TITLE: Staring Down Lions
SUMMARY: The SGC's enemies are not always found off world. Spoilers for all seasons of SG-1 and Atlantis.
Even though Kinsey was dead, Sam had soon learned that there would always be someone waiting to step into his shoes, especially where the SGC was concerned. The former Vice-President had been replaced by various people on various committees, all wanting to put an end to the SGC's activities on and off world despite opposition from within the Oval Office and the SGC. Kinsey's plans had been thwarted more than once by Jack O'Neill and George Hammond, although President Hayes himself eventually brought him down. Vala had humiliated Senator Fisher. Woolsey had landed himself in the deep end when he put himself in charge of Atlantis and face to face with John Sheppard and Ronon Dex. Now, it appeared Sam had been given her own nemesis in the form of Senator John Dashman.
Sam waited impatiently while Dashman took his time getting organised at the other end of the conference table. He'd said little to her, except to introduce himself and gesture to the chair in which she now sat. He'd then begun removing documents from his briefcase and glancing over each one before setting it down on the table.
She shifted her gaze to over Dashman's shoulder but found no solace there. Usually, she would have had a good view into General Landry's office, but this time the blinds were down and the door closed. When Landry had called her lab earlier to summon her to the briefing room, he'd spoken of an unexpected meeting with members of the Oversight Committee. He hadn't sounded enthused about the prospect, and Sam wondered if that meeting was currently taking place in his office. Perhaps his patience was being as sorely tested as hers was.
The Senator cleared his throat and Sam looked back at him. It appeared he was finally ready to start, especially when he nodded to the stenographer sat at right angles to him.
"Doctor Carter," he began, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the otherwise quiet briefing room. "Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of drawn-out discussions and meaningless platitudes. I will be brief and to the point and suggest that you are as well." He paused and consulted his notes. "I understand you resigned your commission two months ago, in May. Is this correct?"
"How long, prior to that resignation, had you been having this inappropriate relationship with your Commanding Officer?"
"I've never had an inappropriate relationship with General Landry," Sam replied in confusion. "He'll tell you the same thing."
"My colleague is currently meeting with General Landry. However, I am not referring to him. I am referring to General O'Neill."
Sam gritted her teeth and tried to smile. "General O'Neill has not been my Commanding Officer for the last three years. Furthermore, we were never involved prior to my resignation."
"Really?" he asked cynically. "So you expect the world to believe that the two of you resigning your commissions at the same time was merely coincidence?"
She sighed. She should have known this would come back to haunt them. "Actually, yes. I had no idea that General O'Neill planned on retiring or that he was serious about it this time."
Dashman's eyebrow rose. "Are you implying that the General had made previous plans to retire, plans he failed to follow through on?"
Sam nodded. She'd always considered that an open secret. Furthermore, she was certain he'd been retired before she even met him.
"So even if you had known of his decision-?"
"Even if I had been aware, which I wasn't," she stressed, "I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it." It was more likely that she and Daniel might have bet on how long the plans lasted this time, but she wasn't going to mention that.
"Did General Landry ever inform you of it when you announced your intentions?"
"He found out the same day I did. By then, my resignation was already in process."
"And how did you find out?"
"Daniel told me. He had just heard and wondered if I knew anything."
"And you didn't?"
"How did Doctor Jackson find out?"
"I presume General O'Neill told him. They've been friends for years."
Dashman sighed. "I had hoped to speak with Doctor Jackson today. It's most inconvenient that he's not here."
"He's on his honeymoon." With a wife who would most certainly reduce this inquisitor to ash.
The Senator consulted his notes again. "Yes, I've already heard of his inappropriate relationship with the alien woman. Do you know where he is?"
"They're off world until Friday."
"Off world?" Dashman stared down the length of the table. "You mean to tell me that he's using costly government resources to go on a joyride across the galaxy? Does he not realise how much it costs to operate this monstrosity? Do any of you?"
