They came. They came and they frightened the public, and sent our leaders into a frenzy, and caused general chaos. The public wanted to flee. The leaders wanted to fight.
I, on the other hand, wanted to observe. Not because I was particularly pacifist; my motives were not wholly unselfish. The fact was that no one had come to us like this for a long time, so long that their coming was only known of in stories and legends. Stories and legends that were believed - especially those of the demons - but all the same, nothing substantial. These are the things that I've devoted my life to, collecting these old tales, searching the Ruins and speaking to those who were in existence - albeit very young - when the demons came. I could not allow my public to frighten themselves into hiding, taking me with them. I could not allow my leaders to destroy these people out of nothing more sensible than shear panic. This was the greatest opportunity that had ever been bestowed upon my people, upon ME. I had to take it.
Surprisingly, almost shockingly, the leaders agreed. They did so with trepidation, and most likely the belief that I was insane, but they agreed nonetheless. I was granted freedom in this matter and I took it. I took action.
We watched them as they marveled over the Ruins, observing carefully for any indication that they had found us or evidence that we existed. But they found nothing by the hollow Ruins, evidence that we had ONCE existed. They knew nothing. And they prepared to leave.
I prepared to go with them.
I had experienced corporeality before, of course. Not for many years, since it was a children's game, but I thought I remembered enough so that I would not be shocked immediately upon entering the vessel. I was mistaken.
Those of you who prefer or are perhaps contained within bodily forms cannot hope to understand the feeling of taking one on, but for your sake I will attempt to explain it. It is like being trapped and free at the same time, rooted to one spot and yet utterly mobile, ignorant and knowledgeable of everything worth knowing. And this vessel - the smaller one, the female one - knew many things. And she knew how to DO many things. In my experience this was not only unique, this was unheard of.
Taking on the physicality of a 'human', a self-aware being, was something that I had NEVER experienced. The games children play, after all, involve the small insects and animals of our own planet, which are barely more intelligent then a tree or a blade of grass. They know they have to do THIS, and then THAT, and they have to do THAT THIS way or else. But they are not capable of cognitive thought, and are not self-aware. Not like we are.
Not like these people were.
I later berated myself for not expecting it: after all, for these creatures to follow in the footsteps of the demons they so resembled, they had to have at least somewhat ordered thought processes. But foolishly I did NOT expect, and as a result my assignment almost ended before it began. The vessel spasmed as I entered, an altogether interesting experience for a entity unaccustomed to a body. She jerked, tripped, and she - we - would have fallen if not for the quick and strong arms of one of her companions, a man, very tall, very dark. Another comrade made a facial gesture indicating anger, unhappiness, or worry. "You okay?" he communicated, the sound originating in his throat but emerging through his... his mouth, and by his tone, I instantly deduced that 'worry' was what he was endeavoring to communicate.
The terms and language of the creatures - humans - began to assault me immediately, even before the male - Jack O'Neill - had completed his query... and then tripped over his own feet, as though to prove a point. The trick, I knew from my adventures as a child, was to resist the instinctive impulse to tense and fight, and instead let the vessel's mind work for you. There was always the risk that relenting might result in a loss of control, but it was minimum.
At least in the creatures I was familiar with. These 'humans' were obviously stronger of will.
The vessel - Samantha Carter - struggled for a second, but she had been surprised, and it was too late for her to fight me. I was in, and I slackened my hold on her, letting her own words come to our mouth. "Fine," I answered, with just the right amount of briskness and embarrassment. I stood away from Teal'c easy hold and flashed a quick smile at him and Daniel Jackson, ignoring Jack O'Neill altogether.
I marveled at the simplicity of it all. It was so similar to the experiences of my childhood, of taking the form of a simplistic beast. Do THAT that way, say THIS this way, or else.
The vessel's own defense mechanisms would work to my advantage.
The others did not even pause, and followed me to the Stargate. Daniel dialed home, and I sent the iris code through, every motion pure and flowing, without even a touch of hesitancy. These actions were instinctive for the vessel. She had done this many times, this was normal, and as a result it was easy for me to guide her in the direction I wished to go.
Through the Stargate.
To the planet Earth.
The vessel anticipated someone noticing that she was no longer in control of her body, that she was no longer HERSELF... and was decidedly unhappy when it never happened.
My initial reaction to the interior of the SGC nearly betrayed me, however, for no matter how many times she had seen it, I had not, and it was a shock to an entity that lived among the blues and grays of the sky, and the browns and greens of the ground. This was unnatural. Manufactured. Technology... an ugly word.
I looked down at what was slung around my body and gaped. A weapon; I didn't need the vessel to tell me that. And there was another, and another, that I hadn't had the presence of mind to notice before. Jack O'Neill was similarly armed, Teal'c carried a large staff that reeked of ruinous power, and even Daniel Jackson had a small firearm holstered on his leg.
Although there was no use - or application - for weapons on my home, I knew the tales of the demons well. I knew what they were and what they were meant to accomplish.
The comrades began moving down the ramp to greet others in an offhand manner, and looked puzzled as I remained where I stood, frozen by the scope of the room and the new realization that these humans were a warlike people... and therefore, a threat. Like the demons.
My leaders would want to know this when I returned.
And if the HUMANS ever returned, they would not be met with such tolerance.
No one noticed it wasn't her, despite my blunder. It was a miracle, and a testament to the control I had over the vessel. I simply THOUGHT of an appropriate excuse, and it sprung to my lips at once, and the others nodded and turned their backs on me again, sensing nothing, knowing nothing. For a warlike people, I thought, they were surprisingly trusting.
As though through a fantasy I moved in the correct directions, arriving at the correct destination. Shower, dress, let the Doctor perform her pointless tests, meet with General George Hammond, discuss what had transpired on the planet. It was protocol. Procedure. Something done after every mission. Something I could easily fumble my way through.
Daniel was excited at the existence of the Ruins. Teal'c said he had never before been to that world, and that they had found no evidence of a Gou'ald presence. Jack O'Neill added that they had found no evidence of ANYONE'S presence, that the world was dusty and dry and dead and utterly lifeless.
I quashed down a knowing smile.
Still, no one noticed.
I tried to not congratulate myself too much, and then I went home.
To her home.
I went directly to the transportation vehicle I knew was hers, unlocked the door with the correct key, and sat inside. Her actions were almost programmed; I hardly had to think at all. This meant, of course, that utilizing this car to move from one location to another was something she did very often.
I turned on the engine, and in moments was past the guard at the front gate and on the open road. It was then and only then that I permitted her to speak, counting on her own instinctive knowledge of this vehicle to allow us to pilot it and converse at the same time. "You may talk," I said aloud in her own strange language and the thing they called 'voice'.
"I appreciate it," the vessel responded with a surprising measure of anger. The beasts on my home world never became angry when they were utilized. Sometimes frightened, sometimes annoyed, but never angry. Did that mean, I wondered, that these humans were truly of a higher order then the creatures I was so used to inhabiting? Were they more then talented animals?
"You're not a Gou'ald," said the vessel suddenly, her surprised tone echoing in the vehicle's dark interior.
"I'm not," I answered, reassuming control of her voice for my answer. I didn't need to ask what the Gou'ald were, and I didn't want to know. A cold rush of fear and loathing rushed through me/her/us at the very mention of the word, and it was substantially obvious that whoever they were, they were the enemy. They were the reason for the weapons, the implements of destruction, and even that ordinance wasn't enough to defeat their adversary. They terrified and enraged her. Her hatred was one of the things that drove her; to come face to face with a Gou'ald was meeting the ghost, the goblin, the creature under the bed, the boogey-man, the most primal fear. I did NOT want to open myself up to that in any way, shape, or form.
But it was becoming increasingly clear that a major advantage - and drawback - with this species was that immediately as I wondered something, the answer was there, awaiting me in all its unveiled splendor. This had never happened before with the simple organisms of my planet, because they KNEW nothing beyond what their instincts told them. This vessel, she had instincts, but she also had a remarkably sentient mind.
There was an obscure phrase she remembered: 'don't think of an elephant'. The point of the term was that, as soon as somebody told you NOT to think of something, anything - elephants included - you at once conjured up the image of that thing. You were unable to help it, it was automatic and inherent... it was knowledge AND instinct, a melding of the two parts of the mind, a bridge between them.
This assimilation of information which assaulted me seemed to work on much the same principal. I wondered something, and there was what I wanted to know, right in front of me, whether or not the WANT to know was genuine or idle. The Gou'ald were suddenly there... Apophis, Heru'ru, Chronos, Hathor... the long red hair and the handful of fire. Demanding not only life but body and soul, mind and heart, not just her but her friends and loved ones, her species, her method of existence -- way of life.
Despite her, despite ME, the vessel's hands shook on the steering wheel.
"I can feel... I can tell what you're thinking," she said suddenly, and her body automatically flicked a small switch, turning the vehicle to the right. "You don't need to speak aloud. Neither do I." It was an epiphany for her, and one she rather enjoyed. Pleasure at a realization? Incredible.
"I rather enjoy the sensation," I admitted, absorbing all of this as she observed. "It's something I've never encountered, and thanks to the elements of your corporeality it comes quite naturally."
"You've never spoken?"
"We do not have language as you know it, not bodies as you know them."
She did not respond for some time, though I could sense her mind ticking away. Finally, she replied, "You're from P6X-746."
"The world you visited today, that is correct."
"And what did you do? What did you do to ME?" Her voice, like her hands, shook slightly; one word, one name, drifted in and out of my/her/our thoughts:
"I took on your form," I explained, hoping to stave off HER emotions and information with an infusion of my own. "My people were frightened by the presence of you and yours, and wished to destroy you, but I persuaded them to let me observe you instead. It is what I do - study others - though we have not had a caller through the great door... the Stargate... for a very long time. I did not intend to remain very long, but I am... intrigued by you."
"Why didn't we seen any signs of you on the planet?"
