He was back.
Daniel Jackson was back.
Exactly why he'd returned hadn't been fully explained. He didn't seem to want to dwell on the subject nor was he particularly forthcoming when it came to answering her questions. "I miss home," he'd said, all the while brushing her off, "it's as simple as that, Sam."
It wasn't simple, though. Not in the slightest.
Major Samantha Carter believed him when he said he'd missed his home and needed to find that sense of belonging again. She couldn't fault him for wanting to return to Earth, to a life that only just passed as being normal. She was glad he was back, she'd missed him a lot but... His return had caused several complications that no one else seemed to want to acknowledge.
To the outside world, he was dead. They'd had a memorial service for him. Raising him from the dead metaphorically speaking was a complication, one General Hammond was saddled with solving.
He had nowhere to live. Granted, it was a small complication but still a problem that needed to be sorted. His belongings had been moved into storage but his apartment had been sold. He couldn't stay on the base indefinitely; he'd made it clear he wanted his full life back. He'd just have to work it out by himself, Sam decided. It wasn't that she was purposely being cruel or uncaring, but she didn't have the time to spare to help him out and was pretty sure the rest of his friends didn't either.
He wanted his life back - and with it, his position on SG-1. That was what was causing her so much trouble. Not that he wanted to be back on the team - she could understand his request and supported it, too, but she couldn't stop her mind from wandering to the person who'd miss out if his request was granted.
Jonas Quinn had spent just over a year on SG-1, working hard to overcome the hurdles he needed to get over to become a fully-fledged, fully accepted member of the team. He'd given up his life to join them, asked for a position on SG-1 so he could fight for his planet and his people, as well as for Earth. He'd more than proved his worth. He was a very valuable member of the team and deserved the right to stay there.
A five-person team wasn't unheard of in the SGC but both Sam and Jonas had been dismayed to find that wouldn't be the case for SG-1. If Daniel wanted to rejoin the team, someone else would have to leave.
"Last one in, first one out." Jonas himself had been the one to tell her that, sadly packing away the few belongings in his - Daniel's - office that he could say were truly his. "Don't worry, Sam. I might get put on another team soon."
It wasn't fair, though. That was the thought that kept her going. She couldn't see why there couldn't be five members on the team at once. She thought Jonas and Daniel would be able to work well together, maybe even cut down the time spent on translating important texts by half...
Apparently she was the only one with that view. Everyone at the SGC, even the people who knew him only by name, had welcomed Daniel back warmly, failing to remember all about the Kelownan who'd worked so hard to fit in. Even Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill were so enthusiastic in their greeting of the absent archaeologist that they'd seemingly forgotten about the man who'd slowly become someone they could call a friend. Both of them did sudden disappearing acts whenever she tried to bring the subject up and tried to get them to think about what Daniel's return might mean for the team. Teal'c, surprisingly, had made his excuses and left to meditate. The Colonel, predictably, had turned her attempt at a conversation back on her: "Geez, Carter, anyone would think you didn't want Daniel back."
His words weren't true and they both knew it. The Colonel had only said it to avoid what he knew would probably turn into a confrontation. It was something he did regularly, especially if he knew she'd be arguing on the right side.
She had grieved for Daniel more openly than most. She'd lost a brother as well as a friend, and the weeks and months following his 'death' had seen her at her most vulnerable since her mother had died. Of course she was pleased he was back, but that didn't change what had happened. She'd moved on; they all had. Allowing things to go to the way they once had been somehow seemed like taking a step backwards.
Daniel deserved to come back and Jonas deserved to stay. Sam felt like she was being forced to choose between the two of them and that was a choice she would not make. The whole situation seemed unnecessary and childish to her. Surely, there had to be a way to make everyone happy?
Her feet stopped, the automatic pilot she'd zoned into letting her know she'd reached her destination. She swallowed hard, fighting back a wave of apprehension. She had to - wanted to - speak to the General on Jonas' behalf. There wasn't anything wrong with that, so why did she feel so nervous?
Taking a deep breath, Sam knocked on the door to the General's office, knowing he was alone after a quick glance through the star chart that doubled as a window into the briefing room.
General George Hammond had had one hell of a day and the clock on the edge of his desk wasn't making him feel any better. According to the inanimate object, he still had half a day to put in before he could go home. He'd been on the telephone all morning with the President, the Joint Chiefs and several colleagues at the Pentagon, all of them trying to help him bring Daniel Jackson back to life. At twenty past one, five hours after he'd first picked up the phone, he finally had some resolution: Daniel Jackson would be found alive and well by the Air Force by the end of the day.
He was ready to go home, to call it a day, but the annoying clock on his desk refused to tell him he could.
The knock on the door to his office made him groan aloud, eyes rolling back into his head as he rubbed his temples wearily before uttering a one worded command.
Hammond looked up as Major Carter stepped into the office, studying her discreetly as she closed the door behind her and moved to stand at attention. Something was bothering her, he could tell. In her outward posture, she was the cool, calm, collected Air Force officer. To anyone who knew her well, she was struggling internally with a decision or a problem that was weighing heavily on her slender shoulders. The General knew enough about her and the way her mind worked to know whatever she had to say would probably be something he didn't want to hear.
"Major Carter, at ease." He smiled slightly but she failed to return it. "Please, take a seat."
"Thank you, Sir." She gulped under his scrutiny and helped herself to the chair opposite his desk, clasping her hands in her lap to prevent herself from fidgeting. "I hope you don't mind me coming to see you without making an appointment, Sir."
Shaking his head, he leaned back and tried to guess what was wrong. Nothing sprang to mind. He'd thought she'd have been the happiest officer at the SGC given the events of the previous few days, especially since she'd been the saddest when Doctor Jackson had left. "Is there something on your mind, Major? You look troubled."
"Yes, Sir. I am." The Major took a deep breath and lifted her head so she could look him in the eye. "It's about Jonas, Sir, and his position with SG-1."
General Hammond blinked once. "What about it?"
"I don't think he should be kicked off the team just because Daniel's back," Sam blurted out suddenly, the words tumbling from her mouth in a rush as she released the breath she'd been holding. "I know Daniel has every right to come back to the team and I think he should, he deserves it, but I don't think Jonas deserves to be pushed out. There has to be a way they can both be on the team, it's what's fair..."
"A lot of things in this world aren't fair, Major. You know that." General Hammond couldn't keep the quizzical note from appearing in his voice when he spoke. "I thought you of all people would be thrilled to have Doctor Jackson back... Jonas will be given another assignment, Major. It's not like we're sending him back home..."
"But you can't guarantee his assignment will be on another team and that's what he wants to do." She gazed at him pleadingly, needing him to understand her plight even if no one else did. "General, you're the one who persuaded us to give him a chance in the first place, you said we owed it to him... Surely we owe him more than this? He's proved himself to everyone, even Colonel O'Neill and that's saying something!"
He was silent for a moment, staring at her curiously. "Does Colonel O'Neill echo your sentiments, Major? Because when he was in my office yesterday finalising team assignments he didn't seem to share your concerns about Mr. Quinn."
"He... Colonel O'Neill didn't mention you'd finalised team arrangements." Her lips drew together in a thin white line, her blue eyes narrowing. "I thought everything was still being discussed."
"I'm sorry you weren't told, Major, but the paperwork has been signed for the most part." He seemed genuinely apologetic but, to Sam, his sympathy felt condescending. "As of tomorrow, Doctor Jackson will be back on SG-1. Jonas' new assignment will be finalised by the end of the week."
Crossing her arms over her chest, she looked him squarely in the eye. "I see. Well, I'm sorry to have bothered you, General." Anger coursed through her veins, colliding with disappointment and defeat. Sam stood up stiffly. "I just thought my opinion might count for something."
