Chapter 28 – End Game

"He's heading for northern Minnesota, I'm sure of it." said Sam, sitting by the side of the control console. "According to the police files, he's been rousted in nearly every town and city he's stopped in. Usually they picked him up and charged him with vagrancy, loitering in a public place, anything to put him inside for a few hours or days and then kick him out of town. The last place was Minneapolis three days ago, so he's obviously trying to make it to his cabin. We'll go there and if he's not around, Teal'c and I will wait while you, Jen, keep Jeff with you and scout the area in the ship. If Jack sees it flying round I'm hoping that he'll work out that it's us and try to find a way of attracting our attention."

Within thirty minutes they could see the lake where Jack's retreat was situated, and Teal'c steered them smoothly and unerringly across the water to the small jetty next to his cabin. As he hovered above the lake, Sam was almost in tears at the sight before them.

The wreckage of the small wooden structure stood as stark evidence of the depths of revenge and harassment to which the NID had been prepared to go to make sure that Jack O'Neill never enjoyed another moment of life on Earth. To their trained military eyes, they could see that explosives had been used to demolish the stone chimney stack, leading to the collapse of the roof and one wall. The contents of the interior – furniture, utensils, mementos – were scattered across the remains and the ground outside, and nearly everything that was breakable had been duly smashed. Sam's heart broke at the spectacle, and she was the first to step out of the ship onto the ground. She of all people knew just what this piece of sacred ground meant to Jack, and she prayed that they would find him soon. But underneath the fear and the uncertainty, she felt the distant, slow burn of an emotion almost unknown to her. Pure, unadulterated rage. Controllable for now, but coming out soon, of that she was certain.

Teal'c soon joined her, equally upset at the treatment his dearest friend had received. "This was done some few weeks ago, I believe." he said, reaching out and gently holding her hand. "Rainfall has damaged the contents. However, there are also signs of fresh activity, and footprints lead that way along the lake shore."

He noticed the distress in Sam's face, and turned back to the open door of the Al'kesh. "JenHailey, take the ship and fly slowly around the lake shore to the East. We believe that O'Neill has been here recently and may be found in that direction. We will commence walking. Collect us where you find us on the shore in one hour from now."

On seeing that Jen had understood, Teal'c returned to Sam and explained what he had just told their companion. They watched as the craft lifted slowly and moved sedately off to the East, with Jeff's face clearly visible in the window as he began to search for Jack. Much higher in the sky were the contrails of circling F-15 fighter planes, keeping watch and ready to attack if ordered.

"Teal'c, these tracks don't seem right somehow." said Sam as they walked along the faint trail, pushing aside low-hanging branches from time to time.

"Indeed not, Samantha." he replied. "They indicate someone who is using an artificial support to avoid placing undue pressure on his right leg."

"What, like a walking stick or a crutch?" she asked.

"I believe so." he confirmed. "In any event, we shall gain on him fairly quickly at this pace as we are travelling faster. The tracks are quite fresh here."

"Perhaps we should call out for him." Sam suggested. "No, wait. I'll do it. He'll know for sure it's me then and not the NID or the cops chasing him. He may have seen the Al'kesh but he won't know for sure who's flying it."

She cupped her hands around her mouth and took a deep breath, exhaling as she shouted his name for all she was worth. "Jack! It's me, Sam! Jack! Where are you?" They continued to walk along and she repeated the calls several times.

Suddenly Teal'c's radio crackled into life and they heard Jen's voice. "We can see him! He's about a kilometre ahead of you, just back from the shore line about fifty metres. He appears to have fallen and isn't moving."

"Acknowledged." Teal'c responded. "We will make haste. Meet us there."

"Negative, Teal'c." Jen came back. "We are tracking two black trucks coming up the road to the cabin. They're some distance away yet but it looks like the bad guys. I'll stop them, though."

"Agreed." said Teal'c. "But try to use non-lethal means. I do not wish to unduly antagonise our opponents before we have completed our mission."

"Spoilsport." replied Jen as the ship zoomed up and out of view behind them.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam ran the last thirty metres as fast as she could on seeing Jack's prone form in a small clearing. He was lying in a crumpled position on his right side, his leg folded awkwardly underneath him and a broken home-made crutch at his side. Her relief on finding a weak pulse was almost overwhelming, and she and Teal'c carefully turned him over so that he could lie on his back.

They were shocked by his appearance. Like Jeff, he was a pale colour, having lost all of the deep tan he'd gained on Andar. His hair seemed whiter than before, and thinner. Clearly he'd lost weight since she last saw him – not that he had carried any excess fat before, but now he was almost gaunt in appearance. His skin was cold to the touch, his eyes red- rimmed and his breathing shallow. She sat cradling his head in her lap while Teal'c rubbed his hands to try to warm them and rouse him from his stupor.

