Chapter 5 – It's a Kind of Magic
The interwoven gold, red and black threads and loops around the filigree metal hook looked nothing like a fly to anyone – not even to a fish. Except of course, to another fisherman, and even then only one who found it a fascinating enough pastime to want to live and stay at the cutting edge of their art. As for the fish – well, the hypnotic way it could move, thanks to the combined intricacies of currents, eddies and the deft wrist movement of the fly fisher conveyed another altogether irresistible message.
Jack O'Neill sighed and gently placed his creation on the desk in front of him, deliberately positioning it alongside others in the shaft of sunlight that angled across the glass-topped surface for the purposes of admiration. He lifted his glasses to sit on the top of his head and without looking round, reached for the half-empty beer bottle at the side but took only a small sip before grimacing at its warmth and lack of fizz, placing it immediately back down. Had it really been so long since he had said goodbye to Sam that morning and sat down in their back-room den to continue preparations for the first family visit of the summer to Minnesota? And their den it definitely was, being the only room of the house not dominated by the possessions, lifestyle, sounds and passing presence of the next generation of teenaged O'Neill's. Years ago Sam had found and brought home the antique railroad notice that adorned the door, proclaiming that 'This closet is for the use of passengers only. Workmen, cabmen, fishporters and idlers are not permitted to use it. By Order of The Management, CRR of NJ.' For a reason that neither parent understood, both Jonathan and Gracie respected the exclusion rule – possibly the only household one that they did.
In truth, Jack felt that his life could not really get much better than it did on a regular basis these days. That he was in love with his wife more and more as the months and years passed went without saying, combined with his genuine amazement that she was no less dependent on him in turn. The constant challenges that their children presented made sure that periods of peace, quiet and recreation will still welcome when they could be taken.
Sam was absorbed in her role as Science Administrator at the SGC (still masquerading as radar telemetry to all others, including their offspring). Although a civilian since her retirement from the Air Force a few years back, Jack knew that she pushed beyond the job's strict boundaries and somehow found her way off-world from time to time, all in the name of 'on-site training' or 'sample collection' or even 'instrument calibration' as the opportunity arose. Unlike the old days however, she restricted her work hours sufficiently to spend regular time with those that she doted on: two kids who were pushing over a few boundaries themselves at home and school, and a husband whose duties and hobbies seemed to merge into one never-ending cascade of hesitant progress through disorder.
Jack mused once more over the events of the last few weeks.
Despite being fifteen years his junior, Sam was at long last opting out of a full-time role at the SGC, having nearly fallen into the trap of believing that she had to continue to lead from the front in all areas of her work, ranging from planetary exploration, sample-gathering and analytical work to administration. It had been Daniel Jackson, during one of his increasingly rare visits to Cheyenne Mountain, who had taken her aside and delivered the shock news that her subordinates and assistants were not only fitter and more agile than she now was, but also her failure to delegate adequately was holding back some of the brighter ones – all of whom were too in awe of her reputation and still-formidable abilities to actually broach the subject directly. Easy to miss noticing when she loved science and investigation as much as they did.
Jack recalled particularly the evening when she had arrived home earlier than usual in a daze, and had sat very quietly through dinner. Sensing that this situation had to be tackled head-on, he had without too much difficulty bribed Jonathan and his sister to go out to a neighbouring school-friend's house for a couple of hours. As soon as they had left, he led Sam to the lounge, clearing the kids' magazines, books, personal hi-fi's and items of clothing from the sofa with one scything movement of the arm, sat her down gently and lowered himself beside her, taking her hand in his.
"The beans, Carter." he had said gently. "No holding back. Spill!"
Some time passed before she had responded by grasping his hand in both of hers, leaning across to kiss his cheek. "I'm reliably informed that I'm getting old, dear." she had stated calmly. "And don't you dare deny it, Jack!"
His nonplussed expression had caused her to lean back and laugh out loud. He never even got to the "I'm the wrong person….." response out before she had continued.
"I'm retiring." came the bald statement. She had then interpreted his subsequent silence for acceptance and added "Daniel's right. I need to see the kids growing up more than the SGC needs me any more. And I need you, Jack. More than ever before, and more than anything else in the Galaxy. It'll probably take a month or two to come into effect but it's going down."
