps towards the miserable old witch when Adora's hand closed around her arm again. It took all of Catra's self-control not to curse at Shadow Weaver. She was better than that.

"Enough. You've admitted your guilt. We will decide on your punishment." Angella nodded at Adora. "Please take her back to her cell."

Catra's eyes widened. That was far too quick! "Wait! I'm not the Catra you know!" she blurted out. "I'm from another dimension!"

Adora didn't stop dragging her away, but when Catra looked over her shoulder, she saw Angella gasp and stare at her.

"You've got the wrong Catra!"

Adora snorted at that. The entire Alliance present laughed. Except for Angella. The woman didn't say anything and just kept staring at her until the doors closed behind Catra and Adora.

*****​
 
Chapter 145: The Secret Base Part 5 New
Chapter 145: The Secret Base Part 5

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 29th, 2000 (Earth Time)


The more he heard about the Ancients, the less Jack O'Neill liked them. Well, it would be more honest to say that he liked them even less - he hadn't had a good opinion of them for a long time now. That some of their robots thought he was one of them didn't change that. Quite the contrary. Between their crazy experiments and dangerous tech thingies that they just kept lying around, it was a wonder that the Galaxy was still standing.

And he couldn't help feeling that Beta here was working on changing that. "So… if I remember correctly, the last time someone tinkered with a portal like that, they almost blew up reality, right?"

Judging by the looks from Carter and Daniel, his Columbo impression needed some work. Or it was because Entrapta cringed at his comment, he realised with a wince. He hadn't wanted to hurt her - criticising her, even when it was perfectly justified, made Jack feel like he shot Bambi's mom. Well, when she actually took his criticism to heart and didn't misunderstand it.

"Well, it's debatable how far the effect would have spread, but as far as Etheria in Despondos was concerned, reality would have been destroyed, yes," Entrapta said after a moment. "Though since that was an alternate dimension, it might have been contained." She blinked. "Actually, if we take the new data from Beta into account - though we still need to study it; we just got the synopsis from Beta, so to speak, even though I trust her - then this might not have been the end of reality but more a merging of the two dimensions and the aspects of the other dimension dominating Despondos's reality. Of course, that would require that we connected to the same or a similar dimension as the one Beta is targeting."

Jack almost snapped that experimenting further was too dangerous and they should destroy the lab. The only thing that held him back was knowing that Adora wouldn't abandon Catra. And suspecting that Beta would use that to influence Adora and sideline Jack. Also, taking risks to save a friend was not the same as risking the galaxy to become gods or whatever - he wasn't Daniel, but Jack knew what Ascension meant in that context. And Carter would probably never forgive him if he destroyed the lab here.

Still, someone had to point out the danger. "So, what are the odds that we get another such merge here?" Jack asked.

"We don't know if that happened back in Despondos!" Entrapta pointed out. "It's just a possibility. Of course, we did use a lot of First Ones tech there, which probably came from this lab, but we also used Horde tech, so we need to examine the data here and compare it to what data we have left from the Horde to tell!" She perked up. "Oh, we really need to get my science buddy here! He might remember more because it was his project at the start!"

Yeah, the clone of a warlord with a god complex is just the thing a laboratory where aliens planned to get an easy way to become gods is missing, Jack thought.

"Yes!" Adora nodded firmly.

"Indeed," Beta agreed. "Horde Prime displayed and deployed very impressive technology in the war against our people. It would be only fitting if that technology would be used to continue the experiments here."

So much for Jack's hope that the Ancient bot would make Adora and Entrapta mad by trying to oppose Hordak coming here. That would have made Adora distrust the bot, at least. "That might take a while," he said. "We shouldn't run experiments without him, then."

"We need time to review the data here anyway," Carter added.

He could see Adora biting her lower lip. She obviously didn't want to hear that but didn't want to object. Good. The last thing they needed was a crazy bot running experiments that could ruin reality itself. Jack liked his reality being real.

"Yes!" Entrpata nodded emphatically. "Let's start on that! Beta, can you point us to a data terminal with enough workspace?

"Yes. Please follow me." The projection turned and led them towards one of the doors in the back.

Jack looked at Bow, but the boy was already following them. Good. Jack trusted Carter, of course, but she could get caught up in her work sometimes. Another grounded tech head helping them wouldn't hurt.

"Don't worry - we'll get Catra back," Glimmer told Adora.

"Yes." Adora nodded, but her expression belied her words.

"We're like the Marines in that - we don't leave anyone behind," Jack added. And hoped he wasn't lying through his teeth.

Though he hoped even harder that the whole thing here wouldn't end in a catastrophe.

*****​

Captured Base, PU-9623, January 30th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Adora had to be patient. Rushing things would not help anyone - would even endanger everyone since they were working with dimensional portals. Entrapta and Sam were geniuses who knew what they were doing, but they needed time to study Beta's data before they could start the recovery operation.

Adora knew that. Knew that very well. But the longer they waited, the longer Catra was missing, the greater the danger was that something would happen to her. Something else. Something more dangerous than being transported into a weird dimension. They had to save her, as quickly as possible.

But she also knew that Beta had lost track of every test subject the bot had sent into the other dimension - and had lost track of Catra as well. Even if they were willing to risk it, they couldn't just start the recovery attempt. It wouldn't do any good.

And yet, waiting, unable to do anything for Catra, was unbearable.

Adora clenched her teeth. She should sleep - it was past midnight, at least according to Alliance Time on Earth, and Glimmer had already taken over Taweret's bedroom while the others, except for Bow, Entrapta and Sam, had found places to sleep themselves - but Adora knew she wouldn't be able to rest. Not with her lover missing. She had to keep busy until her friends finished - there was no time to lose. And she was She-Ra; she could handle an all-nighter.

Also, it wasn't as if there was nothing to do - as Supreme Commander of the Alliance, she always had paperwork to do. And thanks to the spy bot network, it followed her onto missions such as this as well - sometimes even in actual paper form when they used Stargates.

But having the work and doing the work were not the same. Leaning back in what apparently had been Taweret's office in her quarters, Adora sighed. Reading reports that were mostly updates of earlier reports, and generally confirmed the projections, wasn't helping much. Especially since the lack of scathing commentary reminded her of Catra's absence with every report she read.

There were several important - or more important - reports, of course, some concerning the latest fleet trials, but none of them required immediate action except for referring them to her staff for analysis. The British were making more progress, the Americans were still dealing with problems with their 'light battle carriers' - a designation for the design Adora didn't think would last much longer than its predecessor 'light multirole cruiser' - and the French were a bit behind because they were leading the shared European design for a frigate and just coordinating half a dozen requests and requirements apparently took a lot of time even if they were mostly copying the British designs.

Perhaps she should have insisted on launching more Horde frigates instead of everyone designing their own ships. But everyone wanted the ability and knowledge to build spaceships on their own, so…

A beep announced another E-Mail. She checked it - ah, the first formal after-action report from the task force had arrived. A bit of skimming later, she winced. She would have thought that any of the mistakes made in the first landing operation wouldn't be repeated, but she had been wrong. The need for more training, especially coordinating between different forces, was evident.

She wrote a quick memo and sent it to her staff to check, then went over the supply requests - just to check that nothing was being forgotten; Jack's people were handling that.

And as expected from Jack's force, everything was in order. Maybe she should check up on the news from Earth…

Or she could check on the prisoners. The Jaffa, as expected from the most loyal and fanatical of Apophis's forces, had usually fought until death, but there had been exceptions. Some were knocked out, but others had surrendered when facing her. Adora should see how they were doing.

But what were the odds that some of them would pray to her? Atak did, and the way a few of the prisoners had looked at her when they had been taken, Adora didn't think Atak was the only one mistaking her for a goddess here. Maybe she should sleep on that before meeting them.

Stifling a yawn, she started on the rest of the paperwork - mostly informative, non-crucial messages and memos. Like the food consumption reports - with the usual complaints about the MREs that made her roll her eyes; if those people had ever eaten Horde rations…

Another message interrupted her. Oh! It was from Sam - they had finished reviewing the data!

Adora jumped up and rushed toward the transporter room.

Catra, we're coming to save you!

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 30th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"You finished going over the data?"

Samantha Carter turned and looked at Adora - her friend had blurted her question out as soon as she had entered the main laboratory of Beta. "We have finished our preliminary review of the research data," Sam corrected her.

"Oh."

"Yes. But we already have a lot of ideas!" Entrapta added, nodding with a slight smile.

"Speculation," Beta said. "But well-reasoned speculation based on the analysis done. I cannot disprove the conclusions."

"It's fascinating data." Entrapta grimaced. "Although there are also a few concerning data points. Kinda."

"Concerning?" Adora's eyes widened as she approached them at a fast pace. "How concerning?"

She must not have been resting, Sam realised. Not that Sam could throw stones here - she had worked through herself, as had Entrapta and Bow, who had gone to personally wake up Glimmer.

"Well…" Entrapta started to say, wincing under Adora's stare.

They should wait for the others, in Sam's opinion, but with Adora in such a state… "We analysed the data of the past tracking attempts, and there might be outside interference," she explained.

Adora gasped before pressing her lips together for a moment. "Outside interference?"

"Yes," Beta said with a deep scowl. "They're interfering with the experiment!"

Sam rolled her eyes at the bot's apparent priorities. "The data indicates that tracking - albeit indirectly - works at the start, I mean, shortly after arrival at the destination. And there's no sign of the compiled tracking data deteriorating over time - while the original effects on the environment recorded by the station's sensors seem to fade in time, they are continually renewed and partially replaced."

"As predicted," Beta cut in. "Though due to outside interference, we lack the data to track long-term effects of sapient minds - where the effects can stabilise or even become self-sustaining is still in doubt."

"The data tracks until it stops and vanishes," Entrapta added. "And it always happens after about the same time has passed there - except for the first few attempts, where it took longer."

Adora didn't look reassured. "But you need a sapient mind to affect the dimension, right?"

"Yes." Beta firmly nodded.

Sam had her doubts that this was entirely correct, but this wasn't the time to discuss this. But Adora had raised another point or seemed to be about to. Best nip that in the bud. "We don't think that this means the people transported there die at that point," she said. "They disappear too quickly for environmental influence."

"And there's a spike right before the effect ends and starts to fade - a very distinct spike," Entrapta added. "One that looks almost identical in over a dozen cases. The pattern is clear and nearly identical, while the patterns generated by the test subjects often vary significantly."

"The most probable explanation is that someone is removing the people from the dimension we're tracking or from their location there," Sam took over again. Or, though she didn't say that, someone was hunting down new arrivals and killed them very quickly.

Even so, Adora looked grim. "Removing them - for what reason?"

"Perhaps they want to save them?" Entrapta's hopeful smile slowly died as Adora looked at her.

"We don't know yet. But barring some truly exotic environmental effect, we believe this is outside interference," Sam said.

"And it shows that recovering people from that dimension is possible." Entrapta was really trying to console their friend.

Adora slowly nodded. "Did that happen to Catra as well?"

"Yes. We've analysed the data from the attack, and while it's not as detailed as the other readings, it tracks as well," Entrapta said.

"I couldn't use the sensors to the best of their capabilities since I lacked the necessary preparation time for the experiment." Beta inclined her head. "The prior administration was not overly interested in proper documentation." Her tone made this sound like the worst of Taweret's crime, Sam noted.

"So, what can we do with this?" Adora asked. "How can we get Catra and the others back?"

Sam suppressed a wince at her friend's expression. Adora looked both hopeful and desperate.

"Now that we have identified the interference, we can plan to deal with it," Beta said.

"We haven't actually identified the interference," Entrapta pointed out. "We just know that something is interfering."

"And we need to recover the people who vanished from wherever they happened to be taken to," Sam reminded Beta.

"Yes, of course." Beta nodded. "But that will require dealing with the interference as well. I suggest sending an armed test subject next, to see if they can fend off the interference. Even if unsuccessful, the data should reveal if they can temporarily delay the interference."

"We're not using people as test subjects!" Adora snapped.

Beta looked puzzled, cocking her head to the side. "I was under the impression that volunteers would be acceptable. And from what I gathered, many of your followers would volunteer to help recover your consort, Adora."

Adora gaped. "That's… That's… I won't ask that of them!" she blurted out.

Beta looked confused. "Would you refuse their help to save your consort? Even if freely offered?"

"That's… why would they offer in the first place?" Adora asked.

"It's an obvious solution to the lack of test subjects," Beta replied.

Before Sam could think of what to say to that - and how to deal with her suspicion that Beta had been busy gathering as much information about Adora as possible - the others arrived, led by Glimmer.

"You finished going over the data?" Glimmer blurted out, mirroring Adora.

"I told you that!" Bow said behind her.

"We did," Sam told them.

"But we have a problem," Adora said. With a glance at Beta, she added: "A bunch of them."

*****​

Unknown Location, January 30th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Look, I'm not your Carta! I'm from another universe - or another dimension!"

A scoff answered her. "Really? That's the best you can come up with?"

"It's the truth!" she insisted.

"Is that why you cut your hair? To make us believe you?"

"My hair was cut by Horde Prime!" She shivered at the memory. Or not-memory - it was a bit hazy.

"Horde Prime?" Another scoff. "Making up Horde members now? It's not working."

"Horde Prime was Hordak's leader - his commander. He was the leader of the entire Horde. He had a fleet of spaceships and tried to destroy Etheria. In my universe."

"Really, Catra, this is just pathetic. Bad lies and a bad haircut won't save you from the consequences of your actions."

"Bad haircut? Adora - my Adora loves it!" She did! She knew it.

Laughter. They were almost back at her cell now. "It's ugly. And you claim 'your Adora' loves it? Is she a Horde Adora, huh?" The eyes narrowed into a glare. "Wait… Are you talking about your perfect world? The world for which you almost destroyed Etheria? That's pathetic, Catra."

"No!" She shook her head and clenched her teeth. She wasn't pathetic! "In my universe, things went differently. We defeated the Horde. Adora saved us all. She saved me!"

More scoffing followed. "Now you claim you fought the Horde? While still wearing their uniform? Catra, Catra, Catra… No one would be so foolish as to believe this. Just stop and show some dignity." Laughter briefly filled the hallway. "No lies will save you. No one will save you."

"Adora will," she spat. She would! "She loves me!"

Wide eyes stared at her before the surprised expression turned into a sneer. "No one loves you, Catra. You're a monster without a conscience. And you will be punished for what you did!"

She gasped at that. It wasn't true. It wasn't! Adora loved her! "I'm not your Catra!"

But they were at the cell, and she was pushed inside with enough force to send her stumbling into the marked area in the centre. She looked over her shoulder, turning, as the force field sprang up around her, to appeal to Adora again, but she only saw the back of her as Adora walked out the door, leaving her behind.


Sitting in a corner of her cell, Catra took a deep breath. She should sleep instead of running through this in her mind. This hadn't been her Adora. She had to remind her of that. Her Adora would have listened. Her Adora loved her. She knew it. Her Adora would do everything to save her.

Catra just had to wait until she did. And survive. And she would. She could take whatever this world threw at her. She would. She would…

Her ears twitched, and she turned - the door was opening. In the middle of the night? She suppressed a gasp as hope filled her. Adora? Had she reconsidered Catra's claims? "Hey…"

She trailed off, her forced smile vanishing. It wasn't Adora who entered. It was Angella. Alone, without guards. And staring at her with a cold expression.

Catra had weathered worse, though. Much worse. Like Shadow Weaver. Or… Whatever! She rose and cocked her head to the side. "Visiting prisoners in the middle of the night, Your Majesty?"

Angella didn't say a word. Instead, her mouth twisted into a slight sneer for a moment as she approached until she was standing directly before the force field.

Catra frowned, pressing her lips together, and raised her head to meet Angella's eyes. The queen was far too tall for Glimmer's mother. "Come to pass the sentence? I thought you would have wanted to do that in the Throne Room. Make a spectacle," she said as dismissively as she could. She wouldn't beg. "Maybe followed by a public execution?" she added in a mocking tone despite the fear making her stomach clench. If they killed her… Bright Moon doesn't kill their prisoners, she reminded herself. Not even this Bright Moon - not when they didn't have actual dungeons here, either.

Angella still didn't answer. The queen walked around the force field, and Catra turned her head to follow her. Her back itched when the queen was directly behind her, but Catra didn't move except turning her head. She had to stay calm. Collected. In control. Even though she wasn't.

Angella completed the full circle, facing her again, then scoffed and slightly shook her head. "How did you end up here?"

