Jack stopped paying attention to the IOA representative about halfway through the meeting. Exactly when, as a matter of fact, he'd figured out that the meeting was merely a formality. The IOA had made its decision already.

So here he sat in his office listening to this idiot ramble on about Carter's preliminary report on extra-dimensional phase shifting as though anyone at the IOA had the faintest idea what any of the report meant. Although in all honesty Jack didn't really understand it himself. She had tried to explain it to him the last time they'd talked, but her voice and her excitement had had their usual effect on him and he couldn't remember much of the conversation after "Hi, Jack."

Which he probably shouldn't have thought about now, under the circumstances. Especially since the IOA were insisting that Sam and the rest of SG-1 take her device out for a test drive on P3C-whatever as soon as they returned from their current mission this afternoon, so he would almost certainly be canceling his flight this weekend. But the man did mention Carter. And it had been two weeks, dammit. Life was not fair.

He tried one last time, knowing it was futile. "I know her preliminary report says she thinks it can be ready within the week. That's a heck of a lot different than having a fully field ready version operable within three days."

As Jack had expected, Mr. Rossier, the IOA's new French delegate, refused to change his mind. He had already won, and they both knew it. "General O'Neill, the IOA and I understand your concern, but it has been nearly two months since we have seen anything tangible come out of the SGC, and we need something concrete we can bring back to our countries to justify our continued involvement…" Rossier let his voice trail off after that implied threat to the SGC's funding.

Jack really hated politics. Really. Hated. Politics. Sitting back in his chair, he nodded. He was finished. At least this meant he could get rid of the human leech sitting across his desk from him. "Alright. I'll let General Landry know. Anything else I can do for you?"

Rossier shook his head. "No, General O'Neill. I've taken up enough of your valuable time." And then, finally, the man stood up to leave. Jack didn't stand up in response, and by the glint in Rossier's eyes, he could tell the other man had not missed the insult.

Good, Jack thought, he'd shot guys who'd pissed him off less. It was a palpable relief when with an 'Au revoir," Rossier turned and finally left Jack's office.

With a sigh, Jack picked up the phone to call Hank Landry. The irony was not lost on him that, outside the members of SG-1, it was he with the most to lose and the greatest issuing the orders. He just didn't think it was very funny.

Jack was certain that if anyone could pull this thing off it was Carter and the rest of SG-1. Still, for some reason he couldn't quite figure out – maybe instinct born from years of experience – something about the whole situation gave him a very bad feeling. A really bad feeling.

Halfway through his conversation with Hank, Jack made up his mind.

-o-o-o-o-

Sam sat perched on the lab stool, staring at Arthur's mantle. For once, her mind was blank. She stared at the device and saw – nothing. No ideas, no matter how crazy, sprang to her mind. Damn. Okay, she'd been blocked before. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing herself to concentrate…

"Colonel Carter."

She jumped on the stool, startled like a naughty child by the sudden loud voice behind her. God, but the man could move quietly when he wanted to. Knowing she was grinning from ear-to-ear like an idiot, she turned to look at him. "Sir? What are you doing here?"

"My job, Carter… Protecting the National Interest... We can't have our best hope for getting Merlin's device working passing out from hunger." He was making a joke, but his eyes caught and held hers, letting her see the truth behind the flippancy of the words.

She thoughtfully chewed on her bottom lip as she glanced back down at the device. "I'm not sure I can make it work in time," she finally admitted, matching his honesty.

"I know that, I could tell from your report. I tried to tell 'em, but they weren't listening."

She sighed as she looked back up at him, not missing the set of his jaw or the narrowing of his eyes as she did. "It's not your fault, Sir," she quickly reassured him, having recognized the expression. She joked back at him, trying to convince him it really was okay. "Damn politicians."

It worked, and a brief smile crossed his features. "Well, they are right about one thing, Carter. If anyone can pull this off…"

She suddenly felt much better. "Thank you, Sir."

This time, his smile stayed "Always, Carter," he said, with a tenderness that matched the hidden meaning. But then, in a lighter tone, he continued, "And now, as much as I would love standing here and watching you work all night, even you can't go forever without food and sleep."

"Yes, Sir."

"Good." He gestured towards the hallway behind him. "Then lets go find you something to eat."

Sam laughed. It was one of the most backwards invitations to dinner she had ever received. But of course he knew she wouldn't refuse. She nodded and hopped off the stool. However, being Sam, she still couldn't quite resist getting in the last word. As she brushed past Jack and out into the hall, she stopped and smiled back over her shoulder at him, speaking softly so as to thwart the security system. "And after that, Sir… We should probably get some food…"

-o-o-o-o-o-

Sam returned to the SGC and the problem of Arthur's mantle early the next morning, her ability to concentrate fully restored and by the time SG-1 left for P9C-882 late that afternoon, she was fairly confident she had solved the power supply problem she had been working on. But she had been wrong before.