Whatever it was that Thor's warning was about seemed to be taking its time to develop. All of the Council's sources, both mundane and mystical, were reporting no unusual activity, and neither were they getting any reports through Jack or Cassie of any unusual events on the extraterrestrial front. Neither of them was in any position to read any daily mission reports, but they both had access to channels that assured them that there weren't any big changes happening. In fact, from the little that they did hear, it seemed that things were going well in the fight against the Goa'uld.
Giles had put several of the Council's researchers to work, combing through the Egyptian sections of their archives, and they had come up with several accounts of parasitic snake demons, and people with glowing eyes. Jack had read through their translations of the accounts, and hadn't found anything that looked like it might be relevant to anything that the SGC was currently involved with. He made copies of the untranslated versions, that he planned to give to Daniel for Christmas.
Dawn had other, more immediate, problems on her mind: exams. The Michaelmas term was coming to an end, and a lot of her time was taken up by studying. Jack was taking up a lot of her time too. The dance that they had been doing around each other for the past couple of months now included a lot more dancing, and touching, and kissing, and groping, but he was still holding off on taking the next step … which was okay with Dawn, for the moment, but she didn't want him to take too much time. She was pretty certain that with the signals she was giving him, any normal eighteen year old would have taken her to bed by now, but then, Jack wasn't a normal eighteen year old. If she'd wanted normal, she'd had her choice of a dozen guys in her classes who had expressed an interest in her, ranging from the crude to the subtle, but none of them held any attraction for her. A few of them reminded her of Antonio, from Rome. They'd be fun, but they weren't ready to face her world. Jack on the other hand…
She was taking an afternoon off from studying, to go flying with Jack. Cassie had acted a little weird before she'd left their set, making her put on a more conservative blouse over the tiny, tight, T-shirt that she had planned to wear—and the T-shirt had shown off her tits so well. Still, leaving the blouse unbuttoned, with the front tails tied together under her breasts worked even better. Jack looked happy with what she was wearing when she'd shown up for the start of her lesson.
They'd booked one of the club's planes for three hours, and they had spent the first two doing touch and goes, engine out drills, and forward slips on landings. They practised turning while maintaining a constant altitude, and even some instrument practice, with Dawn wearing the foggles, which made it impossible for her to see anything out through the cockpit windows but still see her instruments. The skies were mostly clear, but Jack had directed her toward one large, fluffy, white cloud and told her to fly into it. Then she had done a one hundred and eighty degree turn, watching her artificial horizon, altitude, and compass until she flew back out into clear air. She was pleased that she'd come out of the cloud within ten feet of her initial altitude.
They still had an hour left when Jack told her to land. Dawn was a little surprised when, instead of having her apply the throttle to take off again in another touch and go, he told her to taxi back to the hanger. "What's up?" she asked, after they came to a stop, and she'd killed the engine. She started to undo her seatbelt.
"Stay there," said Jack, undoing his own seatbelt, and opening his door. "It's time for you to solo."
Dawn froze in her seat. "What?"
"After I'm out, I want you to do three circuits around the pattern, doing a full stop each time, before you take off again," said Jack. "When you're done, bring the plane back here."
"Are you sure?" asked Dawn.
"Of course I'm sure." Jack climbed out of the plane. "You've already done this dozens of times. The only difference is that this time, you'll have less dead weight in the airplane." He closed the door, and gave it a couple of slaps with his hand. "Go!" he shouted, and backed away from the plane.
Jack saw the engine start, and the plane started to taxi away from him. He saw Dawn glance back over her shoulder at him, and he gave her a wave. He watched her until she turned the plane onto the taxi-way. Jack went back into the hanger where Cassie was waiting with a radio tuned to the tower's frequency. He heard Dawn asking for permission to take off.
For all of Jack's flying experience, this was new for him. His instructor's ticket was something that Colonel Jack O'Neill had never punched. He'd seen trainees through a lot of different programs, and had checked out experienced pilots on new aircraft (and spaceships) but this was the first time that he'd ever had to sit back, and watch while a novice pilot that he had trained took her first solo flight. It was a nerve wracking experience, even though he knew that Dawn was more than ready. Watching Dawn fly around the circuit, he knew how his other self must feel, sending teams through the Stargate, while staying behind in the relative safety of the SCG. He hated it, but he knew that it was necessary. One of a commander's most important duties was to train the people who would replace him. He knew that he'd done his duty with Carter, and Dawn— well, he wasn't her commander, but he'd done his duty as her flight instructor. She was ready for this.