Sam knew how much it cost to operate the Stargate. She'd been searching for a more cost-effective power source for a long time. "Daniel and Vala went through the Gate at the start of SG-4's scheduled mission, with SG-4. They will meet up with SG-6 on Friday and return with them."
"Where was the good Doctor going, and where will he meet SG-6?"
Sam shook her head. "Daniel didn't tell me." He'd kept it secret from everyone, much to Vala's frustration. "General Landry should know. He has information on all upcoming missions. Besides, I think Daniel and Vala planned on visiting a few different planets."
Dashman scowled, apparently aware he'd lose this part of the fight. "I will notify General Landry of my desire to speak with Doctor and Mrs Jackson the moment they return. You are not to have any contact with them whatsoever until I have met with them individually. Is that understood?"
Sam wasn't happy at being told when she could and couldn't speak with her friends. She also knew that the newlyweds wouldn't be happy at being ambushed. But the good Senator could find that one out for himself.
"To return to our main subject, Doctor Carter, you state for the record that you had no prior knowledge of the General's retirement?"
"Did you ever discuss your own resignation with him?"
She chose her words carefully. "General O'Neill called me after I formally submitted my paperwork."
"He wanted to talk me out of it. He said I was too good of a leader to lose." There had been more to that conversation than she was willing to repeat in this environment. Her recall from Atlantis had come up, as had the lack of time she had for her love of astrophysics. She'd even thrown Pete Shanahan into the mix – which, upon reflection, had probably not been a good idea – and asked how she was supposed to get a life when the military kept making so many demands of her. She'd reiterated how she was resigning from the Air Force and not the SGC. In retaliation, he'd threatened to put a stop-loss on her file. Both of them had been at their most stubborn, and the conversation hadn't ended well. They'd not spoken to each other again until after her resignation had become official. Even then, it was because Daniel had grown tired of being caught in the middle and had snapped. Vala had been so shell-shocked by the archaeologist's outburst that she'd avoided him for the next twenty-four hours, not an easy feat when trying to plan a wedding.
"And yet, you resigned anyway. Why was that?"
"I'm primarily a scientist, Senator," Sam replied wearily. "I have a doctorate in Astrophysics."
She sighed. "I felt like it wasn't being used. I'd given over twenty years of my life to the Air Force. I've been attached to the SGC for at least eleven. I understand that my military training was part of the reason I was placed on SG-1. But I was also reassigned here from the Pentagon because of my scientific work on the Stargate. However, I've had to fit my lab work in between SG-1's missions. That's why I asked for the transfer to Nellis. But I was recalled here, and then I was sent to Atlantis because of the need for a military leader there. I'm back on Earth now, and I want to focus on scientific exploration." She smiled. "I also believe that both the SGC and Atlantis can benefit from my scientific expertise."
The Senator was seemingly unimpressed. "Is that the truth, Doctor?"
"Are you sure?"
"Did you, at any point during your military career, have an inappropriate relationship with General O'Neill?"
Sam groaned. "I've already told you, the answer is no."
"Are you sure?"
"I think I'd know."
"Doctor Carter, let me be blunt. The Stargate Project is frequently scrutinised by select members of the civilian population. Billions of dollars – tax-payer dollars, Doctor – are spent here every year. In fiscal terms, this is the country's largest covert operation. We need to know if the American public is getting value for money. I don't deny the SGC has had some successes against alien enemies, but have those successes come at too high a price?
"I believe that our nation's military must have, at its core, the values of integrity, common decency and security. In my opinion, these values are being sacrificed here. For example, at least four aliens have come to Earth and resided among our general population. At least one of these aliens has since returned to his home planet, taking countless secrets with him. Am I correct in thinking Langara was one of the planets which fell to the Ori? What advantages might have been lost to our enemies? I shudder to think.
"Mr Quinn should never have been allowed to leave Earth," Dashman observed, "and yet the Commanding Officer at the time let him go." He sighed. "I believe General Landry to be equally lax in how he lets Ms Mal Doran roam so freely."