The words slipped out before she had time to think them through.
"Your opinion does count, Major Carter, but unless you're the commanding officer of the team in question or the CO of the entire base, you do not get a say in team assignments." General Hammond also rose from his seat, eyeing her in surprise. "Is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir." The nod she gave him was curt at best. She made her way to the door, assuming she was being dismissed without actually waiting for the words. Her behaviour, she knew, had him puzzled because Major Carter usually didn't make trouble, and she usually accepted what she was told like the good officer her father had taught her to be.
Well, she was sick of it. In her time with the SGC, she'd been given countless orders that she personally disagreed with but because of her position, because of her up bringing, she'd always done as she was told. She'd always followed orders and more often than not had to deal with the fallout when they went wrong, not to mention her own guilt and remorse... She was sick of it.
"Actually, Sir, I do have a say in team assignments. At least in SG-1." Turning on her heel, she stalked over to the General's desk, holding her head high with her shoulders squared. She met his eyes defiantly, the voice inside her head that spoke up whenever she was forced to do something she didn't want to do urging her to go on. "I'd like to ask for a reassignment, Sir. Either to another team, or the lab."
The General looked stunned for several long seconds, speaking to her only after he'd had time to take in what she'd said. "I won't approve that reassignment, Major, you know I won't."
"Then I'll resign. You can't stop me from doing that." The voice in her head stopped shouting for her to continue and started yelling at her to stop. Standing up to him and asking for a reassignment was one thing, threatening to quit was another altogether...
"You're not thinking straight, Major." Hammond moved around to her side of the desk, studying her in the hopes of finding some sign that she didn't mean what she was saying. "I understand you're upset and I'm willing to chalk your behaviour up to the emotional strain of this week... Take some time, I was going to give SG-1 a week's downtime to get used to the situation..."
"I won't change my mind, Sir. I'd like a reassignment." She wet her dry lips and continued to stand at attention. "If you don't approve it, I'll go to someone else and if they won't, I'll quit."
His hands on his hips, General Hammond shook his head disapprovingly. "What would you achieve by leaving, Major? You're needed here, you like it here... I can't believe you really want to throw all of that away..."
"I don't want to, Sir, but if I have to, I will." Her tone softened but her posture remained determined. "Jonas can have my position on SG-1. I'll be happy with another team or another assignment."
"Jonas will not necessarily be given your place on the team if you leave, Sam." He spoke gently, trying to persuade her to change her mind. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"Yes, Sir." She took a deep breath that was slowly released. "Should I have my resignation on your desk by the end of the day?"
Slowly, Hammond walked around to his chair, sinking into it as the headache he'd felt earlier came back full force. "That won't be necessary, Major. I'll approve your reassignment. I'll see what I can find that you'll hopefully agree is suitable."
"Thank you, Sir. I appreciate it." Major Carter managed a small smile and turned again for the door. This time, she made it out of the room with no second thoughts or interruptions.
General Hammond watched her go, staring at the closed door for a long time after she'd left.
The regret she was expecting didn't come, not as strong as she'd thought it would anyway. She sat alone in her lab, looking around, remembering the past. Sam hadn't told her team, she hadn't seen any of them to tell. She didn't know how to explain what was going through her mind; she couldn't explain it to herself let alone anyone else.
She remembered the past missions she'd been on with SG-1, with both the old team line-up and the new-soon-to-be-old. When she'd transferred from the Pentagon to the SGC, she hadn't known what to expect from the others she'd be working with. She'd read Colonel O'Neill's report but that was it. She'd thought Daniel was dead, didn't know Teal'c existed never mind Jonas! It was hard to believe those four people, two of them aliens, would become closer to her than her own family; she could never have guessed that joining the SGC would mean finding such amazing people she couldn't imagine no longer being part of her life.
SG-1, being a part of it, had meant so much to her, become such a big part of her... Even just a month ago she couldn't have imagined giving it up and yet, here she was. Doing just that. And it didn't feel half as bad as she had expected.
There'd always been the possibility of moving on. She couldn't stay on one team all of her life, at least not in position as the team's Second. Both the General and Colonel O'Neill had mentioned in passing that she was practically ready for a command of her own - the only reason she hadn't been given one was because of their reluctance to break up a group of people who worked amazingly well together.
That had changed with Daniel's leaving; the door had been opened, allowing room for change. Then Jonas had joined and it'd been closed. And now, Daniel was back and the door was open again. It was her chance to move on and spread her wings and she didn't feel bad about wanting it. New opportunities were open to her, or would be after her reassignment was made official - both personally and professionally...
"Hey, Sam." Jonas walked into her lab without knocking, something unusual for him. She understood, however, when she looked up and found his arms were full of the boxes she'd seen him packing earlier on in the day. "Mind if I put these in here? I don't know where else they could go, Doctor Jackson wants his office back, I think..."
"You're welcome to keep them here, Jonas. While it's my lab, anyway." She got up off her stool and walked over to him, relieving him of his load. "I didn't think you had so much."
"I don't, not really." Jonas grinned, setting the last box down on the empty work counter. "I just have a lot of heavy books. I don't get to go shopping a lot so I usually spend my pay check ordering books from the Internet." He sat down on one of the free seats in the lab, watching as she did the same. "Are you okay, Sam? You look a little... resigned? Is that the word?"
She smiled in spite of herself, seeing the concern in his eyes. She wasn't as close to him as she had been to Daniel - she wasn't even that close with Daniel anymore - but she was starting to think of him as another brother. He was certainly another protector at least, Teal'c and the Colonel must have given him lessons behind her back. "I'm fine, Jonas. Just trying to catch up with everything that's going on."
"Yeah, I know what that feels like." He gave her a small grin that didn't last very long. There was something she wasn't telling him and he was determined to find out what. "Has anything else happened that I should be aware of?"
Inhaling deeply, Sam exhaled slowly, folding her arms over her chest. "It won't stay secret forever and you might as well be the first to know..." She swallowed hard and met his gaze. "I went to talk to General Hammond about keeping you on the team. Apparently, he and Colonel O'Neill were in talks yesterday and finalised the new arrangements for SG-1."
"And I'm out, right?" His ever-present grin slipped a little, and the sparkle in his eyes almost faded out of existence. "It's no big deal, Sam. We knew it was going to happen..."
"I asked to be reassigned, Jonas. I don't know if you'll get my place or if the General will think SG-1 needs another scientist on the team but I had to do something." She gave him a soft smile when he froze, an expression of astonishment on his face. "I didn't think it was fair the way you were being treated."
His mouth snapped shut and he sat up so quickly he almost fell onto the floor. "You can't do that! Not because of me! SG-1 is... You're part of the team! The original team! You can't leave it!"
"I can and I have." She managed a one-shoulder shrug, a tiny part of her wondering if she'd made the right choice before the majority of her mind quashed it ruthlessly. "It's not just because of you, Jonas. I've been on SG-1 for over six years; it's time I let someone else have the chance to be on the SGC's flagship team. It's time I started doing something different."
Jonas was still doing a very good impression of a goldfish, staring at her as if she'd gone crazy. Sitting there with him gawping at her, Sam felt as though maybe she was. "Are you sure it's what you want? I mean, they're not gonna be happy when they find out. Colonel O'Neill in particular is going to be furious..."
"That's my problem and I'll deal with it when the time comes." She gave him a smile that made her look more confident than she felt. "I don't want you to feel guilty about this, Jonas. It doesn't really have anything to do with you, I've just seen my opportunity to do something different and seized it."