After her third landing, Dawn taxied the plane back to the hanger where she saw Jack and Cassie waiting for her with grins on their faces that must have been almost as wide as the one she knew was on her own.
She shut down the engine, and leapt from the plane into Jack's waiting arms, giving him a big kiss while Cassie dumped a bottle of water over her. She then found out why Cassie had made her change her blouse: Jack produced a set of shears out his back pocket, and used them to cut the back tail off her shirt.
"It's tradition," said Jack, holding up the fragment of her blouse. "In the old days of open cockpits, the instructor used to sit behind the student, and would tug on their shirt-tail when they wanted to get their attention. Once they'd soloed, they didn't need their shirt tails anymore. I think I'm going to frame this one."
"But I'm nowhere near not needing more instruction," said Dawn.
"The old days were simpler," said Jack. "There were hardly any instruments, no Air Traffic Control, and the skies were a lot less crowded, making it a lot less likely for you to run into anything, other than the ground."
There was a celebratory dinner at one of their favourite student pubs that evening with most of their friends. Some of Cassie's fellow Slayers, and others who were attending the university for Watcher training, along with other friends. Some of them were also celebrating having finished all of their exams, so the beer was flowing freely. Dawn had more than she usually did, but since she still had one more exam on Monday, she didn't get nearly as drunk as some of the others. She had already learned that having a hangover was not conducive to studying, and with her having taken Saturday off, she'd really have to hit the books on Sunday.
She had other plans for tonight, though. She was quite content to lean on Jack a bit as they walked back to the Fisher Building, where they lived.
When they reached her and Cassie's set, they paused at the door to kiss. After an indeterminate interval, Jack started to pull away, but Dawn stopped him. "Come inside," she told him.
They lay together on her bed, kissing and cuddling with each other. Dawn liked the feel of Jack's hands on her body, and his lips on hers. She also liked the way his body felt under her hands. She pulled her mouth away from his, and looked into his brown eyes. She liked his eyes. She liked his face, and his arms, and his legs. In fact, there wasn't anything that she didn't like about him. She finalized the decision that she'd made earlier that day.
Jack saw the change in her face, and he matched it with a quizzical expression of his own. "What?" he asked.
"All my friends threw a 'Going away to College' party for me, before I came here," said Dawn.
That just seemed to confuse him more. "And…?"
"And they gave me a bunch of gag gifts. Stuff they figured I'd need. Willow gave me a study planner, and a dozen different coloured highlighter pens, Xander gave me a set of lignum vitae stakes, and Faith…"
"What did Faith give you?" asked Jack.
"Faith gave me a box of condoms. Buffy looked like she wanted to kill her."
Jack had a slightly stunned look on his face. "Condoms?"
"Yeah," said Dawn. "I think we should open it."
Dawn's previous experience with sex could best be described by the word "quick." Once Dawn had consented, Antonio hadn't wasted any time getting into her pants, and while the experience had been enjoyable, it hadn't been the sort of "Wow!" that she had been hoping for.
Jack was different. Jack took his time. At first he didn't do any more than what they had already been doing, but slowly his hands and mouth moved to new places that he hadn't touched, or kissed, before, and their clothes slowly moved from their bodies, to being scattered on the floor around her bed. When they finally got to the part where Dawn placed the first condom onto him, she was more than ready for the "Wow!" and he didn't disappoint. It was still quick — Jack had the body of a seventeen year old, after all — but their foreplay had gotten her into a state that she wanted quick. He also had the refractory period of a seventeen year old, so it didn't take long before she was putting a second condom onto him, and that time it seemed to go on, and on, and on, with her experiencing multiple "Wow!"s.
The afterplay was just as enjoyable, with Jack holding, and kissing, and cuddling her until she fell asleep in his arms.
Cassie had left the celebration with Jack and Dawn, but she and a couple of the other Slayers had gone for a quick patrol around town. Cassie sometimes wondered why they bothered: Cambridge had even fewer vampires than Colorado Springs, but she and the other girls still felt the need. They sometimes came across some purely human crime, but even that had declined after the first few weeks. There hadn't been any incidents quite like her encounter with the would-be rapist in Colorado, but the few muggers who had thought that Cambridge might be a fertile hunting ground for them and quickly been disabused of that notion, and moved elsewhere.
