WHAT YOU WISH FOR
The SGC briefing room seemed a little more crowded than usual as General George Hammond took his customary seat at the head of the long table. Major Sam Carter stood by the video screen with her briefing file in her hand. Daniel Jackson and Teal'c, SG1's Jaffa member, were comparing notes over the UAV survey of P4W-882. The two rookie lieutenants seconded to SG1 for their first Gate trip were doing their best to look both confident and efficient, and SG1's commanding officer, Colonel Jack O'Neill, was attempting to balance his chair on two legs while flicking elastic bands into the waste paper basket.
General Hammond sighed. SG1 had had a very quiet time over the last few missions. Their standard first contact visits to new worlds had been remarkably incident-free, and they had missed a week's rotation while Daniel Jackson recovered from a wisdom tooth extraction. Consequently, Jack O'Neill had seen very little action other than rock, soil and plant sampling for about a month, and he was getting antsy. This situation, in Hammond's experience, usually resulted in an outcrop of extremely silly practical jokes around the base, and the General resolved to be on his guard. Perhaps the additional responsibility of two new entrants would keep the Colonel on an even keel during this mission!
"Is there any good reason you scheduled this briefing for such an ungodly hour, Colonel?" asked Hammond.
Jack dropped the chair legs back to the floor in an effort to appear business-like. "07.00, sir, best part of the day! Make an early start; home in time for The Simpsons! Saves on video tapes!"
The two new entrants looked at one another, bemused. They had both only recently transferred into Cheyenne Mountain, and although they had heard a lot about the legendary Colonel O'Neill, this was the first time they had seen him in action. They were having difficulty reconciling stories of incredible heroism, inspirational leadership and ferocious loyalty with the bumbling fool they now saw.
"Also it will give these two fine young men the chance to enjoy a decent breakfast before we ship out. A good lining on the stomach is essential for Gate travel. I would recommend a double portion of oatmeal. Don't you agree, Major Carter?" O'Neill shot a quizzical glance at his blonde Major.
Sam seemed suddenly to have been overtaken by a coughing fit, and she disappeared behind a large tissue, gasping and snorting.
"Whenever you're ready, Major, you may commence your no-doubt riveting briefing." Jack continued smoothly.
Carter spluttered to a halt, "Thank you, sir," she choked, tears of laughter in her sparkling blue eyes. She quickly ran through the results from the UAV survey, and the transmissions from the MALP sent through the Gate the previous day." So, to sum up, we have some trace evidence of naquadah, one or two other elements which look quite promising, and images of a peaceful agrarian lifestyle at least a couple of centuries behind us in terms of technology. It's unlikely that we can learn much from these people, but if we can gain access to the naquadah it will make the trip worthwhile."
"If there's no evidence of naquadah being mined, how come there's a Gate?" asked Jackson.
"I'm not sure; we'll need to find out if they've been visited recently by the Goa'uld. From the look of the place, though, it seems they've been left alone for quite some time."
"Thank you, Major Carter," said Hammond, "Colonel, anything to add?"
"Other than the fact that I'm REALLY looking forward to surveying another perfectly tranquil planet covered in trees, no, sir."
Daniel, Sam and Teal'c shared an amused glance, whilst the two rookies looked steadily more bewildered
"Folks, you're dismissed. Embarkation will be at 09.30 – you have plenty of time for your breakfast!"
SG1 got to their feet as Hammond left the room. "OK, guys," smiled O'Neill, "Let's get handles on you. You first, son," pointing at the stocky Afro-American.
"Lieutenant Lucas Bryant, sir. I go by Luke."
Jack nodded "And you?" looking up to the tall young Viking at Bryant's side.
"Gustav Gustavsson, sir. Gus if you like."
"That makes sense, I suppose. You `ll have to excuse me if I get the two of you confused – it takes a while to remember names at my time of life."
"The Colonel has trouble remembering his own name sometimes!" said Sam seriously, patting Jack's hand with a sympathetic air. The bewilderment on the rookies' faces deepened, and was not improved when Daniel Jackson turned Jack around and said, " To the kitchen, Homer, Marge is cooking breakfast."
In the breakfast line, Jack manoeuvred people around until Luke and Gus were in front of the rest of his team, and watched with glee as they both ordered double oatmeal. Sam dug him in the ribs from behind. "That is SO cruel. It's going to make such a mess."
Jack turned to see her glowing smile, and blessed the powers that gave him and only him the ability to create it. " Just make sure you're standing upwind when we gate through," he grinned.
They all sat together and the rookies looked at SG1's assortment of fruit, pastries and cereal. "No oatmeal, sir?" asked Gustavsson.
"No, unfortunately not, son. I don't like the flavour, Carter finds the texture unpalatable, Daniel is allergic and Teal'c, er, Teal'c can't eat it on religious grounds. I'm afraid we just have to gate through without the comforting properties of the healing oat!"
Carter dropped her napkin on the floor and seemed to spend an awful long time picking it up, emerging from under the table rather red in the face. Daniel Jackson hastily excused himself and rushed to the men's room, and Teal'c sat like a statue with one eyebrow raised. The two young lieutenants watched all the activity like children watching an adult mystery play, and Jack leant back in his chair, surveying the havoc he was creating with a delighted smile
They next met up in the gear-up room, where the Master Sergeant handed out equipment and weapons for the trip. The weaponry was comparatively light, but the FRED cart was laden down with ore sampling gear, and Jack still had his favourite P90 slung over his shoulder.
"OK campers, to Oz," said Jack, leading the way into the gate room, and giving General Hammond, standing at the control room window, a cheerful wave. He waited at the foot of the ramp as Sergeant Davis announced the seventh chevron locked, and watched Bryant and Gustavsson's reactions as the gate gave its familiar `Kawoosh.' Although they had been briefed more than once about the operation of the gate, they had not seen it in action until now, and their eyes grew wide as the `Kawoosh' subsided and the wormhole established itself.
"Heads up, lady and gentlemen. Danny, if you and Teal'c would like to lead our young friends through, Carter and I will pick up the pieces. Bryant, if you would like to take control of FRED, we'll follow the yellow brick road!"
Teal'c and Daniel strode confidently up the ramp, turned once to make sure the rookies were behind them and then stepped through the event horizon. The FRED went next, disappearing silently through the glittering silver screen. Bryant and Gustavsson moved more slowly, and stopped before the shining ring, staring at the glowing chevrons. They exchanged an apprehensive glance, and would have paused a lot longer if O'Neill had not prodded Bryant gently from behind with the barrel of his P90.
"Move `em out, cowboys!"
As they stepped through, O'Neill casually hung his baseball cap on his gun and stuck it into the event horizon.
"Do you have a problem, Colonel?" asked Hammond over the tannoy.
"Not at all, sir, just waiting until they stop honking their oatmeal."
With that, O'Neill put his cap back on, settled the peak at just the right angle and stepped through the horizon with Carter, as always, close at his side.
After the weird out of body sensation of spinning and falling through an icy vacuum, Carter and O'Neill stepped neatly through the horizon on to the grassy plateau of P4X-882. Things looked pretty peaceful. Teal'c had his staff weapon at port and was checking the horizon for any hostile intent. Daniel had a survey sheet in his hand and was taking some compass bearings. FRED was parked on the grass, looking like a grazing mechanical beast. The only wrong note in this pastoral scene was Bryant and Gustavsson, who were both hunched over on the grass, vomiting up their breakfast, supper and anything else that had been in their guts. From one being so fair and the other so dark, they were now both an interesting shade of green and looked extremely ill. O'Neill patted them both gently on the back as he carefully stepped past them. "The effect doesn't last long, gentlemen, and we'll wait until your brains are back in your skulls before we move out. I'm sorry about the oatmeal stunt, but believe me, throwing up a full stomach is less painful than an empty one."
Jack unshipped his canteen and passed it to Bryant, who took a long pull and then passed it to Gustavsson. Both men wiped their mouths and got to their feet, slowly regaining their normal colour. Gustavsson passed Jack's canteen back.
