Major Samantha Carter slid open the women's locker room door and peered inside. It was dark and deserted - exactly what she'd hoped for. She released a relieved sigh and, dropping her bag onto the floor, she collapsed onto the center bench.
"Damn!" she muttered as the back of her head connected with the hard wood. She didn't need a headache on top of everything else. An entire afternoon spent in the gym - weights, cardio, and a half-hour of punching the stuffing out of the punching bag - still hadn't managed to loosen the tightness that had wound its way through her neck and shoulder muscles.
Sam knew what the problem was - her commanding officer, Colonel Jack O'Neill, had chased Colonel Harry Maybourne into a Furling transport device. The colonels had disappeared to parts unknown, and she was frustrated as hell that she still had no workable plan for locating and rescuing them. She knew she shouldn't let it bother her as much as it was, but she couldn't help it. She slowly massaged her temples with the palms of her tightly-drawn fists - the two men had been missing in action for over a month, damn it!
Her muscles tensed as she remembered the intense pain that Maybourne had inflicted on her when he'd zatted her from behind at point blank range just before he leapt through the device's energy field. She struck her fists against her thighs. She should have been prepared for Maybourne's trickery. He always had an angle - always - what would have made this time any different? Except that this time the promise of Ancient weaponry and technology had convinced General Hammond to ignore the crafty colonel's past history, Sam thought angrily, screwing eyes her tightly shut to block Maybourne's smug victory smile from her memory. Why had they trusted him? Why had she trusted him? And why the hell had she put herself in a position where anyone, especially a rogue like him, could take her weapon to use against her and place her whole team in jeopardy?
Whipping upright to straddle the bench, she slammed her feet hard onto the concrete floor. She was angry. At herself. At Hammond. At the other SGC scientists who'd quickly washed their hands of the problem, refusing to do anything further to help unlock the transport device's secrets beyond an initial on-site analysis. She was particularly pissed off at Dr. Bill Lee, one of the scientists assigned to the mission. When she'd firmly insisted the science group keep working on the problem, Lee had bluntly questioned her reasoning and her authority.
Why wasn't he able to understand that's just what you did? You literally worked your ass off to make sure that no one got left behind, because you knew that someday your teammates would do the same for you. Why didn't these scientists get it? A team was a team no matter what the assignment - they had to have some concept of why she was so damned determined to get Jack back no matter what it took. Or maybe not; she remembered that Lee and several of the others who'd analyzed the device were civilians with families and off-base commitments. And given that so few of the scientists, Lee included, had had much field time - she shook her head - maybe SG-1's mindset really was just a field unit thing….
She sighed. Okay, so maybe she had been a bit hard on Lee, but she was harder on herself. Couldn't they see that? Whatever she expected from them, she demanded double from herself – why couldn't they see that? And this was Jack, damn it! The man who'd disobeyed direct orders so many times before in order to bring his teammates home.
A hard realization hit her, making her feel like the punching bag she'd attacked earlier had swung back, slamming her square in the chest. Had the science unit resisted because she was a woman? Had it been Jack searching for her, would they have questioned the same orders? Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to remember her tone, to hear her words, to visualize her stance. Had she seemed too full of doubts? Had she been too harsh? Which was it?
She turned to face away from the door and shook her head. She loved everything about the SGC, and it was where she wanted to be right now. Its mission had allowed her to combine the best parts of the science that she excelled at with the military component she'd grown up with. Why were these things that she most loved doing giving her so much grief now?
She remembered the neighborhood war games that she and her brother, Mark, had been a part of when they were kids. While the physical part of the hunt had been exhilarating, her favorite part had been the intellectual challenge of figuring out what the other team was up to while strategizing her own team's response. She'd thrived on the thrill of seeing her plans in action. And she'd never had to worry about being second-guessed or without support back then - all the boys on both teams had wanted her to be on their team to her amazed delight.
Why was this situation any different? It shouldn't have been. The boys at the Pentagon had wanted her here in this program. They'd wanted her here on this team. They needed her skills and abilities. And right now they expected her to whip up the next big miracle to catch Maybourne and to obtain the Furling weaponry for them. She snorted. Miracle. Right. Damn it all. She shook her head, not knowing what she should feel anymore. What she saw one way, they saw another. What she saw as normal behavior, they saw as abnormal.
And, damn them, she wasn't going to admit failure this time nor was she going to stop searching for Jack. She'd have this one figured out just like she'd done so many times in the past - all she needed was more time. Her brow furrowed - how long would they give her? Those other times the SGC hadn't been as big, nor the budget as small. Hammond had already made sure she'd understood the kind of flack that he was taking from the Pentagon for the amount of manpower he'd already used and for having extended their search to twice over the standard time limits. But how could they put a dollar amount on Jack's life? Hadn't he saved the world enough times to justify all means?
A ragged sigh ripped out of her and her shoulders sagged. But that was just it - she didn't have any tricks up her sleeve this time, no magic particle beam accelerator to use to rescue Jack like she had when he was trapped on Edora. One entire month… and she still couldn't get the damn Furling device to work again. She wasn't even sure that the device was the problem anymore - for all she knew the two men were stuck in a different reality and the device worked in ways similar to the quantum mirror. What had she overlooked? How was she going to do this? How would she pull off the miracle they wanted this time when she felt she had royally screwed things up as it was?
Sam ignored the tendrils of tension tugging at her eyes. Everything was okay; she'd made it through worse before. She was in control of this situation. Not! She lifted her face toward the light above her, nostrils flaring and eye muscles contracting. She could feel her pent-up tears reaching the point where surface tension couldn't hold them back any longer.
Dropping her head back down and staring out into the darkness, her mind swam with theories and unworkable solutions… With images of Jack as he leapt through the gate... With Maybourne's smug smile... With Lee's angry defiance... With Hammond's frustration with her…
A lone tear finally broke free, slipping quickly down her cheek. Gravity ensured that others soon followed; their wet coolness welcome against her hot cheeks. Her head sagged forward and, gripping the edge of the bench until her knuckles turned white, she let go; let go of the worst part of the anger, the worst part of the guilt, and the worst part of the pain as other tears succumbed to gravity's grip….
Sam heard the locker room door open. She tensed and shook her head in disbelief – who was it? She'd come in here for her privacy, damn it!
Sam was startled to hear Teal'c call out her name, and she quickly straightened up, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Teal'c," she said, without turning around, "this is the women's locker room."
"It appears there is no one else here but you, and you are fully clothed," Teal'c observed from the doorway behind her.
Sam bit her bottom lip. "True." She closed her eyes and wiped at her cheeks again as she heard him approach.
"Are you all right, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked, sitting down next to her.
Sniffling, Sam glanced at her friend. She welcomed his solidness and his strong physical presence - especially since he was the only one left that she felt that she could rely on, now that Jack was missing and Daniel was dead. She appreciated his concern and wanted to open up to him so badly, but….
"I'm fine… yeah," she lied, looking away.
"Have you given up hope of finding O'Neill?" Teal'c asked after a moment.
"Hope?" Sam asked. "No. I'm starting to think Dr. Lee is right. I don't think the doorway is the answer." She paused and gestured with her right hand. "It's been almost a month, Teal'c. If there were a way back…" Then she would have already found it, and Jack would be back, damn it. And she sure as hell wouldn't feel this way. She shook her head and sniffled hard.
"It just… it feels like we just lost Daniel, and I don't know if I can…" Sam shook her head and rubbed her hand across her forehead. She didn't know if she could deal with losing another member of SG-1 if it ultimately came to that. The ache and hurt from Daniel's death was still too fresh. The void in her life that would be created by two losses… It was too much to think about right now. She started to cry again; it was more than she was capable of at the moment than to try to put into words for Teal'c the pain she'd already suffered.
She felt Teal'c's arms come up around her shoulders, and she welcomed his unexpected gesture. She turned to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her head into his chest, and sobbed. At least Teal'c was still here.
Teal'c said nothing as he gently held Sam while she cried, occasionally lifting his hand to smooth the hair at the nape of her neck. After several minutes she stopped and pulled back from Teal'c, offering him a self-conscious smile. Blinking her reddened eyes, she put her palms up to her flushed cheeks.
"I didn't mean to go on like this, Teal'c," she said, embarrassed. "I'm so sorry."
Teal'c's hands lingered a moment on her shoulders before he dropped them to his lap. "Major Carter, I chose to be here of my own volition. You are my friend, and I have been most concerned about your well-being." He watched as Sam rubbed at her face, drying the last traces of dampness. "There is nothing to be sorry about in expressing your feelings for someone you care deeply for, especially when in confidence to a friend." He considered Sam for a moment through heavy-lidded eyes. "Concern for a loved one is a very honorable and noble sentiment, Major Carter."
Sam's flush deepened. "What do you mean, Teal'c?"
"Samantha Carter, was I not present at your za'tarc testing? I have had knowledge of the feelings you have possessed for the Colonel for some time." Teal'c paused. "And those he has harbored for you."
"He has?" Sam asked, her eyes widening. Or he had, she sighed, remembering how many years had passed since they'd been tested. "Teal'c, it's been so long since…" She shook her head. "It doesn't matter now - it's all water under the bridge."
Teal'c arched his eyebrow. "Water under the bridge? I do not understand."
Sam waved her hand along an imaginary horizontal plane. "It means that time has passed. Years. That the situation changed. That we both moved on."
Teal'c shook his head. "I do not believe that the situation has changed." He arched his brow higher. "I do not believe 'the water,' as you say, has flowed past that bridge yet, my friend."
Sam opened her mouth and shut it, bending her head down as fresh tears sprang to her eyes. Biting her lip, she lifted her head up towards the light, avoiding looking at Teal'c. "It really doesn't matter now," she whispered.
"I must respectfully disagree," Teal'c said. "You must have faith, Samantha Carter."
"But it's so hard, Teal'c," she said, turning and looking deep into his eyes. "I feel so responsible. I know he's been gone before, but it was never anything like this - something I'd caused. What am I going to do? How am I going to fix this?"
Teal'c allowed a small smile to play on his lips as he placed his hand firmly on her bicep. "I have faith in you and your ability to find the answer," he told her, bowing his head. "And I will assist you in every way possible."
Sam pored over the data sheets spread out on the desk in front of her. There had to be something hiding in all this data that would help her solve the mystery of where the two men had been transported. She stared at the papers until her vision blurred. What if this really was a reality-altering device? When Jack came back, would he be the same Jack - 'her' Jack? When Daniel had played with the controller to the quantum mirror, he'd proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were way too many realities that were just a hair's breadth different than their own. Logically she knew that an infinitesimal difference shouldn't matter all that much, but to her it did. She wanted her exact Jack back, not someone else's.
She heard the clacking of a keyboard nearby as Teal'c paused and replayed the digital tapes they'd made of the Utopian mission. She heard Jack ask in a sarcastic tone, "You call that a moon?" as he made a rambling commentary about the scenery Jonas had been taping on that first day. Still staring down at the data sheets in front of her, she smiled as Jack continued to make wry observations, and her mind wandered back to the za'tarc testing that Teal'c had referred to in the locker room the day before. It'd been three long years since those tests had been administered, and she and Jack were even more deeply entrenched in the program now. She did feel they'd both changed and moved on as a result of all of the life-altering experiences they'd been thrust into since then. Why did Teal'c think any feelings still existed?
She sighed and resolved that once Jack was back she would broach the subject of their relationship with him. She'd been lucky enough to have had the chance to really talk to Daniel before he died and to let him know how much she'd cared for him and valued their relationship. She was damned if she was going to lose Jack again without letting him know the same things. It wasn't too late yet, and they both deserved that much.
She heard a scuffling noise at the lab's doorway and looked up to see Jonas Quinn, the Kelownan man who'd become the team's new fourth member, shuffling to a stop and grinning at her. "General Hammond says he's considering new SG-1 leaders," he announced to her and Teal'c. "You included, Major."
"We know," Sam told him. She knew the informal base betting pool had placed better odds on several of the more experienced SG team commanders as potential replacements for Jack. She also knew her odds were pretty slim, not having made lieutenant colonel yet. Not that she cared much about it at this point - she just wanted Jack back.
"Do you have anything?" she asked, looking at the papers he held in his hand. She knew Jonas had been doing his best to find and contribute as much useful information as he could to their analysis.
"Yeah, yeah," he said. "I was finally able to come up with some photos of that artifact Maybourne had his hands on." He pointed to a magnified picture of a key device that Sam remembered Maybourne using on the Furling transport device. Maybourne had been adamant about no one touching it but him. "It's quite old," Jonas continued, "making the scroll a bit difficult to read, and I'm pretty sure that the markings on the stone are just decoration but…."
Sam stared at the picture, an idea forming in her mind. She looked over at Teal'c. "Teal'c, wind back that tape," she requested. "Stop. There."
"That was the first day we were there," Jonas said, watching the monitor.
"I don't believe it," Sam said, feeling stupid for not having given more attention earlier to the more obvious transport locations other than just Utopia or other dimensions. "It wasn't visible after that. I forgot it was even there."
"What?" Jonas asked.
"The moon," Sam explained, making the final connections between her theories. "The doorway device doesn't use wormhole technology - it wasn't designed to send you across the galaxy. We thought they'd been sent somewhere else on the planet, but they haven't - they've been sent to that moon." She couldn't believe how simple the solution to finding Jack and Maybourne was. This was one "D'oh!" moment she knew Jack would get a good laugh out of.
"How do you know that?" Jonas asked.
Sam pointed to the picture that Jonas had given her of the key device. "The big circle is the planet; the little circle is the moon. The line between them is the path of transportation."
She smiled. "So which one of us gets to tell Hammond?"
Hoisting her P90 to a ready position, Sam grinned as she led SG-1 away from the Tok'ra tel'tak. It felt good to finally be doing something after spending two long days cooped up in her lab while SG-1 waited for the Tok'ra transport ship to return back to Utopia. There had been only so many times that she could check and recheck the supply lists and mission order sheets, but now that she was here, she had to admit that it had been worth every minute of excited anticipation.
Jolen, the Tok'ra who'd completed the original sensor sweep of the planet several weeks ago, had set his tel'tak down on the moon in a clearing a little over two clicks away from the signal that they'd picked up from the locator beacon Jack had carried with him. Sam lengthened her stride, eager to get down the grassy slope to the encampment to see what the two men had been up to. A smirk spread over her face. Yes, she was even eager to see Maybourne, that old fart.
She scanned the mountain range paralleling their path; the tall, rugged peaks reminded her of those she'd visited in the Pacific Northwest. The mountaintops disappeared from view as she led the team into a dense thatch of trees. She shook her head at the lush greenery; the fact that this was just a moon was simply amazing - forget that it was an Earth-sized satellite to the monstrous-sized Utopia! With most of the plant life she'd seen so far being so very Earth-like, she'd be surprised if no sentient, carbon-based beings had evolved here. Some mammal life already had, she observed, as a flock of ochre-colored birds took flight in a clearing ahead of them.
She grinned. Knowing how much Maybourne could get on Jack's nerves after just a few minutes, she actually hoped for Maybourne's sake that there were other sentient beings here. After a month together, if there weren't others here to distract them, then she bet Jack was probably close to killing Maybourne by now. Her grin grew wider as she imagined Jack giving Maybourne hell for getting him stuck for so long on the Utopian moon.
"Something you want to share?" Jonas asked, moving up beside Sam as they trudged down the final slope.
"Oh… it's nothing much," she answered as they moved out into the open sunshine of the savannah-like flatlands.
Jonas grinned at her and shook his head. "Something was funny."
Sam laughed. "It wasn't anything. Really. I was just thinking about how much the Colonels must be getting on each other's nerves right about now."
"Indeed," Teal'c remarked from behind them.
Sam's grin grew wider as she joined in the other's laughter.
Sam motioned for the team to slow down as she spotted a tall stone arch poking up through the taller scrub growing near the shoreline. Teal'c moved up beside her while Jonas and the two young captains from SG-6 who'd accompanied them to Utopia dropped back to a discreet distance. They approached the encampment with care since Sam had tried radioing Jack several times without success. His lack of response had concerned her somewhat, but she knew there had to be a logical explanation - after the first week or so he'd probably turned his radio off to save battery power after receiving no response back from SG-1. Sam checked the receiver again. The beacon's signal was at its strongest level - Jack, or his beacon, was somewhere close by.
"Colonel O'Neill?" she asked, entering one of the better-preserved structures and noting that Teal'c was entering the neighboring structure.
There were signs of recent activity in this shelter - a green, leaf-lettuce type of plant lay wilted in a bowl on the end of a rough-hewn cot that had been pushed up against a chest-high wall. She recognized several SGC-issued items tucked into a nook above the cot's pillow. She looked closer - the lump of pillow was actually Jack's faded green jacket, turned inside out. Looking under the cot, she spied Jack's boots, thrown unceremoniously back against the wall. Grinning as she imagined Jack running around barefoot, she reached back to pull them out and found the small black beacon box tucked inside one of the boots.
"Teal'c, Jonas," she called out, "I found Colonel O'Neill's beacon." She quickly checked the rest of the open-air structure and found no sign of either man's weapons.
The other two members of SG-1 entered the structure, leaving the two captains to stand guard outside the doorway. Jonas crouched down and looked through the items that Sam had piled up on the cot. He looked with interest through the circular drawings that had been anchored down by the bowl of lettuce.
"No weapons," she said to Teal'c, shaking her head.
"I also failed to locate any weaponry," Teal'c reported, "however the other shelter also appears to have been recently inhabited."
"Maybe they're out hunting for food right now." Jonas lifted his head to look up at his teammates. "They'd need weapons for that, and for defensive purposes - you never know who or what might be lurking around…."
Sam nodded. "True."
Teal'c tilted his head as they exited the shelter. "From the tracks in this encampment, it would appear that only the two of them were sheltering here."
Jonas furrowed his brow. "How can you tell that?"
"Many years of my own experience and that of my teacher, Master Bra'tac," Teal'c explained with a dip of his head.
"Okay," Jonas said, turning his puckered lips into a closed-mouth smile.
"Do you think you can track where they went?" Sam asked.
"Yes." Teal'c indicated the steeper slopes just to the right of the hillside they'd descended from. "There are fresh footprints that belong to Colonel O'Neill that lead in that direction."
Jonas raised an eyebrow again, the same question as before beginning to form on his lips.
Teal'c's jaw muscles twitched, and he nodded back toward the shelter and the boots on the bed. "He is the one without shoes," Teal'c observed.
Following Teal'c's lead, they quickly moved up into the rugged hillside; Jack's footprints zigzagged along a stream that gurgled and meandered down the slope. As she passed a very clear imprint of Jack's bare foot, Sam wondered what he'd been up to the past month. She couldn't wait to find him to hear all the stories about what they'd done to survive the past several weeks in what so far, despite its natural beauty, seemed like a deserted, desolate place. He must have gotten his fill of fishing she mused, since they'd found a makeshift fishing rod near the encampment's fire pit that had long since burned out. She assumed the lettuce-like plant must have been a staple of their diet since they'd had it in the bowl. She also wondered what he knew about the weathered skeletons they'd found in various places around the encampment. She started to compile a long mental list of questions to pepper him with when she had the chance.
Sam smiled as she remembered Jonas bagging a sample of the lettuce plant and placing the sample and the circular maps into his backpack. His meticulousness and capacity for learning had made him an invaluable replacement for Daniel. He'd never be able to completely fill Daniel's shoes, of course, but SG-1 really had been blessed to have him join their team when he had. She just hoped Jack would stop giving him 'the treatment' soon. She'd recently overcome her own misgivings about having a new member replace Daniel and had begun to trust Jonas's abilities and to accept him as one of their own.
"Major Carter!" Teal'c called out.
Sam jogged up the small rise to catch up with Teal'c as the others continued to ascend behind her. Teal'c had stopped at the crest of the last rise and was facing a small clearing bound by the fragments of a stone and mud wall similar in construction to the one back at the savannah encampment. Sam smiled at Teal'c as they descended the rise and crossed over the stream toward the intact arched doorway. She took its intactness as a good sign.
Sam nearly ran into Teal'c's back as he came to a sudden halt just inside the arch. "Teal'c, what is it?" she asked, trying to look around him.
Teal'c didn't answer, dropping his staff weapon instead and moving quickly forward to crouch beside a figure on the ground in front of him. Sam caught sight of a man sprawled out on his stomach in the center of the clearing. Her breath exploded outward as if someone had punched her in the gut as she recognized Jack's silvery grey hair and lanky shape. She flew across the last few feet and fell to her knees opposite Teal'c.
"Sir?" she asked, touching Jack's bare neck. The relative coolness of his skin spawned goosebumps on her own, and she nodded at Teal'c to help her turn him over. She flinched; Jack's unnaturally pale face was contorted in surprise and pain.
"Sir?" she asked again, her facial expression beginning to mimic his.
"Colonel?" she asked, waving a hand in front of his eyes. Pressing down on his jugular vein, she felt for his pulse.
"Jack?" she whispered, feeling no pulse. He was pale and still, and his eyes, always so full of intensity and life, were vacant and cold.
She looked down at his chest and for the first time noticed the exit wounds that she knew from experience were the distinctive hallmarks of bullets from a P90. The front of his t-shirt was caked with dried blood, and she noticed several small insects crawling close to the wounds. He'd been shot in the back and left for dead.
Sam felt the bile rise in her stomach. Jack. Dead. No cheating death once more. No ascension. No recuperating in the infirmary to go out and save the world another day. Jack was gone. Really, really gone.
She rocked back onto her heels, shaking her head. "NOOOO!!!" she shouted up into the leafy canopy above them. She slammed her fists onto her thighs. NO! This couldn't be. It just couldn't be.
Tears beginning to stream down her cheeks, Sam looked over at Jonas. He stood nearby, wide-eyed and unsure of what to do as he stared at Jack's body. Catching Sam's distraught look, he turned away, raising a hand to his face. He walked back toward the entrance to the clearing, discreetly rubbing at his eyes. On the other side of Jack, Teal'c had lowered himself down onto one knee, placing his fist over his own heart and slowly bowing his head.
Sam sobbed hard as the permanence of Jack's death hit her. The lush forest around her turned into a swirl of browns, greens, and yellows as every memory she held of Jack came rushing back at her. He was dead. She shut her eyes to rid herself of the nauseous kaleidoscope she was swimming in. She bent her head into her hands, shaking as her body was racked by the force of her cries. Why? Why, damn it?!
A warm hand touched her gently on the shoulder. Blinking hard to focus, Sam opened her eyes to find Teal'c standing next to her. Choking back another sob, she allowed him to carefully help her to her feet. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come, and she turned her head away to hide her tears.
"Samantha," Teal'c said softly, reaching out to slowly pull her close to him. Sam gratefully buried her face into his chest, unable to control the shaking of her head or the tears streaming down her face. He held her tightly for a moment. "I do not wish to interrupt your grieving," he said quietly. "But the murderer is still free. And Maybourne has not yet been accounted for."
Sam winced in pain at hearing the word murderer and buried her head deeper into the solidness of his chest. Teal'c was still here. He was still alive. First Daniel. Now Jack. She tried to speak again and couldn't; only gasps and short cries escaped her.
"We must find Maybourne," Teal'c said quietly, gently lifting Sam's head off his chest.