The sensible man needs no prompting to take on board such a situation and such an offer, and for once Jack had acted the part to perfection. In appreciation of his acquiescence and support, she had waited that night until she knew that Grace would be asleep and for Jonathan in his bedroom to be wrapped in the womb of Heavy Metal music played at eardrum-rattling level through his new hi-fi headphones. Wearing the dubiously-named 'Opium' perfume that she knew would do that little extra something for Jack, she had woken him when she entered their bedroom and had proceeded to give him the time of his life. All of which, she later explained to him, had been to build up her courage to hand in her resignation the following day.
"You sure this is going to be enough for you without all the doohickies?" had been his only question before they slept.
"No, but I am sure that you'll convince me."
The patch of sunlight had moved off his work of art on the desktop while he had been lost in his reverie, and it took the slam of the front door to bring him fully into the present. He got up stiffly and walked through to the kitchen to find Grace rifling the contents of the refrigerator with no small degree of impatience. He was more surprised to see her taking out his wife's sacred store of chocolate-covered cookies ("They taste better when they're cold", Sam had explained some thirteen years previously. "It's a scientifically-proven fact.") and swing the door shut with a lot more force than was strictly necessary.
"I'll replace them!" she said gruffly without looking round at her father standing in the kitchen doorway. "So no snitching, OK Dad?"
He shrugged his shoulders briefly as she flounced passed him, and then followed her into the lounge. Grace picked up the TV remote and flopped onto the sofa as the set sprang to life. With a deep sigh she dropped the control onto the carpet and her hand dived into the packet of chocolate delights.
Jack sat down at the other end of the seat, picked up the control and the TV went back into hibernation. Grace didn't move, but continued to dip into the bag, crunching the contents as she stared ahead. Jack reached over and helped himself and still his daughter didn't react until the cookie bag was nearly empty, when she stopped him from trying to pull it away. Her silence ran out of steam a few moments later.
"Stupid science class! Stupid teacher! Stupid school!" she muttered.
"Geeks." Jack replied.
"Don't know anything!" she went on. "If it's not on the year course, it can't exist!"
"Nerds." he responded, still eyeing the biscuit bag.
"Stop agreeing with me!"
"You're still doing it!"
Grace allowed her shoulders to slump, for once not wanting to play the verbal ping-pong game. She knew that her father would get her it out of her sooner or later, and later was not on her agenda right now.
"It's the science project, you know? The one where they said Mom wasn't to help this time." she explained. "Not only because that mini-fireball projector burnt a hole through the tabletop last year."
Jack's eyebrows rose. He'd been away for nearly three weeks a year back (courtesy of the Asgard) and had missed the occasion, having forgotten about it after his whole family had insisted that the school science week was no big deal and he hadn't missed anything. Really. Now however, the tiniest cloud of suspicion was forming that maybe, just maybe his wife's knowledge of the workings of alien energy weapons might have been somehow brought to bear on the occasion. Time for that later, though.
"And?" he persisted.
"So I thought I'd avoid the whole pyrotechnics thing this time round." Grace continued. "No crappy lava volcanoes or stuff like that. So I did something different based on math and metalwork."
"What, like a Chinese ring-puzzle?" asked Jack, becoming more intrigued as time went by. "A Moebius strip maybe, or a Klein bottle?"
"Uh? You know about those things, Dad?"
"Not as dumb as your Mom says." he grinned back. "Well?"
"I made a tesseract."
"Tesseract. A four-dimensional cube." stated Grace. Seeing the look of surprise, she added, as though to reassure him, "Not a very big one. It won't do clever stuff like linear displacement of solid objects because I haven't……"
"Stop right there, kid!" he said loudly, standing up and reaching for the cell phone in his shirt pocket. He pressed speed dial number one and waited a few seconds. "Sam, drop whatever you're doing and get home now. Yes, that's right. Yes, now. No, everyone's OK. Yes. Yes. No, the kids are fine, I'm fine, the dog's fine, the parrot's fine and it's not said 'that' word again. Are you ever going to forget that? It's just that we've got a grade 'A' situation developing. Kind of a foothold, in a funny sort of way. Thought you'd see that. Yes, see you in thirty. Bye. Oh, by the way, if you could stop off for some chocolate cookies on the way? OK, OK. I know. Yes, and you don't know how sorry we….. See you soon."
Jack turned back to his puzzled daughter.
"I take it that the teacher doesn't accept what you're offering?" he asked.
"No. He says it's art or craft, not science, because 'it's just a representation of an abstract concept and doesn't do anything'." she mimicked. "And even if I can apparently show it doing stuff then it'll just be a conjuring trick. He'll flunk me unless I can come up with something else in the next two weeks."