He levelled his gaze at Sam. "It's a disturbing trend, Doctor Carter. Rules exist for a reason and yet the SGC flout them continually. This is a military operation. It must run according to military rules. Perhaps the Joint Chiefs have turned a blind eye because they fear the President, who we all know is an ardent supporter of the SGC. I, however, do not fear him. President Hayes would do well to remember that this is an election year. Many fine men and women have already been killed in a war on this planet, which he instigated.
"How is the public going to react when it learns that many more have been killed in an operation so covert that only a select few members of the CIA are unaware of it? How are the good people of this country going to react when they discover that President Hayes knows of and supports the SGC? And when they learn of the Stargate, they will learn of the people who have commanded the SGC and its units, including yourself and General O'Neill, do you really believe that they will accept the two of you – who worked closely together on the same team for over seven years – just happened to resign from the military on the same day? The public is aware of fraternisation regulations, Doctor, and the public has a suspicious mind. Once they learn of the two of you, it will further the perception that the military is letting its standards slip. They will want to know what was so special about you, and about the SGC, that regulations could be so easily ignored without repercussions. Belief in the military and this country's leadership will fall. Do you want that to happen?"
Sam stared in shock at the man before her. He was worse than Kinsey. Her mind churned with what she'd just heard and at length she came to some conclusions. She stood, pushing her chair back with such force that it spun, and began to speak.
"Senator Dashman, I have three things to say. First, I'm sure you signed a non-disclosure agreement before you were informed of the Stargate Program. I'd like to remind you of that. Second, I am willing to state under oath that General O'Neill and I were never involved prior to each of us resigning our military commissions. As for why he chose to retire when he did, that is something you will need to ask him because I don't know. Thirdly," she took a deep breath as she began the main part of her speech, "I am also aware that this is an election year. Furthermore, I am fully aware on which side of the aisle you sit, and that you're being considered as a possible pick for the Vice-Presidency. Perhaps you think your Presidential candidate could do well in the polls if the public learned of the SGC.
"The information would be leaked, I'm sure, but you feel it wouldn't look good for President Hayes. Meanwhile, your party could claim it had already begun an investigation into SGC activities and are horrified at the lack of, what was it, oh yes, integrity, common decency and security."
She took one last breath in order to deliver her own coup de gras. "Finally, Senator, I can assure you that any attempt to capitalise on the unveiling of the SGC will backfire. The American public loves success stories, and we can give them those." She thought briefly of Cassandra, once the last of her people on a planet ravaged by evil and now a successful college student with a bright future. "Some of those successes are personal, but we have also beaten both the Goa'uld and the Ori. These enemies wanted to rule Earth, and completely eradicate our freedoms by turning us into their slaves. And I think we can both agree that the public likes freedom.
"I suggest you choose another path to the White House, Senator. None of us are willing to be your sacrificial lambs, and we will fight you all the way to the ballot box in November if we need to."
Sam wanted nothing more than to walk out of the room with her head held high. Her legs were too shaky, however, so she sat down and waited for Dashman to respond to her outburst. Instead, she heard clapping and turned her head towards the sound. What she saw stunned her; a familiar figure stood at the top of the stairs which led down to the control room.
"Congratulations, Doctor. That was some speech."
Sam jumped up despite the wobbly legs. "Mr President, Sir!" How could she have missed the footsteps on the metal stairs? Oh, that's right, she'd been too busy ranting like a mad woman. "I didn't know you'd be here today."
Henry Hayes grinned. "Relax, Sam. I've just dropped in for a flying visit."
She cast a look at Landry's office. The shades remained drawn. "Does the General know?"
"Probably not." Hayes pulled out a chair halfway down the table and sat. "Let's just say that this visit is unexpected for everyone, including my staff. Speaking of staff, would you happen to know where Walter is? I stopped by the control room but he wasn't there. I think I almost gave another technician a heart attack, poor woman."
"No, Sir. Sorry."
"Oh well. If you see him, just let him know I got his message, will you?"
Sam was mystified by the request. What message could Walter have possibly sent the President and why? "Er, yes. Of course."