Holding onto Teal'c's steadying arm with one hand, Sam wiped her face with the back of her other hand and coughed to clear the mucous blocking her vocal cords. "Teal'c…."
Teal'c looked deep into her eyes and gave her a small shake of his head. "There will be time for remembrance and mourning later," he said. "We put ourselves at considerable risk by staying here in this clearing."
Sam inhaled sharply and exhaled slowly, trying desperately to regain her control. "We can't just leave him here," she rasped, clearing her throat again.
Teal'c glanced at Jack's body, but remained quiet.
Sam felt the prickling of anger. She was ready to protest if Teal'c insisted on leaving him - Jack didn't deserve to be left behind like this. She turned as Jonas cleared his throat.
Jonas had picked up a stick nearby and was poking at the skeletons piled near the stone entrance to the clearing. He lifted up the finely-boned and tightly-curved skeleton of a symbiote on the stick and held it out in front of him. "Uh, Teal'c," he said, "is this what I think it is?"
Teal'c turned and nodded. "Yes, it is." Teal'c glanced at the two youthful members of SG-6 who stood respectfully at the entranceway, their heads turned away as SG-1 grieved. He looked at Captain Tobias who was discreetly brushing a tear from his eye. "Captain Tobias."
"Yes, Sir?" Tobias asked, snapping to attention.
"Please return to the tel'tak to contact General Hammond. Relay the circumstances and explain that we are in pursuit of the murderer and Colonel Maybourne. Captain Nguyen, please accompany Captain Tobias. When you are done you may return to remove Colonel O'Neill's body."
The young captains nodded and raced away from the clearing.
Sam had followed Teal'c and Jonas soundlessly down the hillside, only half-listening to their conversation as she struggled to compartmentalize the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her.
"Teal'c, you're sure it was just the two of them back there?" Jonas had asked him.
"O'Neill's tracks were the only recent ones in the encampment," Teal'c explained. "I can discern only from the possible trajectory of the bullets that the killer was outside the encampment walls. There were numerous tracks immediately surrounding the wall and many have been washed out by the stream. I am certain that Maybourne was there, but I am unable to determine by whom he was being pursued."
At that Sam had instinctively raised her P90 a little higher and focused her mind outward toward the high scrub at the end of the forest. She'd coughed to clear her throat. "You think Maybourne came back this way?" she asked. "Colonel O'Neill has had to have been dead for at least a day, day and a half."
Teal'c had half-turned his head to look at her. "The most recent tracks Maybourne made are extremely fresh. He appears to have returned for unknown reasons. Perhaps to disarm O'Neill to protect himself against the murderer? There are too many paths to investigate and splitting up is not a wise plan of action at this time."
The three slowed down as they approached the edges of the Furling encampment ruins, and Sam managed only minor success in trying to push thoughts of Jack's anguished face out of her mind. She scanned the area again, well-aware that there likely was someone else out here still pursuing Maybourne and, now, possibly them.
Off to her left, walking beside Teal'c, Jonas stepped hard on a dry branch. Sam cringed as the loud pop and crackle echoed off the deserted buildings; any enemy nearby surely knew their position now.
Jonas turned toward her and Teal'c, his cheeks red. "I'm sorry," he said.
But his voice was drowned out by a barrage of bullets issuing forth from what Sam took to be a P90. Along with Teal'c and Jonas, she dove for cover behind the crumbling structures on the outer rim of the camp. After scrambling back to her knees and making sure the others had good cover, she leaned out and peppered the taller structure in the center of the camp with shots from her own P90, and then ducked back behind the low wall as Teal'c took his turn at covering the central structure with blasts from his staff weapon.
Suddenly the return fire ceased. Sam guessed whoever had Jack's weapon hadn't yet run out of ammunition, and her guess was that they'd probably taken all of his weapons and ammo. As Maybourne had gone to Utopia weaponless, she guessed he probably had risked going back to Jack's body to try to find something to use to protect himself only to find the murderer had gotten there before him. "Hit the ground!" she hissed.
Jonas, crouched on the other side of Teal'c, stuck his head out around Teal'c's bulk, mouthing, 'Why?'
"Grenade!" Sam hissed back at him just before the grenade hit the ground on the other side of the crumbling walls they were hiding behind. She covered her head and dropped to the ground as a barrage of stones and silt peppered her. Who was this, and why did he or she want them dead? She hated the thought that they'd now have to go search for Maybourne's remains too.
As another burst of gunfire immediately erupted from the central building, Teal'c caught Sam's attention. "I believe there to be only one person responsible for this," he said.
"You sure about that?" Jonas scoffed, looking at the central structure.
Teal'c looked back at the stone ruins that the gunfire was emanating from and nodded. "Of this, I am certain."
Sam nodded her agreement from her position across from them. She pointed at Teal'c and Jonas, and then over toward the structures closer to the shoreline. She pointed to herself and the backside of the central encampment structure.
Teal'c nodded, indicating he understood her directions. He and Jonas sprinted for the shelter of the next enclosure, Teal'c laying down another burst of fire with his staff weapon as Sam started to slide along the low stone wall in the opposite direction.
Teal'c and Jonas aimed more shots at the structure as they circled in and around the smaller ruins closer to the water until they were directly opposite the entrance to the central ruin. Teal'c leaned out to peer at the building. He caught sight of a mud-covered man cocking his head and a P90 out into the entranceway. The man caught sight of Teal'c watching him and ducked back in before Teal'c could take a clear shot at him. The plaza between them became quiet.
"Teal'c? Is that you?"
Hearing Colonel Harry Maybourne's voice ring out across the plaza, Teal'c turned to Jonas with a surprised arch of his brow, and then he tilted his head slowly out around the pillar wall. "Yes. I am here," he responded. "Please cease fire."
Maybourne cackled. "Surrender? Ha!"
Behind the decaying structures Sam moved slowly along, trying her best to not tread on the dry scrub littering the area. At the sound of Maybourne's voice she stopped and lowered her weapon slightly. Maybourne was the one shooting at them? Gunfire blasted through the plaza again and Sam moved along a little faster. Why would he be shooting in self-defense against them? They weren't the ones trying to kill him!
Teal'c's voice boomed back across the plaza. "Maybourne, you must desist. We are not your enemy. We are not…" His voice was cut short by more shots.
"I don't believe you!" Maybourne yelled. "You're just out to get me. I know your plan."
"No, we're here to help!" Jonas called out.
"Jonas Quinn?" Maybourne asked.
"Yes?" Jonas responded. He poked his head over the wall, waving and smiling at Maybourne.
Maybourne responded by lifting a nine millimeter in his other hand and firing a few shots at Jonas's quickly disappearing head before he lobbed another grenade at Teal'c and Jonas's position.
"That is good," Teal'c informed Jonas as they got back on their feet after the grenade detonated.
"It is?" Jonas asked, spitting dirt out of his mouth.
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "O'Neill only had four grenades with him. Maybourne was not armed when he came here."
"But he's only used two," Jonas pointed out. "And you're assuming the murderer didn't take some of the munitions."
"The third was used on O'Neill," Teal'c explained. "There was an injury to his leg that had several pieces of shrapnel embedded in it. There was evidence outside the forest compound of a grenade trap which had gone off. I believe O'Neill found that trap. I am unsure of the fourth."
"Okay," Jonas said, "so now what do we do?"
Teal'c peered around the corner of the wall. He saw Maybourne peeking back at him and Sam edging forward along the wall to the entrance to Maybourne's shelter.
"A few more minutes of diversion is required," Teal'c told him. "The Major has nearly achieved her goal."
Jonas lifted his head over the wall to see what Teal'c was talking about. "So we're going to try to talk him out?" he asked, crouching back down as Maybourne fired the nine millimeter at him again.
"If he will allow us to do so," Teal'c said. "If not, he will be neutralized in another manner."
Jonas turned around and moved his head up and over the stone wall. "Harry? Why don't we just sit down and talk this over for a minute?" He slowly lifted more of his body up into Maybourne's view.
"There's nothing to talk about," Maybourne said, eyeing Jonas from his doorway, his expression full of suspicion.
Jonas shook his head. "That's not true, Harry. There's a lot we need to talk about. We need your help. We need to know more about who is here besides you and what's going on."
Maybourne laughed hysterically. "There's nothing going on - there's no one else here! Don't you get it???!" He stopped laughing for a moment. "Ironic isn't it? Nobody left in Paradise." He became wild-eyed again and cackled, "Nobody! Nobody, but me! Nobody!"
"But, Harry," Jonas tried again, "we really do need you. We need to find out who killed Jack so that person won't kill again."
Maybourne cackled again. "See, I said there was nothing to talk about." He fired at Jonas.
Jonas dropped to the ground as Teal'c fired back. Teal'c carefully aimed his staff weapon at the opposite side of Maybourne's structure to avoid hitting Sam who had nearly reached the entrance to Maybourne's shelter.
"I don't understand," Jonas yelled back over the wall. "What do you mean by that?"
Maybourne grunted. "What it means is that you people are out to get me the same way Jack was. You won't get to me - that I promise you. Just like I promised Jack he wouldn't get me either." He paused and cackled once more. "And he didn't - I got him!" Maybourne cackled again, bending over in a coughing fit.
"I still don't understand, Harry," Jonas said. "What do you mean you 'got' him?"
Maybourne winced as he spat out a gob of bloody mucous. "Exactly what I said. I got him before he got me."
Jonas gave Teal'c a pained look before he lifted his head over the wall. "Harry, does that mean what I think it does?"
Maybourne laughed. "Jonas, you know for a smart guy you're pretty damned stupid. Of course it does. I killed the bastard before he could kill me."
Sam's head shot up at his last words. She felt like she'd been punched again, and she reeled against the stone wall for a moment. Maybourne had killed Jack? No. It couldn't be. For all his double-crossing, he'd never kill Jack, not if he was in his right mind.
From their silence she knew that Jonas and Teal'c were processing the same information. It was Teal'c who spoke next, his head poked out three-quarters of the way around the wall. "Harry Maybourne, surrender yourself," he ordered.
Maybourne shook his head. "No. You all are nuts. Crazy. You're both out to get me, too." He stepped farther out into the doorway and peered around. "Where's Carter? Isn't she here?"
"No. She is not here," Teal'c answered.
"She's not?" Maybourne asked.
"That's right," Sam responded, quickly springing up into Maybourne's face. "I'm right here," she said, landing a punch squarely across Maybourne's cheek bone that whipped his head around and sent him sprawling. "That's for Jack, you bastard." She grabbed for the nine millimeter Maybourne aimed at her and stomped his wrist onto the ground to pop the P90 out of his other hand. Maybourne winced, groaning in pain, his head lolling to the side as he struggled to stay conscious.
As Jonas and Teal'c sprinted across the plaza, Maybourne shook his head. "I'll show you," he hissed through gritted teeth, his eyes unopened. "You won't get away with this," he threatened. He managed to get one eye open and aimed it at Sam. "I'll ensure all your military careers get flushed down the toilet." He shut his eye, remembering who was military and who wasn't. "No matter," he said, "You aliens'll be sent back to where you came from."
"Maybourne, just shut up!" Sam ordered as she finished binding his wrists, and she yanked him into a standing position for Teal'c to finish patting him down.
"Major Carter," Teal'c said, "Colonel Maybourne appears to be injured." He indicated Maybourne's bloody vest and very carefully lifted up the corner of the vest. The three stared at a deep wound in Maybourne's side and the blood-soaked handkerchief that had been stuffed into it.
"I don't think Teal'c or I did that," Jonas said, grimacing.
"It is not a fresh wound," Teal'c observed, carefully pulling the clinging tee-shirt away from the wound. "Most likely it was incurred when Maybourne was attacking O'Neill."
"It was Jack, you idiots! He attacked me first! He said he wanted me dead!" Maybourne insisted, his sweat-flecked forehead furrowing as he lifted his brows. "I did NOT kill in cold blood!" he squeaked defensively as he looked down at his wound.
Jonas eyed the handkerchief and Maybourne's bloody clothes. "Colonel, how much blood have you lost?"
The parts of Maybourne's face visible through the mud he'd caked onto it turned paler, and his eyes temporarily lost their manic sparkle. "I'm not sure," he admitted as he moved his bound hands over to touch his wound. "I forgot how bad it was," Maybourne said softly before his legs began to give way, and he sagged to the ground.
Sam bent her head down to the radio attached to her vest. "Captain Tobias, we have a medical emergency. Please have Jolen power up and be prepared to open the doors at my signal. Departure in…," she said, squinting into the distance at the area the tel'tak had set down in, "…approximately twenty minutes."
Captain Tobias relayed his affirmation.
Sam looked around for something to use as a stretcher. There was that wooden cot in the shelter that Jack had used; they would use that. She looked at Teal'c and nodded the bed. He returned her nod, and, handing Jonas his staff weapon, he picked Maybourne up and carefully heaved him onto the cot.
Sam approached the front of the Tok'ra cargo ship where Captain Tobias and the Tok'ra, Jolen, were checking the controls as the ship lifted off the ground. "Do we have an open line to the SGC?" she asked the captain.
"Yes," Tobias replied. "Channel open," he said, touching a pad and vacating his seat.
"This is Major Carter of SG-1, is General Hammond there?" she asked, sitting down.
There was a few moments' lag time before Sam heard the warm voice of their base commander cackle over the speaker. "Hammond here," he said. "Major Carter, was the mission a success?"
Sam shut her eyes and bowed her head before responding. "We are bringing back Colonels Maybourne and O'Neill, Sir," she answered. "Colonel Maybourne requires immediate medical attention for an abdominal wound and psychosis." She stopped, her eyes still shut. "You've been informed about Colonel O'Neill, Sir?"
The silence created a heavy weight on Sam's shoulders as she waited for Hammond to respond.
"Yes, Captain Tobias informed us of… the Colonel's condition," Hammond finally responded. "You're certain?"
Sam took a deep breath as she steeled herself to say it out loud for the first time. "Yes, Sir. Colonel O'Neill definitely did not make it. He's dead, Sir. No pulse. Rigor mortis was already beginning to ease by the time we found him."
Hammond's voice was tinged with anger. "How did this happen, Major?"
"We're not completely clear on that yet," Sam said, opening her eyes and glancing back at Maybourne's prone body a few feet away. Jonas and Captain Nguyen were crouched at Maybourne's side, wiping the mud off his face and tending to his wound. "As soon as he's more lucid, Maybourne should be able to explain what happened."
"Understood," Hammond said. "Debriefing immediately upon return. Hammond out."
"Yes, Sir," Sam said. She slid out of the co-pilot's seat and walked over to Maybourne. Looking down at him, she asked, "How is he?"
"Still out of it," Jonas answered. "But I think he'll survive." The officer beside him nodded.
"Good," Sam said. She was surprised by the dullness of her voice. But that was how she felt. Dull. Senses dulled. Vision dulled. Everything dulled.
She moved into the darkened ring compartment where Jack's body bag had been placed and stared at the bag. The soft light reflecting in from the flight deck picked out the outline of Jack's shape, and she almost wondered if this wasn't some kind of cruel joke that he was playing on them. She was tempted to unzip the bag to look at him again to reassure herself that it wasn't a joke, but then she remembered how they'd found him, and she pushed that thought away.
She slid her back down the wall, bringing her knees up to her chest in a tight crouch. Feeling completely worn out, it was all she could do to keep her focus on the long, dark bag. She gave up and closed her eyes, pushing her head back against the wall as her mind began to fill with all the things she thought she'd get to say to him that would never be spoken. The jokes and the teasing were gone. The promise of a long friendship and mentorship was gone. The promise of anything and everything else - gone.
And not just gone, but yanked away from her… As a teenager she'd been absolutely devastated when her mother had died. Years later she'd chosen to develop a relationship with Jonas Hanson before they'd both been assigned to the SGC and, although he'd treated her badly, she had still felt an indescribable sense of loss when he died. But that was it - she hadn't chosen her mother. She had chosen Jonas. She had chosen the SGC. Heck, she'd fought to get there. She'd chosen to be assigned to SG-1. She'd chosen to remain under Jack's command after a somewhat rocky beginning. She'd chosen to have deep relationships with her teammates. It seemed so much harder to have that which you'd actually chosen be forcibly ripped away from you. Something you wanted that some higher power decided you couldn't have any more.
Sam moved a hand up to wipe at the tears that were flowing down her cheeks again. It was so damn unfair!
As she reintegrated back in the embarkation room, Sam readjusted her grip on the stretcher that held Jack's body bag. Across from her, Jonas adjusted his grip on his handle in response. Teal'c automatically lowered the rear of the stretcher as they slowly started down the ramp. The post-mission personnel gathered in the room somberly watched as SG-1 came to a halt in front of General Hammond at the base of the ramp. All eyes were intently focused on the dark bag that SG-1 carried between them.
Hammond swallowed hard and frowned as he first took in the body bag that contained the commander of his premier first contact unit, and then the taut and pained faces of the surviving members of SG-1. After he nodded solemnly at SG-1, they moved past him and, with the assistance of two orderlies, they carefully lifted the bag up onto an empty gurney. Sam allowed her hand to linger on the bag, not wanting to sever her connection to Jack this soon. The orderlies finished strapping his body down, and they looked at Sam. She slowly pulled back, watching as they rolled the gurney away. After they disappeared around the corner, Sam turned back around, biting her lip and blinking hard to keep the tears at bay.
Doctor Janet Fraiser, the base's chief medical officer, gave Sam a sympathetic smile before she turned and moved toward the gate. Captains Nguyen and Tobias had come through carrying the non-lucid, moaning Maybourne on a stretcher. A nurse followed beside him, holding a large bag of intravenous fluid. As Janet moved beside the stretcher giving orders to the medical support team now surrounding Maybourne, Sam contemplated the long life that he would have that Jack would now never get to experience. She shook her head in disbelief. This had to be a dream. A really, really bad dream.
Hammond came up behind Sam and Jonas and gave their shoulders a paternal squeeze. "Go to the infirmary for your checkup, shower, and then we'll debrief in two hours," he said quietly.
Sam nodded and followed her remaining two teammates out of the embarkation room.
With the shower turned up to its hottest setting, Sam stood face-first in the searing stream. She rubbed at her face, sluicing away her own hot tears along with the shower water. When the heat became more than she could bear, she turned around to let it burn deep into the muscles in her back.
She could only ask why. Why? She knew that they'd cheated death too many times for it not to come back to take them eventually. But some small part of her had always held out hope that they would all make it through their SGC careers intact and alive. Especially alive. And with each passing year it had seemed like they would do just that.
At least until last year, when Daniel's death and apparent ascension had changed everything. However, even then, she'd hoped a very small hope that Daniel's death would be the only one, and she'd started to regain her glimmer of hope that the rest of the team would make it through. But then Ba'al had gotten a hold of Jack and had put him through unspeakable torture and repeated death. And her glimmer had started to fade. And now that death had laid its permanent claim on Jack, the glimmer had winked out.
Her face screwed up in pain as another wave of tears hit her. WHY, DAMN IT?! She looked out of the stall and up at the clock on the locker room wall; there wasn't much time before she was expected in the ready room for their debriefing. She shook her head. She so didn't want to be here right now. But she was. She had to make it through the rest of the day. She sniffed hard and turned the water off. Find that stiff upper lip, Sam. Put on that mask.
Catching sight of Hammond and several others approaching the infirmary door, Dr. Janet Fraiser shook her head at the group. "I'm afraid I can't let you see him right now. He's still suffering from the narcotic affects of the plant he and Colonel O'Neill ingested."
Sam's brow wrinkled as she remembered the lettuce-like plant. "Colonel O'Neill ate it, too?"
Janet nodded. "We just received the results of the bloodwork on both of them. There were trace amounts of the same chemical in his system. Apparently he hadn't ingested as much as Colonel Maybourne had."
"What was it?" Jonas asked, peeking around Janet to look through the open doorway as Maybourne yelled, "I didn't mean to! Oh, God - what have I done?"
Janet looked down at the floor during Maybourne's outburst before looking back up at Jonas. "The chemical has many of the same properties as peyote," Janet said.
"Peyote?" Jonas asked.
Janet smiled. "A type of cactus you can find here in the desert. The psychoactive substance in the plant from the Utopian moon is very similar to the 3,4,5-trimethozypehehthylamine found in peyote. It can create euphoric hallucinations, however in some people it can also cause anxiety, headaches, irrationality, paranoia…"
Jonas grimaced. "And people want to take that stuff?"
Janet gave him a small smile, arching her eyebrows.
Hammond looked at Janet and Jonas. "You know I respect your advice, Doctor," Hammond said, "but I'd like to see for myself what effects the plant has and to see what Maybourne has to say for himself right now."
Janet pursed her lips, her eyes flashing with warning. "I still wouldn't advise it, Sir, but if you insist…" She moved away from the infirmary door, nodding to the two guards posted outside of the doorway, and shook her head at the others in the group. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
The back of the bed had been raised, and Maybourne had been restrained, Sam observed as she entered behind the others. He was struggling to get free and was whipping his head back and forth. "Let me go, damn it!" he bellowed. "I am NOT a danger to myself, damn it!"
Janet moved to the edge of the bed and gently laid a hand on Maybourne's arm. "Colonel Maybourne, you have visitors," she said softly.
Maybourne whipped his head back around to see the group that had moved just inside the infirmary door. Sam could see the bruising from where she'd decked him. He looked more lucid than he'd been the last time she'd seen him, she thought, watching his eyes zero in on each of their faces. "What do you want?" he asked.
Hammond stepped forward to the foot of the bed. "I wanted to see for myself how you are doing," he told him.
"So you've seen. Now leave," Maybourne said, frowning.
Hammond squinted at him, his mouth a firm line.
Maybourne sighed. "What do you want? My life? My firstborn? My head on a silver platter?"
Hammond shook his head. "No, Colonel Maybourne. I just want to try to understand what happened on that moon."
Maybourne eyed him warily. "This isn't standard debriefing protocol, General," he said. Eyeing the members of SG-1 who were present, he sneered. "They should be able to tell you everything you need to know."
Hammond continued to stare at Maybourne.
Maybourne's pupils contracted, and his facial muscles slowly tightened. "Want a long story short? All I wanted to do was to retire in Paradise. Retire in Paradise, damn it! NOT become a murderer!" He pushed forward against the restraints. "And I got screwed. Royally." He shut his eyes and his face twisted into a tight grimace. "And I screwed Jack in the process. I KNOW that. Do you think I'll ever forget it?!"
Hammond shook his head, glancing at Janet. "Colonel, no one is accusing you of anything.…"
"I KNOW what you all are thinking - you don't need to lie, General," Maybourne bit out, harshly emphasizing Hammond's title. "I killed Jack. I killed him. I FREAKIN' killed him!" Maybourne's eyes widened. "And don't you DAMN people tell me any different!" Maybourne rocked forward and stopped, shivering. His eyes glistened with unshed tears, and he started to choke. "Oh God, what did I do? What the hell did I do? He should have killed me first. He should have killed me." A tear slid down his cheek. "I should have killed me…," he whispered.
Janet straightened up and turned to the group that was standing wide-eyed near the door. "I will have to ask you all," she said firmly, glancing at Hammond, "to leave now. I think you've seen enough. General, after Colonel Maybourne has metabolized the last of the chemical you can speak to him then, but until that time I won't authorize any further discussion."
Hammond turned to watch the others file out of the room, and then he turned back to Janet and nodded. "Understood."
Sam stared at the computer monitor, trying to bring her focus back to the mission report she was supposed to be handing in to Hammond in an hour. She squinted at the bottom of the program window; she'd barely made it to the bottom of page one of what would normally be a minimum of a five-page report. She propped her elbows up onto the desk and dropped her forehead into her hands.
Why couldn't she focus? She just couldn't get focused, damn it. And it sure as hell didn't help that she had to give a blow-by-blow description of what SG-1 had seen on the Utopian moon. It was bad enough they'd had to describe as much as they could remember during the debriefing yesterday. She didn't want to relive this experience day in and day out, and it wasn't just Jack's death that was bothering her - it was all of the doubts she had about her ability to lead and the choices she'd made on this mission… it was everything. Nor had it helped that it had been all she could dream about the night before.
Sam looked up to find Jonas peering around the corner of her door. Running her hand through her hair, she sat up and took a deep breath. "Jonas."
Jonas looked around the lab and arched his head at the computer monitor. "If you're busy, I'll come back."
Sam closed her eyes and shook her head. "No, it's okay."
"I just wanted to come see how you're doing," Jonas said, giving a little shrug of his shoulders and lifting the corner of his mouth up. "You seemed a little upset by the Colonel's death."
Sam looked at Jonas. A little? Try a lot, she thought. Try an overwhelming sense of grief, Jonas. Try… She sighed. "I'm okay," she lied. "We worked together for a long time, Jonas. It's a lot to take in all at once."
"I know, Sam," Jonas said. "That's why I thought you might want to talk about it."
Sam bristled. No, she did not want to talk about it. It wouldn't bring Jack back, and it wouldn't make the pain she felt right now feel any better. She shook her head. "I don't."
"Oh," Jonas said. "Okay. I just thought…."
"Don't worry about me, Jonas," Sam told him. "I'm a big girl. I'll be fine."
Jonas stood for a moment in the doorway, looking uncomfortable. He gave her a quick closed-mouth smile and raised his hand in a small wave before turning around and walking away.
Maybourne stared out the briefing room window into the gateroom, clenching his bound hands into fists and trying to hide his emotions from Hammond. "It wasn't that way, General," Maybourne said through gritted teeth. "The NID only thought they were about to gain Ancient weaponry. They knew nothing about why I really wanted to go to Utopia. And when Simmons died, so did the NID's interests in that planet." He bowed his head. Now Jack had died too, all because of his own stupid desires. "I know I should've never involved Jack."
"But Colonel Maybourne, you did," Hammond said. "How else would you have gotten there?" he asked pointedly.
"Oh, I would have found a way," Maybourne said with a small snort. "Eventually."
Hammond pursed his lips and gave Maybourne an appraising stare. "You're not a patient man, Harry. I'm confident you would've used the SGC in one way or another to get there no matter what the cost."
"Maybe." Maybourne turned back to stare at the gate, his gaze slowly going out of focus. He was a damn selfish fool for having obsessed after the thrills and experiences he thought Utopia could provide to him. For the security he thought hiding out there would give him in comparison to the perils Earth existence had offered him. Fool, Harry. You're nothing but a damn fool!
He shook his head. If only Jack hadn't trusted him this time, and God knew Jack hadn't been one for trusting him. In fact, Jack had usually been two steps ahead of him once Jack figured out what his latest scheme was, and even then the man still helped him get out of the scrapes he'd gotten them both into. Harry'd always been surprised that the Pentagon brass and the NID powermongers had never fully realized how bright the guy was. 'Course they'd never been that good at looking beyond Jack's insubordinations. And now they'd never get to know thanks to him. He cursed himself again.
"So General, what'll it be? Prison? Court martial? Death?" Maybourne asked, turning toward Hammond who was also staring out into the gateroom.
Hammond shook his head. "No word yet, Colonel. You're to remain here in lockup until we hear otherwise."
Maybourne's shoulders sagged as he turned back to the window.
Sam watched as the USAF Base Honor Guard carefully completed their task of the folding of the taut flag that had covered Jack's casket. This was it. Their final physical link to the man would be severed shortly. She looked at the headstone next to the open pit that would soon be Jack's permanent resting place. Charles Tyler O'Neill, the small grey stone read. Although he could have easily been interred at Arlington or any one of the other national military cemeteries, Jack had wanted to be buried in the private cemetery that his son had been buried in, and General Hammond had made sure that Jack's wishes were carried out.
She glanced over at Hammond who was sitting at attention on her immediate right. By the firm way he gripped his lips and the tight squint he directed at the honor guard, she could tell he was struggling to keep his emotions in check. She realized that he and Jack, contrary to the fraternization rules that expressly forbade it, had had a close friendship. Sensing her stare, Hammond glanced at her, his eyes glistening, and he gave her a grim smile.
Just beyond him sat Sarah O'Neill and Sarah's father. Jack's ex-wife hadn't changed much in the six years since Sam had last seen her. A touch of grey at her temples and a more wary look in her eyes were the only changes that Sam could find. She watched as Sarah O'Neill swallowed hard as she was handed the triangular package of the crisply-folded flag. Sam looked away and released a slow sigh.
A warm hand covered hers, and she felt the pressure of a gentle squeeze. Turning to her left, she gave her father a small smile. Jolen had relayed the news of Jack's death to the Tok'ra High Council, and Jacob Carter had returned to the SGC almost immediately upon hearing the news. Sam had been happy for her father's presence; it had distracted her from the pain and ache she was still feeling. She squeezed his hand in return as he leaned towards her to kiss her cheek. She gave him another small smile and noticed Teal'c sitting stoically beside Jacob, the long bangs of a wig covering the golden mark of Apophis on his forehead.
Sam suppressed a small smile as she watched out of the corner of her eye as the wind fluttered the long hairs of the wig. Teal'c had staunchly refused to wear the wig, and it was only after being informed that he wouldn't be able to attend the funeral if he chose to wear his trusty hat during the entire service, as it would be a sign of disrespect, that he decided to go with the wig. She smiled; she just hoped he never decided to grow his hair out like that - it wasn't flattering at all.
Jonas cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably on the other side of Teal'c as Jonas dealt with the legginess that was Anise beside him. Anise and Jolen had come on behalf of the Tok'ra and had been given civilian clothes to blend in. Jolen looked smart in his dark, tailored suit, but Anise… Well, Anise took the suit that had been lent to her to a whole new level. The jacket in particular had been a bit too snug, but she'd insisted she looked fine and had kept her Tok'ra bustier underneath. Sam eyed her get up and sighed. It mainly was because of Anise's host, Freya, that Anise was here, and Sam knew she couldn't fault the host for what probably was the symbiote's fashion choices.
She could hear Cassie in the row behind her whispering something to Janet, and Janet's quiet response back to her. Several officers and enlisted personnel from base, including Sergeants Harriman and Siler, had also attended and were seated in the rows behind hers. Hammond had said that Jack had been insistent that his funeral be kept as low-key and as small as possible. There would be a memorial at the SGC in a few days that would be open to all base personnel. Of Jack's close friends, only Thor was not there, but it wasn't possible for him to come, not without totally blowing the program's cover. But she knew he was watching from his ship above them, and she smiled as she looked up into the cobalt blue sky.
She jumped as shots from the firing party rang out. Her father squeezed her hand again, and she sat back up, knowing the end of the service was near. She focused her wandering attention back up to the sky again as her ears picked up on the roar of the F-18 Hornets approaching from the south. A knot formed in her throat as she watched the third jet pull out and up into the western sky, and the deep roar of their low flyby reached deep into her gut to push her emotions to the surface. She blinked to keep her eyes dry. She wouldn't cry. Not here. She'd already cried too much.
Teal'c laid his fork down and carefully folded his hands on the table. "I offer myself if you should require someone to talk to."
"Thanks, Teal'c, but I don't think it'll be necessary," Sam said, wiping her mouth with her napkin.
"Are you certain, Major Carter?" Teal'c asked, tilting his head.
"I'm sure, Teal'c. I just need some time to sort things out." She tried to give him a warm smile as she pushed her chair back and picked her tray up. "I may even take some time off like the Colonel always was pestering me to do.…"
Teal'c looked at her for a moment before dipping his head in deference to her wishes. He was concerned about his friend, but understood her need to temporarily separate herself from her work for meditation on the matter. As she left the mess hall, he contemplated the dessert plate he had yet to eat.
Carefully spooning a quantity of whipped cream into his mouth, he barely tasted its light sweetness. He had been trying to meditate for several nights now and had had little success in giving honor to the memory of his warrior friend. No matter, he thought. He would shortly be joining Master Bra'tac to strategize on the recent Jaffa successes. Together with his mentor he would pay proper tribute to the Tau'ri warrior, O'Neill.
Earlier in the day Hammond had agreed to his taking leave of the SGC, and Teal'c had started to make preparations for his departure. He had not yet told Major Carter. He did not look forward to doing so, and for once he'd given in to that Tau'ri trait of procrastination. Tomorrow, he promised himself. Tomorrow he would tell her.
Sam sighed as she strode away from the science lab. She had walked in on a heated conversation and had only become conscious that she was the topic of conversation after she was met with glares and loud throat-clearing. Well, screw them, she thought as her blood began to boil at the things she realized they had been saying about her. It was the third conversation she'd stumbled into where she had been the topic of conversation. She resented that the entire complex felt they personally knew her well enough to critique her job performance and to speculate on the reasons for her decision to turn down the command Hammond had offered her. She'd love to know who'd leaked her decision since she'd thought her negative response to the General would be kept confidential.
Her face twisted into an angry scowl as she turned the next corner. Why couldn't they all let well enough alone? Wasn't it enough that she'd already screwed up in a very big and very public way? God, if only they could feel how she'd felt just before and after they'd located the colonels, then, maybe just then, they could imagine how she felt right now. She didn't want this attention. She was tired of it all. Couldn't they just put their focus somewhere else for once?
She got in the elevator and slumped against the wall. She was exhausted. She didn't feel like thinking. She didn't feel like analyzing. She didn't feel like doing anything. She needed a break.
Teal'c carefully closed the lid to the cardboard box and placed it on top of the others that he'd stacked neatly in the corner of his room at the SGC. While General Hammond had assured him that his room would remain untouched during his absence, Teal'c wanted to make sure that if he did not return that his belongings would not burden the General.
He was eager to shed the physical trappings that he'd accumulated during his stay with the Tau'ri and to get back to help lead his Jaffa brethren to their freedom. Although SG-1 had become his second family, and while he cherished the opportunity the SGC had given him to prove his worth and further his cause, it still did not negate his dream of complete freedom for all Jaffa.
He understood his brethren would face a multitude of new problems once they gained their freedom. But at the moment they were still in the early stages of consolidating their support and of strengthening their alliances. It was a tenuous time, and he believed that they required firm guidance in order for a cohesive movement to form that would, in one momentous act, quash their Goa'uld oppressors so that all free Jaffa would be able to take their rightful place amongst the free peoples of the universe.
His father had instilled in him the traits of honor and dedication, and Master Bra'tac had brought forth and nurtured his deep-rooted yearning for freedom, and it was in their names that he would see this fight through to the end, to ensure that his son and his son's sons would be able to partake in the fruits of their hard-won freedom. Even if it meant the death of him. Even if he would never be able to enjoy the results of his struggle, he would do this. To honor the living for whom he fought and to honor the dead, including Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neill, who had given their lives in the fight against the Goa'uld.
Sam looked incredulously at Teal'c as he set the two plant containers down on her desk. "You're doing what?" she asked again.
"I will be taking leave of the SGC tomorrow," Teal'c repeated. He indicated the spider plant that Daniel had given him several years ago and the cactus that Jack had jokingly given him a few months ago. "I would be forever in your debt if you would care for these while I am gone."
Sam stared at the plants. "So you will be back?" she asked.
"It is my plan."
Sam couldn't help feeling like someone had just pulled the rug out from beneath her. Teal'c was her last link to the old team. She'd come to rely on the knowledge that he was always close by during these past few weeks since Jack's death. Even if they hadn't spoken much, his presence alone had comforted her in a way that knowing Janet was there for her had not.
"When?" she asked.
"Tomorrow," Teal'c replied.
"No," Sam said. "I meant when will you return?"
Teal'c raised his chin as he considered her question. "I am unsure. Bra'tac has sent word that several rival factions of Jaffa have put forth a request for the start of negotiations. It may prove a difficult and lengthy process in order for all factions to find a common ground."
Sam was quiet. "I wish you luck," she told him.
Teal'c dipped his head down. "Thank you, Samantha Carter. I believe I will need it."
Sam pushed her chair back and came around the desk to face him. "I'll miss you, Teal'c."
The smallest of smiles lit Teal'c's face. "As I will you, my friend."
Sam stood immobile, unsure of what to do. She sighed and looked deep into Teal'c eyes. She didn't want to offend the normally emotionless man by hugging him. "Stay safe," she said, her voice full of concern as she tentatively put a hand on his shoulder.
Teal'c looked down at her hand. He observed that she had stepped over her usual line of reserved conduct, and he understood this was a moment of equally strong emotions for her as it was for him. He looked back up into her eyes. They were even bluer than usual, a sign he now recognized from his recent experiences with her. The glistening of the tears in her eyes confirmed it. He pulled her closer for a gentle hug.
"We will see each other again," he promised her.
From her kitchen, Sam heard knocking at the front door. It was the same quick staccato that Jack had always used. Swiping her hands quickly across the dishtowel, she moved to the door, full of hope that maybe by some miracle she'd find Jack there.
"Sam," General Hammond said, greeting her as she pulled the door open. Her anticipatory smile faded. Hammond was in his civvies, and he held a bouquet of small sunflowers, the brightness of their shaggy, golden-yellow petals competing with the intense gold of the sunset behind him.
"General?" Sam asked, surprised. It'd been a long time since he had come to her house, and alone at that. She was a week into her month-long vacation, and she really hadn't expected anyone to stop by. She waved him in the door, looking quizzically at the bouquet.
"Tessa and Kayla insisted that I bring sunflowers to you," he said, handing the bunch to her with a sheepish grin. "They're in town visiting, and they threatened to never let me hear the end of it if I didn't bring over proof of their gardening efforts."
Sam smiled absentmindedly and rubbed the fuzzy, deep brown centers of the plants. They were the color of Jack's eyes, especially when he had been angry with the team. His brows would hood over like an eagle's, his hard brown eyes piercing them like arrows. Her smile disappeared completely, and she led Hammond back toward her kitchen.
"He was a great mentor, General. I'll always appreciate having had the relationship that I did with him…" Sam cut short her thoughts about Jack's impact on her life. By the expression on his face, Hammond looked like he was having one hell of a strong internal debate with himself, and she wondered what was up. "Sir?" she asked.
Hammond set his drink down, his mouth puckering into a frown, and he waited for a moment before responding. "Yes, that relationship of yours… Sam, you know how close you came to being reassigned? I wasn't the only one aware that you two had some pretty strong feelings about each other." He shook his head. "After hearing the results of that za'tarc testing, I was under considerable pressure to reassign you both, even with all the mission successes SG-1 was having," he admitted. He paused again. "But then things seem to cool off, so I managed to convince them to leave well enough alone."
Sam sighed, wondering who the infamous 'them' was. "It wasn't easy to push him away considering the circumstances."
"I realize that, Sam," Hammond said quietly.
Sam cast a doubtful look at him. "Do you?" she asked sadly. "I'm not sure you do. No offense, Sir, but women weren't serving with men in active duty field units back then like they are now. There weren't all these pressures and all these…" She stopped. What would he know about what she'd gone through to protect both her career and Jack's?
"And what?" Hammond asked.
Sam sighed deeply again. "And nothing, Sir."
"Major, why won't you accept my offer to command SG-1?" Hammond asked as he stood to leave.
"I've already given you my answer," she responded. She'd given him the same response every day the week before she'd gone on leave, and he'd made it a point to ask her the same question every morning that week.
Hammond shook his head. "Sam. Remember who you're talking to. I've known you since you were a child. I remember the dreams you had. The things that you wanted to do and to accomplish come hell or high water." He knitted his brows. "I'm worried about you."
Sam bristled. "There's no need to be concerned about me, General. I'm fine."
Hammond coughed, shaking his head.
Sam glared at him. So what, that he thought knew her? She began to curse her father ever having served with him. There were too many connections. Too much familiarity. "I'm fine," she insisted.
"Sam, I know what Janet said."
"As my friend or base doctor?" Sam asked angrily.
"Both," Hammond answered.
"She's full of it," Sam said. "I just needed a break. For too many years I've lived my life at a non-stop, break-neck pace, always doing what everyone else expected of me." She stared at Hammond. "And if I remember correctly I've been asked - no - ordered, several times since I've been with the SGC to slow down and to take time out for myself. So I'm doing it now. That's all."
Hammond nodded. "I fully understand you needing to take leave, Sam. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the long term - when you come back. You didn't have to ask for official reassignment out to Area 51. You can continue to do your research here."
Sam glared at him. "So, are you saying you won't approve it?"
"No, Sam, I didn't say that. I just want to know if it's what you really want and that you've thought it through with a clear mind. I want it to be what's best for you." He looked at her with the same gentle concern that her father had shown her when he was worried about her. "Time will heal the pain of Jack's death," he said softly.
Sam bristled again. "This isn't about Jack, damn it."
"Then what is it about, Sam?"
Sam stared sullenly at him. She didn't feel like talking to him any longer. He wouldn't understand.
"Sam, I only want to help you," he said.
"Then help me by giving me what I asked for."
Hammond walked to the door, his face pinched and pink. Sam slowly followed behind him. She knew he meant well and that she was frustrating him. But she didn't care. She just didn't care.
Hammond turned to Sam as she stopped at the open doorway, and he put his hands on her shoulders. "Sam, if you reconsider, or just need someone to talk to, please call me." He thumbed her cheek softly. "Okay?"
Sam looked down and moved her cheek back so that his hand fell away. "Thanks for stopping by, General. While I appreciate your offer, it's not what I want."
"Fine," Hammond said softly, giving her a quick hug before turning to descend her porch steps.
Sam winced at how she had stiffened as he touched her and hoped he hadn't noticed it. She only wanted to hurt alone. She didn't mean to hurt the others.
Just leave me alone….
Sam flicked a strand of hair back behind her ear as she considered the containment unit in the middle of the lab. The alien device the unit contained had been given top priority shortly after her arrival at Research and Development at Area 51, and the device had stumped her and her research team for several weeks now. Although they'd put in long hours on their respective pieces of the puzzle, so far nothing they tried had made the device itself work. Sam stood up and walked over to the clear-walled containment unit. Leaning her hands and chin onto the shielded glass, she stared at the device that she'd been directed to analyze and deconstruct in order to build a working prototype.
As near as they could tell it was some sort of advanced shielding device. It had been removed from the armor of a dead First Prime who'd led a contingent of Jaffa to a small planet where a number of free Jaffa had taken refuge. The contingent had decimated the planet's small outpost. Sam guessed the attackers had been operating under the direction of Anubis. Before leaving the SGC, she'd understood his powerbase had been growing, and she wouldn't hesitate to bet that he was staging attacks like this to demonstrate the power of his wrath to the free Jaffa that were still struggling to come together into one nation.
She considered the death of the First Prime. His shielding device must have been faulty since he was the only attacker who hadn't survived. The lone free Jaffa survivor, a young man close to the age of Teal'c's son, had shared a horrific tale of how the members of his clan had been annihilated by a small group of Jaffa with nothing other than their staff weapons. The young man hadn't been sure how or when the First Prime had been taken out, but he'd been very clear about the disbelief of those around him as all of their shots, even those from projectile weapons, had been deflected away from the attacking Jaffa. She knew Jaffa armor was good, but it wasn't that good. It had only been when SG-12 had accidentally stumbled onto the aftermath of the attack during a routine visit to the outpost, that they had found the First Prime and the device which hadn't been a standard part of Jaffa battle gear up to that point.
Sam pulled herself away from the containment unit and walked back to her office, considering several mathematical equations for the harmonic wavelengths that would normally block both physical and energy projectiles. She discarded each one. There was a perfect equation out there somewhere. She just hadn't found it yet. Sitting down in the chair that ate up most of the space in the small closet that had become her office, she eyed the picture of the prototype they'd built. Tomorrow, after all members of the research team were back for the beginning of the work week, they would make their first run of it. If it worked, then their focus would become defensive systems.
She started to enter the equations she'd discarded into her project journal so that the others wouldn't duplicate her efforts. Then she stopped and stared at the screen for while, considering what would happen if she transposed the two subsets that were bothering her the most. Quickly typing a new equation and deleting the last random variable, she smiled. That was better, and it might just work.
"Major Carter?" she heard her new research assistant ask apologetically. "I finished the last of the prototype simulation calculations and thought you might want to see them before I leave for the evening."
Sam blinked and came out of her reverie. That was good news. "Let's go have a look," she said, pulling her white lab coat back on.
Returning back to her office, her head still swimming with chemical and mathematical equations, Sam was surprised to see how late it was. She'd barely have time to input the ideas she'd formulated this evening, lock up, and drive out to the small apartment she'd rented, before she'd have to turn around and be back in here again. She sighed. She missed the SGC with its senior staff quarters on Level 25, and the smaller general staff quarters ten floors above that, that they'd been able to crash in when they needed to.
She rubbed her eyes. She just wished she had some of her assistant's energy. As late as it was the young woman had still been as upbeat and eager to share her findings with her as if it had been the middle of the day. An ironic smile filled Sam's face. Her assistant reminded her of herself at that age, eager and fresh; the world still wide open and just waiting to be explored. Sam wished she had more time and energy to mentor her. Another wave of tiredness washed over her.
Mentoring wouldn't be happening right now. It was all she could do, just to drag her butt in here and to try to contribute something useful. The funk she'd been in for a while didn't seem to be leaving. It wasn't helping either that she just couldn't seem to knock this damn cold out of her system that had been hanging on now for several weeks. She snuck another peek at the clock. It was past midnight now. She'd put in several nights like this already this week. But the research needed to be done. Sam was certain General Smith had good reasons for making the project a priority, and she was going to do whatever she could to make it work for him. She knew her first-hand knowledge of how the technologies had been used and the aliens who used them had been a big plus for the research staff, and she didn't want to let them down.
She turned to the next page on her desk calendar. Cassie was starting spring break today. Sam winced as she recalled how tight Cassie's voice had gotten two weekends ago when she'd called Sam to invite her to go on a spring break trip with her and Janet, and Sam had politely turned her down.
"But you're not going off-world anymore, Sam!" she pleaded. "Come on! I haven't seen you in so long."
"Oh, Cassie, it hasn't been that long…"
"A couple months," Cassie corrected her. "Besides - you need a real vacation anyway. Blue skies, palm trees, turquoise water… lots of hot men in Speedos." Cassie giggled.
Sam rolled her eyes at the last item and shook her head. "I know, Cassie," Sam had tried to explain. "But it's so hard to get away from here right now."
Cassie had been quiet for a moment. "You're just trying to blow me off," she burst out. "You had less time and a more screwed up schedule when you were on SG-1, yet you were still able to come see me at least once a week back then."
Sam had swallowed hard at the lump in her throat. "Cassie, I really do have to go now – I'm running late for a meeting with our director," she had lied.
"Fine, whatever," Cassie had said before hanging up on her.
At least Cassie had made an effort to call. Janet had stopped leaving messages several weeks ago, after Sam had finally stopped returning her calls. She hadn't heard a word from her father either since Jack's funeral. Teal'c had also not returned, although she hadn't expected him to, not this soon, and not given what he'd told her about the state of Jaffa affairs these days.
Only Jonas had continued to try to make contact with her, mailing greeting cards to her each week. He didn't say much, sending her serious cards mixed in with humorous ones. All she'd been able to gather from his carefully printed messages was that he'd been going out with other teams and that he missed her and that he felt things hadn't been the same around the SGC without her. Although she had been tempted to do so, she hadn't had the heart to return them to sender and had opened them, read them, and then trashed them.
Her head nodded forward as she slid into sleep. Sam blinked hard and shook herself back awake. She needed some hot coffee, that's what she needed. Maybe it would perk her up. She was just tired. More tired than she'd ever been in her life. She knew she needed to exercise and visit Janet and be with Cassie, but there just wasn't the time anymore. She sighed.
Tomorrow. She'd start tomorrow.
The trial run of the prototype hadn't gone quite the way Sam and the others had expected. The prototype had had powered up, but only long enough to explode in a shower of dazzling sparks after it overloaded. As the other scientists circled the prototype and began the clean up and recovery protocols, Sam walked over and picked up the original device and turned it over in her hand. She absentmindedly fingered the traces that would have been attached to the Jaffa's chest and back. The device suddenly hummed to life. Surprised, Sam laid it back down as quickly as she could. The scientists nearby jumped at the noise.
The device became still. Sam carefully bent down closer to it and lifted it gingerly out of the containment unit again, holding the traces firmly down on her palm. The device hummed again.
The scientists had by now surrounded Sam, their eyes wide. "That's never happened before," one noted from behind her as Sam repeated her actions.
"Move it out to the Omega Lab," said the next senior scientist, locking the device back in the containment unit and nodding at Sam and the lab door.
As Sam followed the rolling containment unit with the group of whispering scientists following a few paces behind her, she started to frown. She didn't like the implications of this. It had to be the naquadah in her blood. That was the only link that she and a Jaffa would share that she could immediately think of. The furrow between her brows deepened. But she couldn't tell the scientists that she had naquadah or the Goa'uld protein markers in her blood, she couldn't tell them she could use many of the devices that others at Area 51 were working on…
Oh damn, this was getting more complicated.
Lifting his chin up as he reintegrated back in the SGC embarkation room, Teal'c surveyed his surroundings. He observed that the austere room had not changed since his departure, and he allowed himself a small internal smile. After his experiences the past few months, it felt good to be back in the familiar surroundings of his adopted home.
Keeping his face in a stern mask, Teal'c slowly descended the ramp, his eyes quickly roaming the large room until they fell on General Hammond. He halted a few feet away from the General who stood stiffly at attention at the base of the gate ramp.
"Teal'c! It's good to see you again," Hammond greeted him.
Teal'c dipped his head low in a show of respect for the venerable leader of the Tau'ri. "As it is to see you again, General Hammond," Teal'c responded warmly.
"So how did things go?" Hammond asked.
"Not well," Teal'c responded. Teal'c watched as Hammond opened his mouth to make further inquiries, and then stopped, Hammond's open mouth morphing into a grin of genuine amusement.
"Teal'c, please - go and get yourself settled," Hammond said, waving toward the open blast doors. "I'll be in my office whenever you are ready."
"Thank you," Teal'c responded, bowing his head again. He fully understood the Tau'ri leader's eagerness and curiosity as a substantial amount of time had passed since he had departed from the SGC. But first he needed change into clothing more acceptable to the environs of the SGC. He shifted under the weight of his heavy cloak and his nose twitched as a mixture of scents reached his nostrils. He was, as O'Neill would have put it, quite "ripe" and required the use of the shower.
He turned to hand his staff weapon to the soldier waiting nearby. Teal'c didn't recognize the young man. In fact, he didn't recognize any of the post-mission response team members congregating in various parts of the gate room.
As he stepped down onto the concrete floor and walked toward the exit, he glanced up into the control room on the next level. Other faces, some more familiar to him, peered down through the thick glass, including that of Sergeant Harriman. Harriman gave him a slight nod and a small smile, and Teal'c carefully returned the gesture.
Some things had not changed.
Sam stared at the orders in her hand. She had memorized the contents of the short directive the first time she'd read it, but she still couldn't help picking up the paper every few minutes to reassure herself that the order was indeed real and that she wasn't just dreaming this. General Smith himself had come down to her office earlier in the day, an impassive look on his normally open and genial face. He had wordlessly handed her a manila envelope and had left, stopping just outside the doorway to face her. "I'll be here until nineteen hundred hours if you want to discuss this," he'd said before turning away from her.
Slowly opening the envelope, she'd felt a gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach warning her that her life was about to change, and possibly not for the better. She'd been right about the change part. Her new orders, effective immediately, instructed her to return to the SGC two days hence and to report directly to General Hammond at oh-nine hundred hours. The prototype that had just completed a successful trial run, as well as three of her critical staff, would also be transferring immediately with her.
She laid the orders down on top of her briefcase and reached back up to the shelf above her desk to finish boxing her flash drives and compact discs. As she carefully stacked the containers inside the boxes that had been delivered to her a few hours ago, she wondered about the second half of her gut feeling. Would this be for the better?
She'd avoided the thought of field units and field command for so many months now that she wasn't sure what to make of her mixed feelings about the new orders. Her recent promotion and her increased leadership duties on this project had given her faltering confidence a sorely-needed boost, but field command? The orders didn't say anything about leading a field unit, but Sam knew it would be a distinct possibility if she was physically located at the SGC and Hammond called upon her to do it. He had made it more than clear before she left that he wanted her to continue on the command track.
She frowned. So much was at stake in field command, so many lives immediately lost if you made the wrong decision. It had been different here in research and development; no decision or action was as critical. She grimaced. Okay, their decisions were critical, but not immediate, death-defying critical. She sighed. This was why she avoided thinking about that part of her past - the circular arguments and the feelings of inadequacy that she hadn't been able to totally shake off. But she couldn't deny that a small part of her did ache to be back at the SGC, to be out there, in space, in the universe, exploring and learning….
She sighed again. It didn't matter now. She'd be putting all of those feelings to the test soon enough.
Armed with Dr. Fraiser's approval of his preliminary physical and with his new security passcards, Teal'c slowly made his way to his quarters, musing about the changes to the SGC that had happened since O'Neill's death. Certainly the Tau'ri military operation had continued to run as it always would, but already, just walking down the hallways of subterranean base, he believed he noticed a different atmosphere.
He chided himself as he turned the corner to the elevator shaft. It was not the inanimate structure nor was it the base personnel that he had passed in the halls thus far who could impart these feelings to him. He understood and acknowledged that what had changed was him and how he now viewed the Tau'ri's chances in overcoming the Goa'uld without the rule-breaking, risk-taking warrior that they'd had in Colonel O'Neill.
Teal'c frowned. As a warrior he knew he needed to eliminate those thoughts from his mind or they would mire him in the past and doom his future as well as the futures of the people still living that he cared and struggled for. He entered the elevator shaft, his eyes half-closed as he semi-meditated himself away from the unfruitful thoughts.
Teal'c's eyes shot open, and he tightened his muscles in response. The sudden greeting had surprised him. He turned around to find Jonas Quinn reaching one arm out to hug him and extending his other hand out to shake Teal'c's hand. Jonas stopped and dropped his hugging arm, apparently thinking better of the hug after reading Teal'c's face.
However, Jonas left his other hand fully extended. Teal'c realized that he could not refuse the eager young man and accepted it with a tight grip of his own. "Jonas Quinn."
Jonas shook his head and grinned as he joined Teal'c in the elevator and punched his floor number into the control panel. "Teal'c, it's so good to see you! How long has it been since you've been back? Four months? Five?"
"It has been approximately six months and seven days since I departed the SGC."
"Really?" Jonas asked, his eyes widening. "Well, I stand corrected."
Teal'c noted with amusement that Jonas looked like he was ready to burst with questions, his very being vibrating with pent-up energy. He would have to bring to a halt the young Kelownan's eagerness. "Unfortunately I must meet shortly with General Hammond, Jonas Quinn, and I must attend to other business in my quarters before the meeting." He could detect the slight falling of Jonas' grin. "However, I promise I will entertain your questions as soon as it is practicable. Perhaps later, over dinner?"
"Dinner sounds great." Jonas grinned at Teal'c and stepped away as the elevator door opened at his stop. "I'm still in Daniel's old office. I'll see you later then."
"Later," Teal'c echoed.
"Do you recognize this?" Hammond asked Teal'c a short time later, pushing a picture toward him.
Teal'c leaned forward to examine the picture. It was a close up of a decorative medallion-shaped attachment on the breast plate armor of a Jaffa warrior. Braided and twisted tendrils swept away from the attachment. "Indeed, I do. Several Jaffa came to the summit with these devices attached to their chests. We had believed them to be decoration, so skillfully were they woven into the armor."
"How many Jaffa wore these devices, Teal'c?" Hammond asked.
Teal'c leaned back in his chair, mentally surveying his summit memories. "Approximately five Jaffa," he responded. "They survived the summit massacre unscathed and disappeared after they felt certain those remaining were dead."
"You're sure they were wearing this same device?" Hammond asked, lifting the picture up and pursing his lips as he stared at the device.
Teal'c's upper lip curled up in disdain. "Of that, I am certain."
"What happened?" Hammond asked, setting the picture aside and focusing his attention on Teal'c.
"After several weeks of informal concession-making, Master Bra'tac felt it was time for the summit participants to meet face-to-face, and the name of the chosen meeting site was distributed. Initially there were no signs of dissension and several rounds of formal negotiations had been completed before the shol'vahs began their attack," Teal'c explained, spitting out the word shol'vah.
"So you're telling me that you were attacked by some of your own?" Hammond asked.
Teal'c nodded solemnly. "Of approximately one hundred Jaffa, excluding the five aggressors, only Bra'tac and I survived. And our survival was in doubt for a lengthy period of time." He dipped his head respectfully. "I would have returned earlier if not for the need to care for Master Bra'tac."
"You should have come back here immediately, Teal'c," Hammond said reproachfully. "We could have helped Bra'tac. And you."
Teal'c shook his head. "I understand that you have been working on a number of solutions to help the Jaffa free themselves from the need for Goa'uld symbiotes, and I am deeply grateful for your efforts, but there was little time for experimental treatment. Bra'tac required a new symbiote immediately; one mature enough to heal his injuries. Just before the attack, Ambrosius had shared that his village had managed to obtain mature prim'tahs during a recent skirmish. As soon as I was physically able to do so, I took Master Bra'tac to Ambrosius's homeworld."
Hammond shook his head. "What about your own symbiote?" he asked.
"Junior," Teal'c responded with a slight smile as he used O'Neill's nickname for his prim'tah, "is doing well." He arched a brow. "It has been several months since the ambush, General."
It was Hammond's turn to raise his brow. "Why didn't you send word, Teal'c?"
Teal'c raised his head, his chin muscles twitching. "It would not have been a wise action. There was a traitor amongst us who apprised Anubis's guard to our meeting. I needed to acquire further information about the extent to which our plans had been uncovered before I could confirm my theory."
"And?" Hammond asked.
"It would appear that Anubis was also informed of the location of several more key planets where free Jaffa have taken refuge."
"What do you think he plans to do?" Hammond asked.
Teal'c frowned. "That is why I cut short my investigation immediately upon hearing credible testimony of Anubis's plan to infiltrate our ranks and to destroy all Jaffa sympathizers, most notably the Tau'ri."
"How does Anubis expect to do that?" Hammond asked.
Teal'c's frown deepened. "That is why I have returned."
Hammond's expression mirrored Teal'c's as he pushed his chair back and crossed his arms. "You're providing further confirmation to me of what Jacob Carter had passed on to us." He shook his head at Teal'c's raised eyebrow. "No, Jacob hasn't been back since you left. But he did send word through Jonas about seeing the aftermath of the same kind of attacks. He seems to believe that the Tok'ra have confirmation on who is instigating these attacks."
Hammond nodded. "That's what Jacob thinks and I'm inclined to agree with him on this one, especially after hearing your experience."
"Have you begun making preparations for his probable attack?" Teal'c asked.
Hammond nodded. "We sent this device to Area 51 when SG-12 brought it back, and our best scientists have been working on it for several months. A working prototype of the shielding device is ready. I've ordered that it be moved back to the SGC so we can start off-world field testing and move beyond the prototype phase."
Teal'c nodded. "I am ready to assist in you in every way possible."
Hammond's face brightened. "Well, you can start by briefing all of the team commanders on the battle tactics of these Jaffa. I'll arrange for a briefing on that first thing tomorrow morning. And I want to talk to you more about what you've learned Anubis may be planning."
Teal'c dipped his head deeply in agreement.
Sam's stomach was rumbling; it'd been close to six hours since she'd eaten breakfast back at her Roswell apartment before locking it up to head north to Colorado Springs. Now just north of Pueblo on Interstate 25, she started passing signs for familiar landmarks. She smiled. She was less than an hour from home. Home. She shivered; she hadn't been there in two months. It would feel funny to walk into a house where nothing had moved for so long.
In less than twenty-four hours she'd be back at the SGC. She pursed her lips and scooted her sunglasses back up her nose. Actually in that respect, there was a good side to all of this. General Smith had been extremely hesitant to approve her request to have her staff injected with naquadah protein markers. He'd only told her that he'd think about her request. And that had been two weeks ago. Sam knew they had to test this on others; so far the device only worked for her, and she couldn't keep being involved in the trials as the sole test subject. At the SGC she knew Hammond would likely be more open to the idea, and it would be much easier to get willing test subjects.
As she tapped on the accelerator a bit more, she thought about the device that had become the main focus of her life recently. She could understand that the need for naquadah was the fail-safe that kept non-Jaffa from using the unique technology, but she'd been really intrigued by the lack of sensor settings to keep the device powered and its ability to react to different types of weaponry. There hadn't been a power setting on the original device and in duplicating the device, they had found that it was impossible to make one either; the shielding device wasn't quite a DHD. With the original device she only had to think about it and some as yet unknown chemical reaction determined and powered the shield level. They'd even tried spraying traces of naquadah on the diodes, but it hadn't worked. The device required bodily contact. Sam had wondered if it also fed off of the wearer's nervous system and its electrical impulses.
The scientists and research assistants who'd worked with her had known about naquadah; it powered many of the projects they worked on at Area 51 - ships, weapons, instruments and bombs, but so far only the three who would be following her to the SGC knew for certain her link to it. The others had had ideas she knew, but they'd kept it to themselves.
She mused on it some more; it was like the healing device - you didn't just flip a switch and the healing device worked. You didn't consciously think to make it work, you just did it. The device powered up and down on its own, and it automatically seemed to sense when the person wearing it was under battle conditions.
Sam laughed as she recalled that particular test. "Shoot me," she told one of her assistants.
Her assistant shook his head. "No, you're unprotected," he said.
"Awwww, c'mon – shoot me."
The young man had steadfastly refused, and Sam had become frustrated. "Oh, for cryin' out loud!" she'd said indignantly. "Somebody - just shoot me."
The young man had refused a final time, and she'd heard murmurs of, "Is she crazy?" being muttered under the breath of several of the other scientists; they knew that only the reason they had the device here in the lab was because it hadn't worked for its Jaffa user. Annoyed, she looked at Sarah, the young assistant with whom she had finally started to develop a mentor relationship, who would be following her back to the SGC.
With a tentative smile Sarah picked up a zat and after weighing its heft, she straightened her arm out, lifting the weapon chest-high, and shot at Sam. Sam blinked as the energy blast appeared to make contact with her before it was deflected harmlessly away from her. She tilted her head. No tingling. No burning. Amazing. She smiled and looked at Sarah.
"Again," Sam said.
Sarah cast a doubtful look at her. "Twice and you're dead, right?"
"Just do it," Sam ordered.
Sarah took a deep breath and squeezed the zat again. And once again the energy pulse was deflected away from Sam.
"Again," Sam directed.
With Sarah's assistance, Sam repeated the test several times after that. They'd also discovered that staff weapons were ineffective against the field the device created, as were any known human-created energy weapons.
When she'd insisted on testing projectile weapons, her staff had nervously insisted that she put on body armor. In return she'd insisted that they take cover - she didn't want to lose any staff to deflected bullets either. The projectile weapons, even at point blank range, hadn't penetrated the shield.
But she hadn't been able to test explosives, as even Sarah had refused to participate at that point. Sam thought a moment about Sergeant Siler and his penchant for being game for things like this. She grinned. After she got settled, she'd have to run his past him. Either way she was going to need his help.
Teal'c considered the quietness of his room as he lit the candles he'd unboxed earlier in the day. Although General Hammond had increased the base's security level to DEFCON 3, the mood on base was still quiet and subdued. After he lit the last candle, Teal'c opened his door and peered up and down the deserted hall.
Against all logical reasoning, he continued to expect Colonel O'Neill to come bounding down the hallway and into his room to interrupt his meditation, to loudly ask him, "So whatcha doing?" Or to inquire on the chances of Teal'c joining him in a game of ping-pong or spotting him on the weight bench. A frown crept over Teal'c's face as he closed the door. He had not had very many moments of leisure during his time away at the Jaffa negotiations or during the attack's aftermath, and now that he was back at the SGC, the void left by his closest friend's death was only too obvious.
Teal'c bowed his head to honor of the memory of his friend. O'Neill had been the first man, other than his own father and Bra'tac, that he had put his full and unwavering faith in. And it had been a well-placed faith as his friend had never given him any reason to doubt him, repeatedly risking his own life for that of Teal'c and his brethren, the same brethren who, given the order, would end the lives of all Tau'ri.
Teal'c would not admit it to many, but he still grieved for O'Neill. He had not lost just a friend, but a blood brother. Many had been the time in battle that they had never had the need to speak, always instinctively knowing what the other was capable of doing and trusting that he would do it. He had respected the man deeply even if he had not always understood the man's passionate, illogical motives or quirky sense of humor. Teal'c grinned. But then his friend had never claimed to understand Jaffa humor either.
Teal'c eased himself down to the floor, the smile still creasing the edges of his cheek. Tak mal arik tiak, O'Neill. You will not be forgotten.
Teal'c sipped on ice water to cool the burning of his tongue. It was a most interesting sensation to have the hottest of chile peppers on pizza. O'Neill had been a pepperoni and extra cheese aficionado himself. What would these Tau'ri think of next, he wondered as he lifted the slice back up to his mouth. Jonas Quinn watched him from across the table, apparently finding the situation highly amusing.
Teal'c paused before biting. "How did you find this place, Jonas Quinn?"
"Jacqueline brought me here with some of her friends," Jonas explained. "Pretty cool, huh?"
Teal'c raised both eyebrows. "Jacqueline?" he asked.
Jonas reddened. "Lieutenant Rush, one of the nurses in the infirmary. You know her?"
Teal'c shook his head.
Jonas shot an embarrassed grin at Teal'c. "She's my… well, we've been seeing each other pretty steadily for a few months now." He smiled as he remembered something. "Sam kind of prodded me into doing something about it before she left… you know - my worshipping Jacqueline from afar."
Teal'c lifted his head. "How is Major Carter?" he asked. "When I went to her laboratory I was informed that she had departed the SGC."
Jonas gulped down a third of his soda after another bite of his chile pepper pizza. Chuckling loudly at the belch that burst up through his nose, he waved his hand in front of his mouth. "You don't know?" he asked, wincing as the burn of the peppers worsened. "She took a few weeks off right after you left. Came back for about a month, then left for good."
Teal'c stare fixed on the young man across the table from him. "She is no longer with the Tau'ri military organization?"
Jonas waved at the waitress and mouthed 'Ice water please!' to her before answering Teal'c. "No, she's still in the military. She transferred out to Area 51, probably to do research. But I'm not completely sure about it since she was pretty close-mouthed about it all." He looked puzzled.
Teal'c raised a questioning eyebrow at Jonas. "Something is the matter, Jonas Quinn?"
Jonas reached for the glass of ice water the waitress had poured for him from the new pitcher and downed half of it. "Teal'c, I know I wasn't part of SG-1 long enough to really get to "know" know Sam, not the way you and the others had… but something changed after Jack died."
"Did you talk to Major Carter about it?" Teal'c asked, pouring more water and ice into his own glass.
"That's the thing, Teal'c. I tried to, but she wouldn't talk to me." He looked down at the table, his face reddening. "She won't return phone calls or e-mails, so I've been sending her greeting cards every week," he confessed. He looked back up at Teal'c. "I guess it's a good sign that they haven't been returned so far."
Teal'c made a mental note to begin making discreet inquiries when they returned to the SGC. He frowned. It surprised and saddened him to know that something had indeed changed. He had assumed too much about his friend's well-being it seemed.
"Hey, don't be so glum, Teal'c. I'm sure Sam is doing fine. Maybe she was just ready for a change in her life." He smiled at Teal'c. "Now what about you? What's up with the Jaffa these days?"
Teal'c gave him a measured stare. "Death, destruction, and mayhem," he answered.
Jonas spat a mouthful of pizza out onto his plate. Wiping his mouth, he said, "You're joking, right?"
Teal'c shook his head as he finished the last bite of his own slice. "Unfortunately, Jonas Quinn, I am not. The Jaffa summit ultimately was a sham designed to lure the leaders of many factions to a killing field. All of the Jaffa attending, with the exception of the five who committed the act, were murdered. Only Master Bra'tac and I made it off the planet alive, and only just barely."
Jonas stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at Teal'c. "So you weren't kidding."
"If only it were that I was," Teal'c said quietly. He remembered the visions he had had while trying to survive long enough for his symbiote to heal him. Shau'nac, O'Neill, and Daniel Jackson had all appeared to him from the dead, and he firmly believed that their presence was what had gotten him through his ordeal.
"So that's why you didn't come back right away?" Jonas asked.
Teal'c considered the question as he lifted his water glass to his mouth. "In part," he agreed. "But after my recovery, and that of Bra'tac, I felt compelled to investigate as promptly as possible the reasons for why this occurred." He looked around the noisy restaurant; this wasn't the place to speak of such matters. "And you, Jonas Quinn - what of importance has occurred in your life?"
Jonas grinned. "Besides Jacqueline?" he asked, then he laughed. "Well, I'm a really hot commodity now at the SGC," he answered, grinning even wider. "I've barely had a free moment to spend with Jacqueline the past few weeks. Since you left General Hammond has been rotating me out with the other teams. It's actually pretty stimulating to be doing all these different things." He nodded. "Fun even."
"I see," Teal'c said.
"No, no, no, Teal'c," Jonas said. "Don't get me wrong – I love being needed and busy like this - I get to see so much, learn so much, do so much, and I get to travel to all these exotic places…" He looked at Teal'c's solemn face and his smile faded. "But it hasn't been anything like when I was part of SG-1."
"Hammond did not bring in new warriors?"