Catra almost said: 'You had Adora lock me up here. Did you forget already?' before she managed to hold her tongue. She frowned instead - something was odd here. Wrong. But she couldn't tell what. So, best play along. Shrugging, she said: "I was shot with some First Ones weapon that threw me into this dimension. By an alien."

"Fitting."

Catra shrugged again. "I got a bit too cocky. We've been rolling up their forces easily, too easily. Charged straight into their trap." Better her than Adora, though. But she would have to do better next time. She couldn't get sloppy.

"Typical." Angella sneered.

Catra suppressed a scowl. She was better than that - she wouldn't lose her temper at some petty comments. She had taken much worse from Shadow Weaver. "I blame hanging around with the Alliance for too long. It wouldn't have happened when I was still leading the Horde. But you know Adora - always charging in headfirst and making it work somehow. She's going to save me, by the way." She had to.

"Adora? Save you?" Angella sneered even more.

"Yes." Catra nodded and tried to show as much confidence as she could. "She saved me from Horde Prime before. You know her - she never abandons her friends."

"You? Her friend? Liar!" Angella spat. "You hurt her - you hurt all of us. You are no one's friend."

"That wasn't me!" Catra snarled. "I hurt my Adora, not yours. I'm not your Catra!"

"So you claim." Angella drew back with a haughty expression. "And yet… You are the same, aren't you?"

Catra narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"You said you hurt 'your Adora'. You did the same deeds, didn't you? You didn't deny it earlier, either, did you?"

Catra clenched her teeth. "That was in the past. I changed." She had. She really had. Even if Angella wouldn't believe her.

She frowned. Why was Angella here, alone, anyway? Why hadn't she taken Glimmer with her? Or Adora? Adora knew her - or the other Catra - best. She would have helped a lot with the interrogation. Why had the Queen of Bright Moon come to her cell at night, alone, like… Her eyes widened for a moment. "You are hiding something! From everyone! That's why you're here alone, at this time of the night!"

For a moment, Angella looked surprised. Then she straightened, and her lips twisted into a tight smile. "You are different. You aren't from here."

"I told you that," Catra spat. "I'm not your Catra!"

Angella's smile widened. "That still remains to be seen."

Catra stared at her. What? What did she mean? This was… She drew a sudden, sharp breath. It couldn't be! But the woman hadn't doubted her about the First Ones weapon… "You stepped into the portal, didn't you?" she whispered.

Angella flashed her teeth at her as she nodded.

Damn. Catra felt a shiver run down her spine as her fur bristled. If this Angella was the one from her universe, then Catra was the one responsible for sending her here. "But the others…" She trailed off. This Adora wasn't her Adora.

"They're native to this dimension," Angella replied. She narrowed her eyes. "But they have suffered at the Horde's hands as well."

Catra flinched at that. Yeah, she wasn't proud of what she had done in the past. And yet… She frowned. "But what happened to the Catra from this dimension?" Her eyes widened. "And what happened to the Angella from this dimension?"

"They're gone," Angella replied. "The entire Horde is gone. Only the memories of the war remain."

"Gone? You defeated them?" Catra leaned forward, almost touching the force field. Sure, the Horde had been in a bad spot after the portal, but they had recovered and almost beaten the Alliance. "How did you do that? What about Horde Prime?"

"Who?"

Damn! "Horde Prime. I told Adora about him - he's the one who created the Horde in his own image - Hordak is a clone of him. He destroyed the First Ones," Catra explained. "The portal alerted him to Despondos, and he invaded." Right after everything had gone to hell. Right after the Alliance had taken the Fright Zone. "He didn't arrive here?"

"No." Angella shook her head.

"So, you beat the Horde and the war was over? What happened to Scorpia and Entrapta?"

"The Horde is gone," Angella repeated herself in a flat voice. "Only the memories remain."

Catra flinched. That sounded bad. Really bad. "Did Adora…?" She trailed off. If this Adora had completely wiped out the Horde using her power... "What about the Heart of Etheria?"

"What is that?"

Catra tensed and wanted to curse some more. They hadn't dealt with it yet? "It's the First Ones superweapon meant to be used against Horde Prime. It would destroy Etheria when used - and it's controlled by She-Ra's sword. And it has been gathering magic power from the entire sector for a thousand years. If it's not stopped, it will destroy Etheria. It's activated when all of the Elemental Princesses connect to their runestones."

Angella looked as if she didn't believe her. "That's not a problem in this world."

"What? All it takes is the Princess of the Scorpion Kingdom connecting to the Black Garnet, and everything goes to pieces!" Catra blurted out.

"There is no such princess. The Scorpion Kingdom was destroyed by the Horde."

"You haven't restored it? But…" Right. 'Gone'. Scorpia was gone. But her family! "What did you do to the people? In the Horde? In the Fright Zone?" Catra asked.

"I told you - they're gone."

Catra found herself kneeling on the floor, staring at Angella. "You… you killed them all?" That was monstrous! How could they do this?

"They're gone," Angella said again. Catra could see her jaw muscles twitch as she clenched her teeth. "Only the memories of the war remain."

Catra shook her head, blinking. "No wonder this Adora's so different. She must be traumatised by this." Her Adora would have never done that. To kill so many people… She gasped. "Entrapta! What happened to her? She was on Beast Island, not in the Fright Zone!"

Angella frowned but didn't answer.

Catra blinked again to clear her eyes. They couldn't have wiped out the island if they didn't know about it, could they? "Beast Island! The place where the Horde banished the worst prisoners! Entrapta's there - and Micah!"

Angella recoiled as if Catra had struck her. "Micah's dead!" she yelled. "Killed by the Horde! Killed by you!"

"No! He's on Beast Island. Adora and the others found him there when they rescued Entrapta!" Catra retorted. "Send them there and look for Entrapta and Micah!"

"You lie!" Angella spat. "Micah's dead! You killed him!" She turned around and quickly walked to the door.

"They're on Beast Island!" Catra yelled after her. "Save them!"

Angella didn't answer and didn't look back.

*****​

Captured Base, PU-9623, January 30th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Jack O'Neill felt as if he was back at Stargate Command during a crisis. He was trying to keep busy while Carter worked desperately on alien technology to save the day. Only, he wasn't the leader of SG-1 any more, hovering around her lab and trying to ensure that she didn't work herself to death. He was a general in charge of Special Forces Command of the Alliance - and the second-in-command of the entire mission to this planet.

Of course, back in Stargate Command under General Hammond, he would have been in charge of the entire mission as leader of SG-1, but the mission here was a tiny bit bigger. SG-1 hadn't done any planetary invasions.

Well, it meant he didn't have to feel completely useless while he waited for Carter, Entrapta and Bow to find a way to get Catra and the 'Test Subjects' back from another dimension. He had to turn the fortress they had taken from Apophis's forces into an Alliance base that could protect the research station below it. At least until the Alliance found some other general to take over. Jack and his people were Special Forces, not garrison troopers.

Still, watching as combat engineers tore out the snake queen's luxury furnishings to install proper quarters and offices was satisfying. All the pomp and waste finally… "Hey!" he snapped. "Put that into the crate! No souvenir hunting!"

The soldier who had been about to palm a golden trinket flinched. "Yes, sir!"

"That goes for everyone!" Jack snapped. He had said that before! "Don't take anything here! First, you never know if it's trapped. Second, thanks to our magic scanner, we'll find out anyway, and then you'll be in trouble."

He turned around to watch the balcony for a moment and pretended not to hear the sounds of more trinkets being thrown into the closest crates. Soldiers were the same whatever their nationality or age. Send them into a palace, and they'll try to loot it.

After a bit, he turned back to watch them work again. Some idiot would still try to sneak something past the scanner, Jack was sure of it, but that was better than half the soldiers. He'd still feel better once all the gold stuff was safely stored on board a transport.

And, speaking of transports… He cocked his head when he heard the sound of a shuttle descending on the base, then quickly ran the numbers in his head. Yep, unless this was some unscheduled supply drop that no one had bothered to tell him about, this would be Hordak, ferried here by a frigate from the closest Stargate to help with the whole portal stuff.

Jack just hoped the clone wouldn't blow up the planet.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 30th, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Hello."

"Science buddy!"

Adora wasn't jealous - or envious, or whatever. She shouldn't feel bad watching Entrapta's face light up when Hordak entered the research station just because Catra was still missing.

But she did. She missed her lover. Dearly. And seeing others reunited with their loves didn't help. She reminded herself that Hordak was experienced with portals to other dimensions and should be able to deal with the problems they were having here and managed to smile somewhat honestly when she nodded at him. "Hello. Good to have you here." Neutral. Professional.

"I came as soon as I heard," Hordak said, nodding back.

"And we need you!" Entrapta said, voice slightly muffled since she was still hugging him, and her face was buried in his chest. "I missed you!"

"I see," Hordak said in a bland tone, but Adora could see he was blushing slightly.

"Fascinating." Beta had appeared, peering at the couple. "I was not aware that different species felt attracted to each other. Or that Horde clones actually felt attraction. None of the data we gathered during the war indicated any such inclinations."

Entrapta frowned as she released Hordak - somewhat; one hair tendril stayed wrapped around his waist - and turned to face Beta. "You didn't really gather enough data then! Once freed from their mental conditioning by Horde Prime and given enough time to grow, the clones are just like everyone else!" She blinked and cocked her head to the side, scrunching her nose. "Which should have been expected since Horde Prime was an Asgard, kind of."

Beta looked surprised for a moment. "But the Asgard have abandoned sexual reproduction long ago. Why would one of their offspring develop such instincts?"

"Well, Loki wanted to revert the damage the Asgard genetics had suffered, and so it makes sense that that also included the capability for sexual reproduction," Entrapta replied.

"I see." Beta nodded. "Although I think I should exchange data with Alpha to update my memory banks about the biological sciences. While not essential for my own research, biological aspects could play an important role in the project, and Alpha should have the most advanced data on the subject."

"Yeah, that's just what we need - a network of mad scientist bots," Jack muttered next to Adora.

She winced a little. Jack wasn't exactly wrong - Alpha and, apparently, Beta had some slightly worrisome tendencies when it came to their research. Loki, too, of course. But calling them mad scientists was a bit much. They were more like Entrapta - sometimes, they went too far in the pursuit of their research because they didn't consider all the consequences, but not maliciously so. Of course, they were a bit worse at weighing the consequences than Entrapa was, but that was a work in progress.

So… "We can do that once we have recovered everyone," Adora said.

"Right!" Entrapta nodded and turned back to Hordak. "I sent you our data. Did you find anything?"

"I went over it during transit - I could have done more if the vessel had had a dedicated laboratory," Hordak replied. "Unfortunately, despite his heritage, Horde Prime did not deign to add such a functionality to his fleet."

"Yeah." Entrapta nodded. "We should design a science vessel. Or maybe a science module we can add to a frigate - if we replace a shuttle with it, it should fit into a hangar bay. Oh! A science shuttle! Every ship could carry one if it were needed! Maybe we could make them specialist science shuttles, one type each for all the various fields!"

Adora cleared her throat. Case in point, as Mermista would say. "That sounds like a project for later," she said.

"Ah, right." Entrapta nodded. "Saving people first, then pushing science!"

"Yes." Adora nodded firmly - just in case Beta might disagree.

*****​

"...so I found no fundamental fault in your methodology and came to the same conclusion as you did after analysing your data: Someone is removing the test subjects faster than you're tracking them."

Samantha Carter nodded as Hordak finished his summary. Part of her was disappointed that Hordak hadn't found anything that would allow them to recover the missing people, but another part of her felt vindicated for not having overlooked a solution. "That leaves us with the problem of finding out where they have been taken," she said.

"Yes." He nodded. "And it is doubtful that not enhanced sensors and searching methods will be enough for that - we would have to search an entire dimension, potentially an alternate universe, for that."

"Light Hope managed to find and snatch Adora from our universe while Etheria was still in Despondos," Entrapta pointed out. "And we have all the technology she had access to, and then some more!"

"She did," Hordak conceded. "But she might not have been searching for Adora specifically but merely for anyone who matched her criteria."

"That still means she could search another universe for such an individual," Sam said.

"But we don't know what exactly she did to achieve that," Hordak retorted. "The data died with her. Although I consider it likely that she used She-Ra's magic to find her - She-Ra's power would have been seeking a worthy vessel, and as Mara's moving of Etheria to Despondos proves, She-Ra's power can cross dimensions."

"Well, we have Adora here!" Entrapta said.

"But she already has She-Ra's power," Sam retorted.

"Well, yes. And she can wield it." Entrapta beamed.

Oh. "You want her to use her power to track Catra?" Sam asked.

"Yes! If she restores magic to this world, she should have enough power to cause a portal into another dimension."

Sam bit her lower lip. That could work… or it could cause a lot of damage to the world - and to reality itself. But were there viable alternatives?

Sam couldn't think of one. "We'll have to be very careful with this," she said. "We'll only have one shot for this. We can't afford to miss."

Entrapta nodded emphatically. "Right! Let's gather more data, science buddies!"

*****​

Unknown Location, January 31st, 2000 (Earth Time)

A nice cell was still a cell. Catra was very aware of that. Most of the 'guest room' was cut off by the force fields, anyway. And from her spot, she could only see part of the sky outside - the angle to the window didn't allow her to see the walls or the ground. If she didn't know better, she would have assumed that this was by design, to prevent prisoners from gathering intel - or snipers to silence them.

But she knew it was mostly coincidence - she had asked Glimmer after the war was over. Bright Moon just wasn't really used to holding prisoners. Catra's Bright Moon and this Bright Moon seemed to share that.

Though this Bright Moon was far more ruthless than Catra's. All of the Horde, the entire Fright Zone, gone?

She shivered. It was almost ironic that she had thought Glimmer was ruthless and brutal compared to Angella. This Angella… She closed her eyes and leaned back against the force field. Was this Catra's Angella? She didn't know. But did it matter? This Angella had perfectly inserted herself into this world despite knowing that she wasn't their Angella - she had said she wasn't native to this dimension, unlike the others. Had she even told them? Or was she pretending to be their Angella?

Pretending to be someone's mother - or lover - without telling them that the real person was still missing… Who would do such a thing? Well, Double Trouble would, of course, that piece of scum would find it amusing, but who else would be able to do that? Just thinking about talking to this Adora, or kissing, or having sex, pretending to be their Catra made Catra feel sick. Angella couldn't be doing that, could she? She was supposed to be that great Queen, all noble and self-sacrificing, a bit too protective, and a bit too afraid of losing people, but to lie to this Adora, to this Glimmer, and pretend to be their Angella?

Catra shook her head. She couldn't believe it. But she couldn't believe the Angella she had heard so much about would wipe out the entire Fright Zone with everyone inside and be proud of it.

And this person was now deciding Catra's fate - and had made no secret of her hatred for Catra. Damn.

Even worse, if this Angella was lying to everyone else here, she wouldn't want Catra to reveal that both of them were from another dimension. Certainly not to Glimmer, her 'daughter'.

Catra clenched her teeth and couldn't help looking at the windows. If this Angella wanted to keep this secret, the best way would be to silence Catra permanently without giving her the chance to tell anyone. Was that why she had visited last night without anyone with her? If Catra hadn't mentioned Micah, would Angella have killed her?

Too many knew about Catra - the entire Princess Alliance - to disappear her, but if Angella could pass for this dimensions' queen, framing someone else for her death or arranging an accident or suicide wouldn't be difficult.

And Catra was helpless to stop her. She couldn't escape this force field - not even her claws would cut it. But the floor? She looked down, hesitated a moment, then pulled the thick carpet up and stared at the stone below. Marble. Her claws could cut it - a quick test confirmed it. Depending on how thick the floor was, she could escape. At least to the floor below. And she knew Bright Moon - once she was out of the cell, she could flee. Not even Adora would be able to catch her if she had enough of a lead.

And they would be looking for the Catra they knew - a person Catra wasn't any more. They would be working from all the wrong assumptions. Evading them would be child's play.

So she could escape. Unless there was another force field below the stone. Even so, if the floor was thick enough, she might be able to squeeze through between both force fields if she removed the stone - like digging a tunnel. That would take longer, of course. Something best left for the night.

Of course, the question was: Did she want to escape in the first place? That would make it harder for Adora - her Adora - and the others to find her. And kind of sour relations with this Bright Moon. If they just imprisoned her, Catra could stand it. She had been a prisoner before. And Adora and the others wouldn't take too long to find her. Probably.

