Reminder: We began writing this story before Season Ten had begun showing, with our own ending to the shows events in mind. In this alternate timeline, the Asgard did not go out in a pathetic, un-Asgardly act of mass suicide, á la Coop & Co. They're still around, having played a part in helping to kick the Ori out of our galaxy.
One month after the assassination of Arturius Minucius
In the two weeks it had taken Athena to make its way back to Earth, not a single transmission from either the Dominion or the rebels had reached them. Aurelius' people had not even bothered to respond either to the news of Minucius' death or the warning about the compromised rebel encampments. The only sign of the Dominion had been a single ship they'd seen looking for them, which of course it had not chance of doing while Athena was cloaked.
In the fortnight since their return, the same ominous silence had remained. Apart from the few required for essential maintenance, and one or two who opted to remain onboard for their own reasons, like Felger, who was working feverishly writing updates to the ships computer network – except of course when Adria was off duty, when the pair of them would disappear together – Athena sat empty at the Delta Site. Sam had spent the past two weeks buried in star charts, trying to determine the ship's next destination. Apart from one or two locations like a relatively close starburst galaxy, the only possibility, the nearest possibility that might warrant a high priority was Andromeda.
The other locations were of great scientific interest to Sam, especially the starburst galaxy, which was forming new stars at a rate of roughly 600 per year. Hardly significant in universal terms when compared to some which were thought to spit out over 4,000 annually, but the opportunity to study hundreds of forming stars up close in such a short time could potentially lead to a whole new level of understanding of the workings of the universe. Unfortunately, while she was reasonably confident the IOA would be in support of such an endeavour, she wasn't so sure about the military, who had the final word. Andromeda, on the other hand, was the largest galaxy in our little corner of the universe, and was known to have at least twenty satellite galaxies. Being far more likely to offer more diverse opportunities than studying stars, Andromeda was likely to be the choice destination for General Landry and the Joint Chiefs.
Standing hunched over a table in her lab at the SGC, Sam was dimly aware of the mobile phone dancing across the table. The ringer was switched off, but the noise it made dancing across the steel surface as it vibrated was loud enough. Sam ignored it.
From the moment she'd gotten back, she'd been frequently cornered by Jack, who kept insisting that they needed to talk. No matter how many times she told him she was fine, he refused to listen, and had even at one point hinted that he could force a psych evaluation on her, pending a review of her command position onboard the Athena, threatening to send her to talk to Dr McKenzie if she refused to talk to him. Sam had opted to call his bluff, confident that even if he forced her to see McKenzie, she would be able to fob the psychiatrist off and convince him that there was no need to worry about her mental health, and so far there hadn't been any sign of an official action.
She glanced briefly at the clock, and guessed that Jack – who apparently never spent any time in Washington where he was supposed to be based – would be having lunch with Ferretti and Teal'c, while SG-1 were offworld along with Kaímar, and was hoping to convince her to join them.
He had invited her to eat with him every day since her return, seemingly incapable of understanding that she wasn't interested.
Sam continued to gaze at the star charts laid out in front of her, but no sooner had her phone stopped dancing, than the stargate alarm activated, followed immediately by Sergeant Harriman on the PA. "Unscheduled offworld activation. Security to the gate room." A few seconds passed before Walter was heard again. "General O'Neill, Colonel Carter, please report to the Briefing Room."
Sam was the first to arrive in the briefing room, where General Landry was waiting. Jack and Ferretti arrived as she was taking her seat, and Ferretti, who hadn't been called, waited in the doorway until he received a nod from Landry, before taking a seat beside Jack, who sat directly opposite Sam. She could feel Jack's eyes on her, practically able to sense the concern coming off him in waves but she didn't glance in his direction.
"We've received a transmission from Antlia galaxy," Landry announced as soon as they were all seated. "Apparently they have a pretty interesting way of making contact. Walter says the message was carried from gate to gate all the way from Antlia, using some sort of macro designed to autodial and forward the message from one gate to the next. Something like our gateway to Pegasus, except the gates weren't specifically networked."
"Were we able to get a copy of the macro?" Sam asked curiously.
Landry shook his head. "It automatically deleted itself when Walter tried to copy the code."