"Thank you, sir. I'm sorry about that little display."
"No problem, Lieut, we've all been there and done that."
"Actually, Jack, that's not true. You've never lost your lunch through the gate."
"Thank you for your input, Doctor Jackson, I'm sure that makes our young officers feel much better!"
Both the young men were now aware of a change in the dynamics of the team. Although the camaraderie and good humour were still present, there was no doubt who was in command. Since their arrival through the Stargate, O'Neill had generated an aura of enormous contained energy and was continuously on the alert. Bryant and Gustavsson were now beginning to see how his reputation had been gained.
"OK, Daniel, where to?" asked Jack.
The archaeologist checked his map and compass bearings once more – Jack could be very scathing about inaccurate data, particularly if it involved unnecessarily long marches.
"The township is about 3k northwest, just the other side of that ridge of… er…large wood-like foliage."
"Trees, Daniel, trees! Dress it up any way you like, they're still trees! So, this is how it goes. We'll mosey into town, press a few palms, see how it's hangin' down there. What comes after will depend on what the good people of P4X-wherever we are have to say, so we'll keep our plans fluid for the time being. As we heard from Major Carter, this world looks very peaceful, but we've been caught like that before, so it's still a heads-up situation. Teal'c, stay at point; Daniel, you and Luke left flank; Carter and Gus, right flank, and I'll take the pleasure of watching your gorgeous backsides. Stay within sight of each other at all times, use radio communication instead of yelling, and if anything untoward happens, think before firing. Everyone got their luggage?"
Knowing that Jack's more than usually comprehensive orders had been directed mainly at the two rookies, Carter had used the time to strip out FRED and hand out packs and weapons, and had then covered the little truck with camouflage netting to keep the rest of their gear from prying eyes
With Teal'c leading the way, watchful, and steady as a rock, the team fanned out slightly to make their way across the meadow and into the stand of trees. Although the big Jaffa did not seem to hurry, his long stride ate up the ground and the others had to work hard to keep up. From his position at the rear, Jack watched how his team handled themselves. He trusted Sam Carter as he did himself, and as he watched her move through the trees, it was not from a military standpoint, but from a masculine one ---- he simply enjoyed looking at her. He allowed himself a minutes' pleasure following that slim body, graceful even in battledress, and once again mentally cursed the fates that had made him fall so deeply in love with a woman who not only was absolutely forbidden to him, but also was so gorgeous that she could have her pick of the entire SGC. What chance was an aging, somewhat battered old Colonel going to get?
Very reluctantly pulling his mind back from Sam's lovely rear, Jack looked at Daniel. Jackson was not strictly military, but had learned a lot from Jack and Teal'c over the last few years, and was dependable in action as long as his attention was not being distracted by rocks, runes or fascinating aliens with interesting customs. Teal'c was a warrior through and through, and seldom needed guidance in the field, so it was to the rookies that Jack gave his attention next.
Lucas Bryant seemed well on top of his job. He paced alongside Jackson, his eyes watching front and left constantly, confident that his teammates had the other angles covered. He held his weapon a little too tightly, betraying some anxiety, but that was to be expected on a first trip. Gustavsson, on the other hand, seemed a little too cocky for Jack's liking. He was sauntering alongside Carter, and was obviously trying to engage the attractive Major in conversation. His eyes were more often on her face than on his surroundings, and his rifle was slack on his arm. If attacked, his reaction time would have to be pretty impressive to get him into a defensive stance, and Jack doubted that he was that fast yet. So, something to go on his report. Jack pushed to the back of his mind the idea that he resented the younger man for coming on to Carter. She was well able to look after herself, for cryin' out loud! What was it to him if a young, fit good-looking lieutenant gave her the eye?
Jack choked back his jealousy and gave a little more attention to his surroundings. They were halfway through the woods and the air was dim and cool. The leaf canopy was dense, and little sunlight and warmth could penetrate to the ground beneath. Jack paused as a strange cry reached him from a ditch on his right. It was a plaintive, keening sound, eerily like the whine of a hungry child, but yet not quite human. He unslung his P90 and moved quickly but silently to the edge of the ditch, not knowing what to expect but ready for anything.
As he reached the bank, Jack dropped to his stomach and took a fast sighting glance into the ditch. About three feet below him, with both front legs hopelessly entangled in a discarded length of fencing wire and bleeding freely, lay a sable-coated German Shepherd bitch. She lay in a few inches of muddy, bloodstained water and her beautiful fur was soaked and matted. In her struggle to get free she had exhausted herself, and it was now taking all her remaining strength to keep her muzzle out of the water. In addition, she was obviously heavily pregnant and not far off whelping.
Rescuing wildlife was not really on SG1's agenda, but Jack had been a dog lover since childhood and he could not leave this lovely creature here to die a slow and miserable death. " Carter, do you copy? I have a situation back here!"
"Go ahead, sir," came the prompt response.
"I'm at the ditch you passed about five minutes ago. Get everyone back here ASAP; you'll see my gear on the bank. Break out a minor injuries pack and a syringe of broad spectrum antibiotic. You'll also need some sort of small stretcher or travois, and a couple of thermal blankets, oh, and a towel if anyone has one."
Sam listened to Jack's list of instructions with increasing bewilderment and alarm. He didn't sound hurt, but obviously somebody was, and quite badly. How could she have missed it when she and Gus had crossed that ditch just minutes before?
"Roger that, sir, we're on our way." Having heard the message, Teal'c, Daniel and Luke had made their way across to her position and together they jogged back through the woods to the ditch. They could see Jack's rucksack and P90 on the bank, and could hear him talking softly as they drew nearer.
"You're a beautiful, beautiful girl. You've just gotta let me get close enough to help you out of there."
The team exchanged puzzled glances. Every trace of Jack's usual world- weary cynicism was gone from his voice, and it was now gentle and coaxing, patient and caring, almost like that of a lover. Sam, in particular couldn't wait to see who he was talking to!
She leant over the bank as Jack had done earlier, and saw the wounded dog. Jack had taken off his battledress jacket, and slid down the bank to within reach of the distressed creature. He had his Leatherman in his hand, wire-cutters at the ready, but the dog, exhausted and weak as she was, was not yet ready to trust him, and bared her teeth savagely as he reached towards her tangled legs.
"With respect, Colonel, I don't think General Hammond will be too thrilled if we have to abort this mission because you've got your hand chewed off by a mad dog."
"She's not mad, Carter, just afraid and in pain. Give me a minute!"
He inched a little closer, stretching out his free hand to the anxious dog and keeping up a stream of fairly mindless chat, about how beautiful she was, and how brave. The German Shepherd watched him edging closer, sniffed cautiously at his offered hand and suddenly decided that Jack O'Neill was one of the good guys. She allowed him to take the weight of her muzzle on his hand, and then lay still and calm while he shifted around and under her to support her neck and head on his legs.
"OK, honey, now I know we haven't been formally introduced, but you're gonna have to trust me on this. I've gotta get that wire free, it's gonna hurt, and it'll get worse before it gets better!"
Sam watched in amazement, as the big dog seemed to understand and give her consent. Jack began snipping and tugging at the wire, cutting it into small pieces and freeing each piece from the dog's legs. As each strand came free he set it on the bank behind him, so that neither he nor the dog could snag it again. His long fingers worked skilfully and gently, and every few minutes he would run a comforting hand over the dog's ruffled fur, to settle and soothe her again. All the while he kept up an affectionate one-sided conversation to keep the frightened animal relaxed. In all the years she had worked and fought alongside O'Neill, Sam had never seen him so patient, so absorbed in a task, or heard him so sympathetic. She knew that he was a dog-lover, that much was obvious when he bought Cassie's puppy, but this was a side of him she had never seen before.
After what seemed like an eternity, the dog was free. She struggled to stand, covering Jack in muddy, stagnant water, but couldn't get out of the ditch.