Jonas shook his head, pulling his wallet out as he looked at the bill and at the empty dishes and plates surrounding them. "No. There was all kinds of speculation after Jack died about who would be on SG-1, but after a while it became pretty obvious that the General wasn't going to do anything, and he still hasn't retired the unit designation yet." He shrugged as he pulled two twenty dollar bills out of his wallet. "I've heard all kinds of rumors about why he's not filling the positions, but I'll only believe it when I hear the General say it."
Sam shook her head as she entered the elevator after a lengthy wait in the ground level security office. The reissuance of her SGC passcards and verification of her clearances should have been a breeze. It wasn't as if she'd come back after being in the public sector. She looked around the familiar elevator and sighed. She just couldn't knock the feeling of trepidation that she had about coming back here. It wasn't so much what others thought… She snorted; she was long since past caring what anyone thought about what she did anymore. But it was more about her own expectations and concerns about what she might be getting into. She remembered well how the most simple of missions could quickly turn complex. And she doubted she'd been loaned back for anything simple.
Still… that little rush of adrenaline as the elevator sunk lower into the bowels of the mountain was hard to ignore. The old thrill of looking forward to the infinite possibilities of what the day could hold was still there inside her, dimmed though it was. She frowned, reminding herself that this return wasn't going to hold much. She was only here on temporary loan from Area 51 and pretty much against her will. She sighed. Her will was theirs as long as she remained in the military; she could never forget that.
The elevator opened and, smoothing out her fatigues, she turned toward Hammond's office.
"Sam!" Hammond greeted her, a warm grin lighting up his face.
Sam saluted him and stood at attention.
"At ease, Colonel," Hammond said, emphasizing the word colonel.
Sam's cheeks reddened slightly, and she gave him a small half-grin. "Yeah - Colonel," she repeated. "I thought it was a bit early when I received the notice last month."
Hammond shook his head. "No, it's not. You more than earned it here and deserved it there for what you've been doing in R and D since Tanner left."
"I don't know about that, Sir," Sam said, shaking her head.
Hammond stared at her, his eyes twinkling.
"Sir?" Sam asked, a confused smile flitting across her face.
Hammond smiled. "It's just so good to see you." He rubbed the armrest on his chair. "You know my offer still stands, Colonel."
Sam's smile faded a little. "Thank you, Sir, but I thought I'd made myself clear before."
Hammond continued to smile at her. "I thought maybe you might've changed your mind after thinking about it some more."
Sam shook her head, stiffening as her smile completely disappeared. "No, Sir. I'm only on loan."
Hammond sighed. "I know. Well, now that you're finally here, I need for you to report to the infirmary for a physical."
"Sir, with all due respect, I had a full physical evaluation a few months ago when I transferred. Is it necessary if I won't be going out on missions?"
Hammond's smile faded. "Colonel, I can't guarantee that with your special knowledge and expertise with the shielding device that you won't be required to go off-world. I have to ensure that we are prepared for every eventuality." He looked at her solemnly. "Understood?"
"Understood, Sir," Sam said, returning to attention.
"Thank you for coming back on such short notice, Colonel," Hammond said briskly. "Please be prepared to attend the briefing at fourteen hundred hours in the ready room."
"Yes, Sir," Sam said, nodding. She turned and exited Hammond's office, wondering what really was going on here. What was such a dire crisis that they needed her? Why couldn't Dr. Lee and the others step up to the plate? The military was all about developing its resources and letting the cream of the crop rise up to the top and helping the stagnant and useless find their way out of the organization. Hadn't any of the remaining scientists risen up to do for the SGC what she use to do?
Sam sat back up on the bed. She felt like a pincushion after all of the poking and prodding by the nurses. A number of new tests that she didn't recognize had also been administered. Janet had stayed pretty much clear of the area until now.
"So, how've you been, Colonel Carter?" Janet asked, lifting a small flashlight to her eyes.
Sam shrugged. "Fine."
Janet directed the light into Sam's left eye. "Cassie's been missing you."
Sam blinked as Janet moved the light to her other eye. This was what she'd dreaded dealing with. She didn't respond even as Janet stood waiting expectantly in front of her.
"She's been worried about you, Sam," Janet said, placing the light back on the table and giving Sam a reproachful glance.
Sam looked away. "I've been fine."
Janet's expression turned doubtful, and she moved to check Sam's reflexes. "You haven't been working out, Sam," she observed. "And you've gained weight," she added, flipping through the chart the nurse had handed to her to make a notation.
"So?" Sam asked defensively. "It's a desk job, and I am nearly forty."
Janet pursed her lips. "So all the more reason to stay fit. And you know the fitness requirements of the SGC, Sam. Your muscle tone has.…"
"Oh, come on!" Sam said, shaking her head. "It's only ten pounds."
Sam started to glare at her. She just wanted to be done with this exam and to start doing the job she had been assigned to do while she was here. "Anything else wrong, Dr. Fraiser?" she asked sharply.
"No, nothing else from your vitals. The results from your bloodwork won't be back until later."
"Good," Sam said. She noticed Janet's puzzled stare. "Remember - I'm not part of the SGC anymore," Sam reminded her coldly. She could tell Janet was ready to give her one of her famous 'Now just who do you think you are, Sam Carter?' speeches. Sam steeled herself for what she knew her friend was about to say to her.
Instead, Janet quietly responded, "Yes, Colonel, yes, you are."
Sam stiffened; it wasn't the response she'd been expecting. "No, Doctor," she pointed out. "I'm not. I haven't been part of the SGC for half a year, and I'm not a part of SG-1 anymore."
Janet frowned at her. "You're still part of the Air Force, Sam."
"R and D."
Janet pursed her lips and widened her eyes. "You're not taking care of yourself period, Sam."
Sam glared at her; she really was getting tired of this. "Are you done now, Doctor?"
Janet pushed her stethoscope back into her jacket pocket and turned away from Sam to push the rolling cart back. "Yes."
Sam hopped off the bed and stood at attention. "So I'm cleared?" she asked.
Janet looked impassively at Sam.
"Well?" Sam asked.
Janet turned away from Sam, scooping up the instruments she'd just used and heading for the next room. "I'll make my final report to General Hammond shortly."
Sam's face darkened. "Fine," she said, stalking off through the open infirmary door.
Teal'c turned the corner only to be hit squarely in the chest by a blonde-haired woman with her head bent down. He immediately reached out to steady the woman to keep her from falling backward. He realized it was Samantha Carter, lost deep in thought. He quickly took in her increased weight, her longer, disheveled hairstyle, and several other obvious differences in his friend.
"Teal'c!" Sam said as Teal'c released his grip.
Teal'c's expression loosened to a semi-smile. He was truly happy to see her. "Samantha Carter."
"I didn't know you were back," Sam told him.
"Nor I you," he responded.
"Of course - I just got back today," she explained.
"Of course," Teal'c echoed. "You are headed to…?"
Sam shrugged. "Nowhere in particular. I just wanted to get a feel for the place again."
Teal'c understood that need. Although he had a few days head-start on her, he still felt acutely the newness of his return and had taken several long walks through the complex, familiarizing himself with everything again. He looked at her closely and searched her eyes; he wished to speak to her of his concerns about her well-being. He thought better of it and disengaged his gaze, keeping the various inquiries in check. There would be a more appropriate time and place for them.
"Perhaps you require accompaniment as you head to nowhere in particular?" he asked, tilting his head.
"I'd like that," Sam said, a dimple forming in her cheek as she flashed him a small smile.
"Patch him through, Sergeant," Hammond said, pressing the speakerphone off and picking up the handset receiver. For Jacob Carter to risk his communications being intercepted by the Goa'uld, he knew it had to be important.
"George?" Hammond heard Jacob's question through a wall of static.
"Yes, Jacob, I'm here."
"Not such a good connection is it?" Jacob asked wryly.
"No, it isn't," Hammond replied. "Is everything okay? It's been a few months since we last talked."
There was a pause for a moment. "Not good."
"More bad news?" Hammond asked. "Jonas shared your last intel with us."
"Against Sel's better judgment I'm sharing this with you, George. One of the last major Tok'ra strongholds is being threatened by Anubis. In this quadrant he's killed off most of the minor system lords and has gained even greater power and even more resources from the spoils. Our most recent intel shows something unusual happening on a planet named Tartarus. Know anything about enhanced body shields?"
Hammond inhaled slowly. "More than we ever wanted to know. Several of our teams have been bringing back reports of total devastation in several systems in the same sector. We've been concentrating our teams in that area."
"These Jaffa are virtually unstoppable," Jacob observed.
"You've seen them?" Hammond asked.
"No, but I've talked with a handful of survivors who made it through their attacks." He paused. "You do know where he's headed?"
Hammond pursed his lips. "Unfortunately I do. And we plan to respond to the threat. When are you headed back here?"
There was quietness. "Jacob?" Hammond asked.
"I'm still here, though not for long," Jacob responded. "In two weeks time. There are still some loose ends that I need to tie up before I leave."
"Understood," Hammond said. "Have a safe trip back."
"Thanks, George, I need all the luck I can get."
As he escorted Sam through the main corridor of Level 28, Teal'c observed Colonel Dave Dixon approaching them. Dixon seemed to be more tired and unkempt than usual Teal'c noted with concern. Teal'c had heard from Jonas that Dixon and SG-13 had borne the brunt of many of the more dangerous missions since SG-1's disbanding.
Dixon nodded at Teal'c and then grinned widely at Sam as he neared them. "Sam. Good to see you back. Just visitin' us today?"
Sam grinned, noncommittally shrugging her shoulders. "I don't know, could be. Nice to see you too, Dave."
"Dave?" Dixon asked. "Loose protocol over there at Area 51 these days?"
Sam shook her head and smiled. "No. Last month I made Lieutenant Colonel."
A big grin spread over Dixon's face. "Well, I'll be damned," he said, genuinely pleased. "Congratulations then, Colonel Carter."
"Thanks," Sam responded.
Dixon opened his mouth to continue talking, then looked at his watch and grimaced. "Damn. I'm late for the ultrasound. She's going to kill me."
"New one?" Sam asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Yeah, this makes number four," he said, heaving a big sigh. "Well, time to go do some damage control. See ya 'round, Colonel." He nodded his head at Teal'c. "Teal'c."
Teal'c returned the nod and watched as Colonel Dixon shook his head and sauntered off. If Teal'c did not personally know the Colonel and the genuine love he held for his children, he would wonder about his fitness for parental duty. Sam's laugh brought Teal'c's head around.
"So, you missed me, too?" she asked him.
"Indeed, I have," Teal'c admitted. He arched an eyebrow. "Colonel Carter."
"It's just a title, Teal'c," Sam said, grinning at him. "And I am only here temporarily. You know that."
Teal'c kept his face blank and impassive. He would not comment.
Sam raised an eyebrow. "What? Don't you believe me?" she asked.
Teal'c tightened his jaw muscles. He would not answer her.
"I know what you're thinking, Teal'c," Sam told him. "And you're wrong."
Teal'c arched an eyebrow at her. "You have developed mind-reading skills during my absence, Colonel Carter?" he asked.
Sam pursed her lips into a sideways smile and shook her head. "Would it surprise you if I said I had?" she grinned.
Teal'c raised both eyebrows. "Given your capacity for learning and your intelligence, no, it would not."
Sam giggled and then sighed as they started to walk again. "I wish, Teal'c. I wish."
"Would you mind if I stacked these over here?" Sarah asked, nodding toward a box of binders and pointing toward an empty space on top of Sam's bookshelf.
"Sure, that would be great," Sam responded. She was crouched down next to the shielding device's containment unit that had just been delivered to her lab, entering the passcodes to unlock the outer covering. She stood and lifted the covering away, setting it down on the floor nearby. The original device and the prototype were still there, resting safe and sound in the unit. She smiled.
Sam looked up to see Dr. Bill Lee standing in her doorway. Her smile faded slightly. The man looked smaller and a bit more haggard than she'd remembered him.
"That's Colonel Carter," Sarah corrected Dr. Lee as she walked across the room in front of him, carrying the binder box to the shelf near the doorway.
Dr. Lee's eyes widened. "Colonel Carter? Well, congratulations are in order," he said, giving her a quick nod. He looked around her lab, watching as her small science team continued to work on unloading the boxes that had been stacked high in the back of her lab and noting the stacks of reports and printouts on her desk. His eyes came to rest on the containment unit.
"Is that the shielding device?" he asked, adjusting his glasses.
Sam nodded as he stepped cautiously closer.
He bent down to stare at the original device and the prototype. "SG-1 was off-world the week SG-12 found it," Lee said. "In fact all of our scientists were out with field units that week. I was the only person available when they brought it back. I identified its potential to General Hammond, and he sent it out immediately to Area 51," he mused quietly. "I figured, based on all the rumors that have been trickling down about what's been happening to the Jaffa, that they'd make the device a top priority. I didn't know they'd assign it to you though." He stood up, a pained look on his face. "No offense, Major, uh, Colonel. I didn't mean to imply anything..."
"None taken," Sam said.
He looked nervously at Sam, and she could tell he really was sorry. "It looks like you're all busy here…" He looked at the device again. "I shouldn't be saying this, but word is that they're not going to give you much time to finish work on this. There's something circulating about…" He paused, looking at the members of Sam's small group who'd stopped to watch him.
Sam nodded at Lee to go on.
"About Anubis and how he's going to try something here, on Earth, like he's done on those Jaffa planets," he said. He looked solemnly at Sam. "If there's anything I can do to help, Colonel.…"
Sam's eyes widened for a millisecond before she regained her composure. "Uh, thank you. Maybe we can talk tomorrow, after we finish getting all this unpacked and settled."
Dr. Lee smiled. "Sounds good. Oh-nine thirty hours, then?"
Sam nodded and watched, feeling a mixture of surprise and optimism as Dr. Lee walked away.
General Hammond looked up from the report he was reading. His Chief Medical Officer was standing in his doorway. He nodded at the chair across from him. "Dr. Fraiser, please come in."
Janet gave her commanding officer a quick smile. "Thank you, Sir."
Hammond closed the report and slid it to the side of his desk. "How may I help you?" he asked.
Janet laid a manila folder on the desk in front of Hammond. "I thought you might want to see Colonel Carter's physical evaluation sooner rather than later," she said.
Hammond pulled the report forward and quietly skimmed the thin document. "Your thoughts?"
Janet took a deep breath. "She still seems to be exhibiting symptoms of chronic stress."
"You're saying there's a problem?"
"I'm not sure." Janet pulled herself up. "Permission to speak freely, Sir."
Hammond nodded his assent.
"General, speaking as someone who's known Sam on a personal basis for a long time… I don't know if she's ready to come back to be part of a field unit, let alone lead one." Janet paused. "Sir, she went through a very rough period… I'd say she came as close to burnout as was possible for her. My feeling is that she's still harboring a good deal of pent up anger and I still see signs of fatigue." Janet paused again. "Sam tends to hold things inside, Sir, and after the loss of the Colonel she withdrew from those of us closest to her… completely."
Hammond frowned. "I remember you sharing your concerns with me before she transferred out," he said. He thought for a moment. "But wasn't Sam visiting you and Cassie regularly after she left?"
Janet shook her head. "No, not after the Utopia mission." She sighed. "I tried to get her to join us, Cassie tried... But all we got were excuses." Janet pursed her lips and looked away. "And eventually you stop trying."
Hammond shook his head. "I understand," he said quietly. "I'm not judging your actions, Dr. Fraiser. I just want to know how ready she is."
Janet shook her head. "I don't think she's ready. I'm more worried about her emotional readiness than I am about her current reduced physical capacity."
"I'm not looking to put her back on a field team at this time, Doctor."
"But isn't that your eventual plan, Sir?" Janet asked, arching her eyebrow.
Hammond squinted at his Chief Medical Officer.
Janet wiped her face of all expression and stood up, resuming her formal stance. "I know what I'm recommending, Sir. Physical training and counseling are at the top of my list of recommendations."
"I'll take that under advisement, Doctor."
"Thank you, Sir," Janet said, nodding and leaving his office.
After his CMO was out of earshot, Hammond closed the medical report and, sliding it into his top desk drawer, he heaved a big sigh.
Sam was enjoying the mid-evening quietness of the empty base gym - no one had to see just how out of shape she'd become. She'd just finished a half-hour of cardio and was slamming her glove-bound fists into the punching bag. As she connected with the bag, giving it everything she had, she had to admit that she felt a heck of a lot better.
The door creaked open, and Sam watched as Jonas quietly entered the small gym and headed over to the wall-mounted storage center. Noticing Sam for the first time as he lifted a jump rope off a peg, Jonas looked at her with such an open expression that Sam hastily turned her eyes back to her bag, punching it several times in quick succession just in case he planned to start a long conversation with her.
Jonas gave her a quick nod after he realized she wasn't going to stop to chat, and Sam focused on the red bag in front of her, settling down to a steady jabbing routine. She stole glances over at Jonas, watching with amusement as he skipped over the rope, flipping it forward and backward and executing some fancy footwork. Sam's pace slowed down as Jonas's steps picked up, and she came to a complete halt after he executed a back flip.
Sam lifted a glove up to her mouth to suppress the noise of the half-snort that had bubbled out after he'd landed the back flip. Noticing her attention focused on him, Jonas grinned and lost his concentration, tripping over the rope. Holding up the limp rope as he got back on his feet, he laughed and said, "I heard that the best way to stick to an exercise plan is to mix your activities and not to let the little things trip you up."
Sam raised a brow.
"Oprah," Jonas explained.
Sam's eyebrow arched a little bit higher.
Jonas gave Sam a sheepish look. "My, uh, girlfriend got me hooked on it."
Both of Sam's brows shot up. She'd missed out on a lot if Jonas had developed a romantic relationship while she'd been gone. She wondered what else had changed.
"Surprised, huh?" Jonas laughed, coiling up the jump rope. He smiled as he walked over to Sam. "It's really good to see you, Sam. And congratulations on the promotion, Colonel Carter!"
Sam shook her head; word certainly had spread fast. She fought to suppress the frustration that still lingered from her earlier meetings with the General and the Doctor that made her want to end the conversation now and to disappear again, and she allowed a small smile to filter over her face. "Thanks, Jonas." She looked at the young man's open, friendly face. "And thank you for the cards."
Jonas did a double-take. "You actually got them?"
Jonas looked relieved. "You never responded back to me. I thought maybe they'd gotten lost or had been forwarded to the wrong address or something." He looked at her closely. "So how does it feel to be back, Colonel?"
Sam felt her muscles involuntarily tighten again, but she consciously made herself loosen up, realizing that Jonas had nothing to do with how she felt. She sighed. "It feels different."
"Good different or bad different?" Jonas asked.
"Not sure yet," she answered, shrugging. "Just different-different." She squinted at him as she began to remove her gloves. "Girlfriend, Jonas? Someone I know?"
A cheek-to-cheek smile split his face. "Care to talk over some freshly-made JELL-O?" Jonas asked.
Sam returned the grin. "Lead the way, Mr. Quinn."
Teal'c sat in the chair across from Sam's, the only empty place left now that the shielding equipment was stored in her office when not in use. Teal'c had leaned back, his eyes nearly shut and his arms crossed. After their large lunch, neither of them felt the inclination to talk.
Sam stretched and, crossing her arms over her chest, she leaned onto the desktop. "I don't know, Teal'c. I think SG-1 will be reinstated. Soon," she said, picking up their conversation thread from half an hour earlier.
Teal'c didn't open his eyes or respond, although he did agree with her.
Sam stared at Teal'c. "With Hammond asking me to reconsider his offer again, I think it will be." She glanced down at her folded arms. "And no matter what he thinks, I still don't think I'm the one to lead it."
Teal'c's eyes opened. "Why do you feel this way?" he asked.
Sam swallowed hard and spoke hesitantly. "Look at what I did before, Teal'c. I wasn't a very effective leader. Jack died as a result of my mistake."
"Mistakes are to be expected," Teal'c said. "No one is exempt from making them. And a mistake is not a mistake if you learn from it." He solemnly looked at Sam. "I do not consider any action that you have taken in the past to be a mistake."
Sam snorted. "I'd sure as hell call what I did - or didn't do - a mistake."
"Colonel O'Neill did not die simply as a result of Colonel Maybourne taking your zat," Teal'c pointed out. He had heard this line of reasoning from her during their dessert, and he disagreed with it.
"Maybe." Sam cast him a doubtful look. "But look at the other things - because I couldn't figure out that the gate went to the moon, it took too long to rescue him. Just one day, ONE day, Teal'c - and he'd still be here."
Teal'c shook his head. "I must continue to disagree with you, Samantha Carter. You had no hand in what Maybourne and O'Neill encountered while they were on the Utopian moon, nor did you have any control over their actions or reactions while they were there."
Teal'c shook his head more noticeably. "This conversation is not productive." He arched an eyebrow. "Nor is your statement the truth." Teal'c sat up straight, his hands dropping down into his lap. "Nor do I see your reasoning as a rational excuse to avoid leading other warriors and sharing your skill and expertise with them."
Sam frowned at him. "I don't think you understand, Teal'c."
Teal'c tilted his head to the right. "I believe I do, Colonel Carter. You are not the only individual who has entertained thoughts of self-doubt."
"You have?" Sam asked, sounding a bit surprised.
Teal'c nodded. "I am not immune," he shared. "There have been many times that I have questioned my skills as a warrior and my abilities to lead my brethren." His look softened. "There have also been times when I have even questioned my loyalty to others." He noticed Sam's questioning look. "Was it not a year ago that Apophis brainwashed me? Only after the Rite of Malshuraan and many months of self-examination was I able to rid myself of the doubts that plagued me concerning my loyalty to the Tau'ri."
"I find it hard to believe you have doubts, Teal'c," Sam said. "You're always so certain and sure about things."
Teal'c studied his friend's face. He would be honest with her. He owed her that much. "I would be but a liar if I said I did not harbor them, and on a daily basis." He paused. "But I do not dwell on those thoughts nor do I allow them to rule me. I choose to rule them."
Sam snorted and shot a jaded look at him. "Easier said than done, Teal'c."
Teal'c shook his head. "I did not say it is easy, Samantha Carter. There is little in this existence which is easy and I am distrustful of that which is."
A small grin played briefly on Sam's lips. It was the most genuine and unforced expression Teal'c had seen on her face since Jack's death. "Did Hammond put you up to this?" she asked.
Teal'c shook his head. "No, he did not. He has appeared to be extremely preoccupied since my return to the SGC. I do not think things have gone well for him since SG-1 disbanded."
Sam shook her head at Teal'c. "But that's crazy. The SGC, its mission, the other teams… It was never just all about us."
Teal'c dipped his head. "But nonetheless…" He considered his friend for a moment. "You did not entertain gossip at Area 51?" Teal'c asked. "Did not Janet Fraiser share 'the dirt' with you?" He noticed Sam's embarrassment as she sucked her lips in and bit them.
"I haven't spoken to Janet in a while," she admitted.
"You do not continue to visit Cassandra Fraiser?" Teal'c asked.
"I haven't been able to lately, not with all of the special projects we've had going. I did call her… every so often to keep in touch," she explained, a defensive tone creeping into her voice.
"Forgive me for my directness," Teal'c said. "It is not my intention to pry or to pass judgment, however the Samantha Carter that I remember never allowed work to interfere with her time with the young Cassandra."
"I'm not that Sam anymore."
"I must respectfully disagree," Teal'c said.
"Teal'c, I'm not who you seem to think I am."
"Then who are you, my friend?" Teal'c asked, staring directly into her eyes. He continued to stare, his face an impartial mask. He would not back down this time. His friend needed him and they all needed her.
Sam shivered as though she had been jolted by a zat gun. She looked as though she was ready to make a response, then stopped. "I don't know," she said.
He tilted his head. "Again, I must disagree."
Sam stepped back, buffing rag in hand, to admire her motorcycle. Every part of her bike had its own purpose; no part had been wasted in its construction. She grinned; it was a beautiful work of art in its own right. She felt a deep longing creep over her and twinges of adrenaline course through her body as she imagined rounding a tight curve and going for broke on a flat straightway.
She hadn't been out on the bike for so long. Actually since Jack died. She just hadn't had the urge to do it. That urge – the desire to fly along the interstate highways with the throbbing machine under her, the only physical thing in this reality separating her from the ability to soar in flight of her own volition. She grinned. Flying, untethered from the limitations of machines, was something she had done frequently in dreams until the Utopian mission and the bike was the closest she could come in waking moments to that experience.
She smiled as she folded the buffing rag. The ice storm that had come through the night before would keep her from taking the Indian out today, but maybe, just maybe, she would dream of flight tonight.
"Colonel, I need you to lead SG-1," Hammond said.
"My answer is the same as before, General," Sam told him.
"Is it now?" Hammond asked.
"Yes, it is."
"Yes, you accept?" Hammond asked, a sly look in his eyes.
Sam shot an amused look back at him. He really was determined to get her back. "With all due respect, Sir, I don't see why one of the other teams couldn't be assigned to handle this," she said quietly. "The program has been doing just fine without me and SG-1 for half a year now."
"But this mission requires your specific expertise, Colonel."
Sam shook her head. "I appreciate the offer just as before, General."
Hammond stood quietly in Sam's doorway. Her lab was devoid of scientists for once. "I would love to say I understand, Colonel, but given the circumstances, unfortunately I can't," he explained. He pulled himself up taller. "I need these prototypes manufactured, Colonel. As many working units as can be built in the next two weeks."
Sam's eyes widened. "But, Sir…."
Hammond shook his head. "Non-negotiable, Colonel. Please ensure that this goal is met and report to me daily on your progress. Prepare for deployment of these devices in approximately two weeks."
Sam gave him a confused look.
"Our closest ally is now being threatened," he explained, his tone softening. "Those devices are going to be crucial in implementing any kind of mission to assist them and to keep us from being the next target. Two weeks, Colonel."
Sam nodded. "Understood, Sir."
Teal'c allowed Sam to finish venting about being forced to lead SG-1 before speaking his thoughts. "What would Colonel O'Neill have done?" Teal'c asked her.
Sam whipped her head around. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Teal'c gave her a measured stare to counter her angry one. "In a similar situation, what actions do you believe that O'Neill would have taken? Would he have allowed others to go in his place if he or his team possessed the unique skills necessary to defeat the enemy?" Teal'c tilted his chin as he waited for her answer.
Sam turned away from him for several moments. Turning back to him, she shook her head. "That's not fair, Teal'c."
Teal'c arched an eyebrow in response.
"You know Jack would've had us suited up in a minute before even getting Hammond's approval," she said. "That's just how he was."
"And why is your situation any different?" Teal'c asked.
"It…," Sam said. She stopped and looked at her friend with a mixture of regret and sorrow, and then acceptance. "It isn't. I know."
Teal'c dipped his head, looking up at Sam. "Perhaps you need to meditate on the matter."
"I already think about it all more than I really want to," Sam responded.
"No," Teal'c answered. "I am referring to kel'noreem. I believe it would be useful to you in this situation."
Sam looked at him.
"Good, then," Teal'c said, taking her quietness as an affirmative response. "Please meet me in my quarters in approximately one hour."
Sam hesitated near Teal'c's door, taking in the darkened room that was alive with the flickering yellow-white of candlelight. She had been in his room only a handful of times in the past six years and relatively few of those times had been when he had his personal space arranged for meditation.
Teal'c, standing on the edge of the empty circle in the middle of his room, turned to her when he sensed her hesitancy. "Do you not wish to experience kel'noreem?" he asked.
Sam shook her head. "It's not that, Teal'c," she answered. She noticed the personal items he had stacked on his dresser to make room for additional candles elsewhere. She hesitated a moment before she said, "It's like I'm invading your privacy, your personal space. I really should go."
Teal'c dipped his head slightly and shook it. "You are not; I have invited you."
Sam stood immobile. "Still."
Teal'c stared deep into her eyes. She could feel him probing her soul with the gentle love of a friend who cared deeply for her, and she didn't resist him when he reached out to carefully take her hand. Gently he pulled her to the center of the circle. "You are an honored guest," he said quietly.
"First, focus on the light of the candles and the energy and radiance they give off," Teal'c explained as they both settled onto the floor across from each other. "Focus on each breath as you slowly release it and eliminate all worry, all fear, and all anger from your consciousness."
Sam focused on the candles Teal'c had placed between them as Teal'c continued on with his instructions. "Slow your breathing as you focus on the light. Clear your mind of your concerns."
Sam snorted softly, her eyelids slowly growing heavy as she focused on the candles.
Teal'c lifted his eyelids slightly to look at her. "You will be unable to kel'noreem successfully if your consciousness is cluttered with thought. You must be in the present; not the future, nor in the past."
"So what am I getting from this again?" Sam asked, opening her eyes fully again.
"You must come to kel'noreem without expecting to exploit it or gain something from it," Teal'c said.
"But you said it would be useful to me," Sam said. "So I do expect to get something out of it."
Teal'c closed his eyes. "Yes, but to get there you must expect not to."
"Okay, whatever you say," Sam said, closing her eyes and taking a slow, deep breath. She giggled and opened her eyes again. "I didn't know you were so deep," she joked.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Deep?"
Sam's smile faded at his stern look. "Deep thought. Intense thinking. Philosophical thinking," she explained.
Teal'c closed his eyes and considered her statement. He spoke quietly. "When I was in the service of Apophis I did not have the opportunity to meditate the way in which I have here with the Tau'ri."
"But you still kel'noreemed, right?" Sam asked.
"Indeed, I had no choice but to do so," Teal'c answered. "However with few exceptions, I meditated with the sole purpose to cleanse my consciousness of the actions I had taken that day." He lifted one eyelid halfway open to look at her. "It would not have been possible for me to make it through my service to Apophis without doing so." He shut his eye. "And without the guidance of Master Bra'tac."
Sam decided not to pry further. "Okay, Teal'c. I'm sorry for interrupting you. Can we start again?"
Teal'c nodded and raised his chin up, slowly inhaling and relaxing his muscles. Sam followed his lead.
Teal'c's eyes shot open as he heard a loud and pain-filled gasp. He opened his eyes to see Sam bolt from his room without a word, knocking over several of his candles in her rush to leave the room. Teal'c quickly scrambled to upright the candles, to keep them from lighting up his more flammable furnishings.
He wondered what had occurred that would have led to her bolting from his room in such a manner. He found Sam a short while later, alone in her darkened lab, backlit only by the weak light of her desk lamp. She was leaning against her worktable, one hand gripping the edge of her desk, the other running through her hair.
He watched as Sam raised her head up to the darkened ceiling and sniffed loudly. Teal'c cleared his throat loudly to announce his presence and watched as she turned around quickly and began to tap on her computer's keyboard.
"You are not working, Colonel Carter," he said, allowing a small amount of reproachfulness to color his tone.
"Yes, I am," Sam said, rubbing the corner of her eye with the index finger of one hand and continuing to type furiously with the other hand.
Teal'c moved closer and looked at the screen. The rotating wormhole screensaver she used was locked in place and the password prompt had popped up in response to her keystrokes.
He arched an eyebrow at her.
Sam shut her eyes and sighed. "Okay. So I'm not. So what?"
Teal'c stood at the edge of her desk. He considered how to get her to talk about her kel'noreem experience without her bolting again. He would start with praise. "You did very well," he said. "You achieved a deeper state than I have ever seen a non-Jaffa reach during a first attempt."
Sam looked at him warily and shrugged. "Jolinar, maybe?"
Teal'c shook his head. "Jolinar was Tok'ra. She was not a Jaffa and did not have the need for kel'noreem. Your blending that occurred before her death should not have influenced your ability to achieve kel'noreem so easily or so deeply."
Sam looked away again as tears filled her eyes.
"What is it?" Teal'c asked. "What did you experience, Colonel Carter?"
Sam sniffed again and swallowed hard. "Nothing."
Teal'c frowned. "I do not believe that to be the truth."
Sam looked at him defiantly. "It was nothing. Believe me."
Teal'c stared stonily at her. "I do not."
Sam pursed her lips and wiped at her eyes again. "You'd think I was crazy if I told you."
"I would not," Teal'c said. He watched as she cast him a doubtful look. "You have never been crazy."
Sam's lips twisted up into small fleeting smile. "I don't know about that the past couple months," she said. "Janet, and the General, would probably disagree with you on that one. And, if you'd seen what I did, Teal'c, you'd think I was, too."
"What did you see?"
Sam took a deep breath and released it. "Teal'c, I saw Jack's death." She shook her head at his look. "No, Teal'c, I'm serious. It happened so quickly, in a blink of an eye, but it was like I was there, standing next to him. I could see it happening. I could feel his fear, Teal'c." Her eyes filled with tears again. "I could feel his pain." She swallowed hard. "Do you know what anguish feels like?" she asked.
Teal'c didn't answer.
Sam lifted a hand to cover her eyes. "I don't want to think about it, Teal'c. I've been trying for months to avoid it, and now I've got this explicit visual of it in my head."
"This is good," Teal'c said quietly.
"Good?!" Sam asked incredulously. "That's not good!"
Teal'c shook his head. "It is. I believe you have confronted the root core of your fears and doubts. You have faced it. Now you must begin to work through it."
Sam shook her head. "I don't want to relive that again. Before I had a general idea of what happened. I could have lived without having exactly what happened burned into my memory. Teal'c, why am I seeing it? I wasn't there. Why?"
Teal'c straightened up and put his hands behind his back. "To move forward on this matter you must confront it again."
Sam looked at him doubtfully.
"You must, Samantha Carter."
"I don't think so," Sam responded.
Teal'c bowed his head. He would not push her any farther at the moment. She had to do this willingly. "As you wish," he said. "When you are ready to resume, I will be waiting."
Sam frowned. "You may be waiting a long time."
Teal'c's face uplifted into the smallest of grins. "I have a long life yet to live," he told her. "I will be waiting," he said firmly, and he turned and walked out of Sam's lab.
Sam fought the urge to run away that gripped her after Teal'c left her lab. This was how she'd felt shortly after Jack's death - not wanting to deal with her emotions, ignoring them, backing off from them… And certainly not wanting to involve others in what she felt was her own private mess. Why had she allowed Teal'c to see it?
She was surprised she'd opened up to him. Surprised and scared. She'd always felt a deep, unspoken bond with him, and he was the last of her team to survive, but she couldn't believe she was doing this, making herself so vulnerable with him. She'd never done that for anyone. Not even Janet, and Janet had been her closest friend and sole confidant.
Furrows rippled across her forehead as Sam shook her head. Janet. That was something she had to make right again before it was too late. Who knew what might happen to each of them as they attempted to neutralize Anubis?
She had to say she was sorry and soon.
Sergeant Siler's eyes widened a bit as she gave him a brief synopsis of her plan the following day. By the time Sam finished her explanation regarding the shielding device and made her protein marker injection request of him, a devious twinkle had settled in his normally inexpressive eyes. "Sure, Colonel Carter," he said.
"Really?" Sam asked.
He nodded. "Just tell me when and where you need me to be, and I'll be there."
"No questions? Concerns?" Sam asked.
Siler shook his head. "I trust you, Colonel." He hefted his wrench back up to the bolt on the gate's shock absorption unit. "Now, if you'll excuse me…."
"Thank you, Sergeant," Sam said with a nod. She turned and walked toward the blast doors. Now she planned to find Teal'c and show him that she could kel'noreem with the best of them.
Sam settled herself on the floor again. This time Teal'c had arranged a folded blanket on the floor for her so that she wouldn't feel the cold concrete while she meditated. She smiled at his thoughtfulness as she shut her eyes.
"Do not fear kel'noreem, Samantha Carter," Teal'c said. "I will be here, guiding you through the process."
Sam inhaled slowly and released her muscles. The assurance that Teal'c would be there to help guide her was the only reason she was back here. She followed his direction, slowly letting go of her jumbled thoughts as they raced through her mind. She focused on relaxing her muscles and trying to be one with the candlelight surrounding her.
Then she realized that she no longer heard the deep, low encouragement that Teal'c had been sharing with her. At first that thought scared her, but then she released the thought from her mind as Teal'c had taught her - she knew that he was still there, outside her mind, near her body, watching her.
A pale darkness enveloped her as she pushed all final thoughts away. She felt her being descend into a deep darkness and she felt a deep sense of peace invade her soul. She inhaled deeply. She liked this. It was like floating on a sea of calm, where nothing could bother her. She felt her muscles loosen completely as she became more fully relaxed, and she tried to be one with the peace.
Suddenly a series of images assaulted her. The view of the Utopian moon from above as the tel'tak skimmed the lower atmosphere. A meadow full of bright yellow flowers. The mountain range behind the savannah encampment. Fish sizzling over a firepit. Jack's boots strewn under his cot. A breathtaking waterfall. A hand making tick-marks on the circular map. The skeletons they'd found in the forest camp….
The images quavered to an abrupt stop, and her vision cleared. She was back on the hillcrest where she'd stood with Teal'c that day, looking down at the arched doorway to the forest encampment. Why was she here again? She moved toward the stone arch and felt the soft damp soil beneath her feet. As she reached the stony edge of the stream and felt the ground cool considerably, she found herself looking down at her feet. Where were her boots? She realized with a start that those weren't her feet. Nor were those her hands reaching down to gently trace the outline of a boot heel in the mud.
"C'mon, Harry, where'd you go?" she heard herself whisper. But it wasn't her voice that she heard. It was Jack's.
Sam strained as she tried to turn back to the hillcrest, realizing when and where she was. She didn't want to be a part of this. And certainly not from inside Jack's body. But Jack had straightened up and was carefully picking his way through the cool water, and she was moving right along with him. She realized as she felt a searing pain wash up through his thigh and into his groin that he was being careful not only because of the slippery, loose stones, but also because he'd already been wounded from the grenade trap she remembered Teal'c mentioning. Sam found herself overwhelmed by the pain Jack felt. She felt him tighten his grip on his nine millimeter and ball his free hand up into a fist as he gritted his teeth to keep from groaning. How had Jack withstood it?
"Damn it, Harry! Show your chicken-shit face," Jack muttered, stopping to bend down and press against his thigh wound. "Damned if I'm going to let you do something that stupid again."
Jack slowly straightened up and carefully approached the arched doorway. "Harry?" he called out as he peeked through the doorway into the encampment's interior.
Sam heard rustling and felt the hairs on the back of Jack's neck spring up. Jack whipped around. "Harry? C'mon, this is getting crazy. We can't stalk each other forever. Well… maybe we can, but c'mon, damn it - this got old after the first day. Did you stop eating that damn plant like I told you? Harry? You're not still eating it are you?" Jack asked, scanning the brush and boulders.
"Aw hell, Harry - c'mon!" Jack snarked. "You can't still be mad at me, can you? I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry for…," Jack paused, "…for whatever."
Sam heard a snort from the bushes and the click of a P90 starting a round. Jack whipped around and sprinted back toward the interior of the encampment.
Jack jerked forward, knocked into an airborne trajectory into the center of the clearing.
"Awww crap!" he muttered as he hit the dirt. Sam cringed as a wave of the most intense pain, the most intense she'd ever known, seared through her and she gasped for air as she felt Jack's chest constrict. She grabbed at his chest, feeling his heart falter, and then stop beating.
And then came the darkness.
She cringed. Was that Maybourne? He'd gotten Jack. Was he out to get her now? She couldn't see through the darkness to tell who it was.
"Colonel Carter?" Sam felt strong, warm hands gently holding her. She tried to move, but she felt sluggish, like a ton of bricks had fallen on her and had trapped her beneath their weight.
She felt a hand press firmly on her neck and she managed a grunt in response.
"You require medical attention," Teal'c said.
She shook her head, blinking her eyes as her vision lightened and her surroundings began to come back into focus. "No," she rasped. "I'm fine. Just give me a minute."
Teal'c was silent.
"Trust me," she assured him, coughing as her lungs began to fill with air more steadily.
As she lay there in the comforting warmth of Teal'c's arms, she felt her heart slowly begin to beat stronger. An aching pain still lingered in her chest, and her muscles felt tight and cramped. Maybe she should go to the infirmary. She winced as she tried to sit up.
No. If she went there Janet would order her to never do this again. And until she got this out of her system, she needed to stick with it.
Teal'c adjusted his grip on her, loosening it slightly as she sat up straighter. "You are still unwell?" he asked, his voice filled with concern.
She took a deep breath as the pain started to ease and she turned to Teal'c. "That was some kind of experience." She rubbed her chest. "It was like I was there."
"It was like the last time?" Teal'c asked.
Sam shook her head. "Yes… and no. I mean it was the same thing - Jack's death, but I didn't just watch it like the last time, this time I was…" She looked at Teal'c. "There were all these images that I could barely keep up with, and then suddenly I was there, like I was inside him, feeling what he felt, seeing what he saw."
Sam squeezed her eyes shut and flinched as she felt the bullets from Maybourne's P90 hit her again. She felt the pain in her chest flare up.
Teal'c carefully touched her shoulder. "You are certain that you do not require medical attention?"
"I'm fine," Sam answered, shaking her head. "It's just that it was so real, Teal'c. Like I was really there."
Teal'c considered her statement. "You have experienced the deepest state of kel'noreem." He looked at her with admiration. "You have achieved much, Samantha Carter, to have reached such a state in both of your first attempts."
"I don't know if that's such an accomplishment. It's not what I expected it to be." Sam looked at Teal'c. "Is it real? Or am I just projecting, Teal'c? What's really supposed to happen in kel'noreem?"
"Only in deepest meditation have I reached the state of being able to commune with my prim'tah." He considered her with heavy-lidded eyes. "However you do not have a symbiote." He lifted his chin. "Perhaps the blending with Jolinar truly did enhance your ability in this area."
"But was it real?" Sam asked.
Teal'c watched his friend. "Perhaps it is time to visit Doctor Fraiser and General Hammond."
Sam sighed. She didn't really want to involve Janet in this, but if Teal'c thought it was best, she was willing to share her experience with them.
Teal'c looked around at the few late evening stragglers left in the mess hall before carefully setting his overloaded tray down. Sam raised an eyebrow at the number of desserts he'd brought back to the table with him.
"Teal'c, I didn't think they were going to share any of what Maybourne told them," she said. "Patient-doctor confidentiality would prohibit that."
"It was worth a try, as the Tau'ri are fond of saying," Teal'c said.
Sam lifted her eyebrows and shrugged, digging into the J-ELLO that Teal'c had insistently held out to her from his dessert tray. She was slowly letting the gelatin dissolve in her mouth and watching Teal'c spoon large quantities of cake into his mouth when Janet came up beside them.
"Mind if I join you two?" Janet asked, gingerly holding a steaming mug of coffee in her hands.
Teal'c graciously nodded at her.
"That was an interesting story," Janet said.
Sam considered her for a moment. Her relationship with Janet had been pretty tenuous of late. And even though Sam knew she had to take the first step in repairing their friendship, she wasn't sure how to respond. "So, you think I'm crazy?" Sam blurted out.
Janet sipped on her coffee for a moment, avoiding Sam's gaze. "No, I don't." She sipped again, wincing at the heat. "It's remarkable how close it was to what Colonel Maybourne was able to remember."
Laying her spoon down on her napkin, Sam waited expectantly for Janet to continue. But Janet only continued to sip on her coffee. "Janet?" Sam asked impatiently.
Janet shook her head. "That's all I can say, Sam. And only that both the General and I are amazed at the details you know." Janet looked up at her watch and stood up. "And I wouldn't kel'noreem again if I were you."
Sam looked at Teal'c and sighed; it was a suggestion she didn't plan to follow.
Sam watched her team with admiration. They had spread out over the larger science lab, quietly working on the shields. She wasn't sure how many shields they would be able to produce before the end of the two-week deadline General Hammond had given them. If all went well, maybe enough for one, possibly two, SGC field units.
Dr. Lee sneezed, and Sam watched as Jonas tried handing him a box of tissues. Lee shook his head, instead reaching for the handkerchief that he'd balled up in his jacket pocket. She hoped he wasn't coming down with anything. They needed all the skilled hands they could get at this point.
Teal'c had offered to help, but Sam knew his skills wouldn't be of much use in the production of the small, finely-put together units. She would need him during the next phase, the field testing of the finished units. She looked at the clock on the wall. She'd missed their late afternoon kel'noreem session. It was the third day in a row they'd missed their 'date' as she'd jokingly called it.
Tomorrow, she promised herself. Tomorrow she would go back for more kel'noreem. She wasn't going to run away. She had to deal with her emotions; she hadn't opened up that can of worms just to let it simmer on the backburner.
Sam listened closely as Colonel Dixon shared his observations of the devastation that his team had encountered while on their last mission. She looked at the notes she'd made so far. His report was the same as the other team debriefings she'd sat in on during the past few days - complete decimation of the local population - no mercy shown this time, and no survivors once again.
She winced as he flipped the projector to the next slide. A mother and her two children were sprawled in a ditch, the mother trying to cover the bodies of her young children. Sam could tell the mother had done her best to flee and to try to shield her children from the enemy fire. But the Jaffa contingent firing on them had had no mercy - after a blast to her back, they had shot the children at point blank range with their staff weapons.
Sam averted her eyes, blinking hard to clear them. The picture had also had an effect on Dixon. He swallowed hard and shook his head. "I don't think there's any reason to show the rest. Just more of the same," he said quietly. He squinted toward Sam and Jonas. "If any of you science types need to see any more to help you with those devices, I can burn you a copy of the file."
Sam nodded. She didn't particularly want the images, but there could be something useful that they could find in them. Perhaps Teal'c could find a gap in their attack pattern.
Dixon walked over and turned the lights back up. "And that, ladies and gents, ends our entertainment selection for the day," he said, trying to crack a grin. Few people in the packed briefing room smiled.
General Hammond nodded at Dixon. "Thank you for sharing this with all of us, Colonel Dixon." He looked around the room. "As you can see, Anubis appears to expanding his base, and the number of Jaffa he is using has also expanded exponentially. It's only a matter of time before he turns his focus to us." Hammond frowned. "It's not a matter of if, more of when."
Dixon stood at the door, twitching agitatedly. "If there's nothing further, General, I'd like to move for dismissal," Dixon requested.
Hammond nodded. "You're all dismissed for the evening," he said. "Except for you, SG-1."
Sam glanced at Teal'c and Jonas. Hammond hadn't referred to the three of them as SG-1 like that since she'd been back. She wondered if the members of the other teams had noticed. With their heads down as they left the room, it didn't seem like it.
She got up and moved down the table to where Hammond sat. "Sir," she nodded.