"I do not believe we are perceptible to creatures with your limited range of vision," I informed her. It was true; these humans operated almost totally on sight alone, relying also on touch, sound, smell and taste to lesser degrees. In my usual form I could sense things such as energy and motion from great distances, as well as other factors that the humans had no words for. I believed the term was 'invisible'; in our normal state we were invisible to most corporeal creatures.
I suddenly realized that my vehicle was approaching the vessel's home, and pulled sharply into the driveway.
"Well, this 'creature' would like her 'form' back," she said hotly. "I'm very... uncomfortable with this, all right? I mean, it isn't any better then what the Gou'ald do."
Involuntarily, I shivered at the mention. "In a way it is. I have no desire to conquer your planet... why would I wish to? I simply wish to observe you... to learn about your people, and culture, and perhaps discern whether or not you are a threat to us. I'm also regaining total control of your speech centers when I leave this vehicle... I believe we'd appear strange speaking to each other in the company of others."
The vessel wished to retort, but I did not let her.
Following the instinctive patterns of the human woman who called herself Samantha Carter, I shed my jacket, dropping it and my bag in the entryway before heading straight for the kitchen. It took me some time to realize what the purpose of this room was, and when I did I automatically made a facial expression indicating that I found the situation comical. The kitchen was a place to prepare nutrients, and to ingest them.
In the interests of science, I would have enjoyed making a 'three-course meal' but I'd begun to notice a permeating aching and lack of energy in the vessel's body. "What's going on?" I asked her as I opened the door of the refrigerator, a chilled storage space.
"I'm hungry and tired," she snapped, even more irked since I had temporarily cut off her ability to speak. "That's what's going on. I need to eat something, and get some sleep."
I nodded, staring into the cluttered interior of the cold cubicle. "What would you suggest?"
"Oh, for crying..."
"Oh, nothing," she responded acidly. "I've just never been in the position of telling an alien invader in my body what to feed me for dinner. And besides, what's with all the confusion? Don't you eat?"
"We absorb nutrients," I said mildly, opening an adjacent door to a colder cubicle and spying something the vessel's mind automatically identified as a frozen pizza. Quick, palatable... this would do for tonight. I paused slightly before finding the information I wanted, and then preheated the oven. "We don't have corporeal forms, but there are things to 'eat' in the surrounding layers."
"I can't believe I'm..." She sighed. "Tell me about your people."
I paused before sliding the pizza out from the box. This was something completely new in my experience. I wasn't just observing, wasn't just learning, I was interacting. Teaching. Communicating what existed in my cognitive mind. "You truly wish to know?"
"You probably would have gotten along better with Daniel, but I think a little give-and-take is in order here, yeah."
I shrugged the vessel's shoulders in a gesture of nonchalance.
"There is not much to tell," I admitted. "There are no words in your language to describe what we are, where we live... any of it."
"Approximate," urged Samantha Carter.
I thought about that for a second. Approximate? Guess? If I was to tell her of my people, I wanted to be accurate in every account. Suddenly, it was very important to me that this creature thought highly of us, of me.
"Do you exist in our dimension?" she prodded.
There were many applications of that word, but generally, they all focused around the same concept. "I believe so, yes."
"And you saw us, on your planet?"
"We witnessed your arrival. You frightened my people. Badly."
"I convinced my leaders that we should study you, rather than destroy you. We watched you examine the Ruins, and though we did not perceive you as a threat, I was interested by your seemingly high intelligence - compared to other beasts, at least. And so I... assumed your form. I am capable of controlling all of your motor functions."
Having her fears confirmed only served to make the vessel more nervous, but she impressed me by circumventing the emotion. "Uh, alright. What do you mean by 'beasts'?"
"Animals," I explained patiently. "Corporeal creatures on my planet, solid as you are. It's a child's game to assume their forms, for they possess no true intelligence of their own. Not as you do. It is a diversion. A triviality. Fun."
"But you don't see anything wrong with THIS?" the vessel asked harshly.
"No," I answered unequivocally, although doubts had begun to encroach, and she knew it. "I plan to have a look around your planet, learn what I can about it... especially about your SGC. Then I will return home. Think of it as a learning experience. For both of us."
I ate dinner, I watched some of the human's television, but the vessel's body was worn and... tired. The surface path leading to the Ruins was rocky and steep, and I realized that the trek to reach them must have depleted her physically, and that this second ordeal would have exhausted her emotionally.
But I didn't have any such need for 're-energizing', so while she slept I sat inside her quiet, still body, prodding experimentally at her mind now and then and amusing myself by using it. When she was unconscious, it seemed, when she wasn't fighting me, it was all infinitely easier. It was almost as though I were using one of her computers.
She was Major Samantha Carter, a doctor in the U.S. Air Force. Her mother had expired... died Her father was Jacob, now a member of the Tok'ra; her brother was Mark, but her family was regrettably not a large part of her life. Most of her time - time not spent on other worlds - was spent deep within the SGC. It was the base of the Stargate program, where she practiced her science and used her knowledge, part of an effort to stave off and perhaps defeat a parasitic race called the Gou'ald. She was one-forth of a team known as SG-1, along with Teal'c, Jack O'Neill, and Daniel Jackson. They were a team that was more than the collective of associates I had interpreted them as, and that notion drew me deeper.
Of course, I didn't simply get the basic facts. All of the vessel's - all of Samantha's - thoughts and emotions filtered back to me as well, and tiny tidbits of related information. I felt her continuing wonder at what the Stargate was and what it represented. her fear that her best might not be good enough. Her sympathy for all those who had lost during this battle, especially Daniel, after loosing his wife...
The notion of Daniel brought up an entirely new slew of memories; a new train of thought revolving around the members of her team, her surrogate family when the real ones could not be present. Her friends, her base, her support, her proof that humanity was worth saving, and that other people were worth having around. Awkward, intelligent Daniel Jackson. Calm, strong Teal'c. Witty, unfathomable Jack O'Neill. I looked forward to spending more time with all of them.
Especially Jack O'Neill. For some odd reason...
A undeniable sensation of eagerness swelled with me... ME, not Samantha. These were my feelings, this was MY opportunity. There was so much I had to learn about these people, so much to be explored. What I brought back would surpass what my leaders had expected of me. They would not congratulate me for that - they simply would not care - but it would be a personal victory for me as a student of other cultures, on a world that had now only been visited by two types of aliens: the Demons and these humans. Simply finding them was an incredible discovery, almost unsurpassed.
I would learn about their traditions. I would learn about their vehicles and television and frozen pizza, their old and young, their and mating and birth and death. Their friends and enemies.
Daniel, Teal'c, and Jack O'Neill.
"Good morning!" My voice - Sam's voice - was just a shade too bright, and I toned it down.
"Morning, Sam," greeted the spectacled male, Daniel Jackson, deeply engrossed in the disordered contents of his locker. He didn't even glance up at me. "Uh, if you want to change or... whatever... I'll be out of here soon."
"Actually, I was looking for Jack."
Daniel glanced at me over the rims of his glasses.
The vessel, Samantha, a captive audience inside her own mind, cringed.
Ah, yes. From last night's television programs I had noted that it was most common for humans to address each other by the first of two names. However, I had to remember that this was not customary for Samantha, who for some strange purpose called Jack O'Neill COLONEL O'Neill. While I was at it, I had to keep in mind that it was GENERAL Hammond, not George.
"The Colonel," I amended quickly. "Have you seen him?"
Daniel didn't give me a second look, turning back to the jumbled contents of his metal case. "I think he's in his office... trying to hang himself with the phone cord."
"What?" That made little sense, even sounded a little dangerous. Daniel looked at me again, and I started to worry that he was beginning to suspect.
"Paperwork," he clarified, and Sam voluntarily added that Jack O'Neill detested paperwork.
"Thanks," I told Daniel, also directing the comment at the vessel, and turned on my heel. Samantha began to grow nervous. She didn't know what I was planning - I didn't know what I was planning, either, otherwise she would have - but she knew I was planning something.
Something that she probably wasn't going to like.
I almost forgot to knock, stopping just short of reaching for the doorknob when Samantha shouted at me - internally - to stop. "Thanks," I murmured.
"Try not to humiliate me," she begged quietly.
I ignored her and knocked, three times, on the door.
"Yeah, come in."
I had met Jack O'Neill the day before, of course, and seen plenty of him, but that was when I just considered him another creature, having not yet realized that he was one of the few people that played an important role in Samantha's life. Thus he took on a special significance. After all, if I really wanted to learn about these humans, I was going to have to get right in there and work with them, wasn't I?
Yes. Oh, yes.
This human, with his graying hair and brown eyes, could not have possibly looked any different than Samantha if someone had specifically constructed him to be her exact opposite. He was older than she, and was distinctly dissimilar in personality; I knew that simply from my analysis of Samantha's relationship with him. As a matter of fact, I didn't truly understand the friendship they had, but I was determined to. Soon.
The man sat behind his desk, which was covered with several stacks of paper so massive that I couldn't help but stare. All those trees, pulverized and utilized for something bothersome? Of course, the humans would be able to replant them, I realize with a little sigh... another benefit of having a body.
"What's up, Carter?"
Carter? What made these two so different from all other humans that they felt it necessary to use their second names? "Daniel said you might be trying to hang yourself in here, sir," I answered, playing the role perfectly, just the right combination of concern and dry humor. "Thought I might come in and cut you down."
He smirked in acknowledgement of the attempt at humor. "Don't do me any favors," he said in what I surmised was a joking tone.
Slowly, I took my seat in the chair in front of his desk. "So... need any help?"
He looked up at me over the mess, and already I realized that I liked this man... independent of Samantha's natural bias. There was something he looked at me - meeting Sam's eyes perfectly and with a kind of intensity that Daniel's glances didn't include. I would have to wait to meet Teal'c and perhaps some of the others to totally understand this, but it was altogether possible that humans spoke not only with their voices, but with their bodies as well. "Help?" he echoed, sounding just the slightest bit amused.
"With the paperwork?" I clarified, raising my eyebrows as Samantha Carter would. The vessel, watching all of this though her own eyes, was so far unconcerned.
"Oh." Jack's eyes flickered back down to his desk. "Well, first of all, you can FIND it..."
Involuntarily, I laughed. Wow. I had experienced humor before, in a deceptive, detached way, but that was the first time that it had ever caused a bodily response: a laugh. It was so incredible that I almost laughed again, just out of the sheer joy of the sensation. "Maybe you'd better send Daniel in for that," I noted. "He's the one who's good at unearthing the buried and forgotten past."
"Nah, he'd just get lost."
Another laugh. This was fantastic.
UTTERLY fantastic. Suddenly, I had ready-made acquaintances... not just comrades but friends. People who had known Samantha for many years and so suspected that they knew me as well. And it was positively enchanting that even after knowing her for so long, they still had no idea that it WAS me. The atmosphere in the room was comfortable, not at all like what it was: a first conference between two strangers of separate species.
Jack - Samantha had an irrational problem with that first name, I did not - stood and attempted to sort the papers into some sort of pile. A few drifted to the floor and I jumped to my feet, leaning down to grab them. Most were filled with gibberish - codes and doodles and whatnot - and a few were emails, a couple drafts of mission reports... we recognized them without pause.
And a sheet of notebook paper, half-filled with sprawling handwriting, starting with 'Dear Sam,'
Jack grabbed the papers from my hand, and stared at me nervously.
I stared back.
'Dear Sam'? I thought wryly. Whatever had happened to 'Carter'? It took all of my willpower to keep a telltale smile from blooming. Oh yes. These two were certainly worth looking into.
Inside my head, the vessel disagreed vehemently, but I ignored her.
"We have some downtime coming up this weekend, don't we?" I asked glibly.
He blinked at the sudden change of subject, and stuffed the sheet into his pocket. "Uh, yeah. In fact, Hammond said to not even bother coming to work."
"He did?" This, I was certain, was unusual.
"Well, his exact words were 'if you aren't going to get any work done tomorrow, don't even bother coming in."
"Ah. Taking his advice to heart?"
"You bet. And you know Daniel's going to want to go back to 746 and check out more of those ruins... that kid and rocks..."
"In that case..." I tried to tune out Samantha's protests. "Would you like to do something?"
The invitation didn't even phase him. "Actually, I think Daniel's got some conference thing he's going to, and Teal'c-"
"I meant the two of us," I explained.
Jack was silent.
Finally, he leaned his had forward a bit, as though assuming he had misunderstood what I had said and was attempting to hear me better. "Excuse me?"
"You know, just dinner or something," I said casually.
Another moment of silence. A few thousand emotions flashed across the human man's face, and I knew that there was some sort of internal debate going on within him, but I also knew what his ultimate decision would be. Already I was becoming accomplished at reading these people, and I had a kind of objectivity that Samantha had always lacked.
"Uh, okay," he finally relented, looking confused and more than a little uncomfortable; I was delighted knowing that I had put him in such a quandary. "In fact, why don't you come over to my place?"
Ah, so he wanted her on his own territory, his own ground, where he felt more comfortable, in control. Typically animalistic behavior.
"Around six?" he added, looking more nervous when I said nothing.
"Sounds great," I enthused, then I turned and left the room.
As I left the office, exceptionally proud of my performance, I wondered if I should do as the vessel did, and take notes, to remind her later of what had happened, how it had happened, and so on. I went to her lab, uttered a few pleasantries to other SGC members, sat down on her computer, and discovered a special place on the 'hard drive' where she could save whatever files she wanted and keep them from others with something called a password... a code that no one else knew. No one but me.
Her file was cluttered with dull findings from her pointless experiments. I began a document of my own, and wrote down everything that had transpired since they had come to my planet.
It is what you are reading now.
I spent the next few of the human's hours on the 'Internet', a marvelous if bizarre human contraption that allowed me to learn all manner of things about the species.
They valued information, they enjoyed creating, they were obsessed with 'money' and other types of wealth, in producing and consuming. Their corporeal forms were high-maintenance and did not last long, but they differed greatly. Some humans were cynical, others romantic, others destructive. In that small way, our people were very similar, because they were dissimilar.
Though the vessel considered it somehow perverse, the subject of mating intrigued me most of all, because it was so complicated and case-specific, and obviously a topic of controversy. Sometimes these people picked mates for life, as we did, but sometimes they changed their minds. Sometimes they simply went from one person to another. Some mated early, and others never did.
There had been few men who Samantha had considered acceptable companions, but there had always seemed to be personality conflicts, or other trivial concerns that had simply never crossed my mind before. "How do your people reproduce?" I let her murmur.
"We do not categorize ourselves as male and female," I answered in a similarly subdued home, betting that anyone who came upon the conversation would not be able to make out words and assume that Samantha was speaking to herself, not an 'alien' passenger. "When we are young, we pick another, if we so desire, and when we are mature, we invest a portion our ourselves into creating a third. I've never heard of someone choosing and then changing their mind."
"It didn't used to happen so much here, either," she confided. "But in later generations... it's just easier to divorce than to live with somebody that you... can't live with. Take the Colonel, for example. His wife - his mate - left him years ago because of something... that happened to their child. There was an accident... the child died."
The concept was horrifying... I had no young of my own, nor even a mate - my studies kept me busy, and I was generally disinterested in finding another - but to the empathetic, HUMAN part of my mind, the concept of loosing a third - a child - was terrifying nonetheless. The emotions that must cause...
"His mate left him?" I murmured, simply to hear myself speak, not allowing Samantha to verbally reply. According to the rules of this culture, that meant that he was free to choose another, did it not?
Did it not?
"Daniel!" I shouted across the parking lot. The human turned, walking backwards toward his automobile but seeming to be listening to me. "Good luck with the conference tomorrow."
He smiled at me, as though pleased I had remembered. "I don't know why I bother," he yelled back, obviously 'fishing for a compliment'. "I know I just get laughed at every time... wish I could bring in some of my findings... say, P5T-433? I'd have all those hoity-toity university professors eating their words."
I laughed at the image, and Daniel seemed to think that was encouraging. "I'll see you Sunday," he promised with a little wave, and then turned his back, continuing the walk to his vehicle. Sunday? What was happening Sunday?
"I have no idea," said Samantha.
"About what?" queried Jack.
Startled, I unthinkingly let my control slip. In charge of her own body for the first time in twenty-four hours, Samantha was correspondingly bewildered, and as she turned she almost tripped, forgetting that she had some responsibility over the movements of her body. "Sir! I..."
Frantically, I regained my grip on her. "You scared me, creeping up on me like that."
"Must be that special ops training," he observed, and I tried very hard not to let the vessel's form fidget. I was spectacularly nervous; was it just me, or was he looking at me in a very different way? Had he been able to tell that something was amiss? Had the Doctor's standard tests revealed my presence after all? Had my request for a private evening given me away?
"About tomorrow night," he began, and despite myself - despite Samantha - I experienced a curious sensation... it was like my stomach had dropped clear into my abdomen. He had changed his mind. I was unhappy, of course, but the vessel's disappointment was nearly palpable. Certainly a noteworthy reaction.
"What?" I asked, letting just a hint of that chagrin leak through. He noticed it, as well, pausing slightly before answering.
"Turns out the General wasn't exactly serious about not coming in tomorrow... he wants to see me in the afternoon. Something about never turning reports in on time." He shrugged. "Can we... reschedule?"
Samantha wanted to beam. I beamed. "Sure! For when?"
"Excuse me?" I asked, mimicking his earlier actions.
"Well, if you have plans..."
"No! No, no plans."
He jammed his hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground.
I checked my watch. It was nearly eight in the evening. "I have to stop by my house first, but what if I come over to your place around nine?"
He wrinkled his nose, as though it itched. "Okay... do... do you want to go anywhere? For dinner?"
"No," I answered simply, smiling at his reaction to the timely response. "I'll see you at nine," I promised, and turned, walking towards my car... her car... THE car. Only when I reached the vehicle did I glance back in the direction from which I had come.
He still stood there, staring after me.
"Okay, this is all VERY amusing, and you've proven yourself to be an accomplished flirt... but when the HELL do I get my body back?"
I sighed at the vessel's outburst. If she had asked me, I would have told her that I was doing a better job with the aforementioned body than she had. After all, I had just found her a more than acceptable mate... I had to be somewhat skilled at this. But she HADN'T asked me, and I doubted she would. "When I'm done."
"Done?" In the dresser mirror, I saw my features tighten as she took temporary control of her voice, thereby altering her expression. "Done what? Making me look like a total idiot in front of everyone? Changing my life without my permission? You aren't observing any more, you're experimenting with me."
"How do you look like an idiot?" I demanded. "I'm doing everything as you would." Admittedly, I was offended... I HAD been doing well, after all. "And you are pleased that he invited you to dinner, aren't you?"
"Yes... but we, we don't... That's beside the point, okay? The Colonel and I DON'T have that kind of relationship, okay? YOU know that... or you SHOULD. I mean, I never would have gone to him and... done what you did."
Her fury was obvious, and quite amusing. "You are welcome."
"No! Listen... he is GOING to figure out that something weird is going on when you..." She couldn't finish. "He's going to," she repeated weakly.
Checking my makeup one last time, I shook my head. "I only learned of the existence of humans one of your days ago, but already I have learned quite a lot about your people. He might see some things as... uncharacteristic, but trust me, that will be far from his mind."
She knew it, too. "And then what? When you're learned all you can about us? Where the hell does that leave me?"
"I don't know. And I don't care," I lied. "It's not my problem."
She raged as I walked across the room and grabbed a jacket off its hook. "You know the Gou'ald, you know them from my mind. You KNOW what they have put us through and you KNOW that by doing this, you're no better than they are. Now I have tried to stay calm about all of this because it was just harmless research. But now... if I get another chance you had BETTER believe that I'm going to tell him the truth. Maybe nothing showed up with the usual tests but they'll do a MRI or something, find out that you've been controlling me, and they'll get rid of you. Just because you're invisible doesn't mean you're invincible. They CERTAINLY won't let you gallivant all around Earth in my body."
I paused with one hand on the doorknob. I would be late to Jack's, but I had to get her to understand something very important, if distasteful. "Maybe you do not realize this, Samantha," I carefully explained, "but if something happens to you, to your body, it will in no way harm me. I could simply leave you and find another to temporarily claim until I can return home."
The wash of horror tripped my conscience - after all, she hadn't asked to be brought into this... experiment... but I had to keep her from become argumentative, did I not? Too much rested on this night, not the least of which was my own existence. It was a threat, pure and simple, but for my own sake it had to be made. "I would rather it did not come to that," I added after a moment. "In a way, we are very alike. Both scientists. We both value information and insight. That is what I expect to come from tonight. I will attempt to keep you from looking like 'an idiot', but you must relent: I am in charge here, Samantha, and in fighting me you will only injure yourself." I smiled, proud of myself for being able to reason with such a creature, one that seemed to be half-creature, half-sentient being and put me in a difficult situation.
Samantha did not respond... she had all but given up.
"Sorry I'm late."
Jack didn't appear to be sorry at all, and probably in his heart of hearts he wasn't. I had watched him through the window for several moments before announcing my presence on his front porch, as he had paced restlessly around the house, speaking anxiously to himself in words I couldn't make out. I had smiled fondly as I had observed him; he was so different from the others. Daniel was kindly and sensitive, never wanting to say a harsh word to Samantha; passionate, but careful and considered at the same time... above all else an extremely thoughtful man. Teal'c was calm and poised, uncomplicated despite his convoluted past. Ask him a straight question and he would reply with an equally straight answer... and then ask a few questions of his own. Even after years with the humans, he still had an insatiable curiosity about them; it made me wonder if I would even begin to understand them at all.
But Jack... Jack was different. He was a man of many moods, of wit and humor, as passionate as Daniel but not as thoughtful... not nearly as calm as Teal'c but poised when he wanted to be. And he held a strange place in Samantha's heart. Teal'c was the one she went to when she wanted information, or an unbiased opinion, or a good chuckle. Daniel was the one she went to when she wanted to be cheered up, or to vent.
Jack was different, and that didn't have anything to do with the fact she called him 'Colonel'. She'd never spilled out her life story to him... tried to never let him see her at anything but her very best, OR as a woman, for that matter. Even though she knew he tolerated imperfection, she tried to be perfect for him. She tried to be strong, to never bother him...
That was it... that was the difference, I had thought, ringing the doorbell. She did all those things FOR him.
And didn't expect much back.
They would joke and joust, but underneath, it was the most serious relationship she had ever had with another person. She would come to him in time of crisis, when she couldn't talk to anyone else about certain things, when no one else would understand...
Were they more similar than it appeared?
That didn't happen very often, which probably came from her having such a high opinion of him. Their relationship had started out uneasily, with not much chance of success, but for various reasons that Samantha couldn't even deduce herself, she had elevated him to such a place that anything less than excellence was embarrassing and unacceptable.
Yet beneath that reverence, there was something else...
The door had opened.
"Sorry I'm late."
He let me in; I proceeded him into what seemed to be the living area and dropped my purse next to the table. Sam had never been in a situation such as this, I mused. This was up to me, then... I'd be 'flying by the seat of my pants'.
I felt his eyes on me as he followed, and I took and extra long time shrugging off my jacket. There were advantages to corporeal forms after all, it seemed, or at the very least perks. Flirting was obviously the prelude to mating... my people had no such thing. We reproduced because we knew that it was necessary... something that had to be done, no two ways about it. For humans, it seemed, it was different. It included... hormones.
I turned back to him, noting with approval the jeans and tee-shirt... much more enjoyable and conducive to the imagination than the fatigues that Samantha saw him wear most often. Eventually, my eyes drifted up to his face, confused by the expression there, unable to categorize it at all. An expression that even Samantha found unreadable.
And then it vanished, replaced by his usual expression of effortless indifference. "I picked up a pizza if you're hungry."
"Famished," I said.
"...So he jumps out from behind the tree, and Mike didn't even see him at first; almost ran him over. Brian's girlfriend is just SCREAMING at him and all I can do is stand there and laugh my ass off. My parents run out and the she starts crying to them about how I almost killed her boyfriend."
I giggled and almost choked on a wad of hot cheese, slapping a hand over my mouth as I coughed. "Didn't Brian get in trouble?"
"Oh, no, of course not. He was the golden-boy... every mother wanted their very own copy and they didn't dare accuse him of ANYTHING. I kept trying to tell everyone that I was just JOKING and that it was Brian's own damn fault if he thought it was a good idea. But by then I'd already begun to pick up the reputation as a 'trouble-maker'."
"Believe it or not."
I grinned at Jack over my beer. This was a totally different side of him, a side that not even Samantha had seen, a side probably reserved for 'the guys'... I was still trying to figure out if that was a good thing or not. But at least we had broken though the initial veneer of tension, and in a big way.
I shifted the plate on my knees as I replaced my bottle on the coffee table. On the television, a duo of smartly dressed humans droned on about sports, weather, and politics, and I remembered my TV binge of the night before. It had told me quite a few things about the world itself, but most of what I had learned about the species themselves I had learned by spending time with them... most specifically this man.
I dropped another pizza crust on the paper plate and dropped it next to my drink. "I'm stuffed," I admitted, leaning back against the arm of the couch. "Thanks."
"No problem," he responded easily, engrossed in peeling the label off the beer bottle. I marveled at the sudden transformation from Air Force Colonel to average Joe, at the breezy attitude and potential for humor. I wasn't the only one; Samantha was too enthralled by her commanding officer to fight me, and for that I thanked him. This was something new for the both of us.
I offered to take the empty box and plates out to the kitchen, and he helped me gather things up, disposing the trash in the proper receptacle while I wiped the condensation rings from the table top. It was strange, so alien and yet so mundane. I wondered how I would be able to function back home, how long I would feel as though I required a body to get anything done, how long I would miss having hands and feet and a shapely body to impress the 'boys' with. And how long would it be before I could go back to being the single-minded scientist, with no time to find another, to create a child, after I had found this camaraderie in Jack O'Neill?
And after this experiment was over, what about Samantha? I had been cavalier about it before, and it was true that what transpired afterwards would have no effect on me... but I still felt some sympathy for the poor woman. She'd never asked to have her life changed, and for what? My research? Research that would never be appreciated or utilized in any practical manner?
I owed her.
I whirled around, suddenly aware that Jack was standing just behind me, and that he'd called my name - HER name - more than once. "You okay?" he asked, brow furrowing.
"You sure?" He picked up the remote from the tabletop and thumbed down the volume of the television, allowing us to converse more easily. "You've been kinda... out of it, lately."
So he HAD noticed. I launched into my role.
I shrugged. "I guess I've just had... a lot of things on my mind."
"Like what?" asked Jack, and then he winced, as though realizing he'd just unknowingly walked into a difficult line of questioning. "You saw the letter, didn't you? You wanna know about the letter." His face wrinkled in distaste.
I grabbed the remote from his hands and turned the television off. "Yes, I do."
Jack paced away a few steps, and then his hand plunged into his pocket, pulling out the same crumpled sheet of paper I had seen earlier in his office. Jerkily, he offered it over to me, and cautiously, I accepted it, my eyes flickering down to read the words. He jammed his hands back into his pockets and looked away.
My heart rate quickened, although that might have been Samantha's doing.
There's no easy way to say this which is why I'm not saying it, I'm writing it. I don't even know why I'm bringing this up - probably because I'm an idiot and I just have to get this out..."
I scanned the rest, beginning to feel a thick wad of emotion hitching in my chest. So this is what they meant when the advised never getting to close to the patient? Or in this case, the experiment?
Technically speaking, the words scrawled on the page should NOT have affected me as much as they did.
But I played the part. I played it too well.
The hand holding the letter fell to my side. "Why... why are you so upset about telling me this?"
"Why?" he repeated incredulously. "Well, Sam, GENERALLY speaking this stuff isn't supposed to be going on, you know? I mean... Jesus..." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I can't even believe I'm having this conversation with you. You read the thing, didn't you? I'm in love with you and that is NOT supposed to happen. It's just... not a good thing!"
"Why not?" I dropped the sheet, letting it flutter to the floor. The action was not totally voluntary. Deep inside, Samantha Carter was in some form of shock, stilling her emotional responses, shaking her to her very core and bringing a sense of horror down upon her. Why she found this situation so improbable, I had no idea.
"Why not?" He was getting awfully good at repeating me. "Because... because it's against regulations, that's why not."
"If I recall, you're not exactly a big fan of the regs, Jack."
My use of his first name startled him more than it had Daniel, but he brushed past the inconsistency and rambled on. "That... I... You know what? I should have kept my big mouth shut... I..."
"Maybe there's more important things than the regs," I snapped. "Like how we FEEL. All the regulations in the world can't change that. And I... I feel the same way, okay?"
For a long moment, the still, quiet living room was even more quiet and still, until all I could hear was Jack's labored breathing and strains of rock music from down the street. Samantha would have been holding her breath had it been hers to hold, furious at me for doing this to her and yet unable to keep from hoping, hoping with all her soul and part of mine, that he would agree with me. We both watched him carefully through the same set of eyes as he let his gaze drift to the ground, face stonily pensive.
"I KNOW there are rules against this," I whispered, my voice blaring in the utter stillness of the room. "But to hell with them. We're FRIENDS, Jack, and nothing would change that. I know."
Finally, he looked up. His expression was pinched tight, full of pain, an internal pain, a pressure that had the ability to manifest itself on his face. Like a sign, a banner that contradicted what he said. So it was true. They did speak with their corporeal forms. "Listen, Carter, we're exhausted... Neither of us are thinking straight and you've been acting a little weird as it is. I think maybe you should go home."
"And what? Never talk about this again?" I demanded. Samantha felt the same pain of rejection; as much as she despised me for putting her in this situation, this conjured emotions in her that were too strong to ignore.
"It's probably be for the best." His face softened as his eyes met mine. "I don't know why I wrote that letter... I don't know why I wanted you to come over tonight and I don't know why I let you read it. It's probably because I expected something that I had no right to expect, and I wanted to be the responsible one... and now you're standing here telling me that I was right..." He swallowed. "You're right, Sam, we are friends, and we should stay like that. Just... go home."
Was it my heart or Sam's that felt as though it had just been punctured with a variety of sharp implements? As though my life force and hers were draining away. It didn't matter - we'd both feel it as strongly either way. "Please, Jack..."
"And when the hell did you start calling me Jack?" he blurted, breath coming more rapidly. "Just go home, Sam."
He was resolute, standing squarely, looking at me openly, imperiously, leaving no room for debate. And maybe Samantha, had she ever found herself in this position, would have meekly gathered her things and left. But I was not Samantha. And I had invested too much time and risk and - admittedly - personal curiosity - into this entire experiment to have such a setback now. What happened now was a reflection on ME.
And I owed Samantha, did I not? For imposing myself upon her? For making her look like 'an idiot'? For changing her life? THIS would how I would repay her. For doing something she didn't have the courage to do, facing a fear she never would have conquered.
"No," I said determinedly, as though this was my choice, my life.
It took two steps to reach him. Halfway through the first step, he was meekly protesting - "No, Sam" - but before he could complete the objection his lips were quite occupied.
And without a bit of surprise I saw that, for all of his reluctance and rejection, he didn't turn me away. His hands went directly to a almost natural spot on her sides, and his mouth was ready and willing. And mine... Sam's body was as well, as much on auto-pilot as during that first automobile ride 'home'. This was a dance to her, a familiar one, an ancestral one. I loosed my control, and let myself be swept away.
They both wanted - needed - each other.
Now maybe, thanks to me, they would admit that to themselves, and each other.
It was an experience that none of my colleagues back home have ever experienced. It was altogether possible that our ancient ancestors - who we believe had been corporeal - had, but we might never know. Certainly we would never apperceive it. 'It' was a kiss. And according to what remained of Samantha's calm, analytical mind, it was a really good kiss.
His lips devoured mine as though I could nourish him, as though he could draw sustenance from me as my people drew it from the very air. His hands slid around my waist, looping around the back and crushing me against him in a frenzied way that sent all available hormones into overdrive.
Only those weren't MY hormones, I managed to realize. Not my waist, not my lips.
Samantha, who had been dragged into this, who had protested this, who had had no say in this situation.
She was enjoying it, but that was beside the point.
I had only just told myself that I was doing this - knocking down these walls, breaking these barriers - for her sake, correct? And here I was, putting her body through the motions like some voyeur...
This time, if I'd had a breath of my own, I would have held it.
I let go of Samantha. Not just her voice this time, either. Her body. Her mind. I was still here, lurking, deep inside, ready to take control if she overreacted, a spectator as she had been, a watcher in her mind. I worried that, as soon as she realized her freedom, she would alert Jack to my presence... but at the same time, I had to trust her, and hedge my bets that, like him, she would have other things on her mind.
That seemed to be the case.
She didn't stumble or trip; she didn't even falter. Her arms - now truly hers - went around his neck, pulling him down to her even as it pulled her up against him, sending warm electric rushes down her body. I watched in fascination as he tried to urge her mouth open; it didn't take long. She was as enthusiastic about this as he was, as stimulated by the sensations created by the contact of their bodies, and when they paused for breath, it wasn't for long. Her hands moved to his shoulders, and his roamed her back before heading lower, pulling her to him with a primal groan that just might have shocked the daylights out of poor little Daniel.
Sam made an unintelligible sound deep in her throat, and managed to gasp out "You know, if we take about two steps back..."
"To be completely honest with you," Jack replied, furiously untucking Samantha's shirt. "I don't know how well I can do the couch thing anymore."
I chuckled; so did Sam. "How far to your room, sir?" she asked him, sucking in a sharp breath as his hands moved under the blouse.
"Good point.," he quipped, and he lowered her to the floor.
Perhaps some of you reading this might find it distasteful that I stayed for the remainder of the mating, seeing what Samantha saw, feeling what she felt. But the position I was in was distinctly different then if YOU had wandered upon the couple and then remained. This was nothing more than a... vivid lesson into human intercourse... by which I mean communion and communication.
And though these types of things WERE complicated and case-specific, it told me a great deal about Samantha as a human being, a person. She'd had feelings for this man that she did not even consciously know existed, not until I had forced her to face them, and him. Yet still she had obviously realized that these feelings were of sufficient strength to not only sleep with this man but to make that commitment to him. This would be no 'one-night stand'... it COULDN'T be. She had to work with Jack every day, after all, and she wasn't the kind of woman who could easily forget such an encounter.
I'm not sure why she'd want to in any case.
It was only afterward that they had the presence of mind to relocate to Jack's bedroom, to collapse on his unmade bed and, shivering through the sheets and around one another. Exhausted, Samantha pressed her body against his, burrowing into the warmth and softness as though it were a foxhole. "This is an improvement."
"Are you complaining?" he muttered drowsily.
"About you? No. About a potential case of rug burn, yes."
Jack started laughing, not full-blown guffaws but an amused chortle that vibrated through Samantha and set her to giggling as well. He wrapped an arm around her, as though wanting to keep her as close as possible, to let this moment last as long as possible, in case it never happened again. They quieted, and Samantha began to drift off, surprised by how safe and natural it felt to fall asleep in the arms of a man she made official reports to nearly every day. It was only Jack's voice that caused her to open her eyes again, sliding back into temporary cognizance. "What?"
"I just wanted to know," he repeated. "What brought all this on? I mean, maybe I shouldn't be pressing my luck here, but... what?"
"I don't know, Jack," she answered, loving how his name sounded when she said it. "I just haven't been myself lately." She smiled at the old cliché, and the truth in it.
"I'm not complaining."
I watched them sleep. I could have spent this night as I had the previous, searching Samantha's mind for anything useful or entertaining, but I was simply happy to observe them. I drifted from Samantha's body and hovered near the ceiling, staring down at them in the special 'vision' that our kind possess. Maybe, I thought, corporeal forms weren't such cumbersome, flimsy contraptions after all. Perhaps they could be beautiful as well.
I did a circle of the room, scanning the tabletops and floors for anything of interest, determined to learn something about this man not colored by Samantha's esteem for him. I 'saw' it almost immediately: a slip of paper sticking half out of a drawer. I swept closer, using my newfound knowledge of the humans' language to make out the document.
It was a soft blue color, a shade that reminded me of my home skies, with pretty scalloping around the edges. In the center was writing, by a hand I knew was not Sam's, that began with the salutation 'Dear Jack'.
Thank you for being so mature about this. Not to say you're immature but we both know how you can be. I appreciate you're handling it this way, instead. The lawyers will finish drawing up the papers on the 2nd and we'll be able to do this quickly and painlessly... or at least as painless as these past years have been. I have Adam, I have someone to help me through it, and I hope you find someone of your own. Jack, I honestly never imagined that it would end like this. I think it's true for both of us. I really always assumed that we'd both get over it as well as could be expected and end up back together. But we've both grown since Charlie's death. And now you have this big classified project to keep you busy, and I have Adam, and a new life that doesn't include you.
Of course you'll be invited to the wedding. I'd be so happy to see you there.
Take care of yourself, Jack O'Neill.
I waited, watched, hovered like a spirit above the bed. Outside, the star the humans called their sun rose in the sky, hoisting itself over the precipitation-coated peaks and valleys of the mountainous terrain. Inside, the light in the sky filtered through the windows, past the drawn blinds, and speckled the carpeting with pastel shades.
I'd continued my tour of Jack's room late into the night, eager to learn whatever I could about him, but loathe to leave the immediate area in case Samantha awoke. It had been a piece of good fortune that she hadn't had the presence of mind last night to mention her captivity. I wasn't naïve enough to believe that she had simply forgotten about me. It was infinitely more likely that she had grown to have some small bit of trust in me, and was willing to trade her freedom for one night as herself, alone in her mind. With him.
Still, I knew Samantha, and I knew that when she woke, she would put off the news no longer. A single word, a single suspicion on Jack's part, and things could turn very bad very quickly. I'd be perfectly safe as long as I remained blockaded in her body, but I also had the worry of the return home. I NEEDED to get back to the SGC, back to my planet. From Samantha's experiences, I knew that if General Hammond considered me a threat to his people and his base, he would do whatever was necessary to neutralize the threat.
Maybe this would be more difficult than I had suspected. I would need some reason for SG-1 to return to my home world, or I would need to go on the offensive.
If only I had the same disregard for these people now as I'd had when I'd first arrived.
Jack was the first to stir, to wake, and I focused on him, the object of Samantha's infatuation... and mine, to some extent. I admired the planes and curves of his form, and realized that I could now look upon him - both of them - and see something more refined than a beast. An animal. The sudden understanding made me want to laugh, and I would have, if I'd had a body to do it with.
Jack O'Neill pushed himself up on his elbows, grimacing as he then pulled himself into a sitting position, blinking against the sunshine. I watched fondly as he looked down on his Major, and the slightest smile graced his face. She had shared his bed effortlessly, comfortably, sometimes turning her body aslant, and sometimes curving her form to fit his. Now, she slept only inches away, on her side, the green cotton sheet tucked modestly over her chest. Her face was partly hidden by the softness of the pillow, but it was tilted towards him, and both reverently and clumsily Jack fingered one of the golden locks of hair that framed her placid expression.
Still asleep, she reacted slightly, jerking her head in the other direction. A band of sunlight from the window now fell on her face, across one eye, and I waited in anticipation. Sleep, Samantha, I urged. I'm not prepared to end this glad moment yet. I'm not ready.
Jack paused, looking down at his friend, his lover, with that same introspective smile. Then with an air of unwillingness he pushed aside his share of the bedclothes, stood, and briskly made his way into the adorning room. The bathroom. I had explored it the night before. He used a red plastic toothbrush.
No sooner had the door closed then I hazily spied the brilliant blue of Samantha's eyes. One hand lashed out to her side, where Jack had been only a minute ago, and patted at the empty mattress. Still warm, I imagined, slinking closer, watching as her panic grew. Fear of being alone? Or fear of NOT being alone? Could she sense my presence somehow? Or did she simply have an inkling that I had remained?
Water ran in the bathroom; I took the opportunity of the distraction to make my way back into the vessel... although it was more difficult to think of her that way now.
At least control was easier to establish this time; I didn't have to create new moorings within her, I simply grappled for the old ones. And she surprised me by not fighting, not resisting. She had expected this. That didn't mean she was any happier about the situation, however. "When is this going to be over?" she hissed.
"When I say it's over," I whispered with false bravado. It was true that there was much more to be learned from this world, and about its inhabitants. But my doubts of earlier resurfaced. Survival took precedence over academic interest, after all. "I want to get back home."
"That's not going to be easy." Samantha glanced furtively at the closed bathroom door, then stood and hastened back out into the living room, where her clothing had been discarded. The reminders of the previous evening were evident in its state and in the emotions it induced in Samantha.
"We'll find a way," I said confidently, wondering which one of us I was assuring.
One item of clothing after another flew onto her body; the human principle of decency was an amusing thing. Was her intent to leave before Jack emerged from the bathroom? It certainly wasn't mine.
Samantha, at the moment, was too wrapped up in her semi-imprisonment to even think about the man in the other room, the man that she had, so willingly and so without abandon, made love to mere hours before. Or maybe that wasn't it at all. Maybe dealing with me was easier than dealing with the thought of him... for the moment, anyhow. "If you help me to get back home, I will release you," I explained.
"I've heard that one before." Samantha endeavored to move toward the door, and grunted with dissatisfaction when I refused to let her. "Can you travel through the Gate without a host?"
"Vessel," I corrected. "And... it has never been done before. I am unsure. It is different when we are in our natural form, and the air on this world is incomplete... it lacks certain nutrients."
This excited Samantha. "The kind you feed on back home?"
I acknowledged this wryly. It was a piece of information I rather not have, but I couldn't keep myself from agreeing with her. Don't think of an elephant. She knew the answer as well as I, as soon as I. "You only feed now and then, but eventually, you'll starve," she realized.
It would take a month at least for THAT to happen, and I told her as much, forcing her to sit down in one of the kitchen chairs. "I did not expect to become so... personally involved in my work. But as you are an... intelligent being, it was unavoidable."
Samantha's smugness grew. "So what if you can't get back? What if someone figures out what's going on? They won't let you go. Trust me. I've been there before, it doesn't work. And there's no viable excuse for me to return to that planet. You picked the wrong person to infest."
I flinched at her choice of worlds. "I'm not Gou'ald. As for getting back, you must help me."
"And if I don't?"
"As I said, I don't need your body." I truly felt awful making the threat again, it went against everything I had discovered in the past 24 hours concerning these people. Against my newfound appreciation for this species' intelligence. But it was also a means to an end. I HAD to return home, or I would die. If I had to do some nasty cajoling to make it happen, so be it. "A heart attack. A stroke. You would be unconscious or even dead, and then I could move into another." I felt evil, sick, dirty. "Perhaps Daniel. As an archaeologist, there is ample reason for him to return to my world, correct?"
There was no time for Samantha to fashion a sharp-tongued reply; from the doorway between the living room and kitchen came a soft click. A tiny sound that confused me and filled Samantha full of fear and knowledge. Indeed, she was not half as surprised as I to see Jack O'Neill, clothed in shorts and a damp T-shirt, skin dewy and hair dripping from the shower. Special ops training indeed.
In his hand was a gun, and it was pointed at us.
There was terror and loathing in his eyes.
The ride to the base was long, dark, angry. Jack piloted the vehicle with one hand and held a small firearm with the other, keeping it aimed in my general direction. He overestimated me, even after all the lengths he had gone to ensure my captivity. My ankles were pinioned together with an elastic cord, so I could not use them to kick the weapon away. My wrists were handcuffed to a handle on the interior of the vehicles door.
Still he seemed to fear me.
I could only guess how much of my conversation with Samantha he had overheard. Enough, apparently, to see me as a threat. To assume I was a Gou'ald. Whatever he suspected frightened him so much that even Samantha was worried that a wrong word or motion would make him snap. As it was, he glared at me at every opportunity, and took the curves in the road so hard that I was flung against the door.
The man at the front gate admitted O'Neill's vehicle wordlessly, with a anxious glance in my direction. Jack had called ahead, reaching General Hammond on a direct line. "We've got a breach," was all he said. All he needed to say.
A holding cell. A bunk, bolted to the wall and adorned sparsely. Heavy bars, empty walls, the finest security the SGC had to offer. Again, Samantha was reminded of her captivity by Jolinar, her captivity in this room, the rage the alien had felt at this imprisonment. I felt it too, and though I had thought it impossible to become any more nervous, this borrowed memory nearly drove me over the edge.
But unlike that fated time, there was no one-by-one interrogation of the alien menace, no frightened confrontations by one friend after another as they tried to confront their enemy within their comrade. This time they had decided to face the perceived threat together, as a group, united against me and whatever danger I might represent. General Hammond, Daniel, Doctor Janet Frasier, and Teal'c. And, standing apart from them, willingly ostracized, Jack.
"What's your name?" asked Daniel Jackson carefully, ever the peacekeeper.
My reply was automatic. "Major Samantha Carter." I winced as the last syllable slipped past my lips.
Jack crossed his arms.
Daniel licked his lips nervously. "No, that's HER name, that's your host's name. I want to know who YOU are."
I sighed. "For the last time, this is not my host. Samantha is a vessel that I am using in order to interact with you. I don't have a name that I can give you. My people have... have identities. It's nothing I can explain."
A series of unconvinced glances passed through the group, and stopped at O'Neill, who slouched near the door with downcast eyes. I couldn't understand his detachment.
"I am not a Gou'ald," I said again. "Perform an MRI, another ultrasound," I entreated Frasier. "Check for entry wounds. They are none. I'm not damaging her in any way." I don't think, I added silently. The fury in Jack's eyes didn't exactly entreat me to speak my thoughts aloud.
"What about Major Carter?" asked the General, ignoring my encouragement altogether, covering his ignorance with brave words spoken loudly. "Is she still in there?"
"Of course," I seethed, frustrated. "I'd even let her speak to you, but you'd never believe that it was her talking and not me. And that would... hurt her feelings."
"We're supposed to believe that you care about Sam's FEELINGS?" snapped Jack from the corner, staring at me with sudden venom. I squared my jaw and met his gaze boldly. "You were the one talking about killing her and finding another HOST."
Scowling, I replied, "I was only bluffing."
"Were ya now? Well, we're calling it."
"Sir..." began Janet tentatively. "That might not be such a good idea."
I sighed again and then, wordlessly, slipped further back into Samantha's mind, relinquishing it to her. Oddly, she didn't reassume control at once, didn't shout to her friends that it was her, that she was fine, that she just wanted to get this damn thing out of her. She hesitated, watching Janet and Jack squabble, watching Hammond shut both of them up with an irritated glower, and finally I realized that she wasn't all that certain of what to say.
Daniel still watched her, watched us, and was the first and only to pick up on her change of expression, from annoyance to doubt. "Sam?"
The others ceased their arguments at once and stared; Teal'c saw it as well. "Major Carter? Are you well?"
She looked up at him, met Daniel's eyes, made visual contact with all of them... except Jack. For whatever reason were they so awkward with one another? "I'm... okay," she said slowly, flexing her fingers, then running her hands up and down her arms, reassuring herself of her control.
"Have you defeated the demon within you?" Teal'c pressed, uncharacteristically superstitious. The others seemed speechless; at the very least confused as to what to say and how to proceed. Maybe they weren't even sure this was actually their friend talking.
"It's not a demon," Samantha corrected, gratifying me. "It's some kind of alien creature that stowed away back on 746, and as far as I can tell, it's a... scientist. It came here to learn about our people and find out if we were any kind of threat to them."
"And?" Hammond prodded, apparently having put his suspicions aside in exchange for information.
"And... it wants to get back home. It's done with its research."
"'Done with its research'?" echoed Jack hotly. Inadvertently, Samantha looked over at him; I could feel her profound abashment when their eyes met.
Only then did it begin making sense. Jack was trying to come to terms with the assumed fact that Samantha had never wanted to engage in copulation with him, that it had all been a part of my examination into this species; that he had, in fact, been making love to ME. Again, the urge to laugh presented itself. Yes, I had been the one to initiate the evening, but I had SOME scruples. I couldn't imagine myself ever forcing the vessel's body to perform so intimate a task. I had merely taken it to a certain point, and allowed the course to flow naturally from there.
The General frowned. He'd not yet extracted from Jack precisely how I had ended up in my custody. At the moment, it hadn't seemed to matter, but I could tell we were fast approaching the moment when it would. In fact, it appeared that we were here. "Colonel, would you mind giving me SOME kind of explanation here?"
Jack winced, and scuffed the floor with the toe of his boot. "I... I don't know what to say, sir," he choked, not looking at the General, or me, or any of them. Frasier's eyes were closed; Daniel looked rapidly from one of us to the other, understanding dawning with great reluctance. "I made a mistake."
Samantha's cheeks flushed hot with blood; she looked down and away, and I felt her crushing embarrassment. The prospect of explaining to Hammond what had happened, and the notion of simply coming out and telling Jack that it HADN'T been a mistake, really, it hadn't. In a flash of helpfulness I showed her what I had seen that morning, watching him wake up, watching him watch her with that naked adoration, that unbridled awe and pride, that brief moment when he'd been more HIMSELF than any other time I'd interacted with him.
Hammond, meanwhile, was smart enough to know that there were few mistakes Jack wouldn't readily, perhaps proudly, admit to, and like the others had deduced the true answer to his question. "I see," he said gruffly, looking around the room as his shoulders sagged even further under this new weight. Samantha experienced an irrational burst of hope that by the time this "whole pesky alien intrusion business" was cleared up, he would have forgotten all about this uncomfortable exchange.
I rather doubted it.
Daniel coughed a few times, seeming to not know quite what to make of all this and plowing ahead single-mindedly. "Okay... well, focusing on the here and now... what do we do to get this thing... this... BEING... out of Sam?"
Reclaiming Samantha's body instinctually, I smiled at the young man's candor. "You don't have to force me out. I'm not planning on staying here... I never was. All I wanted to do was learn about you, to learn if you were a threat, to learn... to broaden my own knowledge, and the knowledge of my people. And now all I want is to get back home. To rejoin my people and share these experiences with them. I can't do that without Samantha's body, and your help."
"You could have," Jack corrected frostily. "You could have played it safe, waited until we went off-world next time, incapacitated the rest of us and gated back home. Or you could have jumped into someone else. Right?"
"That's right," I said in measured tones. "I could have done that. But I didn't want to."
"Why?" queried Janet Frasier, looking genuinely curious but every bit as agitated as the others. "Why do it this way instead of the easy way?"
I drew two deep breaths of oxygen into Samantha's lungs before answering, mainly to stall for time to think, but also as an automatic reaction to spell of dizziness. Instinctively I knew being light-headed was a bad sign, and I hadn't even had a head for all that long. I needed food. MY food. "Maybe in some part I WANTED to reveal myself to you," I answered briskly, knowing that this was the answer she's been driving after. "But this is also the right way. If you have two choices, doctor, two means to the same end, will you not chose the one that is right, that you FEEL is right? You've been fighting the Gou'ald for so long that you're used to deception, you assume enmity. But I'm not here to harm you. I'm NOT your enemy. I'm not even a scientist anymore. Samantha knows that a scientist has to be objective, to be able to consider all possibilities, to make sure that she rules out nothing. I lost that neutrality when I realized that you are PEOPLE, just as we are... not soulless creatures, not mindless beasts. Different, yes, but beautiful in form and thought. THIS is what I will take back with me," I gasped, feeling the last of my resources being to edge up on me with the very force of my fevered appeal. "I also hope to take back your trust. Your friendship. We've been isolated for millennia, but that does not mean that there is no hope for camaraderie between us... for an alliance."
Hammond's eyes gleamed at that; no matter how far-reaching his concern for Samantha, the thought of an alliance brought a new sweetness to the deal. "Would your people help us in our fight against the Gou'ald? An enemy you don't exactly have to contend with?"
There were two directions to go from this... tempting promises or dangerous reality. "I would do whatever was in my power to make it so," I swore. "I feel the same hatred for the Gou'ald that Samantha does. I know your fight as well as she."
Two armed men and a sandy-haired archaeologist stood watch over me as I typed. The allure of a potential ally only took one so far. In this case, it was taking me to Samantha's lab, and then it was taking me home.
"I'm not sure I follow," said Daniel.
Samantha's fingers flew across the keys as I answered. "We have no language. We have no alphabet. We share our memories as a collective group and the truth is thusly known. You cannot do this."
"For you and for my own piece of mind, it is important that I chronicle these events," I said proudly, because the Chroniclers were the most beloved characters in our mythology. "This way, you will have a record of the things that happened here."
"ALL of the things?" the young man pressed, glancing at the computer screen and then away, still digesting the things he had just learned about Samantha - "Sam" - and Jack O'Neill.
"All of the things," I confirmed, smiling. "It can only be retrieved with Samantha's password, of course. You will only know what she chooses to tell you."
"Or what I chose to hear," Daniel smirked.
I nodded, typing furiously. Between my own memory and Samantha's, dialogue was captured to the letter, and events were in perfect order. "That too," I agreed, and then paused. Looked up at him. Chuckled.
"What?" He was self-conscious, just remembering that the other participant in this easy conversation was a untrustworthy alien being.
"Nothing," I said at first, correcting myself only a second later. "In the beginning of this, Samantha wondered why I had chosen her to be my... my vessel, and not you. We have much in common, you and I. Our study of ancient lands and tongues. Our loneliness."
He didn't argue either point with me. "Why WASN'T it me?" he asked, shuddering a little, obviously unable to identify me with the Gou'ald the least little bit.
My smile even brighter, I turned back to my record. "Luck," I announced. "Pure chance. She and Jack were closest to me. She was smaller, I guessed that she was perhaps an easier target."
I shrugged my shoulders. Samantha's shoulders. "And I'm glad. I have nothing against you, Daniel, but if it HAD been you... this would not have been nearly as fun as it was."
This is the end of my account. Jack O'Neill alone has volunteered to escort me back to my world, my people, and he will be ready soon. Hammond wished for the entire team to go, but Jack reminded him of the possibility of bringing back more 'uninvited guests'. The fewer people exposed to my planet, he reasoned, the safer for everyone. Knowing how my people are, how insular, I disagree, but it doesn't matter. Hammond trusts Jack. It will be just the two of us.
No, the three of us. Only two will return.
If this account is completed, it will be by the same hand, but not the same mind. Whatever else is written here, either in my voice or Samantha's, will be her decision. I will leave with her what memories I can, and hope that I am less of a hamper on her life than Jolinar has been.
And one more thing, Samantha.
It's been fun.
Once again, She saw the planet through my eyes.
Why I assumed that my... passenger was a female, why I started thinking of Her as such, I didn't know. I still don't. Maybe it was because we were so integral a part of each other's minds that I affixed my own gender to it unthinkingly. Maybe it was because it had been this other being who had initiated the night with Colonel O'Neill, and it was therefore more comfortable considering it a She. Or maybe it was just something senseless and automatic.
That was what She thought.
My body walked with the Colonel to the edge of a small bluff, only a hundred feet or so from the Stargate... the great door. Though it had presented a challenge our first time here - the only way to get down to the ruins was a circuitous route in the opposite direction - it provided a wonderful vantage point. I remembered feeling as though standing here, I could see at least half the world.
"Nice place," muttered Jack sardonically, his eyes flashing across the terrain as though he were seeing it for the first time.
My head nodded in wry agreement. She appreciated human sight... for all Her talk, She enjoyed the sense: appearance and color and all the things that came with having eyes and a skull to keep them in.
Standing at the foot of the Stargate, letting my vision trawl across the horizon, I realized that it WAS my vision again. She was still there, lurking, but I'd regained control over my body again. Quickly, I looked over at the Colonel, eager to speak to him with my own voice... but something stopped me. And it wasn't Her, not this time. It was the far-away look in the Colonel's eyes. The distant, removed quality. He wasn't here... he was far away, out there, somewhere...
I followed his gaze, wracking my brain and my guest's; She was, after all, a scientist, and She had Her own theories, plenty of them. She believed that Her people had at one point been corporeal, that they had simply evolved into their phantasmal state over the long course of time. She believed that when her people HAD had bodies, they had used those bodies to construct magnificent cities, buildings, homes, temples. They had used metal and stone and unnatural materials.
But none of it had survived.
The sky was a pastel blue, tinged with purple near the horizon: broad, blank, and cloudless. The skyline didn't stretch across the planet's curve but, instead, jabbed at the heavens with juts and crags and serrated mountain peaks the color of ash. Clumped together protectively in the mountains' shadow was a plucky grove of what appeared to be trees, brush... alien vegetation but vegetation none the less. That was where the animals lived, I deduced, and She agreed. That was where the children played.
The valley below wasn't half as lush; it was desolate and dead and unwelcoming, a graveyard full of the bad feelings of the people buried there. The more immediate ground, directly beneath where we stood on the bluff, was red and chalky with rust and sand. The occasional wall still stood, but it was worn and rounded and almost shapeless. Front yards were indistinct rectangles bordered by pebbles that might at some point have been full-blown rocks. Windows and doorways were vague holes, crumbling at the edges, and if plants had ever grown along some indistinguishable street, they had long ago decomposed and become a part of the dusty earth.
"If that's how it happened, they must have evolved quickly," I murmured, remembering Daniel's excitement at this great find. "Or not even this would be left."
"I'm starting to think that it wasn't evolution at all," She answered in my voice, and strangely, I didn't mind sharing it. "What if we did it on purpose? What if generations ago, we purposely changed our forms? There are advantages to being invisible, after all."
"Just ask the Nox," I quipped.
Jack tilted his chin. "We were running from the Gou'ald. The records don't say, but it must have been them. They would have enslaved us, they would have done everything they did to you. But you can't make a host out of a creature that has no body."
I frowned at this odd statement, and She asked, "Who are you talking about? Who was running?"
Jack looked at her and smiled with a smile that was not his own.
"WE were," he explained pedantically.
Oddly, She understood before I did, and the knowledge became available to me with surprising slowness. I clawed for it, grasping at the tiny sinews of comprehension, and then it became clear to me as well. Mingled awe and fear and amazement bubbled to the surface of this coherent thought, although which emotions were mine and which were Hers and which were a product of both our minds was impossible to tell. We took a step away from Him in concert.
My 'passenger' had not been the only 'uninvited guest', not the only stowaway from this planet.
"You followed me," She accused, recovering quickly.
The person who was not really O'Neill shrugged O'Neill's shoulders. "It's not that the leaders didn't trust you, it was that... that they didn't trust you." Obviously, He'd picked up some of O'Neill's sense of humor... "You're a scientist. They didn't know if they could trust your judgement, if they could rely on you to tell the truth."
"I couldn't possibly lie about it," She said angrily.
"They weren't confident about that. These vessels aren't like anything we've ever seen. You could have... picked something up from them. You might have tried to protect them."
I raged silently in my captive mind, cursing my blindness. When we had gone over to the Colonel's house, seen him in the window, pacing, talking to himself, he hadn't really been talking to himself, had he? He'd been doing the same thing I had with Her, speaking aloud to the thing in his mind.