When Cassie had arrived back at their set, she heard the sounds of Dawn and Jack's activity in the other room. She was both pleased for her friends, and a little annoyed, as the noises they were making were very distracting. The soundproofing in Fisher Hall was pretty good, but it couldn't make up for her Slayer hearing. She had taken to sleeping with the sound of rain, wind, and ocean surf playing softly to cover the noises coming from the surrounding students' rooms. Tonight, she had to turn the volume up.
They were at it again when she woke up the next morning, though the noise had died down by the time she was done with her shower, and had gotten dressed. She was contemplating knocking on Dawn's door, and asking if they were interested in coming to get something to eat with her, when there was a knock on the door to their set. Cassie wondered who it could be when she went to answer it. It was pretty much the last person she expected to see.
"Sam! Hi! What are you doing here?" She stepped forward to give her a tight hug.
Samantha Carter hugged her back for several seconds before stepping back and smiling at her. "Hi Cassie. I'm in town to consult with Dr. Hawking about something, and thought I'd drop by and invite you to brunch. Can I come in?"
Cassie stepped back, and waved her in. "Yeah, sure! How long are you going to be here?"
"Just a couple of days," said Sam. "It's been a while since I've seen you, so I figured we could go collect Jack for brunch. I'll be done by the time you finish exams, so I thought I would offer you Air Force transportation back to Colorado, for your Christmas vacation."
"What? crammed in with a bunch of cargo in the back of a C-17?"
"Oh, I can do better than that," said Sam. "Believe me, it'll beat flying commercial."
"I guess I can do that," said Cassie.
"So why don't we go collect Jack, and then go get something to eat?" asked Sam.
"About that…" Cassie cocked her head and listened carefully for a bit. She could hear soft voices, and giggling coming from Dawn's room now, it sounded like she might be interrupting them in the middle of starting something up again, but after the way they'd kept her awake half the night, she didn't care about that. "…we don't have to go very far."
She went over and knocked on Dawn's door. She heard a quick scramble of movement, accompanied by mild cursing, and then the door opened, revealing an annoyed looking Dawn, wearing the shirt that Jack'd had on the night before.
"What is it?" she asked, before she noticed Sam. "Oh! Um, hello?" She looked a bit embarrassed, and Cassie was reasonably certain that Jack's shirt was all that Dawn was wearing.
Cassie ignored Dawn's discomfiture. "Jack's got a visitor," she said. She could see him behind Dawn, wearing just his pants.
"Oh yeah?" he asked, coming to the door. "Who is—" He saw Sam. "Ah, oh, uh, hi Carter."
"Carter?" asked Dawn.
"Oh yeah," said Cassie. "Dawn Summers, meet Samantha Carter."
"Oh!" said Dawn. "The lady with the spaceship named after her!"
Cassie caught the look of disapproval that flashed across Sam's face, though she was quick to hide it. "Spaceship named after me?" she asked.
"Didn't Hammond tell you?" asked Jack. "Thor had us up for a visit, and he's named his latest ship 'Samantha Carter'."
"Oh, I'd heard about the visit," said Sam. "Thor beamed me up after he sent you back, but no one mentioned the name of the ship."
"Why don't you two finish getting dressed, and then come join me and Sam for breakfast? asked Cassie.
They found a table that was isolated enough from the other students that they could talk quietly, without risking being overheard. "So…Jack and Dawn?" asked Sam.
"You don't approve," said Cassie.
"It's not that," said Sam.
Cassie's eyebrows rose. "Oh?"
"It's not just that," Sam conceded.
"Sam, I know that you and Jack — General Jack — have got a thing for each other."
"No we don't!"
"The only people you're fooling are yourselves," said Cassie. "All your friends know, and all of your friends know that as long as he's your CO, nothing will come of it, but he won't be your CO for ever."
"But she's just a kid," said Sam.
"A kid who's been on the front lines of the supernatural fight for years now," said Cassie. "And probably the only person in the world whose life story is even weirder than Jack's."
"What do you mean?" asked Sam.