"Colonel." Hammond nodded.
Hammond looked at Teal'c and Jonas. "You both are aware that SG-1 and the science teams are expected to produce as many of these shielding devices as possible by the end of next week?" he asked.
The two nodded in response.
"Good," Hammond said. "I wanted to speak to you three to make sure you each realize SG-1 may be the only team available who will be able to use these devices."
"Excuse me, Sir," Sam interrupted.
"Just one team?" she asked. She hadn't thought about the SGC strike force being only one team strong. They'd already started doing nearly around the clock production to try to get more of the units made. She'd personally hoped for at least two, if not three units, being armed as an assault force.
Hammond nodded. "Basically, yes. If you are able to get several more made by the deadline, then I plan to supplement your team, but at the pace you're currently going at, I don't see that happening."
"But we're going as fast as we can!" Sam said.
Jonas nodded in agreement.
"I'm not saying that you and your team aren't, Colonel. It's just that we don't have much time from what I've been hearing from my Tok'ra contact. When the contact arrives, we have to be ready to act." He looked around the table. "We may not even have the two weeks I originally thought we would, and I just want to be as ready as we can be."
Jonas looked at Hammond. "Shouldn't we start injecting those of us involved in testing like Sergeant Siler or who are going out on the mission, like me, with the protein marker soon?" he asked.
Hammond nodded. "Please see Dr. Fraiser in the morning," he said. He rose up out of his chair and nodded at the three scattered around the table. "I appreciate everything each of one you are doing. Thank you."
They each dipped their head down.
"Dismissed," Hammond said, exiting the briefing room.
Jonas stood next to his chair, a look of uncertainty on his face.
"What is it, Jonas Quinn?" Teal'c asked.
"You won't need me for a few hours, will you?" he asked, looking at Sam.
"Why?" Sam asked.
"Well, I sort of promised Jacqueline I'd take her out to dinner this evening, seeing as how I haven't had the time to see her for more than a few minutes the past few weeks…"
Sam smiled at him and waved him toward the door. "Go ahead, Jonas."
"You're sure?" he asked.
Sam nodded. "Teal'c and I were going to work on something else this evening anyway. Go. Have fun with Lieutenant Rush."
A bright smile lit Jonas' face, and he disappeared quickly from the briefing room.
Teal'c turned to Sam. "Kel'noreem is now work?" he asked with an arched brow.
Sam pursed her lips. "For now it is."
Teal'c nodded and waited for Sam to join him at the door. "Then we must get to work now, must we not?" he asked.
Sam rolled her eyes and exited the room behind him.
After coming back out of kel'noreem, Sam shook her head in anger. "It's is all I'm seeing, Teal'c, every single damn time. I'm tired of it." She stood to leave.
Teal'c remained motionless and looked at his friend impassively. "Unless you can completely understand your anger and fears, how will you be able to confront and conquer it, my friend?"
Sam winced and waved her hand around. "See, that's just it. Why again am I confronting it? Why can't I have a normal kel'noreem? I just want some peace."
"You will not be able to make peace with this and to move beyond it unless you fully understand and acknowledge it," Teal'c warned.
Sam flashed him a look of disbelief. "Easy for you to say."
"Samantha Carter," Teal'c said, "you are much more than your anger, much more than your fears." He watched her thoughtfully. "Do not continue to make a prison of your sorrows."
"I haven't!" Sam said defensively.
Teal'c arched an eyebrow at her. "You have not?"
Sam closed her mouth. Okay, she admitted to herself - she'd done something, just not a prison.
Teal'c stood next to her, reaching over to gently take Sam's hands in his. "To heal you must achieve peace of mind, Samantha. Do not let go of what you have achieved this far." He nodded at her. "And you have achieved much."
'What achievement?!' Sam wanted to yell at him. Thus far all she had done was to relive Jack's death multiple times. There was no peace in that.
Teal'c continued to gaze steadily at her. "You have allowed a great deal of tension and stress to build in your life," he observed. "It takes time to unravel the knots when they have been tight for that long."
"Maybe so," Sam agreed. "But tonight, I don't think anything's getting unraveled. I'm heading home."
Teal'c raised a brow.
"For one evening this week I want to sleep in my own bed, that's all," she explained. "Especially since I don't see any of us heading home at all the rest of the week."
Teal'c nodded. "Good night then, my friend."
"You have a good evening too, Teal'c," Sam said, giving his hands a return squeeze and exiting his room.
Dr. Fraiser picked up the folders from General Hammond's desk. "I'll get on those requisition orders right away, Sir. Twenty-four hours is all we should need to make sure we're ready."
"Thank you, Doctor." Hammond said, pushing away from his desk. He looked up at her. "Have you eaten lunch yet?"
Janet shook her head. "Headed that way, Sir?" she asked.
"Pleased if you'd join me," he said.
Janet smiled and followed him out the door and down through the control room where Hammond handed several files to Sergeant Harriman. She waited until they were out of the control room before continuing her conversation. "Sir, I wanted to thank you for speaking with Colonel Carter. It's been amazing the improvement I've seen this week."
Hammond stopped and shook his head. "I didn't."
Janet looked surprised. "You didn't direct her to start the counseling or physical training? But my recommendations were…."
Hammond pursed his lips. "I remember what your recommendations were and took them under advisement."
They turned as they heard the elevator open down the corridor. Out stepped Sam and Teal'c. Sam was lost deep in conversation with Teal'c who walked slowly beside her, his hands carefully held behind his back. From their sweatpants and jackets, as well as Sam's bright and flushed face, it was easy to tell they had both been out running on the surface.
Janet turned her head toward Hammond, raising an eyebrow. "Sir, I think I may know who's been instigating these changes then."
Hammond nodded. "That's what I'd thought." He grinned. "Now Doctor, what do you think today's special of the day is?"
Janet laughed. "Sir, we both review copies of the monthly menu - you know what it is."
Hammond guffawed. "I know. Just humor me."
Sam frowned as she slowly came out of kel'noreem again.
"Was your experience any different?" Teal'c asked.
Sam shook her head, shutting her eyes. "Same. Death, death, death."
"Have you experienced death before?" Teal'c asked, looking closely at his friend. "Did you not share with me that your mother died when you were but a young woman?"
"Yes, I did. She did," Sam answered.
"And how did you react to that?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't know," Sam said, giving him a look. "I grieved. I cried. I got mad. I treated my father like shit."
"And then, what?" Sam asked.
"You are here with me today," Teal'c said. "You found a way to survive."
Sam was quiet for a minute, and then she took a deep breath. "I learned to be self-reliant. There was no one to be there for me except me."
Teal'c looked at her. "Is this any different?"
Sam returned from the afternoon testing of the first two completed devices at the Alpha Site to find Dr. Lee hunched over the desk, trying to work on two units simultaneously. Sam had passed the others in the corridor on their way to the mess hall to grab something to eat. She'd guiltily wolfed down her sandwich as Dr. Lee continued to press on without stopping to eat.
It surprised Sam how quietly deferential Lee had been to her since she had been back, not questioning her direction or authority this time, and making supportive comments to her. Although a small part of her wondered if it was only because she was still on loan from Area 51, and she wondered when the real Lee would show up. 'Stop it, Sam!' she admonished herself. 'Stop analyzing things to death and just get on with it!'
"Bill?" she asked hours later, looking up from the device she had nearly completed to find it was already after midnight. The rest of the group had already crashed in the bunks that had been set up for them up on Level 14.
"Colonel?" Dr. Lee responded.
"I'm nearly finished this unit and I really need to get some sleep now," she said. She looked at him closely. "Don't you have a bit of a drive?"
Lee shook his head. "No. I told my wife I might be holed up here on an urgent project."
"She's okay with that?" Sam asked, tilting her head.
Lee smiled as he thought about his wife. He looked back at Sam after a few minutes. "She knows I work some odd hours up here sometimes, and she's fine with it."
"She sounds like a wonderful woman," Sam said with a smile.
"Thank you, she is," Lee said, beaming.
Sam slowly clicked the lid into place on her unit. "Well, that's it for me," she said. "Don't stay up too late."
Lee blinked his eyes, discreetly rubbing at his chin. "Another half hour," he said. "Oh-seven hundred hours then, Colonel?"
Sam nodded and rubbed her own bleary eyes, heading down to her quarters on Level 25.
Teal'c raised his brows expectantly.
"Not as intense this time," Sam responded. "There was a bit more of the peaceful calm at the beginning."
"That is good."
"If you say so," Sam sighed. "Why is it Jack's death that I keep getting to see? Why isn't it something else?"
"Is it necessary to know?" Teal'c asked.
Sam shrugged. "But how - why - am I seeing it like it happened to me?"
It was Teal'c's turn to shrug. "Of what importance is it?" he asked.
Sam looked sheepish. "I want to know. It just seems so…."
"So…?" Teal'c asked.
"So unusual. Like there should be a reason or something for it." She looked sad. "Maybe, like there was some small chance that Jack ascended or something. You know, like he was reaching out to show he was still here."
"The Colonel was highly skeptical of such things," Teal'c pointed out.
Sam wanly smiled. "And I've been skeptical about a few things, Teal'c, but even I learned to expect the impossible to be possible in this program."
Teal'c solemnly considered the large candle between them. "That is a wise observation," he said, slowly releasing a deep breath, "however I do not believe it to be the case this time."
"Skeptical?" Sam asked.
Teal'c shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "I do not believe O'Neill felt worthy of ascension."
Sam raised a brow.
"I would break his confidence to say anything further," Teal'c said.
Sam nodded in understanding.
"But stranger things have occurred," Teal'c observed.
Sam grinned as Siler joined her in walking through the small explosives test field. He was in his glory as they walked through the field unscathed by the minor explosions being detonated around them. But other than being coated with dirt from the one explosion where they'd both been knocked off their feet, the devices had worked without a hitch.
"You're enjoying this way too much," she teased Siler as he reintegrated with her back at the SGC.
He gave her a small closed mouth smile. "Oh, no, Colonel, I'm not enjoying it at all," he smirked as he walked off to have the shielding device removed.
Jonas stood up as Sam entered her lab. Sam smiled at him, feeling refreshed after a long, hot shower to wash away the grit and grime from the explosives tests.
"Sam," he greeted her. "How'd it go?"
"I think Siler may try to join the team," she said, laughing.
Jonas grinned and then looked around uncomfortably.
"Something wrong?" Sam asked.
Jonas pursed his lips, his brow furrowing. "I've been asked to go out with Dixon's unit," he said. "They want me to be suited up and ready to go this evening." He wistfully watched the group as they worked on the units. "I told the General that I wasn't so sure about this - I think you need me more than Dixon does."
Sam shook her head. "Jonas, we're doing fine. You're more needed on that mission than here or the General wouldn't have asked you to go."
He shrugged. "I hope so."
Sam smiled warmly at him. "I know so. Now go!"
"Do you not wish to kel'noreem this evening?" Teal'c asked as Sam settled down in the middle of the circle of candles.
Sam shook her head, noticing that Teal'c had set out fewer candles than before, grouping them closer in so that there was still the same amount of illumination. "No, not this evening, Teal'c."
Teal'c dipped his head. "Would you prefer that I extinguish the candles?" he asked, noting her observation of his room.
Sam shook her head again. "No, this is fine. I like it."
A small smile lit Teal'c's face. "It does provide a calming atmosphere, does it not?"
Sam smiled. "It does. And I wasn't much of a candle person until now."
Teal'c arched a brow. "I have converted you?" he asked, the smallest of smirks twitching on his lips.
Sam chuckled. "Yes, you have enLIGHTened me, Teal'c."
A low, quiet chuckle escaped Teal'c. "That is a good one, Samantha Carter."
Sam gave him a smug smile. "It was, wasn't it?"
Teal'c sat quietly for a while. "What do you wish to converse about?" he asked.
Sam was quiet for a moment. "I don't know. I guess I should let you know that I agree with you now."
Teal'c arched a brow.
"That I couldn't have done anything to prevent what happened on that moon," Sam explained. "Maybourne did his usual scheming. Jack did what he usually would have done in reaction to Maybourne. Adding in a little peyote-like plant to all that - I couldn't have changed anything at all, no matter how much I wanted to."
"You are certain of this now?"
Sam nodded. "And guilt games aren't healthy."
Teal'c solemnly nodded. "Indeed."
"I should have remembered that from when my mother died," Sam told him quietly. "But I'd forgotten how it was, actually getting through and dealing with pain that deep, that strong…" She stared at the large candle Teal'c had placed nearby. "It was hard Teal'c. Losing Daniel, then," she said, swallowing hard, "losing Jack that way."
She sighed. "I knew Daniel ascended - we watched him do it. We'll probably never see him again, but we know he's out there in the universe, somewhere. Jack… he was just gone. Like my mother. Gone." Sam was quiet as she remembered her old assumption that the team would make it into old age, averting death over and over and over again. Jack would retire to fish and watch the stars. Daniel would finally be able to share his findings with the world and gain the renown that he'd well-deserved. But their luck had run out finally.
And here she was, as was Teal'c, still struggling to find the time to mourn their losses. She turned to look at her friend, her eyes glittering with tears. "How long did you grieve over your wife, and Shau'nac?"
Teal'c's cheeks twitched as he considered his answer. "A long time," he admitted. "Even now, after many years have passed, there are moments when it feels as if they both are still alive." He bent his head down. "And then I am reminded they are not. And of my role in their deaths..."
Sam reached over her crossed legs and took Teal'c's hands gently in hers. "No guilt games, remember?"
Teal'c looked up at her and nodded. "Indeed," he whispered.
As Sam waited for Colonel Dixon and SG-12 to return, she wondered why Hammond had insisted that she be in the embarkation room. He'd only told her that they were supposed to return with something very crucial to SG-1's current mission. Sam had only shaken her head and wondered why Jonas couldn't have brought the critical whatever-it-was up to the lab after his post-mission briefing; this waiting was eating away at the precious time she had to get the shielding units done.
Dixon reintegrated on the base side of the gate and grinned as he caught sight of Sam waiting at the base of the ramp. He arched a thumb back at the gate. "Quinn has a gift for you," he drawled.
Sam wondered what Dixon was talking about. What could Jonas possibly be bringing back from this trip? If the mission was as gory as the one Dixon had presented at that briefing, then she didn't want him to bring anything back, no matter how much it supposedly would help them with the shielding units.
Her furrowed brow smoothed and her face lit up as Jonas stepped through the gate followed by her father. Jonas skipped down the ramp, and Jacob Carter jogged down behind him.
"Dad!" Sam said, reaching out to hug him. Now this was a gift, she thought as she squeezed him tightly.
"Sam," Jacob said, returning his daughter's hug.
Jacob watched as Sam poured the rice out of the container and onto their plates. "Not much cooking around here lately?" he asked, looking around her bare kitchen.
Sam opened the sweet and sour pork container and scooped a large portion out onto each plate. "No. Not for a while." She looked up at her father. "What all did the General tell you when you met with him today?"
Jacob gave his daughter a shake of the head. "We didn't have much time to talk personal business, Sam."
"Oh," she said, scooping out the contents of yet another box.
Jacob laughed. "He did share a few things with me though… Colonel."
Sam looked up at her father and laughed. "Oh yeah - there's that."
"And your transfer out to Area 51."
"And that," Sam said.
"And your refusal to take command of SG-1," Jacob said, searching his daughter's eyes.
"And that…," Sam said quietly, looking away from her father.
Jacob looked confused. "What's that all about, Sam?" he asked. "I thought command of SG-1 was what you always wanted."
Sam offered her father the now-full plate and a fork. She didn't answer him as she began eating. How could you tell your own father that somewhere along the line you'd lost the courage to take risks and faith in your own abilities? That you'd gotten tired of the uncertainties of SGC? That all it had taken was Jack's death to instill some fear in you and to knock you off track?
Jacob sipped on the ice water Sam had given him, and he closed his eyes. "Good stuff," he said.
"City water, Dad," Sam reminded him.
"Still good stuff in comparison to what's out there," he said, nodding up at the ceiling and the sky.
He looked at Sam. "What's up, Sam?" he asked. "Why haven't you been off commanding SG-1? You afraid of something?" he asked pointedly.
Sam frowned at her father. She wanted to enjoy him, especially after not seeing him for so long; not to hear a fatherly lecture on career choices. She refused to answer him, looking back down at her food, and took another bite.
A knowing look filtered over Jacob's face. "It's okay, Sam. Fear is a given for all of us," he said. "All of us," he emphasized. "It doesn't matter how high up the chain of command we are, it's always going to be there in one form or another. Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of death…" He watched as Sam winced imperceptibly as she chewed. He reached out and took her free hand. "Really, Sam. It's okay. It's all about how you deal with it. You just have to find out what's the best way for you personally to deal with it."
"I don't know, Dad," she said, pulling her hand away from his and sighing as she lifted another forkful of rice to her mouth.
"How're you going to know any of this if you don't try again?" he asked, pointing his fork at Sam. "Don't beat yourself up over Jack, Sam. You did the best you could and you will do it again. It's time to move on."
She resisted the urge to tell him that it wasn't all about Jack. It wasn't. Jack's death had just been the impetus that had forced changes in her professional and personal life, changes and challenges that she realized that she'd ran from. She continued to focus on her plate and her fork.
Jacob chuckled, shaking his head. "Okay, Sam. You win - I promise not to talk about it anymore."
Sam looked up at him.
"For tonight." He smiled sweetly at her.
Sam shook her head.
After helping her father put new sheets on the guest bed and getting him situated for the evening, Sam settled down on her bedroom floor to do sit ups. She noted with a frown that there were cobwebs up in the corners of her ceiling that she was going to have to get down. Well, they'd have to wait – she didn't have the time right now for a good cleaning.
She knew her father was right. Even Teal'c was right - that fear of some type would always be there, no matter where she was, no matter in what capacity she was serving in the military. She had walled herself in trying to avoid it. She snorted as she rose for her final set. Jack would have had a fit – several times he'd warned her about closing herself off from everyone else.
She acknowledged that she had allowed herself to be put off-balance, off-track, by Jack's death and she had managed to get a lot of issues convoluted by her own fears and doubts. She was going to have to tear down that complicated wall she had built around herself if she wanted to go back to doing what she truly loved.
It was just a question of how long it would take.
General Hammond looked around at the team assembled around the briefing table; the only person missing from his Tartarus mission team was Bra'tac who would be joining them before the end of the week was out. Jacob Carter had just finished sharing his first-hand observations of the destruction wreaked by the shield-protected Jaffa. His account was no different than that of the SG teams.
Hammond turned back to Jacob and nodded. "Thank you for sharing that with us, Jacob," he said. "Do you have any new intel regarding Anubis's new base?"
Jacob Carter dipped his head down as his Tok'ra symbiote, Sel'mak, took control of his body. "It has been confirmed that Anubis does indeed have a base on Tartarus," Sel'mak said.
"You're certain?" Hammond asked.
"Yes. Our operative inside has confirmed this," Sel'mak answered. "It is where the Goa'uld shielding devices are being manufactured. Our most recent communication with the operative indicated that the base has been heavily fortified in recent weeks; the reason - unknown at this time."
The group sat quietly for a moment.
"So what are our chances of breaking through their defenses?" Sam asked.
Jacob dipped his head again and he blinked at his daughter. "Fifty-fifty," he said. "It'll be one-shot in; the coordination and timing with the operative will have to be just right or we'll lose the window of opportunity."
The members of SG-1 sat quietly around the table, realizing their chances of getting off Tartarus were equally as slim. Hammond finally cleared his throat. "Jacob, I'm not sure if you were aware that Colonel Carter will be leading SG-1 on the mission to Tartarus."
Jacob shot a sideways glance at Sam who sat next to him. "No, I wasn't," he said.
Hammond nodded. "Yes. If you would please coordinate with her and share any additional intel you receive with her, I would appreciate it."
Jacob nodded and beamed at Sam. "It would be my pleasure."
"Bra'tac is due to arrive in approximately two days," Hammond said. "By that point I expect that we should have two additional spare units completed." He looked at Jacob again. "You may want to get a feel for how the unit operates at the Alpha Site tomorrow," Hammond suggested. "And I'm sure the Colonel would appreciate any help you can give her team in these last days of production," he said.
"Consider it done, General," Jacob told him.
"So you are prepared to lead SG-1 in this mission?" Teal'c asked, turning his head slightly toward Sam who sat shoulder-to-shoulder with him on the floor at the base of his bed.
Sam leaned her head back against the hard footboard. She sighed. "Yeah."
"You do not sound very confident," Teal'c observed.
Sam sat quietly for a while. Hammond had spoken with her again just before she'd come to Teal'c's quarters, telling her that he hoped that she would consider permanently returning to the SGC. He'd assured her that as long as he had anything to do with the program, he would ensure that she was involved in the science end of the SGC program. He told her in a concerned tone that he'd worried that she would make a permanent switch without fully exploring the field command aptitude he felt that she had.
And she realized she had to agree with him. She'd second-guessed Jack's decisions too often when they were out in the field to not want to try her own ideas out. And with Hammond's blessing and encouragement she would do this.
Small twinges of trepidation had fluttered through her gut as it hit her what was going to happen in a little over twenty-four hours, but she'd pushed past those feelings - this was what she'd spent most of her adult life training for - leading missions, guiding others to grow in their own abilities, and rising up to the challenge of a mission order to successfully complete it.
"I am. Really," she said finally.
Teal'c said nothing, staring at the lone candle that he'd placed on a low candle stand on the floor near them. Through her shoulder-to-shoulder connection with him, Sam could feel his muscles relaxing. Her gaze moved to the same candle and she practiced loosening her muscles, pleased about the mastery that she had gained over kel'noreem. Although she knew it would never replace sleep for her as it did for Teal'c, it had provided her with a mental focus that she'd never had before, even in her most relaxed state. She felt like kicking herself in the rear for not having approached Teal'c about it a long time ago.
"You should be confident, Samantha Carter - you are one of the most skilled and intelligent female warriors that I have had the pleasure of serving with in battle during my one hundred and seven years," Teal'c said. "You will do fine."
Sam smiled and reminded herself that she'd made it through impossible battle conditions and the harshness of torture - adversity at its worst - and she'd made it through alive and had helped bring their missions to a successful conclusion. She would do fine.
Jacob slid his fork through the thick piece of pumpkin pie and lifted it up and into his mouth, slowly savoring it. As Jacob closed his eyes in appreciation, Hammond sipped on his cup of coffee and smiled.
"I take it that the Tok'ra don't have pumpkin pie?" he chuckled.
Jacob shook his head and grimaced. "No. And what passes for pie is more like…," he said, looking at Hammond's slice of apple pie, "…well, George, you really don't want to know."
Hammond chuckled, setting his coffee cup down. "I heard you tried the shields out at the Alpha Site this morning. So what did you think of them?"
Jacob wiped his mouth. "They worked like a charm," he said. "Sam's team did a fine job of retro-engineering the device."
"Think it'll do the job on Tartarus?" Hammond asked.
Jacob nodded. "It should," he replied. "Works just like the original units. Too bad more couldn't have been produced before the mission."
Hammond nodded. "I agree."
The two men ate in silence until only crust crumbs remained on their plate. Jacob watched as Hammond stared at the empty plate in front of him.
"What is it, George?"
"How's Harry, Jacob?" Hammond asked. He leaned an elbow on the table. "Were the Tok'ra able to find a home for him?"
Jacob nodded. "Last I heard he was doing fine. I'm not privy to where he was taken, but word is that apparently he took to it like a fish to water."
Hammond's head shot up. "It wasn't too advanced a culture was it?" he asked.
"George!" Jacob rebuked him. "Give us more credit - even if the Tok'ra don't know Harry, I know Harry."
Hammond looked relieved.
Jacob chuckled. "So you won't have to worry about running into him anytime soon."
"I desire to be a better friend to you, Samantha Carter," Teal'c said as he squatted down to extinguish the large candle on the floor. Once again his friend had not engaged in kel'noreem, but instead had spent the hour talking about her worries, her dreams and desires…
"But, Teal'c, you already are - look at what you've done for me the past two weeks."
Teal'c shook his head and returned back to his friend's side. "But that is only at the present time. You required my assistance and support after O'Neill died, and I failed to recognize your need and to act appropriately when you most needed it."
"Teal'c!" Sam said. "I didn't make it easy for anyone back then. And you had much more important things to take care of."
Teal'c slowly shook his head. "I will not allow that to happen again," he promised.
Sam smiled, reaching out to gently touch his hand. "I appreciate that, I really do," she said softly. "But I really need to leave now. Tomorrow's a big day and if I'm going to get some sleep, the only way I'm going to do that is in my own bed, at home." She paused at his closed door. "See you first thing in the morning?"
Teal'c held her gaze for several moments. He had never felt as bonded to his friend as he did this evening. He had not revealed himself this openly to very many people in his long lifetime, not even to his deceased wife. But strangely, he did not feel that he had made himself vulnerable with Samantha. Instead he felt bolstered by the concern and support his friend offered him.
He grasped her hands carefully in his and dipped his head respectfully downward. "It will be my pleasure to do so," he said.
Sam bowed her head in return and looked back up at him, a smile on her face. "The morning it is," she said, squeezing his hands before turning to face the door.
Sam squinted at the clock on her nearby nightstand. It was a few minutes shy of two in the morning. Her bedroom was pitch-black as she'd drawn down her black out shades to block the encroaching city lights from spilling in. She flipped the covers back and sat up, swiping at the sweat that had formed at the base of her spine.
The last fleeting wisps of a fairly convoluted dream were fading fast. She couldn't remember much now except that Jack's death had figured heavily in it and she was leading SG-1 in a hopeless mission. She frowned. She hadn't had a dream like that since before she'd started the kel'noreeming with Teal'c. Was it because they hadn't mediated at all that day or was it just a case of pre-mission nerves?
Pre-mission nerves she thought, sighing as she pulled off her damp clothes, and she reached over to turn on the nightstand lamp. Padding softly to the bathroom, she shook her head. She was tired of this subconscious doubt that only plagued her in sleep. It was time to let the past go and move on. Jack was dead. Daniel was dead. She wasn't. She was still here and she could change her future.
'Why Sam?' she asked herself as she splashed cold water on her face from the bathroom faucet. Why did you spend months beating yourself up? Jack's death had been inevitable, just like her own someday would be. Some people she would never please with their expectations of her and her leadership style. She'd never be able to change that either. She accepted that now. She couldn't make everyone like her and she understood that, too. After having dealt with the lethargy, the indifference, and the loneliness of the past half year, she wasn't about to go there again.
She knew she had ability. She knew she had courage. She knew she had knowledge. She knew she had the support and love of close family and friends. She smiled as she remembered the support Teal'c had given her the past two weeks. She loved her friend with all her heart and would be forever grateful to him for being there for her.
She felt like she could do anything.
And she would.
A smile on her face, she dropped back into bed. Only a few more hours and she'd be starting a new day. A brand new day. An exciting one.
Jacob pulled his other foot up onto the locker room bench. Grunting as he reached down to grab his boot strings, he looked over to find that Teal'c had just finished attaching the leads to Sam's upper and lower back. He was helping her put her t-shirt back on, carefully making sure to thread the thick wiring back up through the neck of her shirt.
Sam grinned at Teal'c as she tugged her shirt back into place and wiggled her shoulders to adjust the harness and shielding device that lay snugly against her upper chest. Jacob watched, a thoughtful look on his face. It was the first time he'd seen her sans-shirt since she had been a child; it had surprised him to be confronted by the fact that his daughter, his baby girl, was most definitely a well-developed adult woman now, but he was equally surprised to see the degree of comfort she had with her semi-nakedness around these two men, neither of whom were her husband nor her lover.
'Why do you always think of the sexual context first, Jacob?' Sel'mak asked. He could tell his Tok'ra symbiote was slightly amused.
'It's human nature,' Jacob answered.
Sel'mak snorted. 'I believe it is your nature, my dear friend. I have had other hosts you know.'
This time Jacob snorted, and out loud. 'Yeah, I know all about the Others,' he thought, grimacing.
Jonas raised an eyebrow in Jacob's direction. "You okay?" Jonas asked.
Jacob shook his head and pulled his other boot on. "I'm fine, just a bit of a stuffed-up head," he responded, waving a finger at his forehead.
Jacob watched out of the corner of his eye as Sam, intent on her objective, placed the large flat heads of the leads onto each of Teal'c's shoulder blades, firmly pushing the adhesive ends into his skin. Teal'c was carefully applying the remaining leads to his chest as Jonas held the shielding device up by its straps.
As Sam pulled Teal'c's shirt over the device that Jonas held up over Teal'c's head and then carefully over Teal'c's broad chest, Jacob grinned. Sam wasn't his baby anymore.
'Was she ever?' Sel'mak asked gently.
'Yes, she was,' Jacob responded. 'For a short while, when she was just a little girl,' he reminisced. 'She was the sweetest, dearest, little angel you ever wanted to meet. Then she started to grow up.'
Sel'mak clucked. 'Now, Jacob, Samantha is still a dear. She's turned out wonderfully, no thanks to you.'
'Ouch - that hurt,' Jacob responded. He didn't like to be reminded of the numerous assumptions and poor decisions he'd made regarding her upbringing when she was younger. This was one of those times when he regretted his decision to host a Tok'ra symbiote.
'Jacob!' Sel'mak teased.
'Just kidding, Sel. You read my thoughts - you know I'm honored to have you along for the ride." He put his foot back down on the floor and stood up watching his daughter. 'You gave me a second chance, Sel - another opportunity to get to know my daughter and to see what type of person she turned out to be. You know I'll always be grateful to you for that.'
Sel'mak preened. 'You're welcome, Jacob Carter.'
A small smile crept over his face as he watched Sam making the last adjustments to Teal'c's device after Jonas eased it over his head and down onto his chest. Jacob absentmindedly touched his own device. He admired this daughter of his. She'd exceeded every expectation he'd had for her, and he was sure if his deceased wife had been there with them, she'd have been equally proud. Although she'd probably never would have gotten over the fact that Sam had followed him into the military.
"Where's Master Bra'tac?" Jonas asked as Sam helped Teal'c ease into his jacket. "I thought you said he was coming with us."
"He shall join us shortly," Teal'c explained. "He is meeting with General Hammond at the present time."
Sam smiled at Jonas as she started toward the door. "Don't worry about Bra'tac," she said. "We made sure he was the first one shielded."
Jonas looked relieved.
"Dad?" she asked. "Ready?"
Jacob nodded. "Lead the way, Colonel."
Sam flattened herself against the wall as another group of foot soldiers, dressed in all black approached. It was the first time she'd seen them. After they'd landed on the moon in Jacob's cloaked scout ship, they'd quickly gained entrance to the base and had observed many Jaffa marching through the halls wearing the same shielding devices that they were wearing.
But these soldiers - they were different. She was struck by their slim uniformity. After the variety of Jaffa she'd met the past six years, something didn't sit right about their almost clone-like similarity. A feeling in her gut told her these weren't just ordinary Jaffa inside those black outfits.
She brought her hand up and motioned into an open doorway. The team slid soundlessly past her into a large lab.
Checking the corridor out behind them one final time, Sam entered the lab and was amazed at its sheer size. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the holding tanks full of Goa'uld symbiotes that were swimming lazily around. Why would there be a need for so many? Where would they find enough Jaffa to carry them? She looked at her father.
"Judging by the number of holding tanks in this room, Anubis must be planning to have the Queen spawn thousands of Goa'uld. But why?" Sam asked, coming close to one of the tanks. "A symbiote is spawned with the genetic memory of the maternal bloodline. They're egomaniacal and power hungry. That's not exactly a good combination."
"That's right," Jacob agreed. "But look at this. This Queen, whoever she is, must be in league with Anubis. She's preparing for a spawn cycle, yet her brainwave pattern is minimal. She has no intention of passing on her genetic memory. The symbiotes will be blank slates."
"Much like Egeria on Pangar," Teal'c observed.
"And Anubis will be free to imprint them however he sees fit," Jacob said. "No free will - they're drones. These symbiotes would make the perfect soldier - deadly, fearless, with unquestioning loyalty."
Sam immediately made the connection to the black-suited soldiers. She didn't like this. "But this is too similar to what happened on Pangar to be a coincidence. How did Anubis find out about Egeria?" Sam asked.
"Jonas Quinn," Teal'c answered. "Anubis must have acquired this information when he scanned Jonas Quinn's mind."
Jacob ignored the bright red blush that blossomed over Jonas's cheeks. He dipped his head and Sel'mak spoke. "If Anubis had any designs on creating a drone soldier, that information would have been the final piece of the puzzle."
"This Queen must not be permitted to spawn again," Teal'c said, frowning at the Goa'uld queen imprisoned in her own tank.
"Teal'c is right," Jacob agreed. "Drone soldiers, plus enhanced shields. That's not a good combination, Sam."
"Okay," Sam said, already having made up her mind about their next action. "C-4 on the tanks and back in the gate room, then we take what time we have remaining and try to find out as much additional intel on what Anubis is up to. Then we detonate the C-4 and get the hell out of here."
She waited at the door to the corridor, watching as Teal'c placed a block of C-4 on the bottom of the largest tank. Nodding as he finished, she led the team out of the room. It didn't surprise her as they walked down the halls, circling into the inner atrium of the complex, that they encountered more shielded Jaffa.
Sam stared in amazement at another group black-suited foot soldiers marching down the hall; their clone-like similarity was still bothering her. She recognized the shielding device was embedded in their chests and wondered about the implications of that. Glancing at her watch, she realized they wouldn't have the time to find out. The C-4 they'd placed in the lab as well as the facility's gate room would be going off in less than two minutes.
"C'mon," she directed, nodding toward the left, in the direction of the exhaust port. "We have less than two minutes, and I don't want to have to have a run-in with those soldiers unless we really have to." The rest of the team nodded their assent, and they took off running down the hall at a breakneck speed, Sam holding up their six as they tried to reach the exit port before they were sighted by the warriors.
A contingent of the black-suited soldiers turned a corner and caught sight of the team. The lead black-suit raised his arm and began to fire at the retreating team. Their shielding devices stood up to the fire, but Sam wondered for how long. As they opened the port hatch and sprinted across the tarmac to Jacob's awaiting ship, she noticed the lead black-suit stopping and playing with the controls on his wrist.
She picked up her speed to catch up with the others, aiming her P90 back at the black-suit. Her round didn't penetrate his personal shield and she felt the whoosh as an energy flare shot past her. It grazed Jacob's leg.
Jacob slowed and grabbed at his leg. "The shields aren't working now?!" he yelled at Sam.
Sam arched her head back at the approaching soldier. "No. C'mon!" she said. "Anubis apparently moved beyond the tech we found!" They must have enhanced their shields with some kind of rotating energy frequency technology, much more advanced than what they'd based their prototypes on, Sam thought with a frown.
As the group neared the ship, Jacob touched the earpiece he wore. "Open the hatch now!" he yelled. The doorway slid open and the team burst into the cargo bay just as the lead black-suited warrior hit the door.
The ship immediately lifted off, and Sam watched in awe as parts of the complex began erupting in bursts of bright orange-white. "That should put a bit of a dent in his plans for now," Jacob said, breathlessly.
"Indeed it should," Teal'c said.
The adrenaline still coursing through her system, Sam couldn't keep a wide smile from erupting on her face. The smile only intensified as they shot high above the planet's surface. Sam leaned forward to stare at the explosions ripping through the outpost, billowing golden red against the dark surface of the planet. They'd done it, actually done it, she thought as the planet shrank beneath them.
"Yes!" Jonas whooped from behind her.
"The mission appears to have been a success," Teal'c observed.
"Indeed, it does," Bra'tac echoed.
Sam didn't say anything, instead watching the blossoming clouds on the planet beneath them begin to implode.
"You did great, Sam," Jacob said.
Sam tore her gaze away from the explosion's aftermath as Jacob maneuvered the scout ship away and into position for the jump into hyperspace.
"Thanks," she said, giving her father a small smile in return for the look of pride that twinkled in his eyes.
Jacob nodded toward the tel'tak's controls. "Care to drive?" he asked.
Sam chuckled quietly. "Sure, Dad." She laid her hands carefully on the control sphere and eased the small ship into hyperspace.
As the starfield lengthened, becoming long streaks in front of her, she allowed herself to be lulled into a semi-meditative state. Jacob left her at the controls to go to talk with the others in the back of the ship. Their voices were dull, but pleasant murmurs in the periphery of her consciousness.
Sam thought about her last trip home in a Tok'ra tel'tak. It had been over six, seven, maybe eight months ago, and the circumstances had been so different. She'd been devastated. Unable to think. Hadn't wanted to think. Numb.
Sam shut her eyes and took the current temperature of her soul. She felt alive now. The adrenaline was still coursing through her system, and she was alert and ready to roll. In fact, she didn't want to sit still anymore. She wanted to be out here, out in the field, exploring, expanding her horizons, working her way through whatever the universe wanted to throw at her next.
She opened her eyes and laughed. Boy, had she missed this adrenaline buzz!
"How did your mission go?" Hammond asked as the team reintegrated back at the SGC.
"Anubis won't be as much of a threat for a while," Jacob told Hammond with a smile as he and Jonas came down the ramp together.
Hammond lifted his chin to watch as Teal'c and Sam slowly made their way down the ramp behind Jacob and Jonas, a beaming Bra'tac trailing behind them. Teal'c looked as smug as he ever had looked, and he slowed his gait down to allow Sam to approach Hammond first. Sam had a shit-eating grin on her face as she unlatched her P90.
"Colonel, I assume your team's mission was a success?" Hammond asked her.
Sam stood still, taking in the words. Her team. A successful mission. Colonel. She nodded, the smile still lighting her face up. "It was a success, Sir. The enemy has been neutralized for the time being."
"I'm glad to hear that," Hammond said, a grin forming on his face as the post-mission personnel and Sam's Area 51 research staff stepped up to help undo the team members' shielding device traces. "Ready for your team's next mission?" he asked.
Sam laughed; a deep, throaty laugh, full of joy. "Yes, Sir, I am. Requesting permanent reassignment back to SG-1; if you'll have me, Sir," Sam said as she wiggled the device harness off.
Hammond looked as though he would burst. "Consider it done," he said. "Debriefing in one hour," he said, nodding at Sam. He turned heel to head back towards the control room and his office.
Sam turned to Teal'c who still stood beside her. He was positively beaming at her she thought; a huge grin had overtaken the bottom half of his face and was threatening to form into a full-fledged smile.
"Well done," he said, slowly dipping his head toward her.
"I'm glad things worked out like they did. After I'd thought about it for a while, I didn't like the thought of Maybourne being put in prison for Jack's death. He'd never have lasted - he had too many enemies." Sam pulled her long legs up and leaned her chin onto her knees. "I wonder where they sent him," she said.
"I am certain the Tok'ra would be very careful about where they placed Colonel Maybourne," Teal'c said from beside Sam, his back erect as he assumed his kel'noreem posture. He watched the flickering flames of the candles nearest them. "Maybourne's quick synapses would make it imperative that he not be put in a situation where he could take advantage of the native culture and technology."
Sam snickered. "Maybourne'll take advantage of any situation."
Teal'c dipped his head in agreement. "Indeed." He turned his head toward Sam. "You do not wish to kel'noreem this evening?"
Sam shook her head and sat up. "No, I'm fine, thank you." She looked closely at him. "We can just talk again, if it's okay with you."
Teal'c smiled. "It is."
Sam leaned onto her desk, fingering the SG-1 shoulder patch in her hand. It was hers again. She rubbed her index finger over the pyramidal point of origin. Although she'd told Hammond she was asking for reassignment back to the SGC, there was a considerable amount of paperwork involved. She could still back out at any time if she chose to do so. She stared at the forms she needed to complete that her forearm was resting on.
She heard a soft throat-clearing from behind her and turned to find Jonas outside her doorway, quietly waiting for her to notice him. "Jonas?" she said.
Jonas entered the room, his head bent down and an embarrassed grin on his face. "Sam," he acknowledged. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything."
Sam laid the patch down on the forms and pushed them to the side. "What's up?" she asked, clasping her hands together and leaning forward to give him her undivided attention.
"Oh, nothing much. Just wanted to tell you what a great job you did on this mission. I don't think we could have done it without you," he said.
Sam shrugged self-consciously. 'Oh, I don't know about that."
"Believe me - you made all the difference," Jonas insisted. He looked down at the patch. "So does this mean that you're really back?" he asked, his eyes hopeful.
She looked at the patch and back at Jonas, giving him a small smile and nod. "I think so."
Jonas tapped on the desk, a huge grin splitting his face. "That's great. Really great, Sam. Welcome back."
Jonas nodded and, still grinning, left her office.
Sam pulled the patch back out. Things wouldn't be easy - Anubis would still be a threat and still had the potential to become the most dangerous of all the Goa'uld system lords to date. A small grin spread over her face. But they had managed to knock a few of his teeth out with this mission. Any punch he tried to deliver just wouldn't have the same impact on them.
She just hoped those non-Jaffa, black-suited soldiers - those "super soldiers" - weren't hidden away in other locations. She felt sorry for the Jaffa who had been unwilling guinea pigs during the development of what apparently was even better technology than the shielding device she'd help pick apart. She knew it would be wishful thinking to believe that Anubis would be affected detrimentally by their actions for very long. He likely had another base hidden away somewhere else.
She wondered when they would next meet. She stopped. That implied a "we." It implied that she would be there. She grinned. She most certainly would.
A large horsefly swooped in large circles around Teal'c's head. Teal'c swatted at it, missing it each time. He set his fishing rod down and patiently waited for the insect to return. Two attempts later he had the offending insect in hand, and he shook it mercilessly. He threw it into the pond with relish.
Sam laughed and reached down to pick up the nearby can of bug repellant. She leaned over and sprayed Teal'c liberally.
"Thank you," Teal'c said, uncovering his eyes and mouth.
"You're welcome," Sam said, leaning back in her lawn chair to pick up where she'd left off. As she wound her line back in, she could hear Jack's voice telling her to "Relax, Carter!" She could still hear him as clearly as if he were sitting next to them. She discreetly eyed all corners of the dock as she whipped the line back out into the pond. No, he wasn't there. She knew it was only her mind, still working overtime, no matter that she was on vacation here at Jack's cabin with Teal'c.
Hammond had waited until the last legally possible moment to file an estate on Jack's behalf and as a result it hadn't been until after the Tartarus mission that Teal'c and Sam had been summoned to Jack's attorney's office regarding his will. Sam had been surprised at the amount of money Jack had saved up. It was all to be donated to various environmental and educational charities, which hadn't surprised her. For all the gruffness and hard-heartedness he'd shown, she knew he'd been full of compassion deep down. She'd started to wonder why she and Teal'c had been called to there as Hammond had continued to read pertinent parts of the will to them.
Then, at the very end, she found out why their presence had been required. Jack had left the cabin in Minnesota, and all of the land surrounding it, to her. He'd left Teal'c the right to use the cabin as much as he wanted as long as it didn't conflict with her schedule, and he noted he didn't expect Teal'c to visit much due to Teal'c's aversion to the infamous bugs of Minnesota. Sam had been surprised by the bequest and had wondered about what Jack had known about Daniel when the final clause to that section had been read in which he also left Daniel usage rights to the cabin, if he ever found his way back from ascension.
Sam wasn't sure what she was going to do with a cabin, pond, and woods way out in the middle of nowhere. She smiled. Sure she did. Retreat. Relax. Recharge. That's what. And it was a direct order from Jack.
Besides his will, he'd left letters for each of them, even one for the ascended Daniel, and Sam had waited a while to read hers, unsure that she wanted to know what Jack had to say to her, even in death. She'd been surprised when she'd finally gathered up the nerve to break the envelope's seal. He'd left her a letter full of gentleness and love, more than he'd shown her while he was alive, and amazingly it had contained very little snark.
'Stop trying to relax and just let things happen,' Jack had admonished her at the end of his letter. 'Let the world take care of itself for a while and you take care of yourself. Believe me, it'll all be there when you get back. Slow down, Sam. Come up for air. Laugh a little. Laugh a lot. Teach Teal'c some new jokes. Please teach him some new ones. Remember who you are outside the program and never ever let go of it. And for cryin' out loud, Carter – forgive yourself. You're not perfect and you can't control everyone and everything all the time. You're forgiven, Sam. Now go fish, eat some blue JELL-O, and be happy my friend."
Sam felt tears form at the corners of her eyes as she imagined him speaking those words and she blinked hard. She wondered how Teal'c felt about all this. Teal'c de Chulak as he was now called.
"So tell me again, how did Jack come up with Teal'c de Chulak?" Sam asked, turning her focus back to Teal'c.
A small grin played on Teal'c's lips as he swung his fishing rod forward. "O'Neill insisted that I must have a last name. He stated his attorney refused to acknowledge me without it. However, I am not certain he was telling me the truth."
Sam grinned. "Guess it's better than Teal'c B. Jaffa or T.F. Prime."
"So you knew about all this?" Sam asked, nodding toward Jack's cabin and the surrounding land.
Teal'c nodded and, laying the fishing rod down on his thigh, he turned to give Sam a look tinged with deep sadness. "After his experience on Ba'al's outpost, O'Neill became extremely concerned about our future well-being. I was not privy to his final actions, only to the knowledge that he wanted to ensure that his legal and financial affairs were up-to-date in the event he did not return from a future mission."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "Do you think he knew something was going to happen?"
"No, I do not believe that to be the case. We have encountered death numerous times before and yet we have survived...," Teal'c said, hesitating, "…the two of us, that is." He frowned and arched an eyebrow at Sam. "Do you have your affairs in order, my friend?"
Sam nodded. "After Jack's memorial service, one of the first things I did was to go see my attorney."
Teal'c nodded. "That was a wise action."
"So, why then did he want you to have a last name?" Sam asked. "Besides the cabin?"
"His house in Colorado Springs," Teal'c said. "In his letter to me he stated he wished for me to have a home away from home." A grin slowly spread across his face. "His exact words were 'a bachelor pad.' He was insistent that I be given the opportunity to live off-base and experience the life of a Tau'ri male."
Sam chuckled softly. "That was our Jack alright."
"Indeed, it was."
Sam sighed contentedly and looked up into the deep azure sky, imagining the velvety blackness beyond it and the millions of planets and stars dotting it. Be well and at peace, Jack O'Neill, wherever you are.