"Would a hand-held lightning generator do it?"
"Dad!" A pause. "Could we? I might accidentally zap….."
"Don't go there, Gracie."
Sam strolled through the front door and walked through to the rear of the house, to find her family clustered round the small table on the back veranda, talking in low tones. They looked round as she pulled up short, as though surprised by her entrance.
"What's going on?" she asked, puzzled. "Your call made it sound like an emergency. Well, until the part about the cookies. Now I'm just intrigued."
"Well, it's a kind of slow emergency, dear." replied her husband. "Significant, but slow. Gracie, care to explain?"
The youngest O'Neill took her time and started with a phrase that she thought should be an essential part of the preamble.
"Jonathan helped me."
"Thanks, squirt." her older brother retorted. "Remind me to return the favour sometime."
Grace stared back at the three pairs of eyes focussed on her and cleared her throat.
"Imadeatesseractfortheschoolscienceproject." came out very quickly.
"A what?" said Sam, not believing what she thought she had heard.
"A tesseract." Grace repeated. "But like I told Dad, it doesn't work properly yet."
Jack stared at Sam's expression and said "Come on, Sam. Like you didn't have a hand in it!"
"I swear I haven't!" she retorted. "I would never….. Ah." She had at last noticed Jack's eyes giving her that look of inside knowledge. "You know about last year, then. But not this! Gracie – that's absolutely wonderful! Is this it?" Sam's gaze took in the black metal spindles delicately joined at the ends, forming a cube on a cube on a cube, each segment appearing to be at right angles to its neighbour, and yet not so. She half closed her eyes and looked at it out of focus, and thought that she could just see a fleeting glimpse of something more.
"Yes." Grace smiled for the first time. "I drew the design and cut the pieces in the metal-working lab at school, and Jonathan soldered the joints for me. But we only made one, so we can't do mass spatial translation yet. And this one, well I know it's only the first attempt, but the field energy's a lot lower than we thought it would be."
"We thought you might help us with that, Mom." added Jonathan. "It wouldn't really be going against the science project rules though, as they don't allow us to get involved with anything to do with high electrical currents."
"Yeah, Mom. Please!" begged Grace.
"Well, I'll see what I can do." Sam replied. "How are you keeping it contained? Magnetic field?"
"Yes. The plate it's hovering over with a one millimetre gap has an electromagnetic loop attached to the other side, powered by a cell." Grace eagerly explained, so happy now that she had established her mother's support. Dad's – well, that would take a little working on, she could see.
Jack stepped from the excited group and made his announcement. "The dog and I are going outside now. We might be gone for some time." He turned to leave, not wanting his kids to catch his expression, the one he had never been able to control: that sinking feeling. This situation had the hallmarks of 'Geeks Running Away with Their Enthusiasm' and while he didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings – least of all these three – he could see all kinds of unwanted attention coming their way if he couldn't head them off. They would be going down in the community as either wizards or loonies, depending on whether there was anything to this everyday multi-dimensional gizmo that their daughter, their wonderful daughter had produced. What was really getting under his skin was his family's instant acceptance of the ordinariness of something that the rest of humanity would think of as miraculous. Or dangerous. Worse still, it could be marking the time when they should introduce their kids to the Great Secret in Cheyenne Mountain. He didn't mind that – in fact, he wanted it. But it would bring his family under the close scrutiny of secret Government organisations whose track record and respect for people were dubious at best, and that was to be avoided until he could be sure of having a reasonable degree of control over the situation.
"Good boy, Hoffman!" he said as the dog bounced excitedly beside him as he set off down the road. Even after six years, he was still amused by Sam's name for him. "Er, Hoffman?" Daniel Jackson had asked. "Kind of unusual name, Sam. I mean….."
"Short for Tales of Hoffman." Sam had smiled back at him. "Because he doesn't often bark." Daniel had groaned, Jack had laughed and Teal'c had needed an explanation of the musical conundrum. One of the great joys for him in their marriage had been her wholehearted conversion to classical music, and she was just as enthusiastic as himself over the passion of Bach and Beethoven, the drama of Wagner and the frivolity of Puccini and Mozart.
"Wait for me!" was a call he hadn't expected, and he turned to find Sam running to catch up. He obliged and she looped her arm through his as they set off again.
"Before you ask, dear, I really didn't get involved in this one." she explained. "But aren't you proud of them?"
