Sam Carter walked down the hallway towards her lab, quantum equations dancing through her head, barely noticing the people around her. Her new responsibilities had given her less time for pure research than she was used to (not that she'd ever had as much as she wanted), and with her newfound life outside the base she was working less overtime, so she'd taken to using any gap she could get. She was not, however, too deeply engrossed in her thinking to hear the claxons that announced an unscheduled offworld activation. She turned and hurried up to the Gateroom.
A quick glance through the control room window established that the gate had already been shut down. Brigadier General Jack O'Neill was still leaned over the microphone. "Sir?" she asked.
"Carter," he greeted her, straightening up. "We finally found the Tok'ra; they say your Dad's running a little behind schedule at the moment, but he should reach their base at around 1430 hours our time. And then he has to be debriefed, all the usual, before he could come here. So, how do you feel about visiting him there? I could send Daniel with you, with copies of the stuff we got from that library-whatever on M19-35X." He gave a slight wince, and Carter turned to see Gilmor, O'Neill's aide, enter the Control Room with purpose in his eyes.
"The Tok'ra asked for it?" She was surprised. The way the Tok'ra had severed all but the most minimal contact half a year ago had not boded well for the future of the often-rocky alliance between the two peoples. Since then, the intelligence exchanges that had been the basis of that alliance had almost completely stopped, not that they'd ever been as plentiful as treaty terms and verbal assurances would assume.
O'Neill shrugged. "Nah. The President wants to play nice, thinks the alliance is worth a little work. So, Daniel gets to go make nice with them while you chat with Dad. I'm not sending Teal'c along, not with the problems the Tok'ra have with the whole Jaffa Rebellion thing."
Gilmor handed him a thick file. "Security reports from the Alpha Site for your approval, supply requisitions, and next month's mission roster. Also, Dr. Hemmings is demanding higher priority for Anthropology's lab tests again."
"I think that right now I really need to go meet with the Tok'ra, get that alliance back on track. See how Dad's doing," the General said with a slightly desperate look, trying to hand back the file.
Sam bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Of course, sir. We all know how much you love the Tok'ra. Who knows, Anise might even be there to help you and Daniel with the intelligence from that library."
"And then, when you get back, you can spend the night going over these reports." Gilmor gave him a bright smile, impervious to the General's death-glare.
"All right. Carter, you and Daniel gate out at 1400." With a determined air he stuffed the file under his arm and marched up the stairs to his office, Gilmor trailing in his wake. Sam traded grins with Sargent Walter Harriman, sitting in his usual spot at the Gate computer, who was also well versed in the fine art of O'Neill-management. Her smile faded. She wasn't sure how her dad would react to her second piece of news; now she had to figure out how to break it to him.
"Major Carter, your father is ahead of schedule," the Tok'ra—Shemin—said as Daniel stepped through the Stargate. Unlike the other Tok'ra bases she'd been to, the Stargate was actually inside the Tok'ra tunnels. The blueness of the event horizon winked out, replaced by the lighter blue of the crystal walls. "He should be landing in a few minutes. I will take you to the landing pad."
"Thank you," said Sam, glancing at Daniel as he greeted his own Tok'ra guide. Satisfied that her team member was being taken care of, she turned back to Shemin. "By the way, it's Lieutenant Colonel Carter now—I've been promoted." Although she was anxious about her father, as she always was when he was on a mission, she didn't ask after him. She didn't know Shemin, but she assumed he would have mentioned if anything was wrong, and she would see her father soon enough.
"Congratulations," he said. "I understand that Jack O'Neill has been promoted as well, and now holds the same rank and position as General Hammond. Was not Doctor Jackson promoted at the same time?"
"No, he's a civilian. He works with us, but he doesn't hold military rank so he can't be promoted." As they walked, Sam kept glancing around. The tunnels were almost deserted. She'd known the Tok'ra had been decimated in the past few years, but it had been some time since she'd been to a Tok'ra base, and her intellectual knowledge hadn't prepared her for the sheer emptiness. "General O'Neill has been promoted, yes, but he's only a brigadier general—one star. General Hammond is a major general—that's a two star rank." Sam paused, then decided their allies might like to know more about how the Tau'ri stargate programs had changed. It couldn't hurt, and she and Daniel were supposed to be sharing information, after all. And chances were, Shemin would be repeating the whole conversation to the Tok'ra Council as soon as he was done with his escort duty. And it was better than dwelling on Dad's probable reaction to the fact that she was engaged.
"I wouldn't be surprised if General Hammond gets promoted to lieutenant general soon," she continued. "They created a whole new agency, called the Department of Homeworld Security, and made him in charge of it. All things connected to the Stargate, the F-302's, and the Prometheus fall under his jurisdiction, now. In fact, he's always been too junior for the post he holds—according to the table of organization, a 'command' should be headed by a full general, that is, a four-star general. Instead, Stargate Command got a two-star, and now a one-star."
"Lieutenant general would be a three star rank, yes? What rank did your father hold?"
"Dad was a major general." They turned a corner just in time to see a young-looking Tok'ra female ring up to the surface. "He and General Hammond came up through the ranks together."
They stopped under the rings, and Sam braced for the slightly disorienting sensation of being disassembled and reassembled on a molecular level. She smiled. It had been a few months and she was really looking forward to seeing her dad again, and she couldn't wait to tell him she'd been promo-
Sam froze, mouth hanging open, as she took in the scene before her. They were in a clearing in the forest, a clearing filled by two tel'taks. In front of the closer tel'tak stood her father, together the young Tok'ra who had ringed up before them. The young Tok'ra was kissing her father. Rather enthusiastically and not at all platonically. Not judging by the leg twined around him. And Dad was kissing the girl back. Rather enthusiastically.
It was not something Sam had imagined in her wildest dreams. She'd known from Jolinar's memories how passionate the Tok'ra could be. She'd known Dad was now a Tok'ra. Yet, still, it was ... not the kind of thing Sam wanted to think about her Dad doing.
Beside her, Shemin cleared his throat. The couple broke apart, obviously reluctantly. "You'll get my report soon eno—" Selmak's inhuman voice broke off as he saw her. The slight jolt of his head alerted Sam that Selmak was releasing control to her father. "Sammy?!" Dad jerked apart from his ... girlfriend? Sam's eyes were drawn to his hand, which had apparently been beneath her tunic doing stuff Sam did not want to contemplate, and which he now clasped behind his back. "I was- I didn't know you were going to be here," he said, the words tumbling out of his mouth in a fashion unlike his normal collected way. He winced. "Sorry. That didn't come out right. I mean, I'm so glad to see you, and I was definitely planning on telling you about this as soon as possible. This is not how I wanted you to find out ..."
A muffled snort came his girlfriend. Dad glanced at her, frowning. "I'm sorry," she said, brushing her hand against his cheek. "It's just, I don't believe I've ever seen you that lovely shade of red before, Jake. Or heard you stammer so charmingly." If she were blended, her host was currently in control. She was young, and looked like she couldn't be a day over sixteen. Tok'ra could keep their hosts young-looking for decades, but still.... She was gorgeous, taller than Dad, with sleek black hair and high cheekbones. Her people had obviously been taken from somewhere in the orient, for her dusky skin had a yellow tinge and her eyes slanted, giving her an exotic air.
"Well, under the circumstances, can you blame me?" Dad lifted his hand to cover hers and gave her a rueful smile.
"Dad? Were you planning on introducing me?" From the way those two were looking at each other, their feelings ran deep. Sam was barely coming to terms with having a love life of her own, and this evidence of her father having one as well was just too weird.
Dad winced and turned to her again, though this time he kept hold of the girl's hand. "Sorry." His head dipped as Selmak took over again. "Major Carter, may I introduce my mate Nelaris and her host Lee'al. Nelaris, Major Samantha Carter."
"Your mate?!? Dad, when were you planning on telling me you were married?" Hurt that he hadn't told her temporarily overrode her embarrassment.
Dad squirmed. Sam blinked, but that was the only way to describe his movement. "Well, it's a recent development."
"That depends on your definition of recent," Nelaris commented, raising an eyebrow. She appeared to be enjoying her mate's discomfiture.
"Nelaris," Dad said, exasperated.
"Sorry." She kissed the hand she still held. "I'll go inside, allow you two to catch up. Major." She bowed good-bye and went over to Shemin. Sam stepped aside to avoid getting caught in the rings, and watched them go before turning back to her dad.
"I'm sorry, Sam, this was not the way I was planning on telling you." He sighed.
"But you were planning on telling me, right?"
"Of course." Dad scratched his head. "You wanna take a walk?"
They set off through the trees. Dad kept his gaze fixed on the ground, while Sam studied their surroundings, waiting for him to talk.
"You have to understand that in a Tok'ra relationship, all four people have to be interested. Both hosts, both symbiotes," he said at last. "Symbiotes tend to form long term relationships, but if their host is uncomfortable with the relationship, it gets put on hold. No choice, really, given the depth of the emotional bond between the two. Both feel any tension or unease the other feels. Selmak and Nelaris had been mated for almost six hundred years when Selmak and I were blended."
"I take it you were uncomfortable with the relationship?" Sam asked.
Her Dad gave her a sidelong glance. "Sam, think about it. I was Selmak's first male host in several hundred years. The Tok'ra don't have any prejudice about same-sex relationships, as the symbiotes are fundamentally asexual. But the preferences of the hosts tends to make heterosexual relationships the norm."
Sam stopped. "Are you saying ... that Nelaris's last host was a guy?" Her mind boggled at the idea of how her father, straitlaced old war-horse that he was, would have reacted to that. She tried to picture their first meeting and had to suppress a giggle.
"Yeah. I'm told he was a great guy, but ..." Dad shook his head. "Besides, I'm told that he had a similar reaction when he found out that Selmak's new host was male. He was away on a mission at the time, that's why you didn't meet him when I was blended. Anyway, the situation was pretty uncomfortable for all concerned. We pretty much made a mutual agreement to stay as far away from each other as possible. The council helped by assigning us opposite mission schedules—he'd be on base while I was on a mission, and vice versa. It's not a unique situation for the Tok'ra, and they've found that's generally the easiest way to handle it.