"Aren't you a little sad?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He'd read the reports, seen her in action with the team... He'd never seen her more alive than when she was working side-by-side with Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill... She was never happier than when she had a new puzzle to solve... "Where do you think your assignment will be? You'll stay with the SGC, right? Maybe you'll get your own team! That'd be cool, wouldn't it?"
A bubble of laughter escaped her lips. "Remember to breathe, Jonas. I'm a little sad, yes. More than a little if I'm honest but I can't stop feeling like this is the right thing to do. As for my reassignment, I don't know where it'll be yet. Hopefully it'll be here, there's plenty of teams that could do with another scientist or I could always work full-time in the lab... I don't know yet. I hope I can stay here, though. I can't imagine leaving the SGC as well as SG-1."
"What are you going to do when Colonel O'Neill finds out?" Jonas seemed uncharacteristically nervous, reaching for a pen on the bench, twirling it in his fingers. "He isn't going to be happy, he'll try and make you change your mind..." He started chewing on his bottom lip, appearing guilty when he dropped the pen, his eyes falling to watch it bounce across the floor. "Do you think he'll blame me?"
For the first time since making her decision, Sam hesitated. She thought his question through, trying to decide whether the Colonel would blame him or not. It was true, if it wasn't for the changes facing the team she wouldn't have started thinking of leaving but Daniel was as much to blame as Jonas. And it was her decision, it wasn't like anyone was forcing her into it... "No, Jonas, he won't. Don't worry, okay? I'll explain everything to Colonel O'Neill, and Teal'c and Daniel and anyone else. Believe me, this is not your fault. I wouldn't have chosen to do this if I didn't believe it was right."
He nodded and managed a small smile, a shadow of the grin that was usually spread across his face. "If you're sure you're doing the right thing...?"
"Absolutely certain." She gave him a wry smile. "Almost."
"Well, you're braver than I am." Jonas' smile widened a little, his eyes getting a little brighter. "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when he finds out..."
The light coming in from the hallway was suddenly blocked. Both Sam and Jonas looked towards it, seeing a dark, looming shadow in the way. The shadow moved and stepped into the light, revealing itself to be the form of one very angry Colonel.
"Carter. My office. *NOW.*"
He turned on his heel and departed as quickly as he'd arrived. Sam got to her feet and sighed heavily, walking slowly to the door, feeling as though she was about to go head to head with a barrage of System Lords and their battalions of Jaffa.
"Sam?" Jonas gave her a weak smile when she turned to face him, giving her the thumbs up when he was sure she was looking at him. "Good luck."
There was no one to get in her path as she made her way to the Colonel's office, following the man himself at a slower pace. Anyone who would have been in the way had surely jumped out of it as soon as they'd caught sight of the glowering Colonel. Taking a deep breath, Major Carter looked up to find he was standing outside of his office door waiting for her, arms crossed with his foot tapping impatiently on the ground.
Without saying a word, she moved passed him and walked into his office, taking her seat without being asked.
Behind her, the door slammed shut with such force it rattled for several seconds.
"What the hell are you playing at, Carter?" Colonel O'Neill stalked around to his side of the desk but remained standing, glaring down on her. "Go tell Hammond you've reconsidered and you're staying with SG-1."
"No, Sir." Resolutely holding his gaze, she held her chin at a defiant angle. "I've made my decision and I won't change my mind."
Cursing under his breath at her stubbornness, Jack ran a hand through his hair and slumped into his seat. He stared at her unblinkingly, trying to figure out what was going on in her mind. Sometimes he could read her so easily... Others she was a complete mystery. "I don't get it, Carter," he finally said, internally admitting defeat. "I thought you were happy on SG-1... I thought you'd be happy now Daniel's back..."
"I am, Sir, on both accounts." She relaxed slightly, relieved to see a little of his anger drain away. After six years together he obviously knew he wouldn't get anywhere by losing his temper with her. "However, I don't think it's fair Jonas loses his place on the team because Daniel decided he wanted to come back, and I think it's time I personally move on. You and I both know SG-1 is one of the few teams with an almost constant line-up, Colonel. Everyone else has shuffled around, trying out new positions... I think it's time I did that."
"So this is about Jonas?" His body ached with tension, his shoulders squared and his back painfully straight. "You're willing to give up SG-1 for him?"
Was there a note of jealousy in his voice or was she imagining it? Shaking herself mentally, she ignored the voice in her head that smugly told her there was. She wasn't leaving because of Jonas... If she was going to leave for anyone, it would have been for... "No, Colonel. That's not it at all. I'm not leaving the team because of what's happening with Jonas, not directly. I'm not leaving out of protest, I asked for a reassignment because it's the right time. SG-1's line-up will be changing because Jonas is out and Daniel's in; it makes sense that if there's going to be any further change it should happen at the same time so everyone can get used to it."
"Do you want your own command? Is that it?" Taking her by surprise, he leaned over the desk, staring her intently in the eyes. "Because it'll only be a matter of months, maybe a year at most before I won't be fit for field duty... Command of SG-1 will pass to you if you stay with the team..."
"That's not it either, Sir, and I think you know it." She gave him a small smile, hoping he would stop taking her decision so personally. She could tell by the confused expression on his face and the slightly hurt look in his eyes that he was thinking maybe it had something to do with him. She should have expected that. Whenever something happened that he saw as being bad, he always tried to shift the guilt onto himself in some way. "I don't think I could ever accept command of SG-1. It would feel wrong. I've been on the team for so long as Second that nothing else would feel right. There's only one commander of SG-1 and that's you. When you do leave... I'm willing to bet there'll be no original members of the team serving under a new CO. It just wouldn't be right."
"Teal'c and Daniel would stay if you were put in charge... Can't you wait until then to get your reassignment?" The hope in his eyes died after only a few seconds, the expression on her face answering his question. "Okay. So that's a no. I just don't get it, Carter. This isn't like you... I know you've been through a load of sh... bad stuff...but I didn't think you wanted to leave."
She shook her head in response at his words, leaning forward in her chair ever so slightly. It was important that he understood, she couldn't let the conversation end until he did, knowing he'd find someway to make himself responsible for her decision. "Colonel, what we've been through on SG-1 has nothing to do with my decision. I don't know exactly how to explain it. All I know is that it feels right to move on at this point in my career, and my life. I love working at the SGC, I love being on SG-1. I hope this isn't the end entirely; maybe I'll be assigned to SG-1 once in a while if a situation calls for it."
"You're just saying that so I stop trying to talk you out of it." The Colonel regarded her carefully, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. "You really want to do this?" Their eyes met and he found his answer. "Okay, I'll meet with Hammond later and sign the paperwork. Just promise no one's going to regret this."
The smile she gave him was warm and confident, certainly more confident that she felt. Sam entwined her fingers in her lap and chewed on her bottom lip. "I hope no one will, Sir. There should be nothing to regret." She paused and looked down at her hands. "I won't be part of SG-1 any more by the end of the day. Feels strange to say that."
"Tell me about it." He rolled his eyes and studied her again. She seemed sad but not devastated, and she seemed more nervous than anything else. "You have any suggestions for who we should have join?"
He couldn't bring himself to say 'replace you.' He already knew no one would be able to do that.
"There are plenty of officers I'd say were capable, Sir." She smiled slightly. "It depends on whether General Hammond wants someone with a scientific background on the team, which I think he will. So it really depends on who refuses to be intimidated."
His expression was a comical one of mock innocence, his tone indignant. "Are you saying someone might find me too intimidating? Should I be insulted?"
"Of course not, Sir." The cheeky grin she now wore seemed to suggest otherwise. "But I feel it's my duty to point out that we went through numerous trials before finding a replacement for Daniel in Jonas." Her grin faded and an almost coy smile took its place. "I have to admit to finding you pretty intimidating when we first met."
"Really?" His interest was well and truly caught. Mimicking her earlier position, he leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk between them. "You were?"
"Yes, I was." Her gaze refused to leave the clasped hands in her lap. "I'd memorised your report, Colonel. It was more than a little nerve-wracking to meet you in person."
Jack tried to wipe the pleased grin from his face but was pretty sure he hadn't hidden it in time to stop her from seeing it when she looked up to see his reaction. The light flush that stole across her features was a bit of a giveaway. "You hid it well, Carter. I wouldn't have known if you hadn't told me."
A charged silence fell over them. They held the other's gaze, identical smiles in place on their faces. The air between them grew heavy, but it was thick with tension that had little, if anything, to do with the choice she'd made.
Sam was the one to end the silence by clearing her throat, breaking eye contact by glancing around his office, her gaze never lingering in one place for long. "So."
"So." He tried to recapture the moment but frustratingly found her eyes refused to stay put long enough.
Clearing her throat again, Sam stared at a part on the wall just above his head. "I'm sure you'll have no problem finding a replacement for me, Sir. I know at least half of all officers on base would love to join SG-1 and I'm sure more than one of them will have an appropriate background."
"It's not just about finding someone who wants to join the team, Carter. It needs to be someone the rest of us like who fits in." It was his turn to avoid looking at her as he continued voicing his thoughts against his better judgement. "I think it'll be harder finding someone to take over from you than we did for Daniel."
"You really think so?" Her eyes were fixed on him, watching intently for any sign that he was possibly only saying it to make her feel better, feel guilty or as a last ditch attempt at getting her to change her mind. "Why?"
The question made him look at her and once again, their eyes met. "Because you can't be replaced," he said with all honesty, trying to resist the almost magnetic pull. If he could only look away, he could stop himself from saying too much... "Whoever joins the team will be a stand-in, Sam. Until I leave, you'll always belong on SG-1."
"Why only until you leave?"
"Just... because." He couldn't bring himself to say what was going through his mind. He had a reputation to protect, not to mention the fact he didn't consider himself to be a hearts and flowers, traditional romantic type. So he couldn't say what ran through his mind. He couldn't say it was because he thought of her as belonging at his side. If he did, she'd either hurt herself laughing at him or be so embarrassed she'd never be able to speak to him again.
She smiled anyway, despite his avoidance of the actual question. It was a shy smile, though, uncertain, and that immediately put him on edge because Carter rarely let it show so obviously when she was uncertain about anything. "You won't be my CO anymore once the transfer is complete."
"I realise that." He caught her eye warily, both anticipating and dreading where she was taking the conversation.
To his relief and disappointment, she chose not to say anything else. Her silence and the tentative smile she gave him spoke volumes. A slow, matching grin spread across his face and their eyes held. Nothing was said because nothing needed to be.
"Yes, Sir. I understand that but... No, Sir... No, Sir. I agree but I also feel they're needed here... Yes, both of them, Sir. No, I don't think he'd be a threat to security... Hard feelings? Well, it's possible, Sir, but Jonas Quinn has been here for over a year, I think everyone involved has worked passed any differences... That's true, Doctor Jackson and Jonas haven't spent much time together but I'm sure they'll get on... But, Sir, Major Carter is... No, Sir. Yes, Sir. I understand. Yes. I will. As soon as possible, Sir. Yes, Sir. Goodbye."
General Hammond hung up the red phone and stared at it in disbelief. He shook his head silently, his eyes closing briefly.
He had his orders. He had to obey them.
There was nothing else he could do.
Jonas was called into the General's office first thing the following morning. He was surprised to find Sam and Colonel O'Neill were already there, sitting in their own seats, neither allowing their anxiety to show on their faces.
"Do you know what this is about?" He whispered the question to the Major as he took his seat beside her. General Hammond was nowhere in sight so he assumed it'd be okay to ask.
"Most likely our reassignments," Sam replied with a small smile, noticing the way he couldn't help wiping his hands on his pants. "Don't worry about it, okay?"
"Okay." He gave her a small grin, a mere shadow of the smile that was usually always present on his face. If anything, he looked as though he were going to throw up right there and then. "Easier said that done but I'll try." His hands moved to his stomach as it rumbled ravenously. "I skipped breakfast this morning because I was so nervous," was all he said in place of an explanation. "You think we'll be here long?"
Neither Sam nor Jack answered his question, General Hammond himself did. "I'll try to keep this as short as possible, I'm sorry for keeping you waiting." He took his seat behind the sturdy desk and stared at the three faces looking back at him expectantly. "Right. Let's get on with it. I received a phone call late last night while trying to determine where you would be best assigned. It was the President... He was calling to issue an order regarding your transfers."
"The President, Sir?" Sam exchanged a glance with the Colonel on her right. "Why would he get involved? Surely he has more important things to concern himself with?"
Hammond met her questioning gaze and gave a slight nod. "I was a little surprised myself, Major, but he has shown a personal interest in the SGC before. Anyway, he had obviously heard about your request and of the situation with Jonas and Doctor Jackson. He... Asked would be the wrong word... I was ordered to transfer you both to Nevada immediately, Area 51 to be precise. He seems to think you could both be happy there and said Jonas could only be assigned if someone from the SGC went with him for security reasons... No offence, Jonas, I'm sure he didn't mean it the way it sounded. Anyway, he didn't go into details but did say he wanted you both there by the end of the week."
Silence followed the announcement. Jonas blinked, frowned, blinked again and looked to his former team mates to see their response to the news. He was pleased he was going to have the company of someone he knew, but he couldn't imagine being away from the SGC. He also knew that if it were going to be hard for him, it'd be harder for at least one of the officers he was sitting with.
Sam sat there, surprised but not as deeply shocked as the Colonel and the Kelownan. She had been hoping to stay at the SGC but she'd known there was a chance she would be sent elsewhere. She'd even prepared herself for going back to the Pentagon and maybe reuniting with some old friends in Washington. Nevada... Area 51... Sure, there was work she could do there and she'd probably fit in well with the other scientists but... it wasn't a scenario she'd imagined taking place. She supposed she'd just have to get used to the idea.
And so would everyone else.
It was part of the job. That was what he kept telling himself but it didn't seem to be doing any good. He could have dealt with a reassignment to another team - reluctantly. He would've got used to it in time; he'd still see her - them - around the base. He and Carter could've seen each other outside of work, too, without being afraid of what people would say if they were seen.
But Nevada... Area 51...
It suddenly seemed so far away. There'd be no meeting in the commissary for lunch or jello. There'd be no walking passed each other in the hallways, exchanging smiles and nods... There'd be no meeting after work for coffee or... cake.
He'd even miss Jonas, though he would never admit it. The Kelownan had grown on him over the time they'd spent on SG-1 and he knew Teal'c and Jonas had bonded, what with being the only two aliens on the team and all... It'd be strange not having him around just as it was strange - although in a good way - to have Daniel back.
Nevada. Wow. Jonas *and* Carter. Gone.
Maybe he should've fought harder to keep his team together, to keep Jonas as well as Daniel. He hadn't protested at all when the General had told him SG-1 was staying a four-person team. He should have done, though. Maybe if he had, things would've turned out better.
"I know this has come as a surprise to you all. I'll admit, I'm surprised myself." General Hammond looked from one face to the next, unsurprised to see acceptance in Major Carter's eyes when disbelief was still prominent on the Colonel's face. "However, you have your orders. There's nothing anyone can do to change them for now." He paused momentarily to throw a pointed look in Jack's direction. "Major Carter, Jonas, it's been an honour serving with you both. I hope you'll both be happy in your new assignments and I hope you'll keep in touch."
"Of course we will, Sir." Sam stood when the General did, saluting him as Jonas stood beside her. "It's been an honour serving with you, too. Will you let my father know what's going on when he next gets in touch?"
He gave her a small nod and stepped around the desk. He returned her salute and shook Jonas' proffered hand, watching out of the corner of his eye as Colonel O'Neill finally moved and got to his feet. "I sincerely wish both of you the best of luck with your new assignments. If you decide you want to come back to us, it never hurts to ask."
"Thank you, Sir." Acting purely on impulse, Sam leaned forward and gave him a small hug, similar to the one she'd given him when he'd been coerced into retirement a few years ago. She'd hated saying goodbye then and hated it even more as she took a step back, knowing there were more goodbyes that needed to be said.
"Jonas, I know you haven't got that much to pack away but I'm sure Major Carter would appreciate any help you could give her. I don't expect to see either of you on base after today but that's not to say you're not welcome." Hammond gave O'Neill a small nod to acknowledge his presence. "Colonel, SG-1 is on downtime until a suitable replacement for Major Carter is found."
"Yes, Sir." The Colonel gave his CO a curt nod, apparently having trouble coming up with anything more to add. He wanted to stay and protest and argue but couldn't. He was numb in a way, his military mind taking over as the other part of his brain took a backseat. "Is that all, Sir?"
"Yes, Colonel. You're all dismissed."
With one further small smile in the General's direction, Major Carter was the first to leave the office, Jonas and O'Neill following. None of them spoke as they made their way from General Hammond's office, ignoring the curious glances they got on the way.
"I... ah... I think I'll go tell Teal'c and Doctor Fraiser the news." Jonas gave them a weak grin when they reached the elevator and punched the appropriate button once inside.
"That's a good idea." The most she could manage was a knowing smile in response, remembering how the Kelownan and petite Doctor had become closer friends since sharing a very friendly kiss under the mistletoe at the Christmas Party at a local bar. She knew they hadn't acted on their seasonal indiscretion but suspected they both possibly wanted to. Even if they were just good friends, Sam knew Janet Fraiser would be a little upset to know he was leaving - she didn't want to think what her friend's reaction would be when she found out he wasn't the only one going. "Tell them I'll drop by later. Or I'll be in my lab for the rest of the day if they want to find me first."
The elevator stopped at the 21st floor and Jonas got out. A few minutes later, the carriage stopped again on level 19 and Sam got out, far too aware of the Colonel walking beside her.
In silence, they walked to her lab and sat down on the vacant stools. Sam focused on the computer screen, closing files and opening others. She wrote a few notes on a open pad, making sure whoever was brought in to replace her would have somewhere to begin... A deep sigh escaped her as she closed the last directory. There was still so much she wanted to do at the SGC, so many things she'd be leaving unfinished... Least of all a certain issue involving the man looking everywhere but at her.
"You don't have to stay, Colonel. I'm sure you've got something else to do." She spoke without looking up, scribbling more notes on a blank page.
He looked up at her then, startled by her having said something to break the silence they'd lapsed into. He studied her profile, noticing the way she kept her eyes averted. At the beginning, during their first year as team mates, he wouldn't have known she did that on purpose. He might have suspected but he wouldn't have known for sure. He certainly wouldn't have know she was struggling to keep herself together, hiding any hurt or misery she might be feeling, doing all she could to keep the façade in place. Now he knew her well enough, he could detect the slight quiver in her voice and see the barely visible tremble of her shoulders. "I've got nothing else to do, Carter." He could have gone for the honest and direct let's-have-a-heart-to-heart approach but that wasn't who he was. Jack went for the reserved and safe route he knew she expected him to take. "You heard Hammond, SG-1's on downtime till we find a fourth."
"Then shouldn't you be trying to do that instead of studying my lab?" She'd written everything she could think of writing, which wasn't a lot. She was sure she'd forgotten most of the vital information she needed to leave behind, but decided she could communicate it to her replacement through emails or phone calls. It would give her an excuse to check out whoever it was, too. Finding herself with nothing else to do - at least not while sitting - Sam let her eyes find his, seeing the conflict she expected and shared in his bemused gaze. "I'm okay with it, Sir," she said quietly, deciding to tackle his concern for her state of mind first. "It's not the first time I've been transferred away from the SGC. I'll cope."
"It's not you I'm worried about." He made an attempt at disputing she knew him well enough to guess what he was thinking. Just as he'd become to read her over the years, she'd learnt how to read him - something he found astonishing since he'd never made a conscious decision to let her or any of the others past his stoic demeanour. "It's those of us who are left behind I'm worrying about. What happens to us the next time we need you to pull an idea out of your... head...?" A small smile appeared briefly on her lips. "The phone bill to Nevada is gonna be huge this year."
"Whoever you get to replace me will do fine." The smile reappeared, slightly cheekier. "I'm sure Doctor McKay would be interested..."
"No way, no how, not ever." The horrified expression he wore was almost enough to break through the melancholic haze that had settled over her. "I'm gonna insist whoever we get is Air Force and *not* Russian. I'm not having a Russian or McKay on SG-1. Never." He shuddered inwardly at the thought of having either on his team. If he had to choose, he'd go for McKay. Then he'd know the annoying scientist wasn't harassing Carter somewhere and he could always use the threat of exposing him to some form of citrus to keep him in line...
It was quiet again. Too quiet. The silence between them was no longer comfortable; it was tense and thought-provoking in a not-so-good way. The whole situation felt surreal somehow, as if it were somehow happening to two completely different people. Neither could believe they'd arrived at work, fresh from a night of dreams of what could be stemming from their conversation the day before, only to find what could be was starting to look and feel more like what could have been.
Carter was again the one to disturb the still air around them, clearing her throat loudly. "It'll be okay, Sir. We'll keep in touch. All of us, I mean. Jonas and Janet have got quite close, and he and Teal'c are pretty good friends now... Maybe we'll be called back occasionally to help you guys out if you have any big problems. Nevada isn't that far away, it doesn't take long to get there by plane..."
"Bit far to go for a cup of coffee, though, isn't it?"
His rhetorical question hung in the air between them. Sam met his gaze once again, a small, shy smile playing about her lips. "General Hammond said it wouldn't hurt to ask if I wanted to come home. I'll give it a few weeks, try to find out why the President wants us there... Since I won't be off-world, I should get a few days off every week... I could come back for a visit and bring some coffee with me."
"That's what I'm talkin' about, Carter." Jack's grin displayed his approval at the suggestion. "You're full of good ideas."
She smiled sheepishly, lifting one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug as the seriousness of the situation began to sink in. "It'll be okay, Sir. It's not like I'm moving to another planet."
The General hadn't been kidding when he said the President wanted them at Area 51 immediately. Two days after being given their orders, Sam and Jonas were standing at the airport, saying goodbye to their friends as their bags were loaded onto the waiting charter plane. Teal'c and General Hammond were absent, both having said their goodbyes earlier.
"Don't look like that, Daniel." Sam leaned over to hug the archaeologist again, Wishing she could remove the guilt he wore so easily. "We'll see each other again soon, I promise. It's not the end of the world."
He held her tightly, releasing her only when he opened his eyes to find a certain Colonel glaring at him. Some things, he thought, some things never change. And some things did. "I'm sorry, Sam." He kept a light hold on her hands after they pulled apart. He blamed himself for her leaving and wouldn't be surprised if everyone else did, too. If he'd never descended, she'd be staying. If he'd stayed with the Abydonians instead of returning to Earth... "I shouldn't have come back. You guys were doing better without me."
"Don't be stupid," she admonished him with a look. "We did okay without you, yes, but that doesn't mean we're not happy you're back. We've all missed you, Daniel. Don't blame yourself for this. It might have happened anyway."
"Doubt it." Nothing she or anyone said would be able to dispel his sullen mood. Daniel glanced over her shoulder at where Jonas was standing, having what seemed to be an awkward conversation with Janet Fraiser and felt his guilt increase ten-fold. He'd taken the Kelownan from his planet unintentionally once before and he was doing it again, taking the home Jonas had made for himself on Earth away by retaking his place at the SGC. "I'd understand if you guys were angry with me, you know."
Anger was, after all, easier to deal with than guilt.
Daniel had felt out of place. He hadn't felt as though he belonged with the other ascended beings, but he'd been so sure he was doing the right thing by ascending when Oma had offered him the opportunity. He thought it was what he was meant to do, that it was fate's way of intervening and saving him from death. He'd felt certain getting Jack to stop Jacob Carter from healing him had been right, convinced he could live a much more worthwhile life with Oma and her race. He thought he'd be in a better position to help his friends and all those he cared about in their encounters against the Goa'uld and other threats they faced...
He was wrong.
He'd been forbidden from helping, forced to observe. He'd broken the rules once to try and help the Colonel, felt frustrated and helpless when Oma wouldn't let him do it Again to help the others on various occasions... He'd gone against her orders and Assisted his friends whenever he could, whether they knew he was there or not. The metaphorical straw that had broken the camel's back had been when Abydos was threatened. So many people would have died, his friends included when they tried to help... It would have been an insult to Sha're's memory if he'd sat back and done nothing but watch as the world that had brought them together was destroyed.
Daniel still felt out of place. He hadn't expected them to welcome him back no questions asked but for the most part, that was how it'd happened. People outside of the team saw him as a returned hero. He couldn't understand or make peace with that idea. He felt disorientated, uncomfortable at the attention he'd received... That was why he'd asked to rejoin SG-1, that was why he'd tried to reclaim his old life. He thought - hoped - that everything would go back to normal if he succeeded in making things the way they'd once been but he was wrong.
Jonas was taken off the team and he hadn't expected that. He thought the General would allow all five of them to work together, he certainly hadn't anticipated Sam leaving. Despite her reassurances to the contrary, Daniel held himself responsible and suspected everyone else did as well.
The hero had become the villain in a matter of moments and he couldn't help thinking they'd all be better off if only he'd stayed away.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, Daniel missed the concerned glance Sam shot Jack, nor did he see the reassuring nod the Colonel gave her in answer.
"Thought you said there was nothing going on between Doc and Jonas." Jack's surprised tone acted as a temporary diversion, directing both Daniel and Sam's attention to the couple in question.
"There's..." Her voice trailed off as her eyes widened, taking in the scene playing out just a few metres away. "... I was going to say there's nothing going on but I think I'd be wrong."
The Doctor and Kelownan chose that moment to end their embrace. Janet appeared flustered, a pink blush rising in her cheeks when she realised there were witnesses. Jonas, for his part, looked astonished. He was as stunned as the others that Janet had kissed him but if the grin on his face was any indication, he certainly didn't mind the impulse action.
"Finished saying goodbye?" The casual question was accompanied by a smirk that even Janet's glare couldn't wipe from the Colonel's face.
Taking pity on her friend, Sam forced a smile and hoped her voice would pass for normal. "We should get going. The plane's waiting." She gave the Doctor a quick hug, the pair having already said their goodbyes in the privacy of Janet's home so Cassandra Fraiser could join in. "You guys take care of yourself and we'll call as soon as we get to Nevada to let you know we got there safe."
"You'd better," Janet said softly, discreetly wiping her cheek as she took a step back. She glanced from her best friend to Jonas, feeling her cheeks burn at the memory of her impulsive goodbye. "There's no point in dragging this out so we'll go and let you leave in peace."
Jonas nodded, his eyes never straying far from the woman in front of him. He stood beside Sam, knowing that it was twice as hard for her as it was for him. Colonel O'Neill, he noticed, was the only one who hadn't hugged her and it seemed clear - as well as strange - that neither of the two officers had any intention of changing that fact.
"Take care of yourself, Jonas." Jack gave him a nod as Daniel put a comforting arm around Janet's shoulders. "Major." He gave her another nod, accompanied by a strained grin.
"Colonel." Sam returned the smile with one of her own, their eyes locking silently for a few seconds, communicating everything they wanted to say but still somehow couldn't. "I'll be in touch."
Nothing more was said and Jonas found it bizarre. No one else seemed to think it was strange, though, as Colonel O'Neill turned and led Janet and Daniel away. Confused, Jonas looked to Sam, his mouth opening as he prepared to ask the question. One look at her face made his mouth close. Her lips were sealed in a tight white line, her eyes shimmering in the fluorescent light.
They didn't speak as they approached the officer waiting to take them to their plane. Not a single word was exchanged as they buckled their seatbelts and felt the plane take off. In silence, they flew away from Colorado Springs, both painfully aware of one of the metaphorical doors in their lives closing behind them.
From: "Maj. S. Carter"
To: "Colonel O'Neill"
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2003 10:07 AM
Subject: Just a general Hello.
Just wondering how things are there. Been assigned any interesting missions lately? It apparently takes two weeks for Area 51 to officially get a copy of General Hammond's reports on all team missions so I thought I'd try and cut out the middleman, so-to-speak.
How are Daniel and Teal'c? Is Daniel over his guilt trip or is he still beating himself up? If he is, tell him to stop it! Jonas and I are quite happy here, and I now know why the President was so insistent we come immediately - these guys are behind on most of their work because they've spent so much time on the X-303 and Prometheus. There's a lot of work to be done so I'm happy, keeping myself busy as you'd probably expect.
So, how are you? I'm sorry you were busy when I called to let you all know we arrived safely. Teal'c said you were in a meeting with the General deciding on a replacement. Have you chosen anyone yet? Did you get pressured into accepting McKay or a Russian officer? Let me know what's going on - it's quiet around here, no unexpected arrivals to distract me once in a while!
Well, I think that's about it... Oh, has my Dad been in touch yet? When he comes, will you give him my number and tell him to call so I can explain things? Thanks.
Okay, I'm really going now. Take care and write back soon,
- Missing the commissary jello!
From: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
To: "Jonas Quinn"
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2003 1:29 PM
Subject: How are you?
I've been trying to write this email for over two hours now but don't seem to be getting very far. It's not purely my fault, though: there are a lot of distractions at the moment. SG-7 came back with two broken arms, three leg fractures and two concussions. How a team of scientists on a non-hostile planet can get in so much trouble I'll never know!
Anyway, I don't know what I want to say. I guess I should probably start with the way we said goodbye at the airport. Well, more the way I kissed you. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you - I didn't mean to. I wasn't planning on it but it's one of those things that seemed right at the time... I have to be honest with you, Jonas. I'm not really sure how I feel but I know I care for you a lot. You're a wonderful person, a great friend and so kind and considerate... I just need to know how you feel about me before I say anything more. I don't want to lose you as a friend or make a fool out of myself so I'll wait till you reply before trying to put my thoughts down on paper - well, the monitor but you know what I mean.
I hope you and Sam are okay and enjoying yourself. What kind of work do they have you doing? Sam said last night on the phone that she thinks you were sent to help them catch up on their backlog. Don't let them take advantage, okay? And please make sure Sam doesn't pull too many all-nighters and forget to eat properly - you know what she's like.
I've got to get back to work now. Someone from SG-7's apparently demanding more painkillers and General Hammond wants a report on their condition within the hour.
Be safe and look after yourself,
From: "Colonel O'Neill"
To: "Maj. S. Carter"
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2003 4:15 PM
Subject: Re: Just a general Hello.
Good to hear from you! Thought you might have forgotten about us, what with all that work you've got to do... Carter, quit drooling. It's *work*, it's not supposed to be fun.
Things are okay on this end. We've only been on one mission and even then didn't do much - we just had to half-carry, half-drag SG-7's sorry behinds through the Gate because they'd gone and touched something they shouldn't that blew up in their faces.
Teal'c's good. Doing the usual meditating stuff. I think he misses having Jonas to help ransack the commissary but he's okay.
Daniel is still feeling sorry for himself. Nothing we do seems to help; he spends way too much time in his office re-reading his journals and going over mission reports from when he was all glowly. Maybe you could email or call him sometime? You're probably the best person to talk him through it, you guys spent a lot of time talking after Sha're died and that seemed to help him.
Quick question: is Jonas moping around there as much as Doc is here? Just wondering...
Our fourth member was officially assigned to the team this morning. Surprisingly, Hammond made no reference to McKay (thank God!) and the Russians weren't even mentioned. I think you'd approve of our fourth since she's kinda your protégé. Yep, you read right. Lieutenant Haley is now a member of SG-1. I thought she was too young and inexperienced but Hammond thinks it'll be good for her. Plus she's the only person we know who's half as smart as you so it should work out.
Dad hasn't been in touch but that Malek guy dropped by last night for some reason I didn't care to find out. Hammond sent a message back with him and I promise I'll give Dad your number when he comes through - I'll even let him use my office to call ya!
I'm running out of things to say now and wondering more and more if you're really as happy over there as you seem so I'm gonna go.
Write back when you can and I'll be sure to reply with something distracting.
PS. Asked about sending you some jello. Apparently no can do as it doesn't travel well.
PPS. How's the coffee there? Nicer than here...?
From: "Jonas Quinn"
To: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2003 5:12 PM
Subject: Re: How are you?
It was great to get your email - after getting Sam to help me access it. The interface on these computers is a little different to what I'm used to at the SGC.
Hope SG-7 are doing better and aren't causing too much trouble. If they demand your attention too much, make sure you always send one of the nurses to deal with them. I think Captain Bryson has a crush on you so he's probably doing it on purpose.
As for our goodbye, I wasn't embarrassed at all. Surprised but in a good way. I care about you too, Janet. I haven't had many serious relationships - if I'm honest, there's only been one and that ended abruptly and painfully. She... She was taken from me about eight years ago, when she died of something similar to cancer on Earth. You're the first person I've cared about this much since, and I think we could have something special. It wouldn't be easy since we're not together so I'd understand if you don't want to risk it. I'd hate to lose your friendship, too.
Sam's okay. I'm not letting her work too hard and we're not letting anyone take advantage of us. I make sure she eats properly, too, even if it means having to drag her from her lab. Things aren't as exciting here as at the SGC but we're enjoying the work we do - basically, we spend a lot of time going over the artefacts and technology all the SG-teams have brought back over the years. Sam's having fun taking things apart and figuring out how they work - a lot of the items in her lab are things she didn't get to finish working on at the SGC before having to send them here.
Again, I hope you're okay and that things aren't too hectic there.
To: "Jonas Quinn"
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 9:43 AM
Subject: Are you well, Jonas Quinn?
I spoke to Major Carter this morning. She is concerned that something is troubling you and asked me to get in touch. Are you able to settle comfortably in your new assignment?
If you wish to talk, I will be at the SGC for the remainder of this day. SG-1 is not scheduled to leave on a mission until tomorrow morning.
From: "Maj. S. Carter"
To: "Colonel O'Neill"
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 2:14 PM
Subject: Coffee, Daniel, Janet and Jonas.
Shame about the jello! Guess I'll have to make do without. The coffee here is okay, I'll try and remember to bring some for you to try when I'm next in Colorado. Since sending jello is out of the question, what about sending some chocolate fudge cake? They only do fruit pie for dessert here! Help!
Great news about Haley. I know she's young but I'm sure she'll do great - she proved herself in the last training scenario and she's one person I know I can trust to understand the notes I left in the lab. Let her know my email address and number so she can contact me if she needs anything. It'd be nice to talk to her again; it's been a while.
Spoke to Daniel on the phone this morning. (And Teal'c but it was Daniel I called for, on your advice.) He sounded okay; we spoke a lot about everything and he admitted some things I promised I wouldn't repeat. Go easy on him for a while, okay? And keep an eye on him for me, he's quite vulnerable at the moment even if he tries to pretend otherwise.
On to Janet and Jonas... Is Janet okay? I helped Jonas access his mail last night and he's been quiet ever since. He seems upset about something and checks for new messages every five minutes or so. I was wondering if maybe something has happened between the two of them? She didn't mention anything earlier, but it's not easy to tell if she's putting on an act when I'm not there. I asked Teal'c to contact Jonas since they're good friends and was wondering if you'd mind stopping by the infirmary to see if Janet's okay? I'd really appreciate it, Sir.
I heard about that incident involving SG-7. It's good that they'll all make full recoveries!
Still enjoying the work. I'm getting the opportunity to play with all the technology I had to send here ages ago. A lot of Machello's gadgets have turned up so I'm being careful. Am tempted to 'accidentally' switch a few people, though.
I am happy, Sir, but I do miss being there. I miss not going through the Gate in person; I miss not being able to snatch a few minutes of the day to gossip with Janet - contrary to popular belief, I don't work 24 hours a day, 60 minutes an hour. I also miss talking with Teal'c about Rya'c and the differences between our culture and his. And it's not easy knowing Daniel's back, but being unable to head to his office armed with two cups of coffee so we can talk about anything that's bothering us.
I miss you stopping by my lab every so often to distract me or play with machines you know you shouldn't be touching. I miss being able to discuss things with you over jello or cake and coffee.
I miss not having the opportunity to finally say the things we should be able to now you're not my commanding officer.
Teal'c and Daniel said you're heading out on your first mission with the new team line-up tomorrow. Be careful and try to come back in one piece - for my sake as well as Janet's and the infirmary nurses.
From: "Dr. D. Jackson"
To: "Maj. S. Carter"
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 8:15 AM
Subject: Going on a mission, wanted to say thanks...
Thanks so much for calling yesterday. I'm glad we got a chance to talk and have a real conversation. And thank you for letting me go on and on and get everything off my Chest. I needed that.
This email's only going to be a short one because we're leaving in half an hour for P7X890. Tell Jonas I'll do my best to find something interesting to bring back and send on, and that I'll email him a copy of my report if there are any ruins or translations - he really seems to love that stuff.
I wanted to ask you about Jack too, before I forget. He doesn't talk about you two Much but he mentioned in passing on our way home yesterday that you said we'd talked. Just wondered if you guys are in regular contact and if there's something going on the rest of us should know about?
Thanks again for the call, Sam. It means a lot to know you still care and that we can still be the best of friends despite the mistakes I've made in the past.
Got to go now. Wish you were coming with us. Talk soon hopefully.
From: "Jonas Quinn"
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 11:02 PM Subject: Re: Are you well, Jonas Quinn?
By now you'll be on your mission. Hope it's a good one and that you all come back safely.
I'm okay, thanks for your concern. I was waiting for a response from Janet yesterday but I realised last night I need to give her time - she's probably busy, after all. I just... I told her something in an email, about my past, and I'm a little nervous at her reaction.