"Time for a team effort here, baby," said O'Neill. "You're going to let me pick you up and lift you onto the bank. Then you're going to let Major Sam hold you steady till I get up there, and then we're gonna make you feel a whole lot better.
Sam was not altogether comfortable around big dogs, being much more of a cat person, but before she could explain, Jack had lifted the dog in his arms and set her on top of the bank. As Sam hesitated and the big dog staggered, Lucas Bryant dropped to his knees holding a large towel and swathed the muddy creature in it. The dog accepted him as Jack's temporary substitute without question, and Teal'c leaned down a hand and helped a very bedraggled O'Neill out of the ditch.
Luke had already started to examine the wounds, with the aid of some clean water from his canteen. "You OK with this, Bryant?" asked Jack.
"Sure, sir, we've had Shepherds at home just as long as I can remember. This is one fine dog!"
"She will be if she survives. The shock alone could kill her in her condition."
"With respect, I don't think so, sir. Most of these cuts are fairly superficial and she `s got those pups to think of. They're a pretty strong-willed breed, and I don't reckon she'll give up on us now. She's hasn't long to go, I'd say."
The two men worked together to clean the wounds, slathering them in antibiotic cream and bandaging them lightly. The dog watched the work with enormous intelligence and made no attempt to interfere. Bryant snapped the top off the plastic syringe and injected a dose of antibiotic into her thigh muscle, and the lovely animal flinched but made no attempt to bite, watching him with trusting eyes.
While Jack and Luke had been practising their veterinarian skills, Teal'c had organised Daniel and Gustavsson into making a simple stretcher out of a couple of branches and a groundsheet. Sam stood sentry over them all, keeping a watchful eye on the paths through the woods, but also watching Jack. As his strong capable hands eased the wounded animal's suffering, she wondered, not for the first time, how those long fingers would feel on, in, and around her body, and if she would ever get the opportunity to find out. She turned away from the men as a flush lit her face ---life could be very unfair sometimes!
"We've done about as much as we can do out here," said Jack. "She's in fine condition, so obviously someone somewhere cares for her and must be missing her. We'll take a break and then load her up and head for the town."
Once again the dog watched the proceedings with interest as the team broke out their energy bars, and graciously deigned to share Jack's ration, though she did not look impressed with the flavour.
"If you think those things suck, honey, wait till we get on to the MREs!" Jack offered as he cleared up the wrappings and made ready to move out. With Luke's help he slid the groundsheet stretcher under her, and Teal'c and Gustavsson helped to lift her. With the two lieutenants carrying the stretcher and SG1 maintaining guard, they resumed their journey through the trees and down to the small town. As they reached the first of the timber-framed houses the dog lifted her head and barked once, sharply, almost as though summoning someone.
From a slightly larger and more imposing building further up the single street, a small group of people, obviously a family, almost fell into the street in their haste to answer the call.
"Shantih!" the oldest man called.
The German Shepherd tried to stand on the stretcher, but was still too weak. Jack steadied her and ordered his rookies to put the stretcher down. As the family group approached' the dog began to wave her plumy tail, but as they reached her side, she scanned the group and her ears drooped in disappointment as she could not find the one person she sought.
The group, an older couple obviously the parents of the two young men, were all dressed in black. The men wore thick trousers of a worsted-like material with a simple collar-less white shirt and an open black vest. The woman wore a heavy ankle-length skirt and a very plain white blouse. Her hair was covered in a black kerchief.
"Greetings, friends," spoke the father figure. "We know not where you come from, but you return Shantih to us, so friends you must be."
Jack looked pointedly at Daniel. Even when first contacts spoke a recognisable language, Jack always preferred Daniel's tact and diplomacy to his own somewhat blunter approach.
"Greetings, sir. We are indeed friends, peaceful explorers and travellers from a long way off, come here to meet new people and learn of their ways."
"Then you are most welcome. I am Elias Judge, leader of our community here in Leafield. This is my wife, Rebecca, and our two sons Amos and Ezekiel. Before you come further into our township I must ask that you lay down your weapons, as we cannot permit them within our walls."
"We carry them only for our defence, sir." replied Jack. "We come in peace and mean you and yours no harm."
"Any weapon that can be fired in defence can also be used for attack, my son," said the elder firmly. "They may not enter our town!"
Separating Jack from his P90 was never easy at the best of times, and trying it when he was dirty, very wet, and more than a little sore from crouching in the ditch, was definitely not the best of times! Daniel Jackson saw the mulish look on Jack's face and stepped in quickly.
"Look, Elias, I'm sure we can work this out. Let me introduce us all. I am Doctor Daniel Jackson, I'm an archaeologist and historian; this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, he is our leader. Major Samantha Carter is his second- in-command, and she is a scientist. The two young men there are Luke and Gus, they're training with us, and this is Teal'c, who is a Jaffa.
O'Neill watched their reactions to Daniel's last words, but it was obvious it meant nothing to them. Instead Rebecca picked up on Daniel's earlier explanation.
"So he, and she, and the two boys are soldiers. We will have no soldiers here," she said, with as much finality as her husband.
Jack heaved a sigh and was about to recommence the argument when Shantih gave a groan of pain. All eyes turned to her as she stretched out her muzzle to Jack.
"Be wary, soldier. Shantih does not take kindly to strangers." Amos warned.
"Oh, I think we've reached an understanding," said Jack, gentling the big dog as Luke Bryant bound up her tail with his bandanna.
"The first pup is here, sir."
All talk of weapons and soldiers was abandoned as everyone present watched Shantih efficiently deliver her litter. Luke ensured that she had cleansed all the afterbirth, and two hours later six healthy puppies were suckling happily, as their mother still lay on her makeshift stretcher. While the pups were arriving, the SG team had told Elias and his family how Jack had found and rescued Shantih, and they were now regarding him in a very different light, although still not happy about the weapons.
"Come, we can lock the weapons in our wood store. You may have the key, Colonel Jack. Then you may enter our house, wash, rest, eat and drink with us, and celebrate both Shantih's return and her new family."
The rest of the team looked enthusiastic at the thought of real food and drink, so Jack reluctantly agreed. All rifles and visible sidearms were stacked in the wood store behind the house, though Jack gave no instructions about personal weapons, and the Leafield folk did not seem to recognise Tealc's staff as a weapon at all.
"Now you must meet our daughter, Deborrah. Shantih is her dog, and Deborrah has been lost without her."
The team followed Elias into the house, where, in the hall, seated in a rudimentary form of wheelchair, sat Deborrah. She was a stunningly beautiful young woman of perhaps 18 or 19, with lustrous corn- coloured hair bound back from her face and covered with a kerchief like her mothers. She also wore simple black and white, but it could be clearly seen that her limbs were cruelly wasted and twisted, and that her face, though beautiful, had a strange, other-worldliness about it.
"Deborrah is not quite like us," explained Rebecca, with no hint of sadness. "From birth she was different, and now she can do little for herself. Shantih is her hands and feet. She fetches and carries for her, helps her walk a little way, and lightens her moods when no one else can. You can see why we are so grateful for her safe return."
Deborrah's smile lit the whole room as Luke and Gus laid the makeshift stretcher and labour ward alongside her chair.
"Six fine puppies to follow in their mother's footsteps, Deborrah, you are indeed blessed!" said Elias, laying his hand on his daughter's head.
Jack stepped a little closer behind Sam and leant to whisper, "If that's blessed, I'm glad it missed me out!"
Sam gave a very small smile of understanding, and knelt beside Deborrah's chair. "Hello, I'm Sam. You have very beautiful hair, Deborrah." The two fair-haired young women smiled together and Sam touched the girl's hand gently.
"I'm sorry, Major, we take little account of personal appearances here. Our children are not encouraged to indulge themselves in vanity."
Daniel and Jack looked at each other with raised eyebrows but said nothing as Elias continued " Colonel, you are wet and probably cold, and you got that way in our service. Let Amos show you where you can bathe and change your clothes. Do you have something dry to wear? If not, we can supply your needs, I'm sure."
"Call me Jack, Elias, and yes, I have dry clothes in my pack. Carter, you have the comm.for a moment or two. Heads up all round, yeah?"
"OK, sir," said Sam, though she was obviously doubtful that any harm could threaten them on such a peaceful world.
Daniel, as always full of insatiable curiosity, turned to Ezekiel. "So, Ezekiel, what do you do here?"
"Do?" asked the young man.
"Yes, what is your job? How do you earn money, occupy your time?"
"I'm sorry, I don't understand your questions. Job? Money?"
Daniel was taken aback --- "How do you provide yourselves with food and clothes, meet your daily needs?"
"Oh, that is much easier to answer. We farm --- we grow our food and raise beasts for meat and milk. Our land is very fertile, we have good woodlands to supply building materials and our rivers are abundant with fish. Our sheep give us wool and our cows leather, and we have folk skilled in the crafts to use these materials. Is this job and money?"
"Erm, no exactly, but I can see how it would work. What about the things you can't make or grow?" Daniel persisted. "What things would we need that we cannot make or grow?" asked Amos, joining in the conversation as he re-entered the room "We have food, clothing, roofs over our heads, the means to travel to church or to visit friends. What else should we desire?"
Daniel could think of quite a few things, but decided to change tack. "OK, what do you do for fun?"
"You ask many questions, Daniel," said Amos, with just a shade of menace in his voice.
"Yes, I'm afraid that's what I do, it's my part of our journey here, to find out about other people and how they live. When you are not farming or building, how do you relax?"
"We read and learn, we play games, visit friends, our lives are very full."
"So it seems," smiled Daniel, and walked over to join Teal'c by the window. "Anything?"
"There are many people similarly attired, going about their daily business, Danieljackson. I perceive no threat of any sort."
Sam was still sitting on the floor next to Deborrah and her mother, watching over Shantih and the pups. As someone who had always been fit and strong with hardly a day's illness other than mission-related ones, she felt Deborrah's plight keenly. As she talked to the young woman, she found her to be not unintelligent, but very na´ve, talking simply and looking to Rebecca constantly for reassurance.
"You are the first strangers Deborrah has ever met. Growing up in Leafield, all the townsfolk are her brethren," explained Rebecca.
Sam was about to reply when Jack O'Neill came back into the room. He had obviously showered or bathed, as his short grey hair was still damp. He had changed into dry BD trousers, but instead of the usual black T-shirt, he wore one of the Leafield mens' soft white shirts. He had pushed the loose sleeves up above his elbows, leaving his powerful forearms bare, and he had just finished buttoning the front to mid-chest. Sam could see his silver dog tags nestling on a light matting of still-damp chest hair, and felt an urgent desire to rest her head in the same place. He had no idea how devastatingly handsome he looked, and Sam just stared and stared, drinking in as much of the sight as she could hold.
Jack stopped and looked behind him, to see who had followed him in, not believing for a minute that Sam's moonstruck look could be for him and him alone.
"Major? Oh, Carter? Anyone home?"
"Er, yes, sir, sorry sir, nothing to report, sir!"
"God, if anyone else wants to use any sirs this mission, better get `em in fast, before Carter uses up the whole quota.
"Jack, we appreciate that you do not fully understand our ways, but please do not blaspheme in our presence," lectured Elias. "Amos, Ezekiel and I must now go to prayer. You men would be most welcome to join us, but I'm afraid Major Carter cannot attend." "Well, see, Elias, it's like this. I've been to `Four Weddings and a Funeral,' so I've paid my church subscription for this year. Teal'c, as you've probably guessed, practises his own religion. How about you guys?"
Gustavsson declined straight away, but Luke Bryant seemed eager to go. Daniel hesitated, but several encouraging nods and a hefty poke in the ribs from Jack made his mind up, and he and Luke followed the Leafield men out of the door.
By now, Sam had recovered her composure, and was talking again to Deborrah and Rebecca. "So Colonel Jack is your Chosen!" smiled the younger woman.
"What? Oh, no, not at all. He's just my commanding officer, my leader, that's all!"
"Why do you lie?" asked Deborrah.
"I'm not," replied Sam, a little indignantly, "That's how it is!"
"That is what your words say, but that is not what you feel. You are lying both to us and to yourself."
Sam suddenly felt as though the beautiful crippled girl was looking right into her heart and soul, and was very, very grateful when Rebecca announced that they must prepare the evening meal. She called across the big room to where Jack and the others were talking. "If you wish to eat, Jack, you must earn your food. I have kindling that needs chopping, calves to feed, hay to stack, many tasks that you could do while Sam helps Deborrah and I with our meal."
Jack lifted an eyebrow at the thought of Sam cooking, and she frowned back at him, reading his thoughts exactly.
"You sure are a slave-driver, Rebecca, lead us to the grist-mills!"
"The mills are mule-powered, Jack, you are not needed there."
Sam smirked as Rebecca put Jack in his place.
"Teal'c, please wheel Deborrah through to the kitchen, and I will set you to your labour."
Behind the house was a large enclosed yard, with chickens roaming free, and an open-sided barn containing calves. In one corner stood a sawhorse with a double-handed saw and a stack of logs. Further along the side wall was a stable with hayloft above, and next to it was a cart loaded with sheaves of hay.
"You can see the work awaiting you! Choose your own task!"
Teal'c and Gus looked to Jack for guidance.
"You guys take the wood-pile; I'm making hay!"
After some initial difficulty, Gus and Teal'c got a steady rhythm going with the big saw, and made quick work of the stack of logs. Jack, meanwhile, had climbed on to the cart, grabbed the pitchfork and begun tossing the unwieldy sheaves through the door of the loft. It was a skill not easily learnt, to thrust the fork into the sheaf at the right angle to hold it, and then to twist it free to release it into the store, but Jack's movements were smooth and easy as though they came of long practice.
Sam had brought Deborrah's chair out into the early evening sun, and together they had husked a panful of maize cobs, which Rebecca was now boiling. They had watched as Shantih had risen stiffly and carefully transferred the puppies to her basket one by one. Under Deborrah's detailed instruction, Sam had prepared the dog's evening meal, and having eaten and drunk, Shantih was now lying contentedly with her new family suckling at her teats. She had made no attempt to pull off her bandages, and seemed to be recovering quickly.
Sam's eyes strayed across the yard to Jack again. He had taken off his shirt to work, and had been sweating freely, so when the last sheaf was stored he had jumped down from the cart and sluiced off his head and chest in the nearby water-trough. Teal'c and Gustavsson joined him as he stood drip-drying, and as he felt Sam's steady gaze, he turned and smiled. Sam flushed and looked away, unable either to return his smile or meet Deborrah's knowing look.
Elias, Daniel and the others could be seen coming back up the street. They were all deep in conversation and there had obviously been an amicable disagreement. As they arrived back at the house, Elias came through to the yard to inspect their work.
"You have done well, and are deserving of your meal. Join us now!"
Everyone gathered around the huge wooden table in the kitchen, and as the men sat, Sam and Rebecca brought out platters of roast chicken, baked potatoes, corncobs dripping in butter, bowls of salad and baskets of bread. As the women sat down, Elias rose and earnestly recited Grace before gesturing everyone to begin.
Daniel filled his plate and then said, "Going back to what you said in the meeting hall….."
Elias interrupted him "The dinner table is no place for philosophical debate, my son. Here we talk of pleasant things, exchange family news and so on. Now, Jack, Rebecca tells me you have the skills of a farm boy. Was this your first calling before the Army seduced you away?"
"No, I used to visit my Gramps in the country, and his neighbours always cut an acre or two of hay. If I was there at the right time, I'd help get it in, that's all. Oh, and it's Air Force, not Army!"
"Surely one branch of any violent faction is very much like another?"
"Well, no, for a start, we have p.." Jack stopped abruptly as Daniel kicked him under the table. "…Different ways of doing things." He finished feebly, remembering to glare at Daniel.
Luke Bryant jumped to fill the awkward gap. "Who owns the dog that sired Shantih's pups? I'd sure like to see him!"
"There is no sire," answered Elias, "There was no suitable dog in Leafield. The pups are here of Deborrah's wishing" The SG1 team exchanged puzzled glances as Elias went on. "It is too late for explanations now; we will talk again tomorrow."
As Rebecca and Sam cleared the table and brought out fruit pies and cream, Jack looked at his watch. 19.00 hours, and it looked like another hour or two to sunset. There was nothing to be gained by leaving tonight, and there were still a lot of questions needing answers.
"Elias, you must excuse Carter and me for a short while. We must make a report to our commander, and then we will return. With your permission, we will set up our camp in the field behind the house."
Rebecca spoke quickly. "We have more rooms than we need here, there is no need for you to sleep outside. I will arrange it"
Jack was a little surprised that no one asked how he would contact his commander, but put it down to a total lack of interest in all things military. He had no need to tell Teal'c to keep an eye on Daniel and the rookies in his absence, and soon he and Carter were making their way back up the wooded ridge.
"What do you think, Carter?" he asked, glad to be able to get her opinion at last.
"I really can't get a handle on it, sir. There's something very odd about the whole place, but I don't find it threatening, just …..odd!"
"If they mean us no harm, why is Amos tailing us? He's about as inconspicuous as a lighthouse in the desert! When we get to the ditch where we found the dog, I'll drop away, you draw him through and we'll see what he really wants."
As with most of Jack's strategies, it worked like a charm. Amos did not notice Jack moving off the path into cover, and was content to follow Sam through the wood towards the Stargate. Jack circled round behind him and when Sam stopped to retie her bootlace and Amos stopped as well, Jack crept out from the trees, tapped him on the shoulder and said "Boo!"
Amos spun round with a look of amazement on his face!
"Hallo," said Jack pleasantly, " Are you lost?"
"Please don't tell my father. I'm not supposed to leave the yard after our evening meal."
"Your little secret's safe if you tell us why you came after us!"
The young man flushed with a guilty embarrassment, "I cannot," he said, miserably.
"OK," said Jack, "Then I tell Pops about your excursion as soon as we get back!"
"That's a bit harsh, sir," said Carter, "I'm sure Amos only wants to see something of our technology. It's natural for a young man to be more curious about progress than his elders. Isn't that so, Amos?" The young man still looked embarrassed, but now looked puzzled as well. "What is your tek-no-lo gee?" he asked, pronouncing the word carefully. "Why should I be interested in your progress?"
"I guess that's the scientific theory out of the frame," said Jack. "What's left, Amos? I feel I ought to warn you that my patience tank is running on empty."
Amos Judge did not understand Jack's words, but certainly did understand the tone in which they had been delivered. His flush deepened still further. " In our community, a man may not marry until he is thirty years old, and he is not permitted to learn of what happens between a man and his wife until that time."
"Yeah, I can understand how that might be a little frustrating," grinned Jack, " but what does it have to do with you following us?"
"When you said you were leaving the house together, I remembered that Deborrah told me that you were Major Carter's Chosen, and I thought, well, that this talk of commanders and messages must be an excuse, so that you could be together and do………whatever it is that men and women do. I only wished to observe and learn!"
Jack looked long and hard at Sam, and Sam looked long and hard at anything but Jack!
"Amos, Carter and I have to get a message to our commanding officer. No hidden agenda, I promise. Why don't you sneak back to town, and we'll join you when we're done, no more said. OK?"
The young man gratefully crept off back down the path, and Jack turned back to Sam. "Would you have any idea at all what all that was about? How am I your Chosen? What the hell does that mean, anyway?"
Carter quickly decided that honesty was definitely NOT the best policy. "I really don't know, sir, probably some confusion over a bit of military terminology I used when talking to Deborrah."
Jack did not look wholly convinced, but let it go as the light was fading fast, and they needed to get their message through. Carter dialled up the videocom link, and Jack spoke briefly to General Hammond, reporting their findings so far and requesting a further 24 hour stay. Hammond trusted Jack's judgement implicitly and with permission granted, Sam and Jack jogged back to the town through the gathering twilight.
By the time they reached the farmhouse, most of the rooms were in darkness, Elias sat reading by the light of a small lamp, and Teal'c stood by the door, awaiting their return.
"Is everything well with you, O'Neill?"
"Yeah, buddy, everything's fine. We have another day's grace. Are Daniel and the rookies OK?"
"They are all well, and settled for the night. We have a bunkroom, which meets our needs well. I bid you both goodnight." The Jaffa inclined his head graciously and left the room.
"Your business is concluded satisfactorily?" asked Elias with a yawn. "It is very late, we should retire."
"I'm sorry if we're disrupting your routine," said Sam.
"You are welcome guests, but our day begins early, and I am not as young as I once was. Let me show you to your room."
Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Elias had already gone, and was climbing the simple wooden staircase to the first floor. He pointed along the landing. "The sanitary facilities are at the end there. This is your room. I hope you will be comfortable."
He opened the door to a room holding little else but a very large double bed. It was covered with a snowy white comforter, and had four fluffy white pillows. A small cabinet at each side of the bed held a pitcher of water and a glass, and on a wooden rail hung two rough towels.
Jack opened his mouth to protest, "Elias, this is great, but…."
Sam interrupted "Yes, it's perfect, Elias. Thank you so much!"
"You are most welcome, Sam. Deborrah told us that Jack is your Chosen, so it seemed fitting you should have our marriage-bed. It will be some time before our sons have need of it. Goodnight, and bless you both."
As soon as the door had closed behind Elias, the O'Neill volcano erupted. "For cryin' out loud, how many other people know I'm your Chosen? And just who decided? And what does it involve? And are there going to be spectators, with good ole boy Amos selling tickets?"
Carter desperately tried to hush him. "Look, sir, I'm sorry. It's obviously a mistake over something I said. Can't we just make the best of it? After all, it's only one night!"
"So who gets the bed, or do we arm-wrestle for it?"
"We've slept closer than that in tents, sir, it's a very big bed."
"That's as maybe, but in our tents we have closed-in sleeping bags, not nice feathery quilts. I'll go find the bunkroom and cosy up with the guys. Or maybe you take the bed and I'll find a comfortable floorboard or two."
"With the utmost respect, sir, that's just about the most stupid thing you've said today. With your back, you won't be able to move in the morning. We're both grown-ups, sir, we can share a bed without,… well,……. you know."
Jack looked at Sam's earnest expression, and marvelled that she still had no idea how much she tested his self-control. Already, just the thought of sharing the huge bed with her, even as chastely as she obviously had in mind, was sending his blood-flow due south at an alarming rate. Thank the Lord for loose BD trousers! A strategic and swift retreat to the bathroom was called for.
"OK, Carter, but if you touch me, I'll scream!"
Jack went along to the very basic bathroom, and Sam took a deep and shaky breath. She still couldn't believe that Jack didn't see what effect he had on her. Already, just the thought of sharing the huge bed with him, even as chastely as they were honour bound to do, had aroused her to an almost painful level, and with no hope of release. From head to toe, her skin felt flushed and over-sensitised, and she feared that when Jack came back, her face would be announcing `Take me, I'm yours!' She undressed quickly and climbed into the downy mountain, calling up visions of her Dad, General Hammond and anything else she could think of to get her mind and body back on a more Airforce plane! Jack came back to find her tucked in neatly on the right-hand side of the bed. Her clothes were in a pile on the floor, and as far as Jack could tell, she had kept her black T-shirt on. She closed her eyes as Jack stripped down to his boxers, and she felt the bed dip as he slid in at the other side. He blew out the candle and said, "Goodnight, Sam."
"Goodnight si……Jack." She ventured.
Jack smiled to himself as he settled back on the feather pillows. It had been a long time since he had spent a night in a bed as comfortable as this alongside a woman as beautiful as Sam. It really was a pity that this beautiful woman was possibly the only one on this world or any other that he could not enjoy.
Thanks to his Special Ops training, Jack O'Neill was a VERY light sleeper. Sam had once expressed the opinion that a spider spinning its web in his tent would wake him. Thus it was quite a surprise when he woke after a night uninterrupted by noise or nightmares, to find the sun already quite high in the sky. He tried to raise his left wrist to check his watch, and was alarmed to find it pinned to the bed. Crap, he knew he shouldn't have trusted those people! He then started to analyse some very unfamiliar but by no means unpleasant sensations.
Sam Carter was snuggled in tight against his left side, with her fair head resting with his dog tags on his bare chest. His left arm was around her body, and she held his left hand in hers, against her breast. Her leg rested over his thigh, her breathing was slow, and she was still fast asleep.
"Oh crap!" thought Jack, the Air Force side of his brain kicking in slightly before the testosterone driven side. That followed shortly after, and as he tried to think of a good reason for moving, he came up with several for staying put. He lay very still, gently mussing Carter's hair with his lips, and it was several long minutes before she stirred, stretched a little, gave him a sleepy smile and murmured "Morning, Jack!"
She closed those lovely cornflower eyes, and stretched again luxuriously, enjoying every moment, before giving up her hold on sleep completely and opening her eyes fully. She stared at him blankly for a second, took in her position, and leapt from his embrace as though galvanised! Standing at the side of the bed, trembling slightly and looking absolutely stunning in T-shirt and briefs, she stammered, "Holy Hannah, sir, I'm sorry, I didn't, … I don't,……..surely we…….. you couldn't……..I really……oh God, sir, I'm sorry!
"Easy, Carter, let's see if we can make some sense out of this. You seemed pretty certain it was me you were waking up with, so unless I normally monopolise your night-time fantasies, you knew where you were!"
Sam couldn't answer that without telling him that he did indeed fill her best dreams most nights, so she remained silent, her eyes downcast.
"As to whether we `did', rest assured, we didn't, I'd remember! As will you when I DO eventually make love with you!"
The only part of Jack's statement Sam heard was the word `when.' It was a definite `when,' not a vague `if,' almost as though Jack was making a promise for their future.
"Get dressed, Carter, we're wasting time here." Jack had to force himself to use his C.O. voice; Sam still looked bewildered and a little hurt, and if he tried to comfort her, things might get out of hand.
They both washed and dressed quickly, going downstairs to find a simple breakfast laid for them on the kitchen table, and no one else in sight. As they ate, Rebecca came in from the yard, carrying a basket of laundry.
"Good morning to you both, I hope you slept well. I have your clothes here, Jack, the ones soiled in Shantih's rescue. They are clean and dry now."
Sam found herself wishing that Jack would stay in the sexy white shirt a little longer; he looked less like her C.O. in white open- necked cotton.
"Thank you, you're very kind. Where are the rest of my team, please?"
"The one you call Teal'c has gone with Amos to the forge, to collect a plough-share. His strength will save Elias a great deal of effort. Lucas and Gustav are working in the fields with Ezekiel, and Daniel has gone to the town's library with Elias --- we found that the field work made him sneeze rather a lot."
"That figures," smiled Jack, "I'm sorry, Rebecca, I must gather my men, we're here for a purpose, not a summer camp."
"Let them work the morning through. It will be midday before Amos and Teal'c get back anyway. Then, all will have earned their lunch, and you can talk later."
Jack could find no fault with this, and Sam added, "I could check the element tracings, sir."
Rebecca looked askance and Sam explained, "I have some small tasks of my own to perform, if you will excuse me. I'll see you later, sir."
"Later, Carter," answered Jack.
"So, Jack, you may clear and wash your breakfast things, and stack them neatly on the dresser. You may then spend the rest of the morning with Deborrah. She meets so few new people, and craves fresh conversation. I will finish the laundry, and see you at lunchtime."
Jack opened his mouth to say that the last time he took orders from a woman was Mrs.Simmonds in 7th grade, and he hadn't been very good at it then, but Rebecca had whisked out of the door and was gone. Still, he had not had a tough boot-camp sergeant for nothing, and the washing and tidying was soon done. Rebecca had not said where he would find Deborrah, but Jack figured she would not be far away from Shantih and the pups, so he went out to the back porch. Sure enough, the young woman's chair was next to the big dog's basket, and Deborrah held one of the precious puppies on her lap as she and her best friend enjoyed the sunshine together.
"Have you come to talk to me, Colonel Jack?"
"Yes indeed, your mother thought you might care for some company. Maybe I could check out Shantih's wounds while we talk?"
"That would be kind of you. Shantih chooses her friends carefully but well."
With complete trust, the sable dog lay quiet while Jack stripped the bandages from her forelegs. The wounds that had seemed so grim yesterday were now healing well; the combination of antibiotic gel and injection seemed to have done the trick and Jack decided to leave them uncovered.
Deborrah watched anxiously, but gave a radiant smile when Jack reported all was well.
"So what did your father mean when he said the pups were of your wishing?"
"I wished for them. Shantih is now growing long in years, and it will not be fair to make her work into her grave. Yet, she is so much help to me, and I dearly wanted another to succeed her, to train to help as she does. Father took me to the wishing place, and now Shantih has her pups!"
The young woman spoke in such a simple and commonplace manner that Jack had little difficulty believing her. After all, he had seen and heard many much stranger things while gating round the galaxy. However touched he was by the crippled girl, he still had his mission to consider, though, and he needed to find out whether this wishing business, unlikely as it sounded, could be of any use to Earth's defences.
"Do you visit the wishing place often?"
"Only when there is something to wish for," replied Deborrah, as though stating the obvious. "I must go before you leave though, perhaps you would like to take me?"
"Yeah, sure, I'd love to," said Jack, " although wishing places sound more like Daniel's field than mine."
"It is not a field," said Deborrah, her reply sounding so much like one of Teal'c's replies that Jack had to smile." Shall we go now."
"With that be alright with your folks? I don't want them to think I'm kidnapping you."
"They know that I must take you. Come now, out of the side gate and along the trail to the ridge. Shantih, stay there!"
The dog had half risen, but sank again at the girl's command, and accepted the puppy back from her. Jack took control of the chair and wheeled Deborrah through the gate and away from the house.
"Can anyone go to the wishing place?"
"Of course, why should they not?"
"It just seems a little strange, everyone going to get wishes granted for whatever they choose. I thought you folks believed in working for your rewards?"
"I said people could go to the wishing place, not that they could all get wishes granted. The wishes come only through me. Also I cannot wish for things that can be worked for, or gained by personal effort, only for that which is unattainable by our efforts alone. The wishes must be the true heart's desire, frivolous ideas are not countenanced."
"Do you ever wish for things and not receive them?" asked Jack, sending up a small wish of his own that Daniel could be here to help him sort through this.
"No, of course not. The wishes are not always for things we can see, though; sometimes it is to ensure the right end to a situation, particularly if those concerned cannot see clearly what the right end must be."
Jack was silent for a moment, both collecting his thoughts and getting his breath for the short climb up the ridge. Deborrah was light enough, but the old-fashioned chair was heavy, and the track was not easy going for wheels, with tree roots and rocks in the way. As they reached the top, Jack could see Carter below them, tapping data from her soil sampling into FRED's computer. He took his radio from his pocket and thumbed the button down.
"Carter, come in."
Deborrah's eyes widened as Sam's voice came out of Jack's hand.
"It's a bust, sir. Either the MALP readings were wrong or they got distorted in transit, but there's nothing for us here."
"Roger that, Carter, pack up and meet us back at the house. O'Neill out!"
"Why do you not call Sam by her given name, Colonel Jack?"
"Because I'm her commanding officer. It isn't done."
"But you use Daniel's given name."
"Daniel is a civilian, he's only under my direction, not my command, it's different."
"That's silly, especially as you are Sam's Chosen, and she is yours."
"Hold on, Debs, I've read this part before! What is this chosen business, and why do I seem to be the last to know about it?" Deborrah laughed."Oh, that is not true, Colonel Jack. In your heart and soul you have always known, as does Sam. She denies it as you do, but you must come together. Not everyone finds the Chosen; for some there is no one, but those who do are bound to each other in ways too deep to tell, and as true soul-mates must be together. You both must know this to be true."
Such powerful words coming from this twisted elfin frame touched Jack deeply, and he swallowed hard before trying to explain. " What we feel to be true doesn't cut it, I'm afraid. We have rules in our work that say we can't be more to each other than we are."
"But you have no choice, Colonel Jack. You can no more separate yourself from your Chosen than you could cut yourself off from the breath of life. You HAVE to be together, rules or no rules."
"What of Sam, though? Doesn't she get a say in all this?"
"Oh, Jack, her fate is cast as yours is! She loves you, you are her Chosen, but she will not say, because of your silly rules, I suppose. Come, we are nearly there."
She had directed him along the top of the ridge to the end farthest from the township. Deep in the trees, cool and dark, was a small clearing, in the middle of which was a rock formation. A large slab of granite formed a natural ramp up to a small platform. Jack heaved the heavy chair to the top, where, level with Deborrah's trailing hand was a dished boulder containing water. The girl dipped her fingers into the puddle and closed her eyes briefly. As she opened them again she gave Jack a radiant smile and whispered, "It is done."
Jack was utterly bewildered, but nothing else happened and no explanation seemed imminent. He had no idea how to phrase his next question, but needed to ask. " If it's so easy, Debs, why don't you -- -- well-----wish yourself right? You could be fit and well, like the rest of your family."
"Why should I wish to be? I lead a full and happy life, I love and am loved! This is the way and shape that I was made. Would you use a precious gift to be taller, or have different coloured eyes? The way I am is what makes me, me! Do you not like me as I am?"
There was not a trace of self-pity in the young woman's words, only a shining honesty which made Jack feel deeply ashamed." I think you're great as you are, honey," and without knowing why, he dropped a light kiss on her brow.
"We should return now, Shantih will be getting anxious."
"OK, let's race. Hold on now!"
Jack took the chair carefully back down the granite ramp, and through the trees to where the track became more level. Then he picked up speed and, swinging the chair from side to side but always keeping its precious cargo safe, he raced Deborrah back to the farm.
When they arrived back at the yard, everyone else was already gathered, ready for lunch. They careered in through the small gate, Deborrah flushed and laughing, her golden hair free from its kerchief which had got lost somewhere along the way, and Jack breathless but very cheerful. He skidded the chair to a halt in a flurry of sand and pebbles and said, "Howdy, folks, are you waiting for us?"
"It is inconsiderate to keep others waiting for a meal," frowned Elias. "Deborrah, you should wash and get yourself properly attired."
"Yes, father," said the girl meekly, before turning to Jack and blessing him with another of her radiant smiles. Rebecca took control of the chair, and behind Elias' back, also gave Jack a smile very like her daughter's
"I'll go wash up too," said Jack, "Back in five!" He came back properly dressed in his BDU, and looked much more formidable, though to Sam's mind, nowhere near as sexy.
Rebecca had filled the big table with home-baked bread, cold meats, cheeses, fruit and jugs of apple juice. As everyone ate their fill, Jack at last had chance to talk to his team.
"What did you do to earn your lunch, guys? Teal'c?"
"Amos and I visited a blacksmith's forge, outside this community, to fetch a piece of agricultural machinery which had needed repair. On our return, we fitted it back on the plough. It was heavy physical labour, but most enjoyable!"
"That job would have taken all three of us – Teal'c did it on his own," said Amos admiringly.
"Great, good job, Teal'c. Bryant, you next?"
"Ezekiel and I took the chain-harrow behind the draught-horse and harrowed the corn fields ready for the next crop. We had hoped to get one or two fields sown, but we ran out of time." Bryant too had obviously enjoyed his work, and Jack wondered why the easy-going young Lieutenant saw fit to scowl fiercely at his colleague. He found out when he asked Gustavsson about his morning.
"Ezekiel asked me to strip and clean the seed-drill, then fill it ready for sowing, sir. With respect, sir, I joined the Air Force to fly and fight, not be a damned farm hand."
Elias frowned, and Jack jumped in quickly. "Was there a problem, then?"
It was Ezekiel who answered. "He forgot to replace the bung in the bottom of the hopper. He poured in eight sacks of good seed before he noticed it was going straight through!"
"OK, Johnny Appleseed, let's see you in the cockpit of a T38!" Gus sneered, getting to his feet, fists clenched.
O'Neill did not raise his voice, but his words sliced through the room like a whiplash. "Enough, Lieutenant Gustavsson. It seems to me that you haven't earned this meal. You are dismissed from this room – wait at parade-rest in the yard until I come for you."
"With respect, sir……"
"No, airman, out, now!" The rest of SG1 looked at one another cautiously. Jack rarely pulled rank, and even more rarely got seriously angry. Fortunately for Gustavsson, he could read in Jack's face that he meant business, and he saluted and left.
"Elias, is there any way we can make amends for Gustavsson's actions?" asked Jack.
"There is no need, my son, most of the grain was salvaged, and I think that being the focus of your anger is punishment enough. Do not be too hard on what was an innocent mistake."
"You're very gracious, sir! So, Daniel, how was your morning? I understand you went to the library to avoid green, seedy things!"
"Yes, that's right. The library is fascinating, just about all historical and religious texts, with quite a lot of detail on the families hereabouts."
"Anything you've come across before?" asked Jack, hoping that Daniel would understand his oblique question.
"No, nothing," replied Daniel, "It was all new to me," meaning no reference to the Goa'uld or the Stargate.
"And I know what Carter was up to, and I know what I did, so that's everyone accounted for. Now we must thank you for your generous hospitality and make our way home. If you would all gather your personal gear, we'll meet at the wood store in ten. Bryant, pass that on to him out there, please."
After collecting his gear, Jack wheeled Deborrah out into the yard to say goodbye. "The puppies are not old enough to leave their mother yet, but perhaps when the time is right, you could visit us again and choose one for your own."
"That's a really kind offer, Debs, but my life-style doesn't lend itself to me keeping a dog right now. You choose one for me, call it George, and maybe I'll come visit."
Jack held one twisted hand very gently to his lips. "I'm still not sure what you've done for me, but I just feel I've got something to be very grateful to you for. Have a good life, Debs!"
Carter was next to approach the chair, with similar feelings. "I feel as though meeting you has touched my life somehow, but I'm not sure how or why."
Deborrah smiled tranquilly, but offered no explanation. "We all touch each others lives, Sam, be happy."
Jack watched as the two blonde heads merged in a brief kiss. He and Sam shook hands with the rest of the family, the team retrieved their weapons and Jack returned the key.
"OK kids, this is how it's gonna be. I want to speak to each of you in turn on the way back to the Gate, so you'll rotate your position in the formation one place clockwise on my say-so. Daniel, you're with me at the rear; Sam, left flank; Teal'c with Gustavsson on point and Bryant right flank. We all know we've not seen anything dangerous here yet, but that doesn't mean it's not still out there waiting for us to lower our guard, so keep alert. Teal'c, move out!"
With a formal salute to Elias and his family, Jack and the team left the yard and headed for the ridge. "What did you get, Danny?" Jack asked as soon as they were out of earshot.
"Absolutely zip," replied the archaeologist, resettling his glasses on his nose. "There is no history beyond Elias's great grand-parents, and he doesn't seem bothered by not knowing how or why they got here. They exist solely in the present, with no thought for the past and no curiosity about the future. They live by a very strict moral code, but are vague about the nature of the god they worship. It's definitely a mono-theist society, but I…."
Jack's eyes were beginning to glaze over. "How about folks with glowing eyes and snaky innards?" he interrupted.
"Not a mention anywhere. Nor are they aware of the function of the Stargate. I don't even think they'd be interested."
"That'll do for now, Danny, thanks." Jack thumbed down his radio button, "O'Neill, move one."
Everyone acknowledged his transmission and rotated slickly, Lucas Bryant joining Jack at the rear. Once he was confident that the whole team was in place and once again alert, Jack asked for his impressions.
"It's difficult, sir, with it being so new and all. I didn't know what to expect, so I guess I just took'em at face value. They're good, god-fearing people, a little strict and short on fun, but none the worse for that. It's odd that they seem to pay no mind to progress, or moving their lives on, but if that what suits them, I can't see why it should bother us."
"That seems a pretty accurate sit-rep, Lieut, thanks." Jack clicked his radio again. "O'Neill, move two!"
Once again the team rotated, and Jack found Teal'c at his side.
"What you got to tell me, big buddy?"
"Very little, O'Neill. I have not come across the like of these people before. Their way of life is strange, and I found many of their attitudes difficult to understand."
"Let's face it, buddy, you find many of MY attitudes difficult to understand!"
Teal'c inclined his head in solemn agreement. "One thing I must say. Gustavsson is not to be trusted. He has a malicious side to his nature which I find most disturbing."
"Yeah, thanks, I got there before you on that one. Let's see what he has to say for himself. O'Neill, move three!"
Teal'c stepped away to take left flank, and Jack could see Gustavsson approaching from the right. They had reached the crest of the ridge, and Carter was out of sight on the far side.
"Lieutenant Gustavsson, what are your perceptions of this mission?" Jack's cool and formal manner reflected his dislike of this young officer, and jealousy now had little to do with it.
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Granted," Jack snapped crisply.
"I thought SG1 was a crack operational unit, sir, the best of the best. When our training group heard we had drawn you, they were so envious! We were going to get to see the great Jack O'Neill in action, the real warrior who saves the planet single- handed on a daily basis. Luke and I, we reckoned we'd learn more from you on one mission than the rest of our group would learn in their whole off- world programme with the other SG teams. Instead, what do we get? Pussyfooting around a bunch of Amish- thinkalikes, doing their chores and getting nothing out of it. Major Carter spoke of naquadah in her briefing; surely we should at least have come away with mineral rights? As it is, we've come away with nothing. How is that supposed to establish the military supremacy of the SGC?"
Gustavsson ground to a halt as he finally noticed the very, very dangerous glint in O'Neill's chocolate eyes.
"If that's what you think off-world missions are for, Lieutenant, you've got a lot to learn, and I don't think you'll be learning it from me. In fact, I'm not sure that your future lies with Stargate Command at all, and my report on your work will reflect that. O'Neill, move four!"
With very ill grace, Gustavsson moved off to the left, and Sam Carter came back up the slope from the right. Suddenly, Jack was very glad that he had organised things to speak to Sam last. After Gus's outburst, Jack needed the calm and solace that Sam's presence always brought him.
"Is everything OK, sir?" she asked perceptively.
"No, not really. I've just found out that Gustavsson is a real piece of work. Another time, another place and he'd be wearing a swastika armband! Anyway, enough of him, what did you get?"
"Like I said, sir, the mineral deposits are just not worth setting up an operation for. We're no nearer knowing how or why they ended up with a gate, and they don't seem to care. They are obviously very content with their way of life, and I don't believe we have anything to offer that they would accept. My recommendation would be that we put P4X-882 in the `Been There, Seen That' file and forget it!"
By this time they had reached the Stargate, and Teal'c stood alongside the Dial Home Device awaiting Jack's orders. Jack nodded silently, and the Jaffa punched in the seven glyphs that would get them back to Earth. As he pressed the central red dome, the Gate Kawooshed and the glistening silver sheet of the event horizon established itself.
Keen to prove Jack's assessment of him wrong, Gustavsson was determined to be first through the Gate, and he strode purposefully across the grass towards the great circle. He was about two paces away from the horizon when he felt a sudden impact across his thighs and found himself tackled football-style to the ground. By the time he had collected his thoughts and sat up, Jack O'Neill had already rolled to his feet and was brushing himself down, rubbing his sore knee resentfully.
"You know, Lieutenant, I really don't know why I stopped you. Perhaps being splattered all over the iris would have taught you a lesson, except of course that you wouldn't have profited by it much, because you would have been DEAD, you asshole! Major Carter, the GDO if you please."
Sam punched SG1's unique code into the device she wore on her arm, which would alert Gateroom control to their return. The protective iris over the gate would then be released, to allow them safe passage across the event horizon.
"All done, sir."
"Now, Gustavsson, you may lead us through."
One by one, the team went through, Jack hanging back just a little to allow both his temper and his knee to settle down. If he arrived in the Gateroom limping (again!) it would mean another mighty battle with Kaiser Frasier to be allowed to go home, and after Gustavsson, he SO didn't need a night in the infirmary.
"Welcome back,SG1," said Hammond briskly " Any damage?"
"Glad to say, none, sir." Jack leant casually on the rail at the side of the ramp, surreptitiously taking the weight off his knee.
"Good! Then your de-con and medical checks shouldn't take long. Debriefing in one hour, people."
By this time, Daniel and Teal'c had realised Jack's difficulty, and came to his rescue.
"Good mission, Jack," said Daniel heartily, slapping him on the back and slinging an apparently casual arm around his shoulders.
"Indeed, O'Neill, I concur with Danieljackson," said Teal'c, mimicking the archaeologist's actions on Jack's other side, and like some bizarre six-legged creature they left for the safety of the locker-room where Jack would be able to swallow some painkillers before his medical check.
Hammond watched this slightly eccentric exit and looked at Carter. "Major?"
"Excellent mission for team-building, sir. Many bonding moments! In fact, I'd better go and, er, bond as well."
The SGC commander shook his head. There was no doubt in his or anyone else's mind that SG1 were the absolute best, but their behaviour did tend towards the outlandish sometimes!
Ninety minutes later, as Sam had predicted, P4X-822 had been crossed off the visiting list. Jack had decided not to mention the wishing place either in his debrief or his later written report, and curiously no one had raised the strange arrival of Shantih's pups.
"Thank you for your input, SG1. I would like Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter to give me a few extra minutes – the rest of you are dismissed."
Jack and Sam exchanged glances that were more curious than anxious, as George Hammond laid a slim folder before each of them. "These are copies of recently amended regulations relating to this command. You will need to familiarise yourselves thoroughly with them, particularly you, Colonel, as my 2IC"
Jack stifled a groan. He had enough problems coping with all the present regulations, without having to think about amendments as well.
"I expect you to read them immediately, and to sign the docket at the back of the folder to say you have read and understood. After that, you must take whatever action you both deem appropriate. I'll leave you to get it over with!" With something that looked suspiciously like a smile, Hammond returned to his office.
Jack and Sam exchanged another quizzical glance and simultaneously opened their folders. As they read through the short document, their expressions became more and more incredulous, until at last Jack snapped his folder shut.
"I'm not getting this, Carter, bottom line it for me!"
"As I read it, sir, Jack, the Joint Chiefs feel that as our work is so confidential, the only safe relationships we can have are those within the Command, so that from now on the Fraternisation Regulations no longer apply to officers within the SGC. Any relationship must be open and above board, with discretion being maintained whilst on duty."
"That's what I thought I'd read! Sign it fast, Sam, before it disappears."
Both of them noticed the use of their Christian names, and both hearts started to beat a little faster. Jack moved round to Carter's side of the table.
"Did Deborrah tell you about the Chosen?"
"Yes, she did, Jack."
"Did you believe her?"
"Yes, I did. Did you?"
"Not at first, I didn't dare, but now, yeah, she was right! Did she tell you about the wishing place?"
"No, she didn't."
"I'll tell you one of these days. She took me there. At the time I didn't know what she was doing, but I do now ---- she was wishing for us!"
"Isn't that rather a mystical idea for you, Jack? You're a guy who usually prefers more concrete concepts."
Jack pulled Sam out of her chair, into his arms and kissed her long and hard.
"How's that for a concrete concept?"