"Things went on like that until about four months ago, when Nelaris's host died. He was pretty old, it wasn't a shock to anyone, and fortunately they had a new host all lined up for him. Even more fortunately, the new host was female. Nelaris had found her on one of his last missions, and they'd hit it right off. Which is important; if you're going to spend three or four hundred years in the same body with someone it helps if you like each other going into it. So Nelaris and Lee'al blended, and the rest is history. It's a great relief to Selmak; he really missed Nelaris. They are deeply in love."
"You and Lee'al seem to get along well, too," Sam said.
"Yeah." Dad got a goofy grin on his face, the likes of which Sam had never seen on her father. "It was really surprising to me. I haven't had any kind of a relationship since your mother died. I loved your mom so very much, and when she died it was like a part of me went with her. I didn't think I could ever feel this way again. But here I am in a wonderful, loving relationship."
Sam bit her lip. She was happy for her dad, she truly was. And yet, she felt a twinge of something, as if he were betraying Mom by being happy with another woman. Or as if she were jealous of the simple confidence and happiness this relationship had brought him, so unlike her own relationship with Pete. She loved Pete, she truly did. But she'd be lying if she claimed she had no misgivings. She sat on a fallen log and gestured for Dad to sit next to her. "So, tell me about her. Isn't Lee'al a little ... young?" She winced. "I'm sorry, Dad, I didn't mean for it to come out like that. I'm happy for you, truly I am, it's just a lot to take in all at once."
Dad smiled. "I understand, Sammy. She is young, though she's older than she looks. She turns eighteen this year, but she's very mature for her age, and you have to figure in the fact that she's blended with a fifteen-hundred-year-old symbiont. Age isn't really that relevant among the Tok'ra, not normally." He cocked his head. "Let's see. Her planet has a very patriarchal culture. They don't even really believe that women have souls, for Pete's sake. Women, especially in the higher circles, are supposed to look pretty and provide male heirs, and not much else. Lee'al was the youngest child of the least favorite concubine of a rich noble. She grew up in a harem, which to hear her tell it had as much intrigue and back-stabbing as a meeting of the system lords as the various wives and concubines tried to maneuver themselves and their children into favor.
"Fortunately for Lee'al, her mother didn't even try to play the game because she knew she'd never even get close to winning it. And she tried to protect Lee'al from it as much as possible. It's also good that Lee'al is as tall and as dark as she is, because the men of her planet like their women shorter, plumper, and lighter. If she conformed more closely to their ideals of beauty, she'd have been traded off to some other merchant or nobleman as a wife or concubine several years ago. Anyway, she was serving dinner the night Nelaris came to meet with her father—the man had information about cargo shipments to Goa'uld-occupied space. She was curious about the Tok'ra, and that caught Nelaris' eye. He offered her a way out of the harem and off that planet, and she grabbed it with both hands and never looked back. She's blossomed, here, now that she can be strong and independent and doesn't have to watch her back every second." He smiled. "She's got a killer sense of humor—she and Selmak get along great."
"That's good," Sam said.
"Yeah." He paused. "So, what brings you here? I'm assuming this isn't just a social call—we've been pretty hard to find, lately."
"Well, we had some intelligence we wanted to share; the new president wants to salvage the alliance if at all possible. And," she hesitated, "I have a couple big pieces of news for you."
"Well, first, I was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of SG-1."
"Congratulations! Sam, that's wonderful." Dad gave her a hug. "What happened to Jack?"
"He was promoted and given command of the SGC. General Hammond now heads the new office of Homeworld Security, so he spends most of his time at the Pentagon."
"Jack a general? Now, that I have to see to believe. I'm gonna have to think up an excuse to drop by one of these days. So, what's your second piece of news?"
Sam took a deep breath. "Dad, when we were working on the Supersoldier weapon at the Alpha Site, did I ever mention that I had a new boyfriend?"
Dad sat back and studied her. "No, you didn't. But I get the feeling that this is more than just telling me about a new boyfriend."
"Yeah." Sam gave him a desperate smile, then plunged ahead. Hopefully, he'd take this better than he'd taken the news, ten years ago, that she was engaged to Jonas Hanson. "Well, his name is Pete Shanahan and he's a cop. Mark set us up; they went through college together. And we're engaged."
"You're ... engaged? Already? Sam, isn't that a little fast?"
His reply was so much like her initial reaction to his news that she had to suppress a giggle. "Dad, I'm not twenty years old, any more. He's a great guy, and I love him, and he loves me."
"And he treats you ok?"
"And you're happy together?" Dad studied her closely.
Sam straightened and forced herself to look him straight in the eye. If she allowed herself to show him any hint of the conflict she felt over this relationship, he would never let it go. "Yes. We are."
He nodded slowly, and for a second Sam thought that he didn't believe her. But then he sighed, and smiled. "So, tell me about this Pete guy."