Cassie grimaced. She hadn't meant to let that bit of information out. "Sorry, that's classified, you don't need to know, but Dawn and Jack have got a lot in common. I think they're good for each other." She hoped that Sam would let the matter lie.
She seemed content to do so for now. They had nearly finished their breakfasts before Dawn and Jack joined them, and shortly after that, Sam had to leave for her meeting with Doctor Hawking.
Dawn and Jack spent most of the rest of the day studying together. Really. Jack insisted. He might have had the libido of a seventeen year old, but he had the discipline of a fifty year old Air Force colonel. But the colonel knew that one couldn't be expected to concentrate on one thing, to the exclusion of everything else, for too long without that concentration failing, so they took a couple of breaks for other, recreational, behaviour.
Sam showed up back at their set after supper the next day to collect Cassie. She'd already cancelled the flight she'd had booked for the next day, and had her bag packed, ready to go. Dawn, Jack, and Andrew were there to see her off. Everyone exchanged hugs, and Jack gave her some messages to pass on to his friends back in Colorado. He had been invited by Dawn to join her at Giles' place, near Westbury, for Christmas.
It wasn't far from Cassie's dorm, to the small hotel where Sam had been staying, so they walked there, with Cassie dragging her bag behind her. Sam had already packed, so it was just a matter of picking up her bag. Sam used the hotel's express checkout, so she wouldn't have to stop back at the desk on the way out, left her key card on the hotel room's dresser, and gave Cassie a large, bimetallic coin, about the size of a Canadian Toonie. She saw that it had the SGC crest on one side, and the Air Force crest on the other. "What's this?" she asked.
"It's an SGC challenge coin," said Sam. "General Hammond said you could have one. It will identify you as one of ours, to anyone else in the SGC. It has other uses too."
"Such as?" asked Cassie.
Sam pulled her cell phone from a pocket, and pressed a couple of buttons on it. "Grab your bag," she said, while waiting for an answer. Cassie did. "Daedalus, this is Colonel Carter," she said into her phone. "Two to beam up." A bright light flashed, just like when Thor had beamed her aboard his spaceship, and Cassie was elsewhere.
"It also acts as a homing beacon for our transporters," said Sam.
This time, instead of being in some alien spaceship, it was obvious when Cassie looked around that people had built this… whatever this was. The walls were covered with enough flat screen displays, though most of them were dark, to give Andrew wet dreams. People in uniform sat before instrument consoles. Some of them were monitoring the displays, while others had their consoles open, and were working inside them. The displays that were active were either showing incomprehensible graphics, or columns of text, and numbers. Even though the individual words were in English, and the numbers written with familiar numerals, they might as well have been Asgard runes, for all the sense that Cassie could make of them.
"Welcome aboard the Daedalus" said a man in fatigues bearing the eagle insignia of a full colonel.
"Thanks for the lift," said Sam. "Colonel Caldwell, this is Cassie Fraiser. Cassie, this is Colonel Caldwell, commanding officer of our newest starship, the USS Daedalus."
"Miss Fraiser, it's an honour to meet you. I was a patient of your mother's, more than once. We all miss her."
"Thank you Colonel," said Cassie.
"Airman," said Colonel Caldwell, to one of the other people in the room, "take Colonel Carter's, and Miss Fraiser's bags, and stow them. We won't be in beaming range of Colorado for another hour," he explained to Cassie. "We like to avoid trying to beam people through thousands of miles of rock, when we can," he added with a grin He turned his attention back to Sam. "Colonel, why don't you give our guest a bit of a tour."
"Certainly, Colonel," said Sam. "This way, Cassie." She waved toward a hatch at one end of the room.
The hatch led them into a corridor, that Cassie thought wouldn't look out of place inside a submarine. It was painted gray, and there were bulkheads, with more hatches, spaced every twenty feet along it. The hatches were lighter weight than what she'd seen in movie submarines, but she was sure that they were all air-tight.
The first place Sam took her was the mess hall. That's because it was one of the few rooms on the ship that had a large window through which Cassie could look out, and see that she really was in a spaceship. The Earth was dark beneath them, and Cassie could see the lights of cities, shining like stars. "Where are we?" she asked.
Sam pointed to a flat screen display, beside the window, showing a physical map of the Earth, indicating where it was day, and night, and with a bright yellow wavy line drawn across it. A red arrow on the line, pointing south-east was moving slowly across a darkened Italy. "That shows our current position, and projected ground track. As you can see, we're just about to head out across the Mediterranean Sea. We'll be in the dark for another half hour. Then you'll be able to watch the sun rise over Australia."