In the distance they heard and felt the earth-shaking reports that signalled that Jen was – hopefully – using less than extreme measures with the plasma cannon to halt the approaching vehicles. At least, Teal'c was hoping: Sam had a rather harder viewpoint.

The shocks seemed to bring Jack round again and he opened his eyes fitfully, to find the one face in the Universe that he wanted to see staring back down at him. He tried to speak and his throat was dry, but the one word he wanted to say was just audible.

"Sam."

She bent down and kissed him gently, holding his face in her palms. The tears coupled with her trademark ear-to-ear grin that only came out in times of sheer delight assured Jack that he was not hallucinating, but he still spent several moments coming in and out of consciousness before he could respond with a weak smile. He saw Teal'c for the first time and knew instantly that his friend must have abandoned everything in his own life to be here. He squeezed Teal'c's hand weakly and was greeted with an equally cheerful grin from the Jaffa.

Jack's next fully aware moment was back on board the Goa'uld bomber, where he found himself laying on a couch with Sam sitting beside him. In the background, Jeff Grogan smiled as he stared across from the other couch. Sam offered him sips of water from a cup, but he was still too weak to sit up by himself. He knew that he'd been near the end back there by the lake, his will to carry on almost spent after discovering the damage done to his only treasured possession, his cabin. He'd searched frantically through the wreckage only to find that the photograph of his late son Charlie had been ripped from its frame and torn in two. Despairing at the likelihood of never seeing Sam and Jen again, distraught by the discovery of the damage to his only possessions, lack of regular meals and exposure to the cold climate had meant that when he fell as a result of his crutch giving way, he no longer had the wherewithal to get up again.

But now, thinking of Charlie made him realise something else. "Sam, stand up, please." he croaked. Concerned, she obeyed and stepped back from the couch.

His face broke into an awkward grin, as though it was something he hadn't done in a while. He was transfixed by the sight of her beautifully rounded stomach that even the sloppy tunic couldn't conceal. Recognising the direction of his gaze, Sam reached for his hand and held it across her midriff, just as she had done on the first night she had suspected she was pregnant. Their eyes locked and an electric thrill ran through him, bringing him further back to life. He noticed too the plaster cast on her arm, and without waiting for his question, she merely lifted it slightly and laughed. "Underwater mishap."

Wanting to do more to let him know that they were truly together now, Sam knelt down next to the couch and spoke softly so that only Jack could hear. "We'll have our own cabin soon, I promise you. It won't be on Earth, but it'll be somewhere for our kids and then theirs to grow up in. And I'm never letting you out of my sight again, Jack. Never."

The sounds of an argument coming from the flight console drew them out of their reverie.

"I believe I said to use non-lethal means, JenHailey." uttered Teal'c.

"I was!" retorted the young woman. "I just got lucky with that first shot. I wasn't aiming to crater the road right in front of that car when they were travelling at that speed! They just sort of..... crashed into it."

"Did they get in a call for assistance after the crash? called Sam, walking forward to join them.

"Yeah, we heard them on the scanner." Jen said casually.

"Very well. I'll take over now, Jen." Sam said with authority. Looking round, she said to Teal'c "If you have any objections to what I plan to do next, let's hear them now, Teal'c. It's what we discussed on the way here."

"I have none, Samantha." replied the Jaffa.

"Jen, make sure that Jack and Jeff are restrained on the couches and then strap yourselves in." Sam instructed her. "It's going to be a little rough for the next hour or so."

As soon as all were settled, Sam moved the throttles to maximum atmospheric boost and the Al'kesh shot into the sky at a near-vertical angle for twenty seconds, climbing straight past the circling USAF planes that never stood a chance of being able to follow nor detect the direction in which they were headed next. At the boundaries of space where the sky was turning from blue to deep purple, she nosed it into the peak of an inverted parabola and dived back earthwards, heading for the fields of Pennsylvania and the Delaware River. Inside the craft the inertial dampening field protected the occupants from most of the effects of acceleration, but both Jeff and Jack, strapped down as they were to the sleeping couches for safety, felt distinctly queasy as the beds seemed to tilt first one way and then the other.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Workers and agents on the twenty-third floor of the NID Central Office on Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia were shocked on looking out of the window to find a black and silver spaceship blotting out the sun as it hovered just metres away from the glass frontage. They could not miss the overwhelming noise of a woman's voice heard simultaneously over the building's PA system and on what seemed to be a very high-volume loudspeaker situated outside.

"You have ten minutes to evacuate the building before it is demolished. This is the final and only warning. Drop your work now and leave the building, moving as far away as possible." Those who looked saw the alien ship moving slowly from side to side, as though the occupants were checking on the movement inside through the windows. A rattle of small arms fire was heard as guards fired on the craft from the rooftop and the ground outside. Barely-visible flashes of bullets impacting the ship at first encouraged the would-be defenders, but when the large cannon on the underside swivelled and pointed downwards, they ceased firing and watched in awe as a bright stream of fire instantly produced a huge crater in the street some one hundred metres away.