They haven't found Angella in years, a small voice whispered in the back of her mind.

That was different! She told herself. They couldn't replicate the portal - but they had surely taken the base with the weapon that had hit Catra. Entrapta, Bow and Sam would be able to use that to find Catra.

She just had to wait. Survive and wait. She could do that.

But if Angella wanted her dead…

Catra clenched her teeth. She wasn't going to let herself be killed here. Certainly not so Angella could keep lying to everyone.

Maybe she should just risk it. Better safe than sorry? She had received breakfast a bit ago, so she wouldn't get lunch for a few more hours. Plenty of time to cut through the floor. In a pinch, she could cover a hole with the carpet. So…

The door opened, and Catra hastily dropped the edge of the carpet and stood up to face whoever was entering.

It was Angella. And… Micah and Entrapta! Angella must have rushed to the island right after leaving Catra to have made it back with them so quickly.

Catra wet her lips and drew a deep breath. "I told you they were alive and on Beast Island." Then she nodded at Micah and weakly smiled at Entrapta. "Hello."

All three glared at her, and Catra winced. That wasn't how her Micah and Entrapta would have reacted. "I guess you were right about the portal's danger," she told Entrapta.

Instead of agreeing - or sneering at her - this Entrapta looked confused. "What do you mean?"

That was… Something was wrong here. "You warned me not to open it," she said.

"I did?" Entrapta cocked her head to the side.

Catra clenched her teeth. "That was why you were sent to Beast Island," she said, her stomach twisting with guilt at the memory.

"But… I was banished to Beast Island because I tried to sabotage the portal."

That wasn't how it happened. But had that happened here? Had Entrapta gone further than in Catra's dimension? Were there other differences?

She glanced at Angella. How was Angella able to fool everyone else if there were more such differences?

The woman scowled and turned away. "Let's leave the prisoner. She will get her just punishment soon enough."

"I'm not your Catra!" Catra snapped. Should she accuse Angella of not being their Angella? Would Angella kill her with witnesses here?

She hesitated, and then the door closed, and she was alone again.

*****​
 
Interesting. Angella's been alive in this alternate dimension ever since disappearing and wasn't aware that it is actively drawing in more "nearby" sentients instead of just its local inhabitants. If it was patterned after Desperados during the portal incident it would make sense that it would have secrets Angella didn't know (Micah on Beast Island) but be strange that it is drawing in outsiders. If it wasn't patterned based on Desperados itself but by its original independent sentience's (Angella) beliefs then Micah should've been dead. So the dimension is probably still morphic, subtly changing to conform to sentient beliefs, has added multiple non-Desperados inhabitants who had no beliefs specific to the locale (making changes even more subtle), and now has Catra who has MANY Desperados specific beliefs that have been refined by so very many events in the place. This place is gonna start tripping up Angella's expectations so hard.
 
Chapter 146: The Secret Base Part 6 New
Chapter 146: The Secret Base Part 6

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, January 31st, 2000 (Earth Time)


Jack O'Neill liked watching Carter work. Especially if she was so focused, she forgot that she was being watched - in a way, the tension and complete focus on the task emphasised everything about her. It made her more… honest. There was no room for her polite, professional act. Just her and the task.

And she looks hot when she…

He pushed the utterly unprofessional voice away and ignored it. Carter was a fine officer, and both of them were members of the United States Air Force, anyway. Chain of command or not.

He leaned back against the wall in the main lab of Beta and watched Carter work on the laptop she had connected to the crystal array thingie. She was a faster typist than anyone else he knew. Well, except for Entrapta, but having magic hair that could use half a dozen keyboards at the same time, as she was demonstrating right now, was cheating, in Jack's opinion.

"OK! If we extrapolate the data gathered with this setting, then we should be able to narrow down the specific frequencies resonating with the background of the target dimension. And based on that, we should be able to detect frequencies that differ in crucial patterns from that," Entrapta announced.

Jack looked at Carter and raised his eyebrows.

"We will be able to detect people who aren't native to the target dimension, sir," Carter explained.

Jack nodded. He had suspected that - he wasn't a dumb marine; he was Air Force - but it was best to check.

"So, you'll be able to find Catra!" Adora leaned forward. She looked almost feverish - she hadn't really rested enough since this whole mess had started, in Jack's opinion. But good luck trying to tell her that when others - like Carter - were pushing all-nighters as well.

"In theory, yes. We still need to test it," Bow cut in. "It's not that easy."

"It would be easy if we were dealing with an actual parallel universe - the beginning of entropic cascade failure would give off specific radiation that we could detect," Carter added. "Although that's only if that theory about entropic cascade failure is actually correct. Of course, Beta's data supports that."

"Ancient records mention such cases, yes." Beta had popped up next to them, and Jack barely managed not to jerk. "That's why we were using a specific transfer dimension as a target. The fact that the dimension is influenced and even formed by sapient minds guarantees that you will not meet a dimensional analogue, reducing the risk of fatal consequences related to dimensional travel. Of course, that is merely for research; the actual value of travelling to such dimensions is debatable. There are no resources to be extracted or knowledge to be gained since everything depends on someone imagining it."

"Not a good spot to found new colonies, huh?" Jack asked.

"Exactly!" Beta smiled at him - he had to work on his sarcasm. "Nothing created in such a dimension could survive the return to our dimension - the central laws of nature work differently there. Even the simplest material gathered in such a place might suffer rapid entropic decay once introduced to a less metaphysically unstable universe."

"Is that the kind of decay that makes it crumble to dust or go critical?" Jack asked.

The way Carter, Entrapta and Bow blinked and glanced at each other wasn't very comforting.

"That's an excellent question." Beta nodded approvingly in that condescending way of hers. "We should find out."

"Only under the strictest security, of course," Carter added.

Entrpata nodded in agreement, but Jack still didn't trust the glint in her eyes.

"No blowing up the planet by mistake!" he told them with a frown.

"Of course not!" Beta frowned at him in return. "That would threaten the research station itself and all our work!"

"And kill us all," Jack added in a flat voice.

"And prevent us from saving Catra and the others!" Adora glared at everyone. Or she was trying not to fall asleep - it was hard to tell.

"Right!" Entrapta nodded. "We'll have to do that in space then - and on the other side of the planet so any exotic radiation generated by such a decay won't affect the base."

"But first, we need to test our new sensors," Carter said, bringing everyone back on course.

"Yes!" Once more, hair tentacles flew out, and keyboards started to sound like automatic weapons.

Jac slightly shook his head. Before he could make a comment - or tell Adora to catch some sleep - his communicator vibrated, indicating someone wanted to talk to him. "Work calls," he said, leaving the lab to check who thought they had a problem only he could with this time.

Some people really needed to show more initiative. As long as they weren't researching potentially planet-wrecking superweapons, of course.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 1st, 2000 (Earth Time)

Taweret glared at them when Adora had Beta depolarise the force field that kept her locked up. She should have done this earlier, but between ensuring that her friends had everything that they needed to get Catra back and sorting out a few issues with the occupation of the planet, there hadn't been time for that. And Taweret had been safe and comfortable, sort of, in her cell anyway - not as comfortable as she was used to, of course, or if she would have been held in Bright Moon, but it wasn't as if she was in a Horde cell.

"Hello, Taweret," she said with a nod and a smile. "Hello, Zahra," she added for the host the Goa'uld was controlling. "I am She-Ra, Princess of Power." She gestured at the others. Taweret had already met them, but she might not remember them. "You already know General O'Neill and Sha're. These are Queen Glimmer of Bright Moon and Dr Jackson. And Jakar and his host Mats."

Taweret nodded curtly after standing up from her cot - she was still shorter than Adora but a bit taller than Glimmer, Adora noted. She didn't miss that the Goa'uld ignored the Tok'ra, either.

"I'm sorry it took a while to get around to you, but we were kind of busy taking over your bases and dealing with your ships," she said.

"I hope they accounted themselves well," Taweret said with a toothy smile.

"Not really," Jack drawled. "Paperwork was more challenging than your guards."

The Goa'uld sneered. "Apophis assured me that he sent his best warriors with me."

"Well, if they were his best, this would be a short war," Jack replied.

"You defeated one fleet of his. He has more. Many more," Taweret retorted. "More than enough to destroy the Tau'ri and your new allies."

"Ah." Daniel raised his finger. "That's a bold statement, but since you don't know how many forces our Alliance can field, it's just a boast."

The Goa'uld glared at him. "The Goa'uld Empire rules the galaxy, and Apophis is the most powerful of the System Lords. No force can stand against him. Certainly not the Tok'ra, who only survived by hiding in the shadows for millennia."

That sounded like empty bravado to Adora - the galaxy was far too large to be ruled by the Goa'uld. And Apophis wasn't the most powerful of the Goa'uld any more.

"And yet, you never dared to intrude into Horde Prime's territory - or challenge the Asgard," Sha're said.

Taweret tensed, glaring at her, then raised her chin and scoffed. "If either of those powers were allied with you, where are they? Do you expect me to believe that they would let their clients deal with me?"

"We might need to get a bigger cell for her ego," Jack muttered next to Adora.

She chuckled at that while she pushed the button on her communicator. "Hordak?"

A moment later, Hordak walked into the hallway facing Taweret's cell, and the Goa'uld queen recoiled, gaping.

She recovered quickly, though. "That's not Horde Prime."

"You are correct," Hordak told her. "I am Hordak. The first of his clones to gain my freedom."

"So, you're a deserter." Taweret laughed, though it sounded a bit forced. "What will you do once Horde Prime finds you?"

"Horde Prime is dead. I killed him," Adora told her.

"An empty boast!" Taweret retorted with a sneer. "This is a farce! Will you claim to be a Gate Builder next?"

"It is the truth," Adora said. "Horde Prime attacked our home and we defeated him - and freed his clones from his control. They joined our alliance."

"You expect me to believe that?"

"Actually, no," Jack said with a grin. "We don't. But it makes telling you the truth more fun."

Adora resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him. "We want you to understand your situation. And your options."

Taweret narrowed her eyes. "You need my help. That's why you are doing this… production! To impress and fool me!"

"We don't actually need your help," Adora said. "Beta already told us that you don't know anything useful about the experiments here."

"But you want my knowledge of Apophis's court and his plans!" Taweret scoffed. "You expect me to betray him because of such a transparent lie!"

"We expect you to betray him to save your own skin," Jack told her. "Or because you want to usurp him. Or just because. You're a Goa'uld."

"Cooperation is your only chance of survival," Jakar spoke up using his Goa'uld voice, and Taweret flinched. "If you kill your host, you die. If you let yourself be removed from her without killing her, you'll live."

"Traitor!" Taweret hissed in return. "I know what you do to those you capture."

"We would like to mete out the punishment you deserve, but our allies do not condone that," Jakar replied with a glance at Adora.

She nodded. "Yes. We don't kill prisoners. Cooperate, release your host, and we will guarantee your life."

"You will meet Amaunet and the other Goa'uld prisoners who can confirm this," Sha're told her.

Adora tensed. If Taweret decided to kill her host… They could stun her, of course. If they were quick enough, they could keep her sedated until the Tok'ra could remove her. But it was dangerous. It was better to persuade her to cooperate.

"You made a lot of fantastic claims. Who are you?" Taweret was sneering again.

"I told you already - I am She-Ra, Princess of Power."

"And I'm Glimmer, Queen of Bright Moon. We represent the Princess Alliance of Etheria."

"That means nothing!"

"We defeated Horde Prime. We freed his clones. And we're restoring magic to the galaxy," Adora said.

Taweret gasped at the last part. Oh - of course! She was old enough to remember the time before the First Ones stole the magic from the sector for the Heart of Etheria.

Adora smiled at her. "We did that to Saqqara. You probably noticed that." Well, they had been forced to, as a last resort, but she didn't need to know that.

Taweret stared at her. "An empty boast!" she spat - but it sounded hollow.

*****​

"Hordak! You're back! How was the talk with Taweret?"

Samantha Carter looked up at Entrapta's comment. Indeed, Hordak had returned.

"It went as expected. Without proof, Taweret did not believe our claims - or professed such doubt, at least. Although since she seemed unsettled at the end, I believe we had a conditional success," he replied. "Whether it was worth my absence from our work, time will tell."

Sam swallowed a comment about self-importance; Hordak had been absent for less than an hour, and while he was a great scientist, even double that time wouldn't make much of a difference, if any at all, in their search for a way to save Catra and the other missing people. They had to take longer breaks to eat and sleep, after all.

But provoking an argument would be wasting time and creating friction; Hordak was quite prickly. Not as bad as some of Sam's colleagues from Earth, but he wouldn't shrug off such a comment as easily as Entrapta or Bow.

So she focused back on her sensor analysis while Hordak returned to studying the remote projector's focusing crystals with Entrapta. Their last experiment had proven that their idea could work, but they needed to refine their approach to get the details needed to actually track non-natives in the other dimension by the changes they caused. And improving the sensors to that point not only required improved computing power, which they had acquired by linking advanced machines from the lab and the fleet above, but also better algorithms.

And coding those, especially so they could run on a hodgepodge of different operating systems, was a challenge. Even for someone like Sam, who had a lot of experience linking First Ones, Horde and Earth technology thanks to her research with Entrapta.

A challenge she would beat, Sam reminded herself as she adjusted her code a bit more, then ran another test on the raw sensor data. If only she had a way to make the computers copy her own thoughts… She blinked. Maybe she needed a break if she was thinking about things like that.

The test would run a few minutes, anyway, producing thousands of individual analyses and compiling them into one data set so she wouldn't waste time either way. "I'll be right back," she announced before leaving the room.

When she entered the secondary control room serving as a break room, the huge holoscreen there was showing a comedy from Earth - Entrapta had linked it to the spy bot network so they could get a feed from Earth. The lag was bad, but that didn't matter when you were merely watching media instead of communicating.

Sam used the remote on the table - like the rest of the furniture, it was from the expeditionary force meant for a field headquarters and looked a little out of place in the room - to switch channels. No one else was present, and she preferred the news over some sappy Hollywood movie. Especially if it was a sappy Hollywood movie featuring a scientist in too-tight clothes flirting with a dashing military officer and a plot with holes large enough to fly a frigate through. At least there was no love triangle with an alien this time.

"...and despite the mounting pressure for transparency, Alliance Command insists that they cannot reveal the files from Stargate Command for military reasons. So, fact-checking claims remains a challenge, which is why we have invited two experts to the studio to discuss this."

Sam closed her eyes and sighed. She was tempted to switch channels again, but it would be useful to keep up with Stargate Command's media reputation in the public. Getting blindsided once by rumours about a - completely fictional, thank you - near-catastrophe featuring black hole research had been bad enough.

So she sipped coffee and nibbled on a pastry while watching two 'experts' discussing her former team.

"...and while there was a civilian on the team, that doesn't change the fact that it was a military team, led by an officer, and part of a military operation. That will have coloured their interaction with the galaxy at large. A civilian team would have reacted quite differently to alien cultures."

"But that is understandable since we were already at war with the Goa'uld. You have to consider military necessity in such a situation."

"The war was started by a clandestine program of the United States Air Force, funded from black accounts, without more than perfunctory oversight, and focused on developing advanced alien superweapons."

"To defend Earth."

"If it had been about defending Earth, Stargate Command would have recruited the best and brightest scientists for their research, regardless of their nationality. But they stuck to the military instead."

"Samantha Carter is amongst the world's foremost physicians."

"And a Major in the Air Force. That has far more weight than…"


Sam sighed. In a way, it was ironic that after years of having to struggle against the perception that she owed her commission to her scientific expertise and wasn't a 'real officer' despite having more combat experience than most of her peers, now people were using her military rank to disparage her scientific credentials. Although it was hardly surprising - some of her colleagues in the field had massive yet very vulnerable egos and would latch onto any excuse for their lack of success in research. At least the experts hadn't claimed that she had slept her way to the top here.

"...and rumours of her close relationship to Princess Entrapta remain in light of Etheria's known stance on such things and…"

Sam clenched her teeth. That should teach her to taunt Murphy. She shook her head and left the room. The test should be finished by now, and if the results matched projections, they should be ready for another experiment soon.

*****​

Unknown Location, February 1st, 2000 (Earth Time)

Catra eyed the door and held her breath, ears twisting. She couldn't hear anything or anyone outside. Of course, the doors were thick - she knew that from her Bright Moon - and so that didn't mean the coast was actually clear.

She clenched her teeth. She couldn't wait any longer. This Bright Moon was too different, this Angella too messed up and dangerous, for Catra to risk waiting any longer in the hope that her friends would find and save her. At any moment, Angella could decide that Catra had to die. Either for her past crimes or to keep her from telling everyone that Angella was not this dimension's Angella. Or both.

Catra had to save herself.

She resisted the urge to look once more for hidden cameras observing her - she couldn't do anything about them, anyway - and lifted the carpet, revealing the lightly scratched stone floor below. "Here goes nothing…" she whispered as she unsheathed her claws, then slashed down.

It took a bit more swipes and slashes to cut through the stone than she had expected, but it was fast work, and she soon had the stone cut and broken into pieces she could easily lift out of the growing hole.

And then her claws cut through stone and found nothing - not a force field painfully stopping her swipe, but empty air. She grinned, dug the claws of one hand into the stone and cut around it with her other hand, then lifted with a grunt.

A hole. Not yet large enough to fit through, but she could see the floor below her in the soft light of the moons that shone through the windows. Perfect! Now she just had to…

Her ears twitched as she not only heard a waterfall but also breathing, and her eyes widened. That wasn't an empty room below - someone was sleeping there! Damn! In her Bright Moon, those rooms weren't occupied!

She dropped the stone on the floor of her cell, next to the other pieces - no sense in trying to hide them - and quickly enlarged the hole by cutting off another piece. She could squeeze through now, though it would be a tight fit. Better widen it some more.

Then she was done. Taking a deep breath, she laid down on the floor, frowning at the dust covering the carpet and getting into her fur, and pushed her head through the hole to take a peek.

There, at the wall, was the waterfall she had heard. There was also a big window facing East, a balcony to the south, vanity and armoires, a half-open door leading to a huge bathroom, and a massive canopy bed in the off-centre that looked vaguely familiar. This was a guest room, and a first-class one.

She held her breath and looked around for a sword. If this was Adora's room… No. No sword. But she saw a trident peeking out from under the bed and had to swallow a curse.

This was Mermista's room! She cocked her head and eyed the bed, whose occupant was hidden by the curtains. She didn't hear two breaths and saw no clothing strewn around the room, so Mermista hadn't been busy with Sea Hawk and was now exhausted and sleeping deeply.

Well, that wouldn't stop Catra. She could sneak past an alert awake Mermista; a sleeping one was child's play. Baring her teeth, she pushed headfirst through the hole and dug her claws into the ceiling below before swinging through and letting go, landing on all fours on the thick carpet in the middle of the room with barely a sound.

Perfect!

She grinned as she moved past the bed towards the balcony. She could easily climb down from there to the yard below - she knew that from experience. It was a little hard on the wall there, but Catra didn't give a damn about this Bright Moon's appearance.

She brushed the curtain half-covering the door to the balcony aside and slipped out, peering down at the yard. Yeah, she recognised the location. From here, she could easily slip out of the palace, and then she had multiple routes to the fields surrounding the town. If she went all-out, she could reach the whispering forest before the sun rose and anyone would notice her absence. So, she just…

Something was moving down there! Hissing under her breath, she moved back and ducked, waiting for an alarm to be raised, ready to scramble down the wall and fight her way out.

But instead of yelling, she heard a grunt, followed by something flying over the balcony's railing and hitting the floor next to her with a thud.

A grappling hook? She stared at it, blinking, while it was pulled back, then got hooked over the railing. Who would…? She closed her eyes and stifled a groan when she realised who would scale the wall like this.

"Oh, my love, I'm coming!"

Yeah, the whisper confirmed it. Sea Hawk was visiting Mermista at night. Judging by the slightly slurred words, he probably carried a rose between his teeth.

Catra glanced back. She could hide - perhaps under the bed - and just let him and Mermista get it on, then sneak out and climb down. But if either Sea Hawk or Mermista spotted the hole in the ceiling…

And hiding under a bed while two people had sex on it wasn't exactly how Catra wanted to spend her time, either. Not with her sensitive ears and nose.

Screw it! She moved back, then dashed behind the curtain at the door, her back to the wall, and peered through the small gap facing the doorframe.

"Oh, my dear Mermista! Your love is coming!"

Catra saw a hand grip the railing and heard a grunt. Then Sea Hawk pulled himself up and swung his legs over it. And he really was holding a rose between his teeth! Catra resisted the urge to shake her head and held her breath while he straightened, then walked into the room.

Now!

As soon as he was past her, she slipped out behind his back, vanishing around the corner.

"My Love! I've climbed mountains to reach you!"

"Ugh… What the…? You're late!"

Catra shook her head and ignored the couple's greeting as she gripped the rope dangling from the grappling hook and started to climb down. At least they seemed distracted, so she would…

"Look at the ceiling! Sea Hawk!"

"My love!"

"Not that - the ceiling! Someone broke into the room! That's… the prisoner! She escaped!"

Damn! Catra clenched her teeth and dropped the rest of the way down, then started to run.

Catra's Mermista was loud enough 'to be heard through a hurricane', as Sea Hawk had once described it at an Alliance dinner, and this Mermista was no exception. Catra knew the palace guards would be on alert in moments. Her original escape plan would need to be adjusted - she couldn't count on sneaking out into the town. Not with the palace lighting up as guards - and soon princesses - started looking for her.

She changed course and headed to the corner of the yard, running straight at the wall to the outer part of the palace, dropping down to all fours to pick up speed. One, two… She launched herself into the air and hit the upper part of the wall with her claws extended, shredding the surface as she scrambled the last few yards up.

She slid over its top, trying to flatten herself to minimise her silhouette to anyone looking her way, and dropped down on the other side. She tore up the lawn as she landed, but that couldn't be helped. Though she could use that to lay a false track.

She tore off, claws ripping chunks of earth and grass, towards the gate to the side, but changed direction as soon as she hit the stone-plated path that led through this ornamental yard. Let the guards think she still wanted to escape to the town.

But her real destination was the back of the palace. She moved a bit slower, without her claws granting her traction at high speed, and vanished between two rows of bushes with fancy flowers, then ducked under a fence and dashed past an empty stable - had this Glimmer also had a pony in the palace once? It seemed like it.

And the original Angella hadn't skimped on pasture for the poor pony either - the fence reached all the way to the outer wall of the palace. It was high enough to shield the entire princess playground from view and would do the same for Catra now.

Until she went over it, of course. She could scale it easily using her claws, but if anyone spotted the traces that would leave before she could get away from the palace, she would likely be caught halfway down the cliff on the other side…

She should have taken Sea Hawk's grappling hook and rope with her. Hissing at her mistake, she eyed the wall, then the tree next to it. It had been carefully trimmed by the palace gardener into a decoration, but it was still tall enough to reach halfway to the wall's top. It would have to do.

And while climbing the tree, she would be covered from view by the foliage. She quickly went up, weaving around the many branches, until she reached the top, which was slightly swaying under her weight.

Glancing back, she could see the palace fully alert - all the lights were on, and she could hear more shouting and yelling and see movement behind windows. Yeah, operation 'Catch the Cat' was in full swing.

But Catra hadn't almost beaten the entire Alliance through dumb luck. Scoffing, she shifted her weight, causing the treetop to sway even more. Back and forth, back and forth, back and… She jumped, holding her breath, reaching out as she stretched her body. Her fingertips clamped down on the edge of the top of the wall, and she clenched her teeth as she resisted the urge to unsheathe her claws and get a better grip.

Instead, she pulled herself up, shifting grips to find better purchase on top, and swung her legs over the wall, followed by her body until she was hanging by her fingertips on the other side - straight above the cliff overlooking Bright Moon's lake.

Exactly where she wanted to be right now, she reminded herself. If not for long.

On this side, she had no choice and had to use her claws to descend; the wall ended where the cliff began, and there was no ledge to drop down on. If she fell, she would bounce off the cliff a few times until she hit the water at terminal velocity, as Entrapta would say.

She wouldn't fall. Digging her claws into the wall, she let go of the top and started her descent.

She clenched her teeth at the sound her claws made as they slowed her down until she hit the base of the wall. If anyone heard that… But she was committed now.

The cliff itself was steep but far from smooth, so she had to start climbing down instead of sliding. That slowed her down some. She still made a good pace - thanks to her claws, she could make her own hand- and footholds.

But when she was still halfway to the ground below, she heard a familiar and thoroughly unwelcome sound: Flapping wings. Large wings. A quick glance around confirmed her fear: Adora was riding Swift Wind - and headed to the cliff.

Catra looked down. She was still too far up to risk jumping into the water below her. Going up was out of the question. And she was too exposed on the cliff to hide.

Damn.

Maybe if she hid herself in a crook in the cliff, Adora might miss her in the dim moonlight. But where was such a spot? Pressed against the stone, Catra had trouble seeing a good hiding spot. And if she moved, she would draw more attention to herself.

She muttered another curse. Move and hope to find a hiding spot before Adora found her? Or stay still and hope Adora missed her in the middle of the cliff? No, this Adora wasn't her Adora, but she was likely as stubborn - or more so.

Catra slowed down a little bit, though, and tried to keep an eye on Adora. If she moved smoothly and not too quickly, and timed her faster movement to the moments when Adora wasn't looking in her direction, she might escape notice.

Adora swept past her - and above her. She was starting her search from the top, then. Not the bottom, to cut off any escape. Did she know Catra hadn't had time to reach the bottom yet? Or was that because Adora wanted to be able to swoop down once she found Catra instead of having to climb up?

It didn't matter why, just that she did. Catra clenched her teeth and kept climbing down. There! That might be a hiding spot - a small gap between a protruding rock and another, just large enough for her to fit in.

Baring her fangs in a grim smile, Catra started making her way to the spot. A glance up confirmed that Adora, while closing in, was still about two passes away from her height. That should be enough time to slip around the rock in the way and hide.

She held her breath as she waited, in the barely-there shadow of the rock, for Adora to pass above her. Almost. Almost. Now! Swift Wind swept past, and Catra pushed off, claws digging into the hard rock as she traversed the rock as fast as she could. She only had a second or two… She panted for breath when she slid into the narrow gap, pressing herself against the stone. Now she had to wait until Adora passed this spot, then wait some more until they finished here and went away to search the stables or something. Then Catra could finish her descent and disappear into the forest below.

Her ears twitched - Swift Wind was approaching. Catra resisted the sudden urge to turn and face the rock, not looking until she heard the flying horse pull away. She had to see what was happening. She wouldn't cower like that.

So she watched Adora fly towards her. It wasn't her Adora, but it was a beautiful sight anyway - Adora's outfit shone in the moonlight. Almost ethereal. Even Swiftwind didn't distract from it - his white fur and wings caught the light as well.

Then the two were past, and Catra sighed with relief. That was… She froze. Adora was turning early - and coming back. Had she…?

She must have - she was coming straight at Catra! Damn. Catra looked around. Still too high to jump. Hell, she was so high, if she jumped, Adora could easily catch her before she hit the… Catra's eyes widened. It was a foolish idea. Stupid. But… even if this Adora wasn't her Adora, she couldn't be completely different from her Adora, could she? Not if things had happened more or less like in Catra's dimension.

It was the best shot she had. If she was recaptured, she would be put in a cell from which she couldn't escape. Or killed.

So she pushed herself out of the gap, only holding on to the rock with one foot and one hand, and turned to face Adora. Familiar eyes widened with surprise before they narrowed again.

Smiling, Catra closed her eyes and jumped.

"CATRA!"

She didn't open her eyes and let her body go limp as she fell, the wind tearing at her as she picked up speed. If she had misjudged this Adora…

"CATRA!"

Closer. And she sounded a bit concerned. Catra's smile widened a little, though she kept her eyes squeezed shut. Yes!

Then, an arm wrapped around her waist, fingers digging into her side, and she was pulled into Adora's side. A moment later, her stomach lurched as Swift Wind started to pull out of his dive.

"You idiot!" she heard Adora yell as they slowed down and levelled out. "Trying to kill herself?"

"Without wings, you cannot fly," Swift Wind commented.

And now they were above the lake at the foot of the cliff. Far above it - but not so far that a fall would be fatal.

Catra twisted in Adora's grip, turning her head to face her. "I'm sorry about this," she said, smiling.

Adora's expression darkened. "Oh, you will be…"

Catra wriggled - her arms were caught by Adora, but she was flexible, and Adora was so close… She twisted, then leaned forward and cut Adora off with a kiss.

And when Adora froze, gasping with shock and surprise, her grip loosening, Catra bent her knees, brought her feet up, and jumped out of her grip, diving for the lake below.

This time, Adora wasn't quick enough to catch her before she hit the water.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 2nd, 2000 (Earth Time)

"...and while the actions of SG-1 are undoubtedly heroic, one has to consider the situation during which they were taken: They were active during a war that only started because the United States government tampered with an alien relic in secret."

"I'm not sure it's 'heroic' to visit another planet with a group of soldiers and a nuclear bomb in tow and then blow up the government there when they take exception to that, Jim."

"It was an expedition to another planet - of course, they had to be prepared for the worst. Matter of fact, the worst case happened, and they dealt with it, Frank!"

"And they weren't all soldiers - Dr Jackson was with them."

"He was in uniform!"

"But he's a civilian!"

"That's a technicality. He looked the same as the soldiers. And during his time with SG-1, he was armed and fighting like any other member of SG-1."

"But he was still a civilian!"

"As much a civilian as any other private military contractor!"


Jack O'Neill turned to Daniel, who was staring at the screen with his mouth hanging open. "Did they just call you a mercenary?"

"They… they did! But that's preposterous! I am a consultant!" Daniel shook his head. "A scientist!"

Jack grinned. "Well, you have taken part in pretty much every battle we've been involved in. And you did get combat pay, didn't you?"

"I didn't get combat pay!" Daniel protested. "That's reserved for members of the Armed Forces. My recompensation was just adjusted for hazardous duties."

"Potato, potato," Jack retorted, still grinning. "The media thinks you were a mercenary."

"That's not the media! That's just the most extreme bunch of pundits they could throw together for a cheap rating boost!" Daniel shook his head. "Why are we watching this.. this sensationalist drivel?"

"Because Carter wanted to know what people back on Earth were saying about us," Jack replied as he grabbed another soda from the cooler they had installed in Beta's new break room. Not that Daniel was wrong - this talk show was more 'Jerry Springer' than anything else.

"...and all that still doesn't make SG-1 any less heroic! They've saved Earth from alien invasions long before the princesses arrived, Robert!"

"As part of the United States Armed Forces! They aren't some… some superhero team operating outside the law!"

"Stargate Command was operating outside the law!"

"It was not! The operation was covered by regulations."

"Regulations that obviously need heavy revisions!"

"You want to hamstring our military in the middle of a war?"

"Accountability for the military is most needed in the middle of a war! That's when rules and laws are in danger of being ignored in the name of expediency!"


Jack nodded. The guy was a genuine frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic, but he was right about that. Pretty much only about that, though. At least, even here, the majority of the 'experts' seemed to have a pretty positive view of SG-1, so…

"Or in the name of love. We've all heard the rumours about what SG-1 did when operating on alien planets."

"Oh, yes."

"Are you serious? We are talking about Stargate Command, not a Hollywood romance!"

"Dr Jackson brought a war bride home from the very first mission!"


Scratch that thought! Jack pressed his lips together. He glanced at his friend. Daniel was glaring at the screen. Probably not a good time to ask whether Sha're got a green card yet through their marriage. Though Jack better checked up on that before some bureaucrat with delusions of importance tried to make a fuss. He'd have one of his staff look into that.

"So much for the rally behind the flag effect," Daniel muttered as the pundits descended into another loud argument about the legality of Stargate Command and its actions in the past.

"For most people, it hasn't really sunk in that we're at war. We don't have a lot of casualties, and all the battles are fought off-world, without press coverage. So…" Jack shrugged.

"So that," Daniel said, nodding at the screen again. "Let's change the channel. I don't want to watch this any longer."

"Alright." Jack reached for the remote when the door opened, and Glimmer stuck her head inside. "There you are! We're about to start the experiment!"

Right. Jack got up. He wasn't going to miss that. If only to make sure Adora didn't try again to volunteer herself as a test subject. They couldn't risk her with the first experiment. They couldn't risk her with the second or third experiment, either, but Jack had a feeling that Adora wouldn't let that stop her if the first experiment succeeded.

*****​
 
Interesting. Angella's been alive in this alternate dimension ever since disappearing and wasn't aware that it is actively drawing in more "nearby" sentients instead of just its local inhabitants. If it was patterned after Desperados during the portal incident it would make sense that it would have secrets Angella didn't know (Micah on Beast Island) but be strange that it is drawing in outsiders. If it wasn't patterned based on Desperados itself but by its original independent sentience's (Angella) beliefs then Micah should've been dead. So the dimension is probably still morphic, subtly changing to conform to sentient beliefs, has added multiple non-Desperados inhabitants who had no beliefs specific to the locale (making changes even more subtle), and now has Catra who has MANY Desperados specific beliefs that have been refined by so very many events in the place. This place is gonna start tripping up Angella's expectations so hard.
Well, that would lead to a rather unstable dimension.
 
Chapter 147: The Lost Dimension Part 1 New
Chapter 147: The Lost Dimension Part 1

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 2nd, 2000 (Earth Time)


Finally! This had taken much too long! Adora bit her lower lip so she wouldn't say that out loud. She knew her friends were doing their best, and she also knew that dangerous experiments shouldn't be rushed. Even more so if it involved dimensional travel, which was extremely dangerous, and not just for the ones doing the experiments.

But knowing this didn't make waiting for her friends to find a way to save Catra any less stressful. Catra was lost in another dimension - a dimension they didn't know anything about except that it was shaped by people's thoughts and feelings, which didn't sound very safe at all. What if it reacted badly to Catra? Adora knew that her love still had some issues - despite Adora and her friends' help. What about all the other poor people who had been sent there by Beta on Taweret's orders?

The sooner they could go and get Catra and the rest back, the better!

Now, if only her friends would hurry up - safely hurry up, of course, without rushing things. Just… put a move on, or something.

"You didn't start without us, did you?"

Adora turned and refrained from glaring at Jack. Even though his joke was terrible.

"We're still running our last set of checks, sir," Sam told him. "Then we can use the projector to open a dimensional portal to the target dimension and send Atak through."

Adora felt a pang of guilt. She should be going through the portal, not Atak. Catra was her love - and this was her responsibility; she was the Supreme Commander of the Alliance. And she was She-Ra, Princess of Power - out of everyone here, she was the hardest to kill.

But Entrapta, Sam and Bow had told her that She-Ra's power would add another variable to the experiment that might throw off their calculations. Even when she entered as Adora - she had asked. Well, they were the experts. They and Hordak, who hadn't said anything - he had scoffed, though, in his grumpy manner.

She looked at Atak, standing inside a yellow-painted round area in the centre of the room. He bowed his head as soon as he noticed her, and she struggled not to wince. He was risking his life for Catra; the least she could do was to show support and trust. At least he was well-prepared for this. He was wearing a space suit Entrapta had modified for him and was loaded down with all kinds of sensors - he looked like he had a spy bot strapped to his back. And a line was tethering him to a hook in the testing room. It would likely snap when the portal opened, but it might hold. Either way, they would get more data, Entrapta had said. Probably in case they had to lasso Catra and drag her back through the portal or something.

"Good, good." Jack nodded and walked over to Adora. "Don't worry, we've got this in hand." He smiled, but Adora couldn't help feeling that he might not be entirely honest. If this were easy, they would have done it already.

"The probability of success has been greatly increased compared to our last test," Beta said. It wasn't nearly as reassuring as she probably thought.

Adora nodded and smiled anyway. "I know."

"Alright!" Entrapta looked up from her tool. "Everything checks out! We're ready!"

And everyone turned to Adora.

She took a deep breath and nodded. "Let's start."

"Yes!"

Entrapta moved over to the main console, where Sam, Bow and Hordak were already seated.

"Charging up the primary and secondary power banks," Sam said.

"Projector crystals aligned with the target solution," Bow added.

"Shielding within expected parameters." Beta, of course, wasn't looking at any screen - they were inside her body, so to speak.

"Dimensional sensors tracking." Hordak sounded almost bored. Wasn't he nervous at all? The last time he had dabbled with dimensional travel, they had almost destroyed Etheria.

"Sensor lock achieved! Opening portal!" Entrapta yelled as her hair tendrils flew over two different consoles. "Stay away from the marked transport zone!"

Adora clenched her teeth as a humming noise filled the room. A moment later, Atak vanished, and the line that had been connected to his suit fell down - cut right above the edge of the affected area.

"Sensors working… searching," Hordak announced. Still sounding bored.

"Secondary power banks active."

Adora drew a short breath through her teeth. The longer this took, the bigger the risk of losing Atak was. And then they would…

"Target locked."

Yes!

"Target solution generated. Crystals aligning."

"Power banks ready."

Come on! Adora silently urged her friends on.

"Opening Portal!"

Once again, the humming noise came - but it sounded slightly different. Or that was just Adora.

And Atak reappeared in the marked transport zone - and promptly fell down since he had appeared about two feet above the floor. But he had made it back! They could get people back from the other dimension!

Now they just had to find Catra!

*****​

"What do you mean, you can't find Catra?"

Samantha Carter winced a little - Adora was loud. "We can't track Catra, so we can't open a portal to her," she repeated herself.

"But… You have her scans! All her data!" Adora protested.

Sam nodded. "But that's not enough to track her in the other dimension."

"We can track the effects non-natives - those transported there from here - have on the dimension," Entrapta cut in. "But we can't track individuals. Well, we can track individual signals, but we don't know who they are. Our sensors aren't able to track their biological data."

"We managed to retrieve Atak because we knew exactly where he was since we sent him there," Bow added.

Adora frowned at each of them. "But we have all the data from the experiments!"

Sam pressed her lips together. They had gone over that before. "Yes, we do - but we know that they moved after arriving there." Or had been moved.

"Then can't you reconstruct their, ah, routes?" Adora looked almost desperate.

"Well… we weren't tracking them afterwards, so we kinda lost their trace. So, we can't really tie the effects we can track to anyone specific," Entrapta said. "Sorry, but that data was never recorded - quite a mistake on Taweret's part."

And on Beta's, Sam added silently. Although with Beta's attitude toward the 'test subjects', one couldn't be sure that it had been a mistake or just indifference. Sam wasn't quite convinced that Beta had been 'just following orders' - the artificial intelligence had proven to be quite flexible in how she interpreted her orders.

As if she had read Sam's thoughts, Beta's holoprojection appeared next to them. "Unfortunately, Taweret was only interested in our research's potential as a weapon despite the obvious alternative uses dimensional travel offers."

Alternative but dubious uses. Indeed, contacting alternate universes to gather information - or resources - sounded tempting, and some Stargate Command analysts and scientists had proposed that after the incident with the Quantum Mirror, but they obviously hadn't considered the risk any such venture would carry. Even if they found a way to travel to alternate dimensions without destabilising their own, they would have to deal with the reactions of the natives of that dimension. The General had commented about Star Trek's mirror universe, but Sam knew that such extreme examples were not the only potentially hostile results of dimension travel. Not by far. The Alliance certainly would react a little concerned if other dimensions started to mine their worlds.

Not to mention that the only dimension they had been able to reach so far was a very unstable dimension instead of an alternate universe. Beta insisted that it was merely a transitory choice, a way to travel to actual parallel dimensions - or higher planes of existence, though the Artificial Intelligence had been a bit quiet about the original aim of the research station since the Alliance had taken over.

"Then we can just open a portal to everyone we find!" Adora blurted out. "We need to find everyone anyway!"

Sam winced. This was possible, of course - a simple brute-force solution. But it wasn't advisable, in her opinion, at least. "We would have to do that blindly - we would target anyone fitting the target data and then forcefully transport them to our dimension without knowing their identity - or willingness to be transported - until after the fact." That would be kidnapping people.

Adora bit her lower lip. "But…" She trailed off.

"Also, each such portal will affect the target dimension and make it harder to track the changes from others. The bleed-through from the portal is vastly stronger than the effects from individuals after the fact," Entrapta added. "And the effects of She-Ra's power might amplify that."

Sam nodded. "And we already cannot track everyone who's missing." Of course, some of them could have died - that would explain the missing number.

"Worst case, we'll completely lose track of people," Bow added. "It's already hard to track some of them."

Sam was aware of that. "It might be related to how foreign they feel, which would depend on their respective environments. If they don't feel out of place, they might not cause a lot of changes." Or any at all.

"Whatever! But you can track people we send over, right?" Adora asked.

"Yes." Sam nodded. It wouldn't be easy either, but they would be able to reliably track anyone they transported to the other dimension. As long as nothing went wrong with their sensors or computers.

"So, we can send a search party to the other dimension!" Adora smiled. "One portal, that should be manageable. And when we find Catra and the others, we open the next portal."

"Oh, yes! We can do that!" Entrapta nodded enthusiastically. "Though we'll have to find a way to communicate."

"After a few more tests," Sam quickly added. "We still don't know how the entire process and the target dimension are affected by magic."

"Yes," Bow agreed. "We don't want to mess this up and lose any more people, right?"

"Of course not." Adora nodded, though it was obvious that she wanted nothing more than going to look for Catra right this moment. "How long will that take?"

Sam took a deep breath. "It will take a few more experiments. We need to test the process with magitech first and then scale it up."

"Working up to She-Ra," Bow said.

"We're not going to test this with princesses or sorceresses," Adora said, narrowing her eyes. "When we reach that point, I'll be going through."

"Of course." Bow smiled weakly, though Sam understood - she knew Adora well; her friend wouldn't budge on that.

"OK!" Entrapta beamed, of course. "We'll run a series of tests - we should have most magitech devices for testing available."

"And I will gladly carry them for you, Goddess," Atak said.

"You don't have to, Atak!" Adora said at once.

"It is my honour to help you, Goddess." Atak bowed his head.

"And since you have no potential for magic, you won't affect the readings!" Entrapta nodded.

"And we kind of need a sapient tester to retrieve them," Bow added before Adora could object. "Otherwise, we can't retrieve them."

Adora grimaced and almost pouted but agreed - after a moment.

And Sam softly sighed with relief. They really couldn't rush this. Though they couldn't take too long, either, if what she suspected was true - the data potentially showed that the effect of non-natives on the target faded faster than expected. If the dimension or the intruders adapted to each other, then they would lose the ability to track the missing people - and the search team they apparently would be sending through. And they still had to find a way to communicate with anyone they sent over - a search party wouldn't be of much use when they couldn't tell the research station when to take them back.

Fortunately, Sam and the others had a few ideas about that.

*****​

Unknown Location, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Catra really didn't like the Whispering Woods. For years, the stupid forest had been a thorn in her side. It had shielded Bright Moon from the Horde's advances. Scouting parties regularly vanished without a trace - and not just because of Alliance ambushes. Catra had checked after the war. Armoured thrusts ran into bogs and terrain so rough and dense, even hovertanks had trouble advancing any further - and any column stuck in the woods just became easy prey for flanking attacks by Alliance forces. Or for some of the nastier monsters hiding in the cursed forest.

But right now, she loved the Whispering Woods. If not for them, she would have been recaptured already. Just getting away from this dimension's Adora had been tricky. If she had decided to fetch Mermista at once, instead of searching for Catra herself at first, Catra wouldn't have managed to leave the lake she had fallen in before Salineas's princess turned it inside out.

Hell, the river Catra had been swimming inside had flown backwards for a few minutes. If she hadn't managed to grab a root at the riverbank and pull herself out, she would have been carried back to the lake.

But Catra had escaped. The lake, the river, and the manhunt in the fields that followed - Jack better certified her for passing SERE training after this - evading half the Princess Alliance's army was like the final test from hell, even if most of the princesses hadn't shown up in time to do anything.

Of course, if Bright Moon's farms had been a little bigger, with fewer hedges and small patches of woods separating them and little creeks leading from the woods to the river, Catra wouldn't have managed it. Not with Adora on Swift Wind flying overhead.

Whatever. She had made it into the woods. Now she just had to survive until Adora - her Adora - showed up with the rest of their friends. She froze for a moment, one hand on a huge tree trunk that had fallen over and barred her way. How could they find her? Catra didn't have her communicator any more. And she was currently in the middle - well, on her way to the middle - of the Whispering Woods precisely because not even the entire Alliance army would be able to find her here.

She muttered a curse under her breath as she climbed over the trunk - without using her claws; best not leave any tracks this dimension's Bow could find. How could her friends find her? She hadn't thought about that when she escaped. Not that she had had a choice. If she had stayed, she would have been at the dubious mercy of Angella.

Should she turn around and head to the edge of the woods? No. She would just make it easier for her pursuers. And without a communicator, she wouldn't be able to tell if her friends had arrived until she saw her Adora as She-Ra.

But if she just hid in the woods, no one would be able to find her. Not even her friends. Of course, if her friends found this dimension's princess Alliance first, Catra might not have to go to the edge of the Whispering Woods to hear the explosions.

Wait! Catra tensed. This Adora had found her very quickly - relatively quickly - after she had arrived in this dimension. So, there was a way to track people!

She looked over her shoulder. And if they used that, they could find her here. Only… it had been hours now since her escape. The sun was up. If they could track her like that, wouldn't they have done so already? Adora could travel the Whispering Woods without a care; nothing there could really hurt She-Ra. Hell, Light Hope's base had been in the Whispering Woods, and Adora had visited regularly.

Catra sighed. No, however they had managed to track her before - probably by tracking the dimensional transport - they couldn't use it on her now. She was safe!

Then she heard a clicking noise, followed by the sound of breaking wood and rustling leaves. Something big was pushing through the underwood. And it didn't sound like a Horde Hauler - those were legs she heard. Many legs.

She flashed her fangs. She could take any monster here in the woods. And she could use the stress relief. On the other hand, any pursuit might find the monster's carcass, and it wouldn't take a genius to figure out who had killed it once they saw the claw marks.

Damn! She clenched her teeth and started to move away from the approaching creature. A little detour sounded like the best choice. Not that she knew where exactly she was going, anyway.

But as she climbed over a few more fallen tree trunks, the noise of the monster behind her didn't fade. The thing was tracking her! And probably leaving a trail even Kyle could follow.

No choice, then - the stupid thing, whatever it was, had to die. She just had to make sure she wouldn't leave an easy track to follow afterwards.

Catra bared her teeth and looked around, checking the trees - there! She quickly dashed over to the tallest, sturdiest trunk she could see and launched herself up, reaching for the lowest branch. A quick grab, swing and a series of jumps later, she was crouching on a thick branch and staring in the direction of the approaching monster.

The trees shook in the thing's wake, birds lifting off in swarms and ripped foliage carried away by a breeze, but she didn't see many trees being toppled - just a few smaller ones. Then, she spotted part of an armoured shell through the gaps in the canopy. Ah - a giant bug.

That was annoying. Even with her claws, it was hard to get through their shells, and they took a lot of damage to finish off. On the other hand, that made for a very good stress relief - she could go all-out.

Although… why was the thing tracking her? The bugs generally didn't do that back home. They tried to eat you if they found you, and they chased you if you tried to run, but they didn't follow you through half the woods for so long - not without having attacked you before, at least.

She shook her head and focused on the fight at hand when the bug broke through another large bush and stopped, antennas twitching as the head slowly turned and rose to look at Catra.

Catra hissed at it, and the bug clicked its mandibles in return - and charged at her.

The tree on which she was crouching was probably large enough to withstand the bug's attack, but Catra wasn't going to find out the hard way if she was correct. She raced forward on the branch, claws tearing up the bark, then pounced on the monster with a yell.

The thing dug its legs in and reared, leaving furrows in its wake, but it was too slow and too late - Catra hit its body, claws slicing into the shell as she slid down its side, before it finished raising its front legs.

And as it turned, trying to bite her, Catra slid underneath it and slashed at the thing's softer belly. The shell wasn't as thick and hard here as on top, and Catra's claws left behind cuts that bled ichor.

The thing roared and turned around itself, legs ripping up the earth as it tried to hit her. Catra hissed again as she dodged the closest leg, then lashed out at the joints, another weak point. A few frantic swipes later, the lower part of the leg crashed to the ground, and the monster cried out even louder.

But it had a dozen more limbs, all trying to crush Catra underneath it. She cut down another leg, a bit higher, but almost got clipped by its forelegs when that slowed her down a little. She also had to dodge more ichor from the wounds in its belly. And the stench…

Gagging, she rolled out from underneath the bug right when it tried to lean on one side and then squash her flat using its whole body. It couldn't stop itself in time, and the earth shook a little when its belly hit it.

Catra was already moving, dashing around the monster, avoiding the flailing limbs as it tried to stand up again. She dodged left, then right, as the barbed tips slashed down, impaling themselves in the ground near her, then jumped and sailed over the monster's mandibles when it tried to bite her and landed on its head.

"Game over!" she hissed and raked her claws over its eyes, then through the base of its antennas.

The monster's scream almost deafened her, and she was flung off its head when the bug started convulsing, but the bush behind her cushioned her fall. "No more tracking me!" she spat as she got up.

The bug tore up the earth around it, then crashed into a tree - and started to batter it with its remaining limbs, sending chunks of bark and wood flying through the air.

Catra was tempted to put the thing out of its misery, but she had spent too long already - and their fight might have already drawn the attention of anyone hunting her.

So she booked it on all fours, dashing through the underbrush to gain some distance. She jumped on low-hanging branches to change direction and throw off any pursuit, taking random turns until she was so far away that she didn't hear the monster's cries any more.

And had gotten thoroughly lost in the process. Though that could be easily fixed by climbing a tall tree and looking for landmarks. Or just for the sun's position. A rough idea of her location would be enough, anyway - it wasn't as if she was going to call in artillery barrages or air strikes.

But just as she was about to climb the tallest tree in her vicinity, she stopped and sniffed the air. What the…? She blinked. That smelt like… fresh pie? In the middle of the Whispering Wood.

Oh. That could only be one person. Madame Razz.

For a moment, she hesitated. Madame Razz was… 'weird' was the most polite way Catra would describe her. She had only met the woman a few times, with Adora, but that had been a little disturbing. Maybe a bit more than a little. Madame Razz lived in a different world - maybe literally, if what Entrapta had once speculated. Something about experiencing multiple times at once. Of course, the old woman could simply be senile and mix up the past and the present. That would explain how she kept calling Adora 'Mara'. But if Madame Razz had actually met Mara, Adora's predecessor as She-Ra, then that would mean that she was as old - maybe older - than Angella.

And a woman who had lived that long, in the middle of the monster-infested Whispering Woods, going senile was a scary thought. Hell, a woman who had lived that long was scary enough without mixing up people in her brain or living in multiple times.

So, it might be better for Catra to head in the other direction, away from the smell of fresh pie, and not risk even more trouble. On the other hand, maybe this Madame Razz could help her? Did she know that Angella wasn't the original Angella of this dimension?

And hiding from an old woman who spent her days baking pies and carrying a broom with her wasn't really Catra's style, no matter in which dimension she might be.

Scoffing, she started to follow the smell of pie.

It didn't take her long, of course, to find the small hut in which the woman lived - Catra's nose was good but not good enough to smell pie from a mile away. She just had to move through a number of denser bushes - picked clean of berries, she noticed - and travel along a small creek. No traces of animals, much less monster tracks, as far as she could tell. That was a good sign, right?

Whatever.

Stopping at the edge of the small clearing in which the hut stood, she cocked her head to the side and listened. She could hear a faint mumbling from the hut. So, Madame Razz was home.

Catra stepped into the clearing and approached the hut. "Hello? Anybody home?"

The mumbling stopped, and Madame Razz's head appeared in the small window to the side, above the cooling pie. "Oh, Mara, dearie! No, you're not Mara."

"I am Catra," Catra said, smiling without showing her fangs. "But I'm not the Catra from this dimension. I accidentally was transported here when I helped Adora fight evil aliens."

The woman stared at her. "You're Horde."

Catra clenched her teeth. "Not any more." She wasn't in the Horde any more. She wasn't that Catra any more. She wasn't.

"Horde." Razz was scowling at her. "In my forest!"

"I am not Horde any more!" Catra snapped. She blinked. Right, the clothes. "I'm wearing these like Adora does - because they are practical and comfortable. But I am not Horde. I am not from this dimension at all!" And because you're used to them, a small voice in the back of her head whispered.

"Horde!"

"NO! I am not Horde!" Catra took a deep breath. Calm. Keep calm, she told herself. Stay polite and friendly. Explain things. "I am from another dimension - another world. Like… You know Mara took Etheria into another dimension?"

"Mara dearie! My Mara was so brave!"

"Yes, she was." Catra pressed her lips together. "And I am from another dimension where we saved Etheria from the Heart of Etheria. And from the Horde."

"Horde!" Another scowl and broom-waving followed.

Catra raised her arms. "No, I'm not Horde. I am not from here." How often did she have to repeat that? "The Horde here was defeated anyway!" With extreme prejudice - Angella had said so.

"Horde!"

This was… Catra narrowed her eyes. "Mara came from the First Ones."

"Mara, dearie! My Mara was so brave!" Razz was smiling.

"And she fought Horde Prime."

"Horde!" And Razz was scowling.

This was… This Razz was not acting like the Madame Razz Catra knew. Not at all. Madame Razz was weird, yes. Maybe senile. But she did listen to people. She answered questions or ignored them; she didn't just spit out words like this.

Catra frowned. Something was wrong. Very wrong. And… "Where's Loo-Kee?" She hadn't seen the little cat pixie at all so far, she realised. And back home, he had been fascinated by her - apparently, Catra had been the biggest cat he had ever seen, so he had come out of hiding. He hadn't done that for Adora, Catra knew.

Razz didn't answer.

"Loo-Kee. Your friend," Catra prompted her.

Razz still didn't answer. She didn't react at all.

"Did the Horde capture him?" Catra asked.

"Horde!" And there was the scowl and the broom-shaking. Like before. Exactly like before. If Loo-Kee had been captured or killed by the Horde, wouldn't she have reacted more strongly? Differently? "Mara was brave, wasn't she?"

"Oh, Mara, Dearie!"

Catra felt her stomach drop. Something was very, very wrong here. Sure, it was possible that this dimension's Loo-Kee simply had never met Madame Razz. And that this Madame Razz was different from the one she knew. Different dimension, different people.

But somehow, Catra suspected this wasn't the case. Madame Razz felt just too… wrong. Off.

Flat.

Like a bot of sorts.

Catra clenched her teeth and moved away from the hut. She had to think about this. But not here. Not when she had no idea how this Razz would act. Or what she could do.

*****​

Alliance Base 'Gateway', PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

"I should have gotten veto powers for naming bases," Jack muttered as he skimmed over a report and saw the official name of the newly-christened base they had overtaken.

"Hm?" Daniel asked, looking up from his own work.

"Nothing." They had already discussed the name. Daniel saw nothing wrong with it.

"Ah." And Jack's friend went back to reading whatever files his tablet had received with the latest update, leaving Jack to return to his paperwork.

Which mostly consisted of reports and notices. Lots of long, detailed reports and notices. "I can't believe Hammond complained about me not writing lengthy reports," Jack said. "I was saving him so much time."

Daniel didn't react.

Jack sighed - loudly - and skimmed the next report. Oh. He groaned. Space Systems Command - Jack liked to call them Spazzies - wanted a detailed report of the current operation in PU-9623 in order to reevaluate troop transport capacities for the Constitution II-class of frigates. Carter wouldn't like that. Not at all.

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked.

"The Navy pukes want to know if their boondoggle of a frigate design can be turned into a landing ship," Jack explained. "Without sacrificing any other capabilities it's supposed to have."

Daniel blinked. "I thought they were already building the ships? Sam mentioned that a while ago."

"They are." Jack bared his teeth in a twisted smile.

"Oh."

"Yeah. They probably plan to adjust the next batch." At least, Jack hoped the Navy pukes weren't as crazy as to redesign the ships already close to launch.

"Ah. That sounds… sensible?" Daniel smiled a bit weakly when Jack frowned at him. "I mean, incorporating battle experience is supposed to be a good thing, right?"

"If done right," Jack said. "After what Carter told me about the design process so far, I doubt they are doing it right." he shook his head. "We are getting dedicated troop transports - we don't need our frigates to be able to double as landing ships. In a pinch, Horde frigates can use their shuttles to land troops."

Daniel nodded. "So, tell them that?"

"I will." Not that it would help. Jack expected them to ignore his opinion just as they ignored Carter's opinion. Worst case, they'd try to enlarge the next batch of ships and end up with even worse designs. He checked the names of the admirals involved. Just in case they might end up involved with a combat mission of his command. "Some officers are only fit to command museum ships," he muttered.

"The Navy actually doesn't run museum ships," Daniel told him.

"What?" Jack stared at him.

His friend blushed. "Ah, I once asked when my class visited one."

Ah. Jack nodded. "Good. Some people - like Kearsy - would probably manage to sink a museum ship."

Daniel snorted.

And Jack adjusted the report's priority. Carter was already busy with the portal projectors; she didn't need any distractions, especially not something as dumb as this request.

No, he could take care of that. It might even be fun to find the best ways to call everyone behind this an idiot without violating the Alliance regulations…

*****​

Outside Alliance Base 'Gateway', PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Adora crouched down at the base of the wall and checked the material. It was solid. And the former creek facing it was dry. As it should be - there was no need to run a stream through the base in the first place. It only made the base more vulnerable. And it wasn't hygienic at all. She had to suppress a shudder when she remembered how they had infiltrated the base through that creek.

But they had fixed that - the creek was rerouted around the base, and the base itself had a decent sewage system now - one that wasn't a security weakness waiting to happen. Tok'ra technology was very good for that stuff; their allies knew all about building secure bases.

"There you are!"

Adora turned and stood, facing her friend. "You told me to go outside." And to stop bothering Entrapta, Sam, Bow and Hordak while they worked.

Glimmer nodded with a wide grin. "I wasn't sure, though. That you'd actually do it, I mean. So, I first checked if you were not trying to hide in the lab."

Adora glared at her. "I'm not that bad!"

"You're worse!" Glimmer snorted, then grew serious. "We'll find her," she said.

"I know," Adora lied. Her friends were geniuses. They had a lot of experience with this kind of project. And they had made a lot of progress. Adora knew all that, had seen them at work, and yet couldn't help worrying.

Glimmer twitched for a moment - probably unconsciously tried to teleport - and then walked up to her and put her hand on Adora's shoulder. "Hey, you know Catra. She's tough. And smart. You know how much trouble she gave us." With a laugh that sounded a little forced - Adora could tell - she added: "If whoever is living in the other dimension tries anything, she probably will conquer half of the world there before we arrive."

Adora chuckled weakly. "Yeah. Like in the Crimson Waste." Scorpia had told her about that trip.

"Well, let's hope she doesn't take over bandits this time," Glimmer said. "Or starts a war."

"Catra wouldn't do that!" Adora protested. "Not without a good reason, at least," she added.

Glimmer giggled. It sounded more honest this time.

And Adora felt a bit better.

But she still worried. Catra was alone in an unknown dimension where people disappeared - a dimension that reacted to your thoughts, according to Beta. Catra had changed, but… Some of her thoughts could be pretty dark.

*****​

Refugee Camp, PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

"Goddess!"

"Goddess!"

"She-Ra!"

"Your Divine Highness!"

Adora couldn't help grimacing as the slaves they had saved and freed from Taweret surrounded her. She wasn't a goddess. She was just doing what she could to save and protect people in need - as everyone should.

Still, she smiled. "Hello, everyone." At least they had stopped kneeling. But Adora was pretty sure that had only happened because the clones had told them that she didn't like it, not because they had stopped worshipping her. But she'd take what she could get. And the slaves had been abused so much, literally left for dead and used in experiments by someone they worshipped as a god - even the workers had, apparently, been amongst the most loyal of Apophis - Adora couldn't bring herself to rebuke them again. It would be like breaking their trust as Taweret had done. Once they had recovered a bit more, she'd address the worshipping problem.

"Did you find our missing people, Goddess?" Kuta called out.

Adora smiled at him. Kuta was always respectful and he called her Goddess, but that was it - he didn't bow and scrape as much as many of the others or prayed to her. "We are working on it," she told him. "We'll soon launch the first attempt to save them from where Taweret sent them."

Kuat scowled at hearing Taweret's name but nodded. Adora couldn't tell if he believed her, but that was kind of reassuring as well.

She didn't want blind obedience, much less blind faith.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Samantha Carter frowned as she adjusted the Portal Projector's power controls again. They had managed to change the settings to narrow down the projector's area of effect to what was effectively a micro-portal - so small, apart from air molecules, not much else would be transported, but it would be usable for communication, at least for electronic bursts as long as they were perfectly synchronised. Two-way communication would need not only a longer duration but an actual portal, not just a transport effect, though, and the power requirements for that were off the scale, even with a reduced area of effect. But maybe, if she managed to raise the efficiency a bit more…

"Check out the new readings!"

Sam looked up at Bow's exclamation. He sounded concerned - and he didn't get excited easily, unlike, say, Entrapta.

Sam's friend was already moving over, carried by her hair, to look at Bow's console. "Yes? Oh! That's unexpected!"

Sam joined them and took a look at the latest sensor readings from the target dimension. A moment later, she pressed her lips together so she wouldn't curse.

Usually, they detected foreign sapients in the target dimension by the small changes caused by the other dimension adapting to them as their minds affected it. Effects akin to small ripples that quickly vanished the further they went.

Now, it was different. If the changes had been ripples before, then they were waves now. And they were spreading without vanishing - and amplifying each other, it seemed. "Bring up the earlier data!" she snapped.

"Already on it," Bow replied, and the data on the screen expanded. "Putting it on the main screen."

Sam turned as the holographic display in the centre of the room changed, the depiction of the local system vanishing and being replaced by sensor data. "Cascading changes…" she muttered.

"What is going on?" Entrapta asked. "It's like… like an entire area of the dimension is changing drastically!"

Sam didn't know what was happening, but she doubted it was a good thing. "Let's call the others!" she said. "They need to know this!"

*****​

Unknown Location, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

What was wrong with this Razz? Even after a few hours pondering the question, Catra hadn't found an answer. She took a bite out of the fish she had caught and grilled and sighed.

Was the old woman actually a bot? Some sort of decoy? But if she had been a bot, who would have created her and why? Or was she just going senile? Was that going to happen to Madame Razz back home as well? But if that were the case, wouldn't this dimension's Adora have done something? You couldn't leave a senile old woman in a monster-infested forest by herself, no matter how much some of the creatures there might like her.

And what about Loo-Kee? The Razz back home considered him a friend, but this Razz didn't seem to know him at all. Was that just a difference between their dimensions? And what effects would that have had? It wasn't as if the little pixie had been crucial for the Horde war, so things would have still worked out the same. Probably. On the other hand, Loo-Kee had been important for Razz. And Catra had kind of liked the little tyke herself - she still needed to introduce Luna to him. If he were here…

She blinked as she heard a familiar noise. Think of the devil? Turning, she spotted a small face staring at her from the underbrush. "Loo-Kee?"

He smiled and jumped out of the bush, approaching her. "Hello!"

He sounded like Catra's Loo-Kee. And he was as friendly as she remembered him - once he had overcome his shyness. And she was meeting this dimension's Loo-Kee for the first time… This was too much of a coincidence. Something was very wrong here.

She narrowed her eyes when whatever this creature was eyed her fish like Loo-Kee would have. "I caught it," she hissed before she could control herself.

In return, the pixie made the most pitiful expression at her, sniffling as his big eyes started to grow wet.

"Oh, for…" Catra rolled her eyes and ripped off a piece of her meal. "That's all you're gonna get, though, you hear?"

"Thanks!" Loo-Kee started munching on it, and Catra studied him some more. He looked like she remembered him. Exactly like she remembered him, down to small details.

And only those, she realised. She didn't spot anything she might have forgotten. Oh. Was that…?

The sound of an explosion interrupted her thoughts. That had been… either too close or too powerful. Either way, it sounded like bad news. Catra stuck the rest of the fish in her mouth and jumped up the closest tree trunk, quickly climbing up.

She had to jump to another, taller tree but quickly found herself above the canopy, overlooking the forest. A huge cloud of smoke was rising from the edge of the forest, where Plumeria was located. And floating in the smoke, slowly emerging…

Catra hissed. That was a Ha'tak! In this dimension?

Her ears twitched as she heard a voice from the ship. A familiar voice - a Goa'uld. Amplified enough so her ears could pick it up even at this distance.

"I AM YOUR GOD! BOW TO ME!"

Apophis.

*****​
 
Chapter 148: The Lost Dimension Part 2 New
Chapter 148: The Lost Dimension Part 2

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)


"...and that's the situation."

Jack O'Neill nodded when Carter finished. "So… the dimension we're trying to reach is changing massively, and we don't know why."

"We have several theories, sir," Carter replied. She sounded a little annoyed. Probably both at his flippant summary and the fact that she didn't have an answer.

"And the changes have actually stopped - kinda," Entrapta added. "Well, they aren't accelerating any more. And it seems as if they are kinda fading again."

"Ah." Adora nodded. "So, things are going back to normal?" She looked relieved.

Jack could understand that. He felt better at hearing that as well.

"That depends on how you define normal," Entrapta said.

And Jack was back to worrying.

"It could be that the changes recede," Bow said, pointing at a wall of numbers and tables that Jack didn't bother studying. "But it could also be that the changes are settling in, sort of."

"One possible explanation for the fact that we cannot detect any more changes after a while is that the changes caused by sapient visitors become the norm in the target dimension after a while," Carter said.

"So… a huge part of the dimension just changed completely, and that's now normal for the dimension?" Adora asked.

Glimmer shook her head. "How can anyone live there?"

"The target dimension is greatly and easily affected by sapient minds. We already knew that," Hordak cut in. "That malleable reality is the norm for the dimension. As far as native life is concerned, sapients would likely be able to form their own area of control and create a stable zone to inhabitate." He paused for a moment and cocked his head. "That is if there are actually native sapient life forms. Given what we know about this dimension, we should have detected constant changes on a much larger scale. Although if all sapients of the dimension are brought in line with each other, so consensus about their reality is achieved, the dimension itself would be quite stable, I assume."

That was… A world where reality only remained real while everyone agreed that this was the way it should be? Jack grimaced. "I don't think that would work. There's always someone who disagrees with how things should be."

"Perhaps amongst humans. But not every civilisation follows your example," Hordak retorted. "When Horde Prime ruled us, none of us would deviate from his wishes. Not for long, in any case."

"Only until you got mindwiped or chipped," Jack commented. He ignored the frown on Hordak's face. The former warlord had spent decades trying to conquer Etheria for Horde Prime; he could take a reminder about how wrong that had been.

"In theory, such a society could be formed without mind control," Carter said. "For example, a hive mind species would naturally form a consensus. And such a species would be adapted well to a dimension where reality itself can be changed by your mind."

That sounded logical - as expected from Carter. Daniel nodded as well, in obvious agreement. And yet… Jack frowned. "And how would such a species deal with, ah, visitors from afar who aren't connected to their hive mind?"

Judging by the grimaces on everyone's faces, the answer wasn't going to be 'nicely'.

*****​

"They're going to mind control Catra?" Adora gasped. She wouldn't let that happen again! The first time had almost destroyed Catra - would have actually killed her, if not for She-Ra's power!

"It's a theory," Sam said. "We don't know if the dimension has native sapient life."

"But since it has, you know, kinda fixed structures as our sensors tell us, and is not constantly changing randomly, I think there are sapients there," Entrapta pointed out. "Someone has shaped the dimension so we can track changes to it. And someone clearly was fetching everyone who arrived away - at least, that's the most likely explanation for their rapid change of position after arrival."

Adora clenched her teeth. Someone was rounding up the people who entered the dimension. And for what? To control them? To keep them from changing the dimension? If they did anything to Catra, she would… Adora drew a deep breath. She had to control herself. Catra was tough and smart. She wouldn't let herself get caught easily. Adora had to trust her lover. Even if it was hard. "So, when we enter the dimension, we'll meet whoever is collecting visitors."

"That's what we think, yes," Bow said. "All the data points to that."

"Good. Then we can talk to them right away and get Catra and the others back." Adora nodded. And if they didn't want to listen, then she would make them give everyone back. Even if there was no magic in the dimension - they hadn't checked for that yet - she would still have She-Ra's power.

Nothing and no one would stand in her way. She'd save Catra. And the others.

"Ah." Daniel cleared his throat. "I have a question."

"Yes?" Entrapta turned to smile at him.

He nodded. "If we arrive there as a group, how will that affect the target dimension?" He smiled a little sheepishly. "I know we are on the same wavelength, so to speak, so would we affect the dimension more strongly than a single visitor?"

"Probably yes," Sam said. She frowned. "We haven't tested that for obvious reasons. But we would likely have a bigger impact on the dimension than if we arrived spread out. In fact…" She trailed off.

"Oh! If we create an amplifying effect, we could probably start a huge change as well!" Entrapta beamed.

"Or we should take precautions so we don't start changing someone else's dimension," Bow said. "They might see that as an attempt to attack them."

He was right. But should they split up?

"Never split the party," Jack said as if he had read Adora's mind. "We can't let them pick us up one by one."

Adora nodded. They could always apologise to whoever was concerned. And, she thought, feeling a bit guilty, it might help them get their people back.

*****​

Samantha Carter took a short breath. "We don't have a way to mitigate our impact on the target dimension yet, sir. We don't know enough about the mechanics of the entire process." Nothing beyond the fact that sapient minds affected the dimension, but she didn't say that. "We don't know what triggered this massive change. Was it a critical mass of aligned minds? Or is there a build-up that reaches a trigger step over time?" In which case they might be able to enter the dimension and stay for some time before affecting it on such a scale.

"Although we're pretty sure that the changes originated from the people who were sent there from Beta," Entrapta added. "The changes grew from previous, weaker effects that we picked up on our sensors. Probably - we still need to confirm that with another test. It could also just be a correlation."

"And correlation does not imply causation," Daniel said, nodding. "Ah… it could just be a coincidence that the effect started where previous, ah, travellers were."

"Ah."

"In theory," Entrapta said. "Our sensors weren't calibrated precisely enough to discern that when it happened. But they will be next time!"

"We're not going to wait for a next time," Adora said. "We can't."

Sam knew that. But she also knew that they shouldn't be blindly charging in either. But it was obvious that Adora's patience was running out. And neither the General nor Glimmer was trying to step in.

They needed more data and more time to analyse this new development. But Sam didn't think they would get it. The best she could probably do was to ensure they were not rushing things too much - she could at least make the actual translocation as safe as possible. "We'll need to run a few tests so we can confirm that we'll be able to retrieve the rescue party," she said.

"Do it," Adora said.

*****​

Unknown Location, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Plumeria was burning. Even from this far away, it looked worse than when the Horde under Catra had taken it. Of course, Catra had been limited to Horde ground forces and air support, not a Ha'tak floating above the kingdom while Death Gliders and Al'keshs strafed and bombed what the ship's cannons had missed.

She shook her head, clenching her teeth when another pillar of smoke rose on the horizon. It didn't look as if Apophis was planning to conquer the kingdom - it looked as if he wanted to wipe it out. And was doing a good job of it. Probably trying to make an example out of it to impress the rest of this Etheria.

But Plumeria wasn't a good choice for that. From a military point of view, it was the weakest kingdom of the Princess Alliance. Not the least important - Perfuma alone was crucial for the logistics of the Alliance - but as far as defences and combat capability were concerned, it was a pushover, at least if you had operational surprise and the means to move enough forces in before the rest of the Alliance could react. Catra had proven this.

So, this wouldn't scare the princesses into surrender. Not that anything would - they had not surrendered to Horde Prime either. But it would enrage the princesses. Maybe even this dimension's Perfuma and Entrapta. But Glimmer, Frosta and Mermista would be furious and mobilising their forces.

At least Angella would prevent reckless attacks that would only play right into Apophis's hand. But even so… Catra looked at the floating spaceship again. The princesses here had no idea what they were facing. If they treated this like another Horde invasion, not knowing what the Goa'uld could do, things could end in a catastrophe. And if Apophis or one of his underlings managed to possess a princess…

Damn! She hissed. She knew better than anyone else here what the Goa'uld were like. She had to warn the Alliance here.

Turning, she took a look at Bright Moon, visible in the distance. That was too far to reach on foot in time. But Alliance soldiers must have been sent to look for her. And they would be in contact with Adora and Angella.

She snorted as she jumped from branch to branch towards the ground. All that effort to get away, and now she had to double back and hope that her pursuers were close.

And that they didn't try to shoot her on sight. Not that they would succeed, but if she had to take their communicator by force, it would complicate things with the Alliance even further.

She reached the ground and looked around. "Loo-Kee?"

No answer. The little pixie was gone. Probably scared into hiding. And Catra had no time to waste on looking for him. He should be safe enough in the woods here, anyway.

*****​

The explosions had stopped about fifteen minutes after Catra had started running and hadn't picked up for the next hour. So, Apophis was done with Plumeria. But the Death Gliders and Al'keshs would be spreading out already, doing recon if he was cautious. Or attacking targets of opportunity if he was reckless and thought all the kingdoms on Etheria were as easy to destroy as Plumeria.

She almost hoped it would be the latter. It wasn't a nice thought, but a few bombing runs on other kingdoms would make the Alliance focus on defence instead of launching an attack on the Ha'tak. And while they were protecting their people, they were not trying to charge an enemy they knew nothing about.

Which should make it easier for Catra to help them with defeating Apophis. And to stay out of Angella's dungeons. Or so she hoped. Angella might think that this was all a ploy of Catra - probably cite the timing of Catra's escape as suspicious or something.

Maybe Catra would have to shoot down a Death Glider or board an Al'kesh to prove her goodwill. Though either would be hard without a plane of her own. Or at least a heavy weapon.

Her ears twitched. That sounded like a pair of Death Gliders passing overhead! Headed in the direction of Bright Moon! She didn't hear more craft, though. Recon then - even Apophis wouldn't expect two Death Gliders to defeat Bright Moon.

But after this, attack runs would follow. To probe Bright Moon's defences, possibly to degrade them before the main attack was launched.

She hissed under her breath as she jumped over a fallen tree that looked vaguely familiar. She had to reach Bright Moon before Apophis launched a full attack. Trying to talk to the princesses would be impossible in the middle of a siege - especially if she couldn't get through the shield.

So, where were the Bright Moon soldiers hunting her? It would be ironic if she had managed to lose her pursuers when she needed them to find her.

She kept running, though not all-out. She had to pace herself. Worst case, she had to run all the way to Bright Moon. And she'd probably arrive just in time to see the Ha'tak start bombarding the palace…

Another explosion interrupted her thoughts. Close or just massive? It had sounded close, but… She looked up but could only see the dense foliage above.

Wait! She blinked - that was the sound of a Death Glider pulling high-g turns! Over the Whispering Woods? She had to check what was happening!

Snarling, she changed course towards the thickest tree trunk she could see nearby. Bark flew as she scaled it as quickly as possible, her claws ripping into the wood and through foliage and branches.

As she raced upwards, she heard more explosions - and staff weapons firing. No doubt, someone was fighting the Jaffa!

She reached the top of the tree and peered up. Where…? There! A Death Glider was turning, trying to shoot… Swift Wind?

Catra stared. The flying horse was dogfighting the Death Glider? "If my Swift Wind ever tries that with Adora in the saddle, I'll kill him myself!" she spat as the Death Glider pilot overshot Swift Wind again. And what was Adora doing? Trying to hit the thing with her sword?

Catra blinked as Adora tried to do exactly that. "Oh, for…!" she exclaimed. "Why don't you shoot some magic beam at it?"

Adora didn't reply - hadn't heard her. But the Death Glider decided to stop trying to dogfight and broke off, easily leaving Swift Wind behind. Fleeing? A Jaffa?

No, not fleeing. The Death Glider turned and started an attack run. So, the pilot knew how to zoom and boom, as Jack called it.

And Adora met him head-on, sword flashing as she deflected the blasts aimed at her! Catra held her breath. It wasn't her Adora, the outfit was wrong, but… She couldn't help smiling at the sight. Still, deflecting staff weapon fire, while impressive, wouldn't defeat the Death Glider, so…

She gasped. Adora jumped off Swift Wind, directly into the path of the passing Death Glider, blade held in both hands. The Jaffa pilot tried to dodge but was too slow - and Adora's sword tore off its wing, sending the craft tumbling into the forest below.

Catra barely registered the explosion that followed - she was watching Adora fall. Of course, She-Ra was tough, but from that height, even her Adora would feel it. Although if the trees broke her fall…

But before Adora could hit the canopy, Swift Wind swept in, catching her on his back as he pulled up from a dive that should have carried him straight into the woods.

Catra took a deep breath. They had done it. But if the Jaffa pilot had been a bit better, or kept his distance more, if he had caught Swift Wind catching Adora… She clenched her teeth and yelled: "You idiot! What were you thinking?"

Swift Wind jerked to the side, then turned around.

Apparently, they had heard Catra.

Well, she had wanted to make contact with the Alliance anyway, hadn't she?

So she stayed and put on the best, most confident smile that she could as Adora approached on Swift Wind.

"Catra!" The scowl on Adora's face made Catra reconsider her decision, but the die was cast or whatever the saying was.

"Adora." She nodded, shifting her weight slightly so she could jump off the branch if she needed to. "What were you thinking, trying to dogfight a Death Glider? If the pilot had been halfway competent, Swift Wind would have been dead."

"I am She-Ra's loyal steed! We are bound together!" Swift Wind protested. "No enemy can match us when we are fighting together!"

"Someone needs to tell that to Apophis over there in his Ha'tak," Catra commented with a snort.

"So, you're behind this!" Adora spat, pointing her sword at her.

Catra tried to ignore the blade, which was a bit too close to her - especially since it bopped up and down; Swift Wind's hovering was not exactly that stable. "You idiot! I've told you before, I'm not your Catra. I'm from a different dimension, where we - the Princess Alliance and others - are fighting the Goa'uld." She pointed at the Ha'tak, which was still hovering over what remained of Plumeria. "That's Apophis, one of the Goa'uld System Lords. He is an alien snake that burrows into you and takes over your body."

"I'm not falling for your tricks again!"

Oh, for…! "It's not a trick." Catra cocked her head. Time for a little gamble. "Didn't a bunch of people arrive like I did, sent here by Taweret? Apophis's Queen?"

Adora blinked. "They mentioned Apophis… But they said he was their god. They didn't say he'd attack us!"

OK, this Adora really was an idiot! "The Goa'uld pose as gods and use technology to fool their slaves and followers." Which were slaves in all but names, but best not to confuse this Adora further. "We've been fighting them to free their slaves. We've already defeated many such ships."

Adora narrowed her eyes at her. "I don't believe you! You're a liar! Always were!"

"You don't know me!" Catra spat. "I'm not your Catra, and you're not my Adora!" She glared at Swift Wind for good measure. "And you're not my dimension's Swift Wind. He's busy freeing horses."

"She-Ra and I share a sacred bond!"

That was… stupid even for Swift Wind. Like… She closed her eyes. Not again! "Whatever!" She turned back to Adora. "Take me to Angella so I can tell her about Apophis before he starts destroying the next kingdom." The Queen at least knew that Catra was from another dimension. Catra hoped that Angella was smart enough to realise that she needed Catra's help more than she needed to keep her quiet about Angella's own extradimensional origin.

"Are you surrendering?" Adora was still frowning, with that mulish expression she sometimes had when things were not going her way.

"I am telling you to take me to Angella so I can give her crucial information about this new enemy," Catra retorted. "If you want to call that surrendering, be my guest."

Adora scoffed. "Don't try anything!" Then she reached over - faster than Catra expected, but not fast enough that Catra wouldn't have been able to dodge if she had wanted to - grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and pulled her up. "I'm watching you!"

Catra froze for a moment. This was… not her Adora, she reminded herself as she was sat down in front of Adora on Swift Wind's back. Not my Adora, she silently repeated herself when she felt a muscular arm wrap around her stomach and hold her in place - with a familiar body pressing into her back.

"Let's fly back to Bright Moon!"

"Away we go!"

Not my Adora, Catra told herself once again as they flew off. Even if she feels and smells like her.

She couldn't let herself relax and enjoy this.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Technically, this wasn't Jack O'Neill's decision. He might be a general now, in charge of Alliance Special Forces Command, but Adora was the Supreme Commander of the Alliance, and she had decided that they would enter the 'target dimension'. They really needed a better name for it, actually. He couldn't just keep calling it that. Daniel said to wait until they knew what the natives of the dimension called it, something about not presuming to name another dimension, but even a string of letters and numbers would be OK as a temporary measure.

Anyway, this wasn't Jack's decision, but if it were up to him, he'd make the same decision. You didn't leave your people behind or give them up - you got them back. And that was what they would be doing. No matter the cost.

Though the cost might be high in this case. If their arrival caused one of those cascading change thingies, and the natives thought this was an attack, then this could mean war. War with an entire other dimension, even if it wasn't particularly large. And a dimension where your thoughts could shape reality. Whether you wanted it or not.

Heh, if it came to war, could they imagine a big honking spaceship to appear on their side? That would be a novel way to fight a war. People were always trying to outthink the enemy in war, but to out-imagine the enemy was new.

Unless you counted some of the research proposals he had seen submitted to the Alliance. Those were so outrageous, they were clearly the result of an overly active imagination. Or greed.

Whatever. Jack checked his gear again, then checked his tab for urgent reports. Nothing.

He had nothing to do but wait for Carter and the others to finish their setup.

Well, he could check up on the others to keep busy, at least.

*****​

Adora knew she should be doing something helpful. Maybe talk to the freed slaves again, help them get adjusted. Inspect the base above. Make sure that everything was going well. Check the reports and files sent from Alliance HQ.

But she had already done most of the paperwork - well, the important parts. OK, the really important, urgent parts. And Glimmer had told her that she was just stressing the Alliance soldiers if she kept checking things. And heading to the freed slaves again… Being worshipped and thanked was embarrassing on a good day, but being fawned over while she couldn't save her lover? No, thanks. She didn't need that.

"Here you are!"

She looked up from her tablet - not that she had actually been reading whatever file was on the screen - and frowned at Jack. "You know that this is serving as my office." He also had an office in the research station, even if he spent more time in the break room.

"Yep. But I figured you were in the labs, ready to jump into another dimension as soon as Carter and the others finish the thingie." He grinned.

She frowned some more. "I would just distract them." Bow had told her so discreetly. Hordak had done so not so discreetly.

He shrugged and sat down on the chair in the corner of her office. "Someone has to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't push themselves too hard."

But Catra was in danger! Adora pressed her lips together and swallowed her words. It wouldn't do anyone any good if her friends hurt themselves by working too hard. Or too much. "Glimmer's with them." And she wouldn't let them do anything stupid.

"Yeah. She shooed me out." He rubbed his neck as he moved his head. "They're doing what they can," he added in a quieter, more serious tone.

"I know." She narrowed her eyes. "You don't need to keep an eye on me."

He smiled, not showing any embarrassment at being caught. "Doesn't hurt, though, does it?"

Of course, it didn't.

He leaned forward, hands on his thighs. "Want to talk about it?"

No need to mention what he meant. Or whom. "No." She didn't want to talk about it. She just wanted to go and save Catra. As soon as possible.

"OK." He nodded and leaned back, pulling his own tablet out of his pocket. And ignored the frown she aimed at him.

She didn't need a watcher. But if she said so, she would sound childish. And having someone else here was… well, not bad. Kind of nice.

She went back to staring at the file before blinking and looking at Jack again. The way his hands were moving… "Are you playing a game?"

"Yep."

"On your tablet?"

"Yep."

Oh. She hadn't known they had games for their tablets - they were compatible with Earth computer files, but that shouldn't include games. As Entrapta had explained once, adapting text files and other data was easy, but they had to basically copy the word processors and other programs Earth used to run on Etherian systems. So… She groaned. "That's what they call piracy on Earth." Glimmer had complained about that. As had Sea Hawk, though he had been offended for the sake of 'real pirates'.

"We aren't on Earth, are we?" His grin widened. "And rules are always less strict in the field."

She snorted and shook her head, then went back to her paperwork.

"We'll get her back. Safe and sound."

She smiled without looking up again.

*****​

"Alright. The latest batch of tests looks good!" Entrapta announced. "We did manage to confirm that communication is possible through micro-portals as long as we rig the communicators to broadcast before the portal opens." She beamed.

Samantha Carter nodded. "We'll need to calibrate the systems to start broadcasting a bit before the set times, to compensate for any delays."

"And if we improve the compression algorithms, we could have two-way verbal communication!" Entrapta nodded enthusiastically. "It'll be lagged, worse than talking over the spy bot network, but it would be possible. With enough power, we could project a microportal every ten seconds."

"That would require more power than we currently have available here," Sam pointed out. And the side effects from working the projector constantly would be nasty. Probably not strong enough to affect the seismic stability of the region - they were microportals, after all - but she would have to study the exact effects of the vibrations caused by the projector in more detail to exclude that danger.

"The strain on the systems operating them continuously during the mission would generate are unlikely to be worth it," Hordak commented. "We might have equipment failures at the worst possible moment."

Entrapta pouted. "And I guess we don't have the time to construct a secondary projector for communication."

"I don't think so," Bow said. "But this is good enough. With the text-to-speech and speech-to-text routines, we can use verbal communication anyway."

"It's still going to suffer from a lot of lag," Entrapta complained.

That couldn't be helped, in Sam's opinion. "We have a working system. That's good enough."

"Does that mean we're ready to go?" Glimmer asked.

Sam drew a short breath. She would prefer to run a test with several travellers, sent to a remote location, to check the system before starting the mission. But Adora had made it clear that she wouldn't let anyone else take that risk, so they might as well not bother.

"The projector needs some maintenance," Beta replied. "To ensure it will run perfectly after the latest tests. Then the mission can start." Sam wondered if the bot would insist on such checks if it weren't Adora going through.

"How long will that take?" Glimmer asked.

"About one and a half hours," Sam told her. She had done that maintenance a lot over the last few days.

Glimmer nodded. "Alright. I'll tell the others."

And they were committed.

*****​

Unknown Location, February 3rd, 2000 (Earth Time)

Catra was glad that they didn't have to tangle with another Death Glider on the way to Bright Moon. This Adora might try to dogfight it again, and unlike her, Catra was not staff weapon-proof. At least, she didn't think Adora would drop her off without landing if they were attacked. Though she couldn't help wondering about that until they reached Bright Moon.

The shield was up - Catra saw it catch the light of the Third Moon of Enchantment - but as Adora approached, an opening appeared, and they could pass through. As they circled above the central yard before landing, she looked up at the moon. "I wonder if Alpha's on that moon as well."

"What?" Adora spat.

"First Ones research station in my world," Catra explained. "Alpha's the bot running it. Like Light Hope, but more Entrapta."

"What?" Adora repeated herself.

Swift Wind touched down amongst the guards who had gathered, and Catra snorted. "If Entrapta and Bow can repair Darla, we might visit." She blinked and turned her head to look at Adora. "Wait! You got her back before you destroyed the Horde, right?"

But Adora scowled and grabbed her arms. "I don't even know who Darla is!" she spat, then lifted Catra up and slid off Swift Wind's back.

"Mara's ship," Catra replied, staggering as she was pushed towards the waiting guards. She saw Adora freezing for a moment, mouth half-open. That wasn't a good sign. "The Horde recovered it in my world. Did you check if it's still in the Crimson Waste?"

"Why should I bother?" Adora said, scowling even more.

"Because that's our best chance to fight Apophis!" Catra blurted out. The guards grabbed her arms, and she squirmed for a moment, suppressing the urge to break their grip.

Adora scoffed. "Yeah, right."

Catra clenched her teeth together. Why was this Adora such an idiot? "Do you have another spaceship on Etheria? Or are you trying to fight the Ha'tak with Swift Wind?"

"Our sacred bond allows us to defeat any foe!"

Catra ignored the fool and stared at Adora.

But the other woman scoffed. "We defeated the Horde. We will defeat those invaders as well!"

Catra groaned. "Let me talk to Angella." Hopefully, the queen was not as stupid.

"She's got other things to do than listen to you! Take her to the new cell!"

"Wait! I have critical intelligence about the enemy!" Catra dug her claws into the ground, making the guards trying to drag her away stumble for a second. "Have you forgotten your training? Intel is everything!" The Horde instructors had been quite clear about that.

Adora frowned again, looking confused for a moment.

Catra hissed under her breath. Adora couldn't have forgotten her cadet training! "Just ask her if she needs intel!"

Adora narrowed her eyes but nodded. "I will."

Catra started to relax - to think this idiot would have dropped her in a cell in the middle of a Goa'uld attack! - but was startled again when the two guards dragged her after Adora.

She considered scratching the floor inside the palace just to make a point - she was going along with this when she could have shredded those two - but decided not to push her luck. It was clear that her fate was hanging by a thread.

It didn't take them long to reach the Alliance meeting room.

"I've taken down one enemy flyer and captured Catra!" Adora announced as she entered.

"I walked up to her and told her to take me here." Catra stared at Angella. "I know this enemy. We've been fighting him in our world."

"Her world? What?" Glimmer blurted out.

"She's with them!" Frosta jumped off her chair - still a bit too big for her - and started to walk towards Catra, ice appearing around her fist.

The other princesses whispered amongst each other.

Catra ignored them all and focused on Angella. She was the only one who mattered. Well, the Snow princess about to hit her with fists made of ice was a problem as well, but Catra knew she could take a punch from the shrimp, and Angella was calling the shots.

The queen glared at her for several seconds, then raised her hand. "Stop, Frosta!"

"But she admitted to working with the enemy!" Frosta whined. Hadn't she grown up at all since the Princess Prom?

"Mom?" Glimmer looked confused. As did Adora, but that was nothing new.

Angella rose from her seat and walked toward Catra. "You know our enemy."

"Apophis. We - the Princess Alliance and others - are fighting him and his fellow Goa'uld in our universe." Catra grinned. "We've kicked his ass on his throne world and destroyed entire fleets of Ha'taks."

"Oe of those razed Plumeria, and you claim to have destroyed fleets of those things?" Glimmer shook her head, then winced when Perfuma sniffled at hearing that.

Angella seemed to ignore both. "I find that hard to believe myself."

"Well, we've got ships of our own." Catra tried to straighten to face Angella on a more equal footing, but the two guards were still gripping her arms. "Better ships than Apophis has. Unfortunately, the only spaceship currently on Etheria is Mara's old ship. In my universe, the Horde tried to recover it, but you got it back. But it seems that you forgot about it here."

Angella drew a sharp breath - Catra caught her flinching for a moment - but when she spoke, she was all calm and collected. "The ship was not recovered here."

"Then it's still in the Crimson Waste," Catra said. "You need to get it and repair it as soon as possible. Apophis won't limit himself to destroying one kingdom. He'll keep doing that until you surrender or are destroyed."

Angella inclined her head a tiny bit. "He has sent us his demands."

Catra wanted to shrug, but she was still held by the guards. "Well, play for time. It'll take a lot of work to get Darla in the air again."

"You don't give us orders!" Glimmer spat.

Others agreed with her, but Catra glanced at Entrapta. The princess was rather quiet, which was a surprise. Ah, she was busy with her tool! Probably already planning the recovery operation.

Catra turned her head and met Angella's eyes again.

The queen glared at her again, then turned to face the others. "She's our enemy, but she's correct: We will need a spaceship of our own to battle this new enemy. We'll stall Apophis and recover She-Ra's ship."

"Yes!" Entrapta cheered. "More First Ones technology!"

Catra snorted. At least this Entrapta and her own were the same.

"And what will the spaceship do?" Glimmer asked, still frowning. "I remember it - it wasn't nearly as big as the one that… is attacking us," she added with a glance at Perfuma.

"It might be enough to get a boarding team inside the Ha'tak," Catra replied. "It's First Ones technology, and even a thousand years ago, they were better than the Goa'uld. If it's not enough, you can use it to get to Alpha on the Third Moon of Enchantment. It's a First Ones research base, and there should be shuttles in the hangar there." This Entrapta might not be able to turn them into stealth shuttles, but they would be very useful in dealing with the Death Gliders and Al'keshs and offer quick transportation. "You could…" She trailed off as she realised that Angella had frozen up again.

"Alpha…" The queen shook her head, then stared at Catra with an unreadable expression. "You know about that?"

"Mom?" Glimmer sounded concerned.

"Angella?" Adora as well.

"A First Ones research base on a moon?" Entrapta sounded enthusiastic.

But Catra had, apparently, stumbled into another minefield. And it was all her fault - of course, Angella would be aware of Alpha! She had been created in the lab! "We found it in our world," she said.

"What is it? Mom?" Glimmer asked.

Catra clenched her teeth so she wouldn't blurt out the answer. Revealing the origin of the princesses in the middle of a Goa'uld invasion? As a suspected enemy? Yeah, right! They had to focus on the war at hand.

"It's where I was… born," Angella said.

Catra suppressed a groan as the room fell silent for a moment.

"You were born on the Third Moon of Enchantment?" Glimmer didn't quite screech, but it came close enough to hurt Catra's ears.

"You're a First One?" Adora blurted out.

"That's why Bright Moon lays claim to the moons!" Mermista apparently needed to work on her priorities as well.

Angella turned to look at Glimmer. "Yes. In the First Ones research station." She turned to Adora. "No, I am not a First One." She pressed her lips together. "Alpha made that very clear," she added with a glance at Catra.

Catra winced. "Yeah, that figures."

"What are you talking about?" Glimmer pouted at both of them. "I don't get it! Who is Alpha?"

Adora shook her head. "But… does that mean that Catra told the truth?"

"Don't act so shocked!" Catra hissed. Really, she wasn't that bad.

Angella straightened. "It's not important right now. We're in the middle of an invasion and must focus on that. We need to recover that spaceship and then board Apophis's ship. Before he destroys another kingdom." She turned to Glimmer. "You will lead the recovery operation. Take Bow and Entrapta with you. And Adora," she added.

"Alright, Mom."

"The rest of us will do our best to stall the enemy," Angella went on.

"Let's hope our best will be enough," Mermista muttered. "We don't have flying ships."

"Apophis will only reach Salineas over my dead body, my love!"

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Angella? Maybe I should stay as well. I can engage their flyers with Swift Wind," Adroa suggested.

Oh, for…! Catra opened her mouth to tell the idiot off - she should know better! - but Angella shook her head.

"You need to go. It's She-Ra's ship," she said. "And you're a First One. You will be needed to take control of it."

Yeah, she definitely knew Alpha, Catra thought. Probably far too well.

*****​

Research Station Beta, PU-9623, February 4th, 2000 (Earth Time)

Jack O'Neill suppressed a yawn as he approached the transport area. He should have slept a bit while waiting. Maybe if he hadn't raided Danel's coffee supply… But what was done was done.

Adora was, unsurprisingly, already standing there, in full She-Ra uniform, sword out. And she looked eager and ready, not tired at all despite the early hour. Of course, she was cheating with magic.

Glimmer yawned as she joined them, almost dragging her staff along the floor. But Teal'c looked alert as ever - of course, Jack's friend cheated with his Jaffa meditation thingie.

And Daniel was still hopped up on coffee, it seemed. Then again, he was always eager when it came to meeting new people. At least Sha're seemed to be sufficiently wary to keep him out of trouble if Jack was too busy.

"Alright!" Entrapta walked over, followed by Bow and Carter. "Hordak will be using the projector as soon as we're ready!"

Jack would have preferred someone else, but since Bow, Entrapta and Carter were coming with them, Hordak was the only choice left. Someone had to keep an eye on Beta as well, even though they had moved Taweret off-planet already. Just in case the bot got ideas about subverting authority again, what with both Jack and Adora going off-dimension.

He looked at the group. "Everyone ready?" They looked ready, at least. "Remember: No thinking of Marshmallow Men!" Daniel chuckled, and Carter rolled her eyes with a wry smile, which was about the best he could have hoped for, but the others looked lost. "We'll have to watch Ghostbusters together," he said.

"But Jack is correct - we'll be shaping the dimension around us with our thoughts, so we should, ah, control ourselves," Daniel said.

"The effects should be fairly limited according to our projections," Carter said. "At least at the start."

That was reassuring. "Then let's keep it that way," Jack said. "Let's go."

"Alright! Science Buddy, go!"

A moment later, Jack heard a humming noise, and then everything went white.

And then he was standing on grass. Tall grass. Vaguely familiar, he had seen… He trailed off and then cursed. They were on a hill, looking at a Ha'tak attacking Bright Moon, cannon fire splashing against a magic shield covering the entire town. Jack recognised the markings on the ship. "How the hell did Apophis arrive here before us?" he spat. "And why are we on Etheria?"

"Oh, no!" Daniel shook his head. "Uh. I don't think he arrived here before us, Jack. And this is probably not Etheria."

What? Jack turned to look at him. "What do you mean?"

"This dimension is shaped by our thoughts. And Taweret sent over a dozen of Apophis's slaves over. Slaves who considered him their god." Daniel grimaced. "They might have created their god here."

Jack blinked. That… made a lot of sense. But it also meant they were screwed.

"Fuck!" he spat.

*****​
 

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