The window in the mess hall was almost the most interesting thing that Sam could show Cassie. The rest of the ship consisted of corridors like the first one she'd been in, and a lot of small rooms packed with all sorts of incomprehensible equipment. Large sections of the ship were off limits — either because they were currently opened up to the vacuum of space, or because she lacked the necessary clearance. Cassie was amazed that she had the clearance necessary to be on board at all, but it seemed that General Hammond wanted to open up some more lines of communication between Homeworld Security, and the Council, and had decided to start with her, since she already had limited SGC clearance.
The one place that Sam showed her that was more interesting than the window in the mess hall, was a compartment in Engineering. Here she finally saw clear evidence of alien technology. Instead of human built displays showing English script, there were holographic displays showing Asgard runes, and in the middle of them all was a short gray Asgard. Sam introduced it to her as Hermiod, who was overseeing the installation of several pieces of Asgard technology on the ship, from the transporters, to the shields, and hyperdrive, which were still under construction.
Hermiod blinked, and gave her a short bow. "Slayer Cassandra, it is an honour to meet you." Several of the people in the compartment gave her strange looks. Sam gave them a quelling look, and they quickly went back to their work.
Cassie bowed back to Hermiod. "The honour is mine," she said, which seemed to please it. It was hard to tell, with an Asgard.
Sam handed over a tablet computer to Hermiod. "Dr. Hawking was able to help me with the calculations for interfacing the artificial gravity systems with the inertial dampers. I only wish I'd been able to tell him that we were working with real systems, not just theoretical models."
Hermiod took the tablet from her, and quickly scrolled through the equations it displayed. It nodded its head. "Yes… This is correct. Your species would benefit, if it spent less time hiding information from itself."
"The Asgard keep telling us that we aren't ready to know all that you could tell us, if you wanted to," said Sam. "Some of us are less ready than others."
"Anyone with the intelligence necessary to formulate these equations…" Hermiod waved the tablet at her. "…is ready to be told the truth."
"For what it's worth, I agree with you," said Sam. "But it wasn't my decision to make."
They made it back to the mess hall just in time to see the sun rise over the mountains of eastern Australia, and then flew out over the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean. They reached the limit of their southern excursion as they passed over New Zealand, and then slowly started to curve northward again.
A klaxon blared, and Cassie heard Colonel Caldwell's voice come over the PA system. "All hands brace for acceleration!" he warned. "Acceleration to commence in thirty seconds!"
Sam grabbed a hand-hold on the wall, and indicated for Cassie to do the same. "Once we get the issue with the inertial dampers worked out, we won't have this problem, but for now, everyone has to hold on, even for minor course corrections."
Someone gave a ten second countdown, and then Cassie felt the deck twist and tilt under her. Her view out the window showed that the Daedalus was banking into the acceleration to keep "down" more or less in the direction of the floor. It started to feel like the ship was just climbing a steep hill, and no longer in danger of rolling over as it did so.
"End of acceleration in ten seconds, nine… eight… seven…" The countdown continued down to zero, and the apparent tilt in the ship's deck disappeared so suddenly that Cassie had to catch herself from falling.
Sam grinned at her. "First time, end of acceleration causes nearly as many injuries as the start of acceleration. Once we get the dampers properly tuned, though, the ship should be able to do loops, and barrel rolls without anyone who doesn't have a window even noticing."
"Why the course change?" asked Cassie.
"The old course was set to take the ship over England, to pick us up," said Sam. She pointed at the map display, and Cassie could see that the yellow line had moved on it. "This new course will put us over Colorado, in about twenty minutes."
Twenty minutes later, they were back on what Cassie now knew was the bridge of the Daedalus, standing in a group with half a dozen other people. The airman had retrieved her, and Sam's bags from wherever he had stowed them, and given them back to them.
"Standby for transport to the SGC," said a lieutenant at one of the bridge consoles, "in three… two… one…" The transporter light flashed and Cassie, and everyone with her, found herself in another room. This one painted with the drab colours of the SGC, with its air having the familiar underground scent of people and machinery.
"See," said Sam. "Told you it beats flying commercial."