'Dear Doctor Jackson,
It is with great pleasure that we invite you and a guest to attend this year's annual Archaeological and Anthropological Society awards dinner.
Furthermore, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your inclusion as one of the final five candidates for the prestigious 'Arthur Belmont' award.
We look forward to meeting both you and your guest and we enclose a schedule which gives details of the hotel accommodation and dress code for the evening.'
Daniel's eyes widened as he looked at the gilt edged invitation. Flipping it over, he began to read the attached letter which contained the schedule for the event. He shook his head, his mind already deciding to consign it to the nearest waste basket.
They had to be kidding!
He was just about to dump the invitation in the trash can when he noticed the yellow post it note stuck in the upper right hand corner. He squinted as he read the familiar scrawled handwriting, noting with amusement the way in which the author always tried to squash as much information as he could onto the note's tiny surface area.
Someone was going to have to explain to Sgt Harriman that it was perfectly alright to use more than one post it per incoming letter.
Just then two words jumped out at him from the note.
"What the hell..."
There had to have been a mistake.
Sitting down heavily in his desk chair, he picked up the telephone and dialled the extension for Landry's office.
Harriman answered on the first ring.
"Sgt. Harriman, it's Doctor Jackson, is it possible to speak with the General?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but the General is in the middle of a conference call with the Joint Chiefs."
"Do you know when he will be finished?"
"I'm not entirely sure, but the last one lasted a couple of hours."
"I see," Daniel used his forefinger to nudge at a pencil that was sitting atop a pile of folders on his desk, "do you think you could let me know when he becomes free. It's important that I speak to him."
"I'm afraid that he has a pretty full itinerary today, sir." Harriman's voice sounded apologetic and Daniel surmised that the sergeant was probably fully aware of his reason for wanting to talk with the General.
"It's really important, Walter, I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't."
"I'll let him know of your request, sir?"
"Thank you, I appreciate it."
Daniel replaced the receiver and stared at the telephone.
He needed to see Landry, needed to ask him why he had ordered Harriman to accept the invitation on his behalf.
It wasn't the first time he had been contacted by the Archaeological community, although he had to admit that it was the first time that he had been nominated for an award. Previously he had been able to convince Hammond and then Jack to let him politely turn down their overtures. However, this time he hadn't even had a choice in the matter, the Air Force had taken the decision out of his hands and replied on his behalf and that rankled.
They had no right to do that, he was a civilian. Strictly speaking they had no right to even intercept his mail, but he had begrudgingly allowed them to do that because of the tight security that surrounded the project.
Never before had they replied to something in his name, usually Walter and his ubiquitous post it notes flagged things up for Daniel to read. In some ways it was good having a personal assistant, for Walter had managed to sidetrack a lot of the crap that usually came his way, but this time he, and by extension General Landry, had overstepped the mark.
Daniel sighed and looked at his watch, it was just past ten o'clock. If Walter was right, then Landry would be in his conference call for some time yet. Rather than wait around for the sergeant's call, it would be better if he found some work to occupy his mind.
He rummaged around on his cluttered desk, shifting various folders and open text books to one side and dug out a yellow notepad. Upon it were the notes that he had written the day before regarding the artefact that SG-17 had brought back. He took a moment to study what he had written, trying to force his mind away from the invitation, but he found that he couldn't concentrate.
Setting down the notepad, he picked up the gilt edged invitation once more and held it between his index fingers. His eyes scrutinized the flamboyant typeface as though it were an alien manuscript that had been brought to him for translation.
In his mind he found himself back in that Chicago lecture hall, surrounded by the contemptuous looks and snide comments of his peers. One by one he watched them leave, shaking their heads in disbelief at his theory regarding the ancient pyramids of Egypt.
He had been vilified, ostracised by a narrow minded group of people who preferred to keep to their orthodox traditions than look for the missing answers outside of the normal parameters of the archaeological world. Thanks to their dogmatic approach he had systematically lost his research grant, his teaching post and his apartment.
If it hadn't had been for his chance encounter with Catherine Langford, he would have been left penniless and destitute.
And now... some ten years later those same narrow minded individuals were asking him back. He felt a little righteous indignation seemed appropriate given the circumstances.
In a fit of pique he crumpled the invitation up and threw it with more than a little forcefulness toward the trash can. The screwed up ball bounced upon its rim, like a basketball around a hoop, before landing on the floor several feet away from it's intended target.
"Have SG-9 been making up fake translations again?"
Daniel's eyes shot away from the trash can toward his unnoticed visitor.
Sam was leaning nonchalantly against his doorframe, her arms folded across her chest. She wore an amused smirk on her lips, but upon seeing Daniel's less than happy demeanour, the smile disappeared, replaced instead by a look of puzzled concern.
"Hey, what's going on?"
"See for yourself." Daniel nodded toward the discarded item on the floor.