"Thanks. Now, I know you're a busy woman, Doctor, so I'll let you get back to work. Just don't blow the place up while I'm here," he said with a wink. "I don't think the Secret Service would appreciate it."
"I'll try not to, Sir."
"That's all I can ask. Don't worry about the good Senator here. I'll take care of him and his colleagues. It was good to see you again, Sam. Looks like civilian life suits you."
Sam acknowledged the dismissal and left the room feeling much lighter than she had in the last half hour. Part of her, however, wished she could be a fly on the wall of the briefing room. If Hayes had his way, Dashman could easily be on the political fast track to nowhere.
The door to her lab was closed, but Sam could see through the frosted glass that someone was in her there. She pushed the door open cautiously, prepared for a confrontation since she didn't like anyone in there when she wasn't.
"Finally managed to escape, I see."
Sam rolled her eyes and pushed the door closed behind her. "And why do I think you must have had something to do with that?"
Jack tried his best to look innocent. "Who? Me?"
"I can fight my own battles, you know." She snatched her cell phone from his hands and replaced it with a rubber stress ball. "Play with that instead, please," she pleaded as she secured the phone in her desk drawer.
He wrinkled his nose. "That's no fun."
"But it is less breakable. Honestly, I don't know why Landry gave you so much access around here. You're a menace, Jack O'Neill." She sat and proceeded to bring her laptop out of hibernation.
"Yeah, that's what Daniel says too." He sat down opposite and placed his booted feet on the corner of the desk, ignoring the dirty look Sam sent him. "And I know you can fight, Carter, but why should you have all the fun?"
"Why are you here, anyway?"
"My meeting with Hank got cancelled due to those pesky bureaucrats."
"You were one of those until recently," Sam reminded him with a smile.
"I was never a bureaucrat," Jack replied defiantly. "Anyway, Walter called me just as I was headed out the door."
Sam realised where this was heading. Walter Harriman had been Jack's eyes and ears on base for the past four years. "He told you about our visitors and you decided to use some of your connections, right?"
"Yeah sure you betcha. And when he told me that Daedalus was still in orbit-"
"You pulled rank and had them do a little transporting."
"Hell, yeah. Ol' Henry was only too pleased to assist. He did stare down Anubis, you know."
Sam smiled. "I do know, Jack. General Hammond told all of us that story." She glanced at the computer screen and noticed she had new email. A quick Alt-Tab pulled up Outlook and her smile vanished. "Did anyone inform the Secret Service or his aides that he was here?"
Jack shrugged. "Why?"
Sam pulled up a particular email and turned the screen so Jack could see it. "I think they've realised he's missing," she said slowly.
The email was from Major Davis, now a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Stargate. It looked fairly innocuous; just a graphic of a WANTED poster with Hayes as the 'fugitive from justice.' Sam had seen similar emails sent to both her and Daniel, although usually they had Jack's visage because he'd left Washington without informing anyone and Paul had been tasked with trying to track him down. It was the Major's way of making a discreet inquiry when he wasn't certain how secure the transmission was. There was no need to alarm anyone who might be monitoring the email system.
"I think you got some 'splaining to do, Lucy," Jack drawled in his best Ricky Ricardo impersonation. He grinned at her and stood up.
Sam glared at him. "Me? This was your idea. It's your responsibility."
"Which I'm delegating to you."
"We're not in the same chain of command anymore, Jack. You can't order me any more."
"Yes, I can. Besides, I need to go see Walter. See you at home, sweetheart."
Jack strolled out of the room, leaving Sam staring open-mouthed. For a moment, she thought about disregarding Jack's command but then thought better of it. After all, it wouldn't exactly be fair to the people at the White House. No doubt there was panic and confusion over how the President of the United States could vanish. With a sigh, Sam picked up the phone and dialled.
"Paul? Hi, it's Sam. In response to your email, the answer is yes-. Yeah, I know-. Yeah, it really is General O'Neill's fault. Again-. No, I saw him myself, even spoke to him-. Yes. Hey, do you know anything about Senator Dashman? Uh huh-. Kinsey's nephew?- Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense."