General Carter sat alone in her small quarters onboard the Odyssey rereading the recent mission report from Colonel Ellis. The Apollo had come across a stray Wraith cruiser…and destroyed it. Carter didn't know if this was a good thing or bad, but she was concerned that the battle had been more the result of impatience and boredom than it had been mere coincidence.

She too was feeling the strain. With so little to do but wait and see if their detection traps signaled a response, Carter had started to reread the books that she'd brought with her in the spare hours between random searches of the Asgard database. She'd even started to learn the Asgard written language out of sheer boredom…and she knew her crew were just as bad off as her, if not worse.

So it wasn't unexpected to hear that Ellis had found some target practice. Part of Carter wished that the Odyssey had come across a cruiser or two themselves…but they hadn't. She'd kept the ship in interstellar space nearly all the time, and the odds of someone stumbling onto their position were next to zero.

She didn't even have the luxury of an occasional spat with McKay, who had decided it was best if he remained onboard the Daedalus for the rest of this 'over-extended' mission. At the time she'd wholeheartedly agreed, but now she was craving anything that would break up the dullness that was saturating the ship.

Reluctant as she was at first, Carter had begun to get to know Woolsey a bit better just to pass the time, and the more she talked with the man the more she started to see that he was more than just suit, tie, and protocol. They discussed any number of things ranging from their current mission to the ethics of offworld exploration vs. the risk of cultural contamination. She liked getting a different perspective on things…not that she agreed with him all the time…but some things the man said made sense, and she thought she was starting to understand how the I.O.A. thought.

Up until now, frankly, she'd considered them to be a group of naïve bureaucrats more adept at screwing things up than accomplishing anything positive, but after discussing several sensitive issues with Woolsey she started to get the sense that from their own point of view they were still trying to do what was best for Earth. The problem, she had finally concluded, lay in the selection of inexperienced persons for positions of power over the ones that actually knew what they were doing.

The I.O.A. governing council was so unaccustomed to life outside of cliché Earth culture that they couldn't help but get so many things turned around. And yes, while there was always going to be some corruption in the ranks, she thought most of the trouble with the I.O.A. was due to sheer ignorance…and ignorance was curable.

Since she had a copious amount of spare time on her hands, Carter had begun writing a report that she intended to deliver to General O'Neill detailing the flaws within the I.O.A. and how they might combat such negatives.

For starters, she'd come up with a plan to have any I.O.A. personnel that would be working hand in hand with the US military go through sort of a 'basic training' course for stargate operations. It would include basic knowledge of Earth and its allies, an overview of the history of the SGC, at least one trip offworld, and a 'what if' test designed to bring up potential scenarios and let the I.O.A. personnel see how much they really didn't know in addition to the consequences that such bad decisions would have in the 'world' beyond Earth.

She also recommended that more former SGC personnel be assigned to I.O.A. posts, given that they had the needed experience. She'd even went so far as to suggest a few names, starting with Major Davis, who she thought would fit the position nicely.

Bottom line, she didn't just want to write the I.O.A. off as incurable, especially given that their leadership didn't look to be in jeopardy. While the stargate was still property of the US military…and that wasn't likely to ever change…the SGC could still opt out of I.O.A. funds and return to unilateral operations.

That Carter didn't think had a snowball's chance in hell of ever happening. Once the other countries got their fingers into the mix they'd be hard pressed to get them out again. So it seemed the situation would remain status quo…which also meant that changes had to be made within the system, because with the way things had been going lately with the I.O.A., Carter didn't think Earth had much luck left in its account, and if something wasn't done they'd end up biting the bullet sooner or later.

She'd passed a few of these ideas onto Woolsey's plate for consideration and had been pleasantly surprised to hear him agree with her. He even went so far as to suggest more aggressive indoctrination training in order to make sure that the oversight had the proper mental framework to make necessary decisions.

Carter skeptically assumed part of Woolsey's agreement was based in the fact that such measures would aid his rise within the organization, considering the experience his tenure as commander of Atlantis had granted him, but the fact that he was open to some of her ideas was encouraging none the less.

A small part of her still wanted to agree with Sheppard's solution…cut them out entirely and go rogue…but she knew that wasn't an option with Earth or even the SGC.

No…if something was going to be done it would have to occur from the inside, and the more clout one had the more receptive others would be to that change. O'Neill couldn't be counted on to change everything on his own. He would need help. By bringing Atlantis back into the fold not only would she be regaining the technology and knowledge of the Ancients for Earth, she would be gaining significant prestige and political capital to be used in the game of influence that seemed to drive all decision making within the upper levels of military and civilian command.

Carter sighed. Ten years ago she wouldn't have agreed with herself. She'd been an idealist, concerned with the moment and not able to see the bigger picture as it unfolded around her. She'd had faith in their leadership, spoiled in part by Hammond no doubt, until time and again she'd been forced to face the hard truth about basic Human nature.

The negative outweighed the positive, and in order to make any progress one had to play the survivor's game in order to win out in the long term.

In the past she'd been blinded by the short term, unable to see the wheels within wheels that existed within the Air Force…let alone within the I.O.A. where such things dominated every facet of every decision they made. Given that sort of environment, Carter didn't hold out much hope for any competent leadership.

Which was why she proposed that the I.O.A. needed members with offworld experience…specifically the experience of former SGC personnel. Given everything that she'd seen and done, there was no way that she could make the same mistakes their leadership was currently making had she been in their position. Carter firmly believed that with an experience prerequisite for all I.O.A. personnel the voices of sanity could combat the corrupt environment that the organization wallowed in and morph it into more of an offshoot of the original SGC concept rather than have it continue as a purely political body.

To this end, they would also need to incorporate more non-US personnel into the SGC framework in order that they could get the needed experience. Carter figured she'd have to have a long discussion with O'Neill before he'd ever agree to that, but in the end she thought that he would see the benefits of such a change…especially since the underlying purpose was to sneakily turn them to the darkside, as the career politicians might put it.

The intercom sounded with a quiet beep, but within the silence of Carter's quarters it was unbearably loud.

"Carter here," she answered, stepping over to the wall-mounted intercom.

"General, we have a new message packet from the Daedalus."

"On my way to the bridge," Carter said, darting out the door. Finally, something fresh to chew on.


"What have we got?" Carter asked as she hurriedly walked onto the bridge.

"See for yourself," the young Lieutenant said, stepping aside from one of the wall terminals so she could read the brief message.

PEGASUS NATIVES ALLIGNED WITH ATLANTIS HAVE RETURNED TO THREE OF THE WORLDS UNDER OUR SURVEILLANCE. REPORTS INDICATE THAT THEY ARE ON A THREE DAY PASS AND WILL RETURN THROUGH THE GATE WHEN THEIR LEAVE EXPIRES. EXPECT TO HAVE ATLANTIS'S NEW ADDRESS WITHIN THREE DAYS.

LOOKS LIKE THE PARTY IS ABOUT TO START. – CALDWELL

Carter turned back to her bridge crew smiling. "Everyone," she announced loudly to get their attention. "No, wait a minute," she said, walking over to her captain's chair, "this is something the whole crew should know about."

She activated the ship-wide intercom. "Attention: this is General Carter. I know the last 14 months have been hard on you…and I'll admit they've been hard on me too. I appreciate your patience and dedication to your duty. You are all a credit to your uniform, and I'd expect nothing less from such a fine crew."

"I've just received a report from the Daedalus that I thought you'd like to be made aware of. They say that they've found members of Atlantis's army returning to their homeworlds. If our intelligence is correct, they will be returning to Atlantis after a short leave of duty. When they do, we'll finally be able to ascertain the stargate address for the city, and from it we can deduce their exact spatial coordinates."

"When we do, we'll finally have a chance to complete our mission and return home. I want all personnel to begin readying themselves for whatever roll you will play in the assault on Atlantis. If nothing else, get up off your backsides and shake off the dust you've accumulated over the past year."

"The time for waiting is over. Now we get to do what we came here to do," Carter finished.

The bridge crew burst out in a round of cheers and clapping. They were clearly excited, but also relieved. It had been a long time in coming…now they just had to find a way to pull it off.

Easier said than done, Carter thought to herself.