"What was the message?" asked Jack.
Landry clicked on a touchpad button on the laptop beside him. An audio file began to play, and Ferretti shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he heard the voice of the man who had captured his team, threatening to use one of their heads as an envelope .
"This is Gaius Aurelius. Our war efforts are failing. Many of the military leaders who had promised to join us upon the Patrician's death broke their word. Agelastus has been launching bombardment attacks in all corners of the galaxy. We have no idea how many have died, as communications between cells have been seriously disrupted. Please, if you can send any support, do so. We cannot entertain any notion of survival alone. If I do not hear from you soon, I will attempt to rally what forces I can in order to break the Dominion blockades and leave this region of space," he announced dejectedly, "but again, there is little, if any chance of such a charge succeeding. Please," he begged. "Help us."
A heavy silence filled the room for a few seconds after the message finished. Landry finally spoke up. "The message also contained a second audio file, but there seems to be some sort of corruption." He clicked on the computer again, but when the second file played, all that could be heard was loud, screeching static.
"I don't think it's corrupted," Sam announced. "Probably a second copy of the macro in sound wave format, specifically programmed to carry our response back to Antlia. If we embed a response into that file, it should reach Aurelius pretty quickly. I'd like to see if I can copy the code without destroying it, but they've probably been pretty careful about that."
"Nice," Jack commented sarcastically. "They're asking us to win their war for them, but they won't even share their communications tech with us."
"Well, despite their unwillingness to trust us, we may have no choice about going over there and doing something to clean up this mess," Landry pointed out. "Minucius was talking about his plans to invade Pegasus, and I'm willing to bet that his number one general has expanded on that idea."
"Once he's dealt with the rebels, this will be Agelastus' next stop," Sam agreed. "If he's going to be secure in his new position, he's got to get rid of me."
"Aurelius' message wasn't all that specific about how many turned on them. How many ships do you think we could be dealing with?"
"I'd say about fifty or so, sir, maybe more." Ferretti supplied.
"And each one more or less a match for Athena," Sam announced, "at least that's what the last fight suggested, until we hit them with a mark nine."
"We should start making calls to anyone who might be willing to lend a hand," Jack suggested. "The Jaffa, maybe the Asgard."
"I'll pull Felger from the work he's doing on the ship computers," Sam added. "He and Hailey might be able to find something in the data from our last encounter with a Dominion ship, hopefully come up with a more efficient way of dealing with them. I'll work on upgrading our shields. Also," she added a little hesitantly, "I know this could be a pretty tricky issue security-wise, but if the Jaffa agree to join the fight, we should consider sharing any upgraded technology with them. The Dominion's ships are far superior to any Goa'uld mothership out there. They wouldn't stand a chance with their current configuration."
"I'll try and convince the IOA," Landry assured her. "Jack, you wanna try the Joint Chiefs?" Jack must have nodded his approval, as Landry then rose from his seat. "Alright, let's get to work. I'll send Teal'c and Bra'tac to Dakara to talk to the other Jaffa. The Asgard may prove more difficult to convince to fight. I'll let you know if I need any help with that one. Dismissed."
Sam was first out of the room, hurrying back to her lab to grab a couple of things she'd need to take with her to the Delta Site. Lost in her thoughts about the shields and weapons and what might be done to improve them, she never heard her name being called until Jack, losing his temper, snapped at her in a tone she'd rarely heard from him. "Hold it right there, Colonel!" he barked. A pair of airmen strolling by in PT gear suddenly picked up their pace, dashing around the nearest corner and disappearing.
Now it was Sam's turn to lose her temper. She rounded angrily on him. "Enough, Jack. For the last time, there is nothing wrong with me! We've had this conversation a hundred times in the past two weeks; just memorize the script already, and get past it."
Not waiting for any kind of response, she marched off, leaving a thoroughly dumbstruck Jack standing stock still in the hallway, unable to do anything but watch her walking away from him.
END OF VOLUME I.
Volume Two will begin in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we'll be posting "What Felger Did Next", a short series of one-shots set behind the scenes of Athena Volume One, following the adventures of Athena's bumbling chief scientist. We'll announce here when the first of these is posted, as we will when Volume Two begins.