Sam pushed herself away from the doorframe and stepped into the room. She bent down and retrieved the crumpled invitation, smoothing it out so that she could read it. She ran her eyes across the now rather tatty looking card and then looked back at him.
"I'm guessing from your reaction that you're not exactly enamoured with this?" She glanced back down at the invitation and the earlier puzzled expression returned. "Daniel, you're nominated for the Arthur Belmont award, that's pretty big stuff." She glanced toward the archaeologist. "Wasn't Howard Carter the inaugural winner?"
"And isn't it only awarded every fifteen years or so?"
Despite his feelings regarding the invitation, Daniel couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips.
"I think I'm gonna have to ban you from reading my archaeological journals when you raid my coffee supply. You're becoming too well informed."
Sam smiled in return and walked across to the chair that sat opposite Daniel's desk. She lowered herself into it, placing the invitation on the top of the nearest pile of scattered notes and half- translated manuscripts.
"Aren't you proud to be nominated for such a prestigious award? I know I would be."
Daniel sighed softly.
"If I thought for one second that they were considering me for the right reasons, then of course I'd be proud," he removed his glasses, using the hem of his black t-shirt to clean the lenses, "but we both know that this isn't the case. They've included me for writing an article based upon orthodox procedures, procedures that I don't entirely believe in anymore."
He replaced his glasses and pushed them up his nose with the tip of his index finger.
"They'll never truly accept me, Sam, and I'll never truly accept my place amongst them until I've been vindicated, until I hear them apologise for how they treated me." He fixed her with a knowing look. "That's never gonna happen, not as long as the Stargate programme remains the world's greatest secret."
Sam had the good grace to not try and contradict him on that last point. They both knew that the programme wasn't likely to be going public anytime soon.
"Have you considered that they're offering you some kind of olive branch with the nomination?"
"The only reason that I'm on that shortlist is because I conformed, played by their rules and I only did that because the Air Force insisted upon it." He shook his head sadly. "Don't you ever wish that we could just be truthful, that we could tell it as it is, blow apart the scientific and academic communities with all the knowledge that we've learned over the last decade?"
He could tell by the slight narrowing of her eyes that she had considered that thought and he knew from past conversations that she felt just as frustrated and hogtied by the secrecy as he did. However, unlike him, she had come to accept that the secrecy was part of the job and he supposed that being a military officer helped in that regard, bound as she was by the myriad of rules and regulations that she encountered on a daily basis.
"I don't think the academic community or the world in general is ready for some of the things that we know, Daniel."
Her blue eyes rose to meet his and he saw within their depths some of the emotional wounds that ten years of off world combat and exploration had inflicted upon her. He knew that his own emotional scars were probably visible to her and he came to the reluctant conclusion that she was probably right, that the world wasn't ready for some of the things that they had witnessed.
"Doctor Jackson," General Landry's voice floated in from the doorway, " I understand that you wanted to see me?" Sam immediately stood up, coming to an easy attention as their commanding officer strode into the room. "Ah, and I see that Colonel Carter is with you, that makes things a whole lot easier, saves me having to send Walter on a mission to track her down."
The General waved his hand in Sam's direction.
"Please retake your seat, Colonel."
Sam gave Daniel an uneasy look as she complied with the General's request.
Landry came over to stand by the side of Daniel's desk. He picked up a stone tablet and began to examine it, running his hands across its surface, turning his head this way and that as though he were trying to decipher its meaning. Finally he returned it to the desk and refocused his attention back toward the archaeologist.
"You know when I was a young Lieutenant, an instructor once told me that to be a good commander I would have to spend some time in the shoes of each and every man and woman under my command." He chuckled softly. "He obviously never envisioned working in a place like this. I couldn't even begin to know what it feels like to stand in your shoes Doctor Jackson."
"Right now they feel a little uncomfortable General."
"So I understand." Landry walked toward the last empty chair in the room and picked it up, placing it next to the one that Sam sat in and lowered himself into it. "I'm going to cut to the chase here and assume that the reason that you wanted to see me was because of the invitation that I had Walter accept on your behalf?"
"Yes it is."
"And I'm going to also assume that we don't need to bring Colonel Carter up to speed and that she is already aware of the invitation?"
"Yes she is." Daniel's eyes glanced toward Sam who seemed to be as puzzled by the General's last comment as he felt. He brushed the thought aside and refocused upon Landry. "See the thing is General, I was under the impression that I was still a civilian, that I still had the right to make my own decisions."
"Easy son," Landry's posture stiffened slightly, "that's still the case."
"Then I'd like to know why in this instance that decision was taken away from me?"
The General let out a long, slow sigh and sat back in his chair.
Daniel immediately decided that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.
"Okay, I'll give you the abridged version. Certain people in Washington thought it would be a good idea for you to go. You haven't been seen in public since Catherine Langford's funeral, and it was felt that it was about time that situation was addressed in order to stop any unnecessary speculation about your whereabouts."