"Nine minutes." came the voice again. It spurred on the slow movers and the disbelievers, and those on the roof fled when the ship drifted up to their level and aimed the cannon in their direction.

When onlookers began to approach from nearby buildings and streets, the ship began to move backwards and forwards along the Boulevard, emitting an eerie and highly-discomforting screech from its loudspeakers, scattering those in the vicinity.

Two more countdown warnings and further manoeuvrings completed the evacuation, and Sam was satisfied that the time had come. "You say their mainframe computers are on the first floor, right?" she asked without looking round.

"That's right." Jen replied. "I've traced the external downlink to their backup computers to Area 51 and a second set in a warehouse complex in Des Moines. The NID probably has minor data storage facilities elsewhere but we can wipe the biggest part of their files in these three locations. It probably won't take more than a one-second burst of plasma fire to ionise their hard drives to a frazzle."

"No, they need to learn the lesson." said Sam coldly. The set of her jaw and the icy edge to her voice recalled for Jen the power that Sam could at times unknowingly hold over opponents or subordinates.

Once more the cannon acquired its target, but this time Sam fired a five- second burst, walking the flaming arc that sliced through the windows of the building along the length of the first floor. Inside, a series of explosions. smoke and flames erupted. She then pulled the ship a little way back from the structure and repeated the firing pattern on other floors higher up. Out of the side portal Jen saw the few people who had lingered nearby – maybe NID men or just the overly curious, she couldn't tell – run away hastily as broken glass showered from the building and thick smoke enveloped the whole block. Jen's final view as Sam withdrew for the last time was the beginnings of an inferno, and then they were soaring rapidly to thirty thousand metres altitude again.

Area 51 in Nevada presented a different kind of target. Sam knew that it would be heavily defended, possibly by the Air Force F-302's that could match the Al'kesh for speed. Although their upgraded force shield would protect them for the most part, aerial combat was best avoided altogether. She therefore headed down to the ground in a remote part of the desert, giving the impression to any tracking radars that they were heading in a different direction as she deliberately pulled out of the dive early. But once they were flying at dizzying speed just metres over the ground, she pulled a one hundred and eighty degree flat turn and the craft skimmed at over Mach three towards its second objective, keeping well below the radar horizon for the last one hundred kilometres.

Sam knew the layout of the base from her time spent working there, and the low metal shed housing the computer banks was easy to identify. She set the targeting computer to lob a bomb into its heart as the ship pulled up into the sky two kilometres before it overflew the base. The rest was easy, and after the autopilot had triggered its release, Jen was able to view in the rear scanner monitor the entire graceful arc that the bomb followed on its path to obliteration. Still no fighters on their tail, either. Casualties on the ground – perhaps. Sam would find time to regret that later if it turned out to be the case, but for the moment she was driven by the need not only to settle accounts but to make sure that the NID would be damaged enough to be flushed into the public gaze.

The warehouse in Des Moines was the easiest nut to crack. Isolated in the corner of an industrial zone, they scared off the inhabitants with a few bursts of cannon fire before she took pleasure in practically vaporising the building from above with a sustained burst of plasma fire. By the time the remains had cooled down, the metal and silicon of the computers would be melted into the vitrified concrete that was now the floor.

Suddenly weary, Sam asked Teal'c to take over the pilot's console and she drew herself and Jack cups of water from the galley before sitting down beside him again. Jen was fussing over Jeff again, but unlike Jack, he could get up and walk around now.

"Are we done with the roller coaster part?" Jack croaked.

"More or less." she said, staring back at him. "Just time for a house call, and then we're off. To home, wherever that turns out to be."

"Who?" asked Jack.

"One guess." she said, smiling enigmatically.

"K?" Jack wheezed, and relaxed again as he saw Sam's nod of confirmation. He couldn't help glancing down at his shattered knee. "Nothing too trivial in mind, I hope?"

"You won't be disappointed." she replied and leaned forward to kiss his forehead.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Hovering over the Ohio River, the immaculate rear gardens of Senator Kinsey's country mansion were laid out before them through the front windows of the Al'kesh.

"Put a shot through the house roof." said Sam coldly. "We're done waiting for him."

Jen obliged, traversing the cannon slightly as she fired so that the whole peaked structure simply collapsed. She seemed very pleased at the results of her handiwork.

Again Sam keyed the external loudspeaker and called "One minute, Kinsey. Come out into the rear gardens. Or don't you have the guts to meet me face- to-face?"

A figure appeared through the back doors, climbing around the rubble that constituted the remains of the roof and walking hesitantly towards the river. Black-suited men stood in the doorway watching him move away. Sam eased the ship forward and hovered so that the side door was just above the lawn. Nodding to Teal'c to take over, she opened the door and stepped out by herself and walked towards the approaching man.