"Of course I am. But I might be more proud of them if I understood what the devil they've made." He patted her hand as it rested on his arm. "Go easy on me with the explanation, Sam. You know the consequences if they get into the spotlight for weird science. Even if there's no connection to 'Deep Space Radar Telemetry', certain people will assume that there is and a lot of hard questions are going to be asked."
"Ah! I see now." she responded. "OK, well it goes like this. You understand that our senses tell us that we live in a three-dimensional world – length, breadth and depth, with time as a fourth element: in some ways, a fourth dimension." She saw him nod hesitantly. "Well, think backwards. Picture the two-dimensional world on the surface of a flat sheet of paper. A stationary dot is just a flat spot on the paper. It looks like a dot. But a moving dot, plotted at different times, looks like a continuous line to us three-dimensional people. But to a two-dimensional creature on the paper, it still looks like a dot. He can sense the passage of time but he can't sense a third dimension. There's no depth in his world. He can't see a cube like we can, but he could see a set of straight lines drawn on the paper that would be a projection of a cube into his world."
"Is this like the worm boring through the apple that you told me about back in the early days when you tried to explain wormhole theory?" asked Jack.
"Kind of." said Sam, smiling at his memory powers. "Well, we poor three-D creatures can see a three-D cube, but not a four-D one in its full glory, just a three-D projection of one. A three-D cube moving to different places at different times still looks like a cube to us. But a four-D cube, well, all we can glimpse is something that looks like an ordinary cube but has an additional dimension at right-angles to the other three. The passage of time as it exists in our world does not happen within the confines of the four-D cube, and it would seem if we could look into it as though space was folding in on itself as time stood still."
"Is it dangerous?" Jack's question brought her back to Earth. "Should we go back now and quarantine it?"
"No, I don't think so." said Sam thoughtfully. "At least, not one that small. And not by itself."
"So if they build another one, are they going to breed, or what?" he asked. "And what's the meaning of 'mass spatial displacement'? Sounds like a bad case of 'Beam me up, Scotty!'. Or one false move and the nearest fly starts calling 'Help me! I'm Jeff Goldblum?'"
"Theoretically those things are possible." Sam replied. "I'll need to run the energy audit on the concept, though." Her voice started to trail off as the tumult of possibilities cascaded through her mind. "It's possible that exponential increases in power will be needed the larger the object gets, so we might be no better off than we are now with wormhole generation. But it might just work the other way and we get by on a fraction of…… What?"
She hadn't noticed that Jack had stopped walking, but was standing, looking at her. Hoffman, contrary to his name's derivation, barked his impatience at being kept from patrolling his territory around the village.
"Samantha, dearest." Jack sighed. "My genius family may have come up with the invention to change the world, but just think about things for a moment. Grace is twelve years old, and Jonathan fourteen. Great – they've got your genes for brilliance. But don't you think we owe it to them to let them develop the rest of their personae over the next few years by doing what normal school kids and teenagers do? By all means encourage them, help them with this and just maybe you can get rich by patenting and developing their invention. But let's do it away from the SGC where our lives remain under our own control. There's just no way that Grace can present something like this in public until we're equipped to face the consequences on our own terms."
Sam stared at him, open-mouthed. She realised with a start that she hadn't even considered this aspect yet and yet it was right. Putting people before objectives was so 'Jack', and it was one of the reasons she'd loved him right from the start. She pulled him round and kissed his cheek, much to his surprise and much to the disgust of two teenagers passing on their bicycles.
"Ugh! Gross! Oldies making out in the street!" they heard one say as he sped away, and she laughed.
"Grace is going to be so disappointed with the science project." she said. "But you're right. There's a time and a place for this." She paused as another thought entered her mind. "But now I'm retiring, I can be there for them in all these things. Thanks, Jack."
They walked on, each following their own trains of thought. As they were returning home with one muddy, happy, wet dog, Jack started to smile, causing Sam to raise her eyebrow.
"Maybe making three small cube doohickies wouldn't be such a bad idea." he mused on seeing Sam's interest. "Just think, if you could pass a dime from one to the other, you could make a fortune panhandling with the old 'three cups' trick. You know, where you get people to lay bets on which cup the coin is under after shuffling them around."
"So the world's greatest invention finds its first application!" she cried. "Tell me, Jack. If we ever get rich, what would you spend the money on?"
"Why, wine, women and song, of course. The rest I'd squander."
They walked back down their front path to the prospect of a lifetime of fulfilment. Happiness was of course, a given.