"By certain people, I'm assuming that you mean the IOA?" Daniel's chair creaked softly as he sat forward. "Since when did politicians and the military have a say over what I can and cannot do?"
"I have to admit that when I received my orders regarding this situation, I didn't like it anymore than you do, but when I took it up with my superiors I was told in no uncertain terms that your attendance at the ceremony is non negotiable." Landry smiled warmly at the archaeologist. "Look on the bright side, it's not everyday that someone from this base is nominated for such a highly sought after prize."
Daniel could feel his anger begin to bubble up, he fought to keep it in check before it burst forth in a torrent he wouldn't be able to control.
"Did the people in Washington pull strings to have my name put on the shortlist?"
Landry looked genuinely surprised at Daniel's question.
"Your inclusion on the shortlist was entirely down to the merits of the paper that you submitted." Landry pushed forward, his large hands coming to rest upon his knees. "In fact, it's my guess that if you hadn't been nominated then Washington may well have let you decline the invitation as you have done in the past."
"With all due respect General, I think that any decision regarding the acceptance of the invitation should have been mine alone to make. At the very least I should have been consulted by either you or by the IOA. After all I think that I'm the best judge on how I'm likely to be received by my fellow academics." Daniel ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "I wrote that paper nearly three years ago, just to appease the Air Force. I haven't set foot on an orthodox dig in years, most of my expeditions now take place off world and you know as well as I do that I can't exactly write an academic paper on those."
"All the more reason for you to enjoy your moment in the limelight, Doctor."
"I don't want to enjoy my moment in the limelight, in fact I can assure you that if I go to that ceremony, enjoying it is going to be the last thing that I would do." He sighed, his eyes rising to meet with those of the General. "Have you any idea of the reception I'd receive?"
Landry seemed to take a moment to consider his question.
"I've read your file. I know what happened, but that was a long time ago, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then."
Daniel laughed mirthlessly.
"We're talking archaeologists here, General, the passage of time to them is meaningless. Ten years may as well be ten seconds as far as they are concerned. Trust me, their memories will be as sharp as ever. If I go to that ceremony, it'll be like providing them with a sacrificial lamb."
"I'm sorry Doctor Jackson, but like I explained my hands are tied. The invitation has been accepted on your behalf, all the arrangements have been made. I suggest you try and enjoy it the best you can."
Landry rose from his chair and straightened his uniform. He slipped a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a couple of commercial airline tickets, placing them upon the jumbled mess on Daniel's desk.
"They're First Class... I thought it would make a change from riding in the back of an uncomfortable C140."
Daniel picked up the nearest one and flipped open the outer cover.
"General, this ticket has Sam's name on it."
"It does?" The surprise in Sam's voice caused both men to look toward her. She glanced at the ticket in Daniel's hand, then at the General.
"Which brings me to the reason why I was glad that Colonel Carter was already here." Landry adjusted his stance slightly so that he faced Sam. "Colonel, you will be attending the ceremony as Doctor Jackson's military liaison officer. You are to make sure that nothing occurs that might put his cover story or the secrecy of the Stargate programme in jeopardy."
"Forgive me for asking, sir, but was this your decision or the IOA's?" Although Sam's question was couched in the professional courtesy dictated by Landry's higher rank, Daniel still detected a hint of defiance in its tone.
"As you can probably imagine, Colonel, Washington wanted to provide their own liaison officer, but I managed to overrule them. I thought that given Doctor Jackson's past history with his fellow academics, he might want to have a friend at his side."
There was a look in Landry's eyes that suddenly made Daniel want to reconsider the General's part in the whole thing. Perhaps he understood the situation a lot more clearly than he let on, maybe he really had tried his best to derail the process, but like a lot of serving officers in the military, his superiors had had the last say.
If that was the case, then he was trying his best to sweeten the bitter pill in whatever way that he could.
"Would you like me to appoint someone from Washington in your stead, Colonel?"
Sam shook her head.
"No sir, that won't be necessary."
"Good... then that's settled. As far as everyone at the ceremony is concerned you are attending as Doctor Jackson's guest. Under no circumstance is his cover to be breached, no one is to know of his affiliation to the military and this establishment. While there Colonel, you will go by your doctorial title, is that understood?"
"Then all there is left to say is good luck with your nomination Doctor Jackson, have a safe and enjoyable trip and I'll see you both upon your return." The General turned on his heel and marched toward the doorway, as he crossed the threshold he turned back, a small smile playing against his lips. "Oh, and one more thing..."
"I believe Hawaii is very enjoyable this time of year."
Sam turned around and stared straight at Daniel, her blue eyes wide with surprise.
Daniel shrugged and picked up the letter that had been attached to the invitation. He read the itinerary once more, taking more notice this time than he had when his thoughts had been of tossing it away. Oh, yeah there it was...
He looked up at his astonished friend.
"I guess I forgot to mention that."