Kinsey brightened a little when he recognised her and saw her obvious condition of impending motherhood, and the fact that she wasn't brandishing a gun. The two of them stopped and faced each other.

"What do you want from me, Major Carter?" he said. "That....." he waved his arm in the direction of his ruined house. "Was so unnecessary and vindictive."

"I want only to know why you manipulated the NID to hound Colonel O'Neill to death." she said in a steady voice.

"To encourage others to see that the forces of law and order will not stand for opposition from mavericks like......" Kinsey began.

"Try personal, petty revenge." Sam interrupted.

"Like you've just done to my house? You are in no position to lecture *me*, Major. I'll make you pay for this as well. You'll never get to mother that brat you're carrying if you stay anywhere on Earth! Is that O'Neill's doing or one of the others you've slept with?"

Sam's eye twitched but she didn't move. He didn't recognise the steely glint that had replaced her neutral expression and emboldened by her apparent lack of response, Kinsey continued.

"I suggest you leave now, Major, before the Air Force comes to blow you all away. I've spent all the time I'm going to on responding to your threats. You'll not get away with this!"

His own face froze as Sam's right elbow moved slightly and a combat knife slipped out of her right sleeve and into her hand. He couldn't comprehend the next swift movement of her arm, and he didn't feel the razor-sharp blade slice through his clothes and skin, leaving a red trail from his right hip across to his left shoulder.

He merely stared at the spatters of blood on his hand as he clutched his chest in reaction, and staggered backwards, tripping over and falling heavily on his back. He looked up and for the first time noticed the terrifying look she was giving him.

"You!" he spluttered. "You've murdered me!"

"Not if your security guards like you well enough to get you to hospital before you bleed to death." said Sam coolly. "I hope you've been nice to them. The wound isn't so deep that you won't make it if they're *sharp*."

She turned on her heel and strode back to the ship, dropping the knife onto the grass as she left. Held up by Teal'c, Jack looked on impassively from the ship's view port, staying only long enough to see her arrive back on board.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

In the gentle evening sunlight of a calm Chulak autumn, Sam looked contentedly on from her porch lounger as Jack strolled around the small clearing at the rear of their simple house. His face was a picture of pure contentment, something that Sam had only seen again in recent weeks. In his arms their tiny infant was soothed by the rhythm of his walk, as though his pronounced limp was adding to her sense of comfort. She had stopped crying and would soon be asleep.

Someone, Sam couldn't remember who, had told her that you were supposed to 'train' babies to fall asleep by themselves and not allow them to manipulate their parents for attention right from the start. She had given up that idea before Grace Janet O'Neill was one week old, as it was apparent to all that her husband was the Galaxy's easiest push-over when it came to children of any age.

Jack smiled at her as he carried the sleeping baby into the house and gently deposited her in the cot at the back of their only bedroom. Another 'rule' broken about the supposed need to give infants their own quarters. She knew that Jack wouldn't stint in adding rooms to this house or finding a bigger one as their children grew – see, there? She was already thinking in the plural.

And that thinking was leading to the next treat in their lives. She knew that Jack would never suggest starting the process of creating their second child until she was ready. He'd been nothing but gentle, caring and obviously frustrated since he'd regained sufficient energy to re-start his life here on Chulak. And tonight, some ten weeks after Grace's birth, she felt more than ready to take that step with him.

As Jack came out of the house to pass her a cup of herbal tea as she lay there, she smiled at him as she accepted it, but took his hand with her other one and placed the cup straight on the floor. She pulled him down towards her, sitting up at the same time to reach forward and kiss him.

"Why, Mrs. O'Neill!" he said gently. "What can I do for you?"

"Not what." she grinned at him. "Where. When. Here on the porch. Now."

"But....."

"But what? It's been over four months since we....."

"The splinters, Sam. This floor's quite rough."

"Gone soft, have you?"

"I was thinking of you, actually."

"Pig."

"Do you realise......"

"Stop thinking, Jack. That's my department."

"No, do you realise that this is the first time we've made out in a house since we left Jobe."

"Your point being?"

"Nothing. I was just pointing out....."

"Shut up, then."

"Yes, dear."

It took *ages* to get all the splinters out of his butt, and strangely, he didn't complain.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Author's note:

Thank you so much to all the kind people who've sent reviews and e-mails. I am glad (and somewhat surprised) that you've followed the story to this point and that so many of you have said that you've enjoyed it.

As Michele pointed out, I *am* a sucker for sequels, so you never know your luck. But just when, I'm not sure. This story took much longer to finish than I intended because work has been particularly stressful and time- consuming this year. Must go – the phone's ringing, and it'll be the boss again. If you read Dilbert, you'll know what it's like.

Best wishes to you all. Enjoy life. Ted.