When he'd tripped over his own feet during our first visit to this planet, it hadn't been just a random act of clumsiness. There had been a temporary loss of control, a moment where neither he nor his new tenant had command of his body. Just like what had happened to me. But I'd been too panicked at this intrusion, too worried about She would do to me and to my friends, to even consider that She hadn't been the only one to return home with us. But HOW could I have missed it? How could I have possibly? It simply didn't seem like something I wouldn't see, that I wouldn't recognize.
Most telling... he hadn't questioned "my" odd behavior. He'd interacted with me on a different level, had dinner with me... had sex with me...
She was aghast at this, and at her countryman's words. "You know full well that they are MORE than just vessels. You can't compare them with the creatures on this planet. They're just as intelligent as we are. Perfectly sentient."
"I KNOW that," said the alien with the Colonel's voice; he sounded annoyed and more than a little defensive. "I've gotten to know Jack very well, all right? As a... human being. As an intelligent life-form. And I know the conventions. I know you know them."
"So that was your whole reason for following me back? Making sure I didn't get in too much trouble? Making sure I got home?"
"The first one. But you did anyway. Because your trouble involved me... and him."
"I made your job difficult?" She asked, barely restraining her smugness. "Is that why you felt that you had to scare both of us half to death? Pulling a gun on Samantha... pretending all that time that you actually thought she'd been taken by a Gou'ald. That's sick."
He snorted. "It had nothing to do with revenge. It was what Jack would have done."
"You're right. Samantha never even suspected. You played a good part," She admitted grudgingly, not quite letting the comment evolve into praise.
"Better than you," He agreed.
She sighed explosively and turned away.
'Do you know him?' I asked Her, inside my own head for once, forming the words silently, more of a concentrated attempt at communication than a instinctual give-and-take of information.
'It's hard to tell," She answered. 'These bodies... But I think I do. I think I know. He has favor with our leaders... He is brilliant but arrogant, suspicious of anything new, a defender of the old ways. I'm surprised by His theory... that the Gou'ald were here, that they forced our people into some manner of biological hiding. It's controversial, unconventional, unlike Him. Perhaps He has been as influenced by Jack as I have by you.'
'Maybe', I thought, nervously. 'But last night...'
'The conventions He talked about were established not long ago, in anticipation that one of the creatures whose form we took turned out to be sentient. They are rough laws for dealing with sentient corporeal beings, based on common sense and courtesy. What happened last night,' She gently clarified, 'happened between the two of you, you and Jack, not this... man and I. He would not have forced your friend to do anything he did not wish to do. He would have treated Jack in the same manner that I treated you. I hope, I HOPE, that it was one of civility.'
I wasn't sure what to say to that, what to think, because She HAD been harsh and threatening on occasion, She'd had ill will toward me at the beginning, and She'd only slowly come to realize that I WAS, in fact, a 'sentient corporeal being'.
But She also had never forced my body to attack my friends. She had never brought us to the brink of death with a grenade held in a heavy hand. She had never taunted and teased those I loved, and had never planned on putting my body in any kind of position where She might be forced to give Her life for me. And She had given me a gift, one that had gone largely unappreciated. She had given me a night with Jack O'Neill, one illicit night, that we could blame on outside forces. Even if that wasn't truly the case. Even if it had REALLY been us.
I didn't answer Her unspoken question directly. She had seen all this, felt all this, and She knew all of it now. So all I thought was 'thank you', and the soft blossom of gratitude that bloomed inside me was from both and neither of us.
And then I fell.
I was still on my feet, at the very edge of the brink, standing solidly enough, but I fell anyway. Part of my mind fell, fell out, fell down, fell away. Blinking hard against an unnaturally bright sky, my brain suddenly home to only one set of thoughts, I looked to the sky and, for a second, I saw Her. A gray-blue bruise against a lavender-blue sky, a mist, a vapor, rapidly receding. And beside Her, another amorphous shape, twisting and twining in the sky before following His companion into infinity, invisibility.
The rust-red ground far below dipped and bucked; I waited, horrified, for it to rush up to meet me, to feel the irrefutable maw of gravity pulling down on me. But it was only a momentary spell of dizziness, and when I came back to myself I found I was merely kneeling on the bluff, not dashed upon the time-worn ruins.
I glanced over in time to see O'Neill fall back hard, right on his ass, reminding me of the trials and tribulations of a toddler just learning to walk. The Colonel threw his arms out behind him, landing hard on the heel of his palm, and using that support to keep himself at least semi-upright.
Carefully, I moved away from the precipice's lip, toward him, glancing over my shoulder only twice in search of the two indescribable twists of color and energy. "Sir... are you okay?"
"Okay," he muttered back, blinking rapidly and then scrubbing one dusty hand over his face. "What the hell just happened?"
A strange, strong disappointment caught in my throat. "You don't remember?"
"Of course I remember," he said sharply. "It was kind of a rhetorical question, Carter. It's just... why the hell..." He looked up at the sky with a familiar form of trepidation, an anxiety that sent painful shivers through my body, and then ruined the moment of solemnity by sneezing violently through the dust on his face.
"You were afraid," I observed.
The Colonel gave me a pointed look, but softened almost immediately. At least, as soft as he ever got. "Yeah," he admitted, still making no move to rise, still staring up at the heavens as though he expected our visitors to spontaneously reappear, having changed their minds, having decided that they like being corporeal after all. "I don't like that... not being in control, ya know?" He narrowed his eyes in thought. "Was that... was that how it was with Jolinar?"
"No," I said, swallowing hard, leaning my knees into the unforgiving ground. "That was much worse."
He said nothing, but met my gaze squarely. Although he was silent, there was an odd kind of appreciation in his eyes, a kind of pride. Discomforting as it was, I relished it.
A breeze swept between us then, and we both jerked in fear that it was MORE than a simple current of air. The soft confessional over before it could begin. I leapt to my feet in something akin to embarrassment - embarrassment of many things but mainly for the situation we had put ourselves in - and offered him a hand up. It was an automatic reaction; I didn't expect for him to take it.
Of course, he let go a split-second later, as soon as he was firmly on his feet, but the warmth and strength and texture of his touch remained on my skin like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. It engendered the memory of that touch on other, more intimate parts of my body, and I gave a delicious shudder before I could think better of it.
God, tell me that wasn't how it was going to be from now on... every time we touched, I wouldn't be reminded of... THAT... would I? The memory would fade, right?
Again, I glanced at the alien sky.
"This is going to take some explaining," the Colonel muttered, wiping his hands off on his BDUs and looked at the Gate apprehensively.
"At least we CAN explain it," I thought, realizing too late that the words had actually passed my lips and O'Neill was looking somewhat ill. Damn it... it had been too long since I'd been able to talk whenever I wanted to; two days and I was already out of practice. "What I mean is..."
"I KNOW what you mean," he interrupted in that same tone of 'of course, it's obvious, I know'. "But... it was... it was you, right?"
"Yeah," I agreed, too quickly. "It was you?"
He nodded stiffly, mutely, looking over the edge of the bluff again, as though he might just leap off the edge should this conversation proceed too far.
My relief was short-lived. "But... but He" - I looked to the sky again to clarify, as though He and She could be used to mean anything else but the creatures that had slipped on our bodies as though they were clothing set out for Their use - "He was in your body for a reason. He knew about Her. He was THERE to keep an eye on Her. So you... you must have known. You knew that it wasn't really me."
"Most of the time," he agreed, not looking confused by my diatribe, just edgy. "But... when we were... when you..." He grimaced at his inability to communicate, forced his weight against his words, and let them rush out in pounding fragments. "When we were together, I knew it was you, Sam. We both knew."
The Colonel smiled, a real smile this time, one of pleasure and of pleasant memories. He even laughed a little, and looked away from the brink, sudden shyness casting unfamiliar shadows on his face. "You called me "sir"," he said.
It wasn't like we could delay this any longer; in a few minutes, Hammond would open up the gate from their end and send a MALP through to find out what the hell was going on, and that would lead to a level of General irritation that we didn't need. But there was so much unsaid that we couldn't say there, that we could just barely say here, and I was afraid of cutting off that line of dialogue, of forever
closing behind us.
But I entered the first glyph anyway.
"Are we okay with this?" asked the Colonel suddenly, from where he stood in front of the DHD, in a very small voice. SO small, so nervous, so indicative of an frightened and overwhelmed little boy that it startled me.
"If by "okay" you mean "the same", of course not," I said philosophically. Second glyph. "We just have to think of Hammond."
"I've always liked 'under the influence of an alien life form'."
I smiled sadly. "Sounds good." Third.
"You know, it's times like this that I miss retirement."
I swallowed thickly. Countdown, homecoming, was suddenly no longer something to be feared. It was something to be ATTAINED before the Colonel said something we'd both regret, and always remember. "When you're being trapped by invisible aliens in your own body?" I asked, nervous. Fourth.
I didn't dare look at him. Too much would be written in his face.
Didn't he understand? He couldn't look at me that way, he couldn't think about us in that way, we had to blame it on Them, all on Them, on spirit-like beings that couldn't be tied down or blamed or court-martialed or accused of being anything less than what they were.
Fifth glyph. My hand shook as I pressed it.
This wasn't the right time, this wasn't the right place, and the fact that we were the right people couldn't be allowed to be anything more than coincidence.
Automatically, I looked up.
"How EXACTLY do I know that you don't have some big blue blob in your head still?"
I ducked my head to hide my smile.
"I mean, geeze, we could be starting this thing up all over again," he proclaimed, overly dramatic, overly exuberant; I pretended not to notice for the sake of the moment. "Not that I don't trust you or anything, because ya know I do... but seriously, you'll understand... if you ever walk into my office and offer to help with paperwork, so help me..."
I entered the point of origin and obliged him with a chuckle.
Then I engaged the wormhole, Jack sent the code, and we went home.
Not the right place, not the right time... but places and times change, don't they?
And if they do, and years from now I forget and find myself wondering how it could be, how it could have been, how it WAS for one singular night...
I can look back at this record and be reminded.