Anyway, that's all it was. I told Sam this morning so she's not worrying about me any more. Let us know when you get back so we know you're all okay.
From: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
To: "Jonas Quinn"
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 12:48 PM
Subject: I'm so sorry!
Jonas, I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to write back. I've been kept really busy in the infirmary recently: three teams came back with serious injuries, Doctor Warner's on leave and his replacement didn't show up until today. I'm working on six hours sleep and now SG-1's gone on their mission so I'll probably be awake until they come home - I've learnt from past experience that trying to sleep when my friends are possibly in danger is impossible.
I'm also sorry to hear about your girlfriend, Jonas. I had no idea you'd lost someone so close to you in that way. It must have been horrible. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me and for being so honest with your feelings.
I agree it'll be hard exploring what we have being apart but I'm willing to give it a try if you are. I haven't had the inclination to develop a relationship like this with anyone else since my husband and I divorced, and I think we could make it work between us.
Re-reading that, I should pretty stupid. Blame it on lack of sleep! Basically what I wanted to say is that I'm happy you feel the same way I do and would like to try making what we might have work. And, again, I'm sorry for the delay in writing back to you. I've tried to get to the computer more than once but keep being distracted.
Please get in touch soon and take care of yourself,
From: "Colonel O'Neill"
To: "Maj. S. Carter"
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 10:16 PM
Sorry I'm writing this so late. I just got back from our mission - a complete waste of time - and found your email. I didn't get the chance to check my messages this morning so I'm sorry you've been waiting for a reply.
The mission was boring by my standards but you'd probably enjoy it. Daniel and Haley found something that made them go 'ooooh.' Some old rock with writing that hums a lot. They brought it back but Hammond's ordered they approach it with extreme caution so you probably won't get it there for a while.
Fruit pie? How are you coping? I'll be sure to send some chocolate cake ASAP. Promise.
Glad you're pleased about Haley - thought you might be. She was okay on the mission, not you but hey, no one's that perfect. In a few months, I think she'll have settled down and be more comfortable with field missions in general. I have a feeling Hammond won't be sending us anywhere that could be potentially dangerous for a while, though.
Daniel seems much better thanks to your conversation and I've made a note of what you said. I'll keep an eye on him and give him plenty of space. Teal'c's fine, too, though I think it's taking him a while to get used to being the only alien on the team!
Doc's okay, too, so stop worrying.
Be careful with Machello's stuff! They're not toys... But if someone's bugging you, I suppose it couldn't hurt to give them a demonstration as to how that switching device works... If anyone asks, I didn't say that.
If you miss being here, why not ask to come back? Hammond did say it wouldn't hurt to ask, the worst they can do is say no. Daniel and Teal'c and Doc would all be thrilled if you and Jonas came back. So would I.
It's weird not having you around. I keep finding myself on the way to your lab and get half way there before remembering you're not the blond scientist I'll find playing with the doohickeys. I don't think I've actually made it to the labs yet, feels odd to be there without you in some strange way. Like no one has the right to be there unless you come back.
You... We can still say the things we want to, Sam. Even if only through email or on the phone. You have my number, I have yours... One of us is gonna be able to take time off sooner or later. You should think about heading home for the weekend, or I'll talk to Hammond about getting some downtime and come to you instead of Minnesota - or we could meet there. I've got to try that coffee one way or another!
Find out if you can get some time off and let me know, and we'll take it from there. I know it's easier to say this kind of thing on paper/screen but we really need to talk face-to-face and figure out what's going on.
Take care and hope to hear from you soon,
From: "Maj. S. Carter"
To: "Dr. D. Jackson"
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2003 07:08 AM
Subject: Heard you were back.
Heard you were back safely - and found an email from Colonel O'Neill in my inbox I haven't read yet. In answer to your 'query', nothing you need to know about is going on. The Colonel and I are friends, we're bound to keep in touch. And it's only fair I email him since I'm emailing you and talking to Teal'c on the phone or through Jonas.
I'm really glad our conversation helped in some way - and never, ever think you've lost me as a friend because you never will! That's a promise I know I can keep! If you need to talk to someone again, you know where I am and you know the Colonel, Teal'c and Janet are all there for you if you want them to be. They're your friends, too, Daniel. We all care about you - that hasn't changed.
I'm glad you all managed to make it home safely and I'm sure the email I've got waiting for me from the Colonel is full of details he shouldn't be sharing with me!
I'll hopefully talk to you soon - I really should spend more time working than emailing but you guys are too distracting when you're not here in person.
Look after yourself!
From: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
To: "Maj. S. Carter"
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2003 12:19 PM
Subject: Need advice!!
Why aren't you answering the phone in your lab?!? Okay, so you're probably out having lunch but I need to talk to you! ASAP!
Is Jonas okay? Is he ignoring me? (Yeah, that's what this is about, don't worry - SG-1 are all safe and accounted for.) I emailed him yesterday and haven't heard back. Do you think he's giving me some of my own medicine or getting me back for not being able to reply to his last email sooner?
Okay, so I know he's not like that. I'm just a little... concerned. I said some things in the last email I'm nervous about getting his reply to. I might as well tell you since I tell you everything anyway - we've been talking about starting a relationship, even if it is a long distance one and I told him in the last message that I wanted to give it a go if he did. I'm worried I might have come on too strong or he might be having second thoughts.
When you get this, please reply or call me? I'd appreciate it!
Honestly, it's strange not having you here. The last few days have been so busy but today it's so quiet. All my patients are resting peacefully, there's been no new incidents... I caught myself thinking about calling your lab and asking you to join me for lunch then I remembered you weren't there.
Okay, I'm not making much sense and I'm wasting my lunch break checking and re-checking my emails which isn't good so I'm logging off now.
Call or write back soon.
From: "Jonas Quinn"
To: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2003 1:13 PM
Subject: My turn to apologise!
It's my turn to apologise! Sam and me have been in meetings ever since we got up this morning and neither of us have had a chance to take a moment and unwind. We're on our lunch break now, though, so I'm sending an email to you while I have the chance!
I'm really pleased you feel the way I do about exploring what we have but I don't know how to start. Sam suggested we arrange to meet sometime, maybe both get a weekend off and you can come here or I can come there if that's easier for you and Cassandra? Just so we can talk, nothing else has to happen. We should probably take this slow - I don't want to do anything that would mess it up.
I'm sorry you've been so busy and hope things have calmed down for you now. Remember to take a break and try and sleep! You've got to take care of yourself or you won't be any good to your patients!
Unfortunately, I've got to head back into more briefings and meetings in about ten minutes and I told Sam I'd meet her for a quick bite to eat.
Let me know if you can get some time off and hopefully I'll be seeing you soon!!
From: "Maj. S. Carter"
To: "Dr. J. Fraiser"
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2003 4:26 PM
Subject: Re: Need advice!!
I know this email is a little redundant now since Jonas told me at lunch he'd emailed you but I just thought I'd write to let you know he hasn't lost interest or had second thoughts, nor have you scared him away - you're all he talked about while we were eating, and the only thing that was giving him cause for concern is Cassie's reaction to it all.
There is another reason I'm writing this email and that's to let you know on Jonas' behalf that even if you don't hear from him for a while, it doesn't mean he's lost interest. I'm sorry I can't tell you anymore than that but please know he's okay and he's still thinking about you.
Same goes for me. I miss you all a lot - I really miss heading down to your office for a quick gossip session. That said, I'm probably not going to be able to email/call you for a while but don't worry. It doesn't mean something bad has happened.
Give my love to Cassie and take care of yourself,
Love and hugs,
From: "Maj. S. Carter"
To: "Colonel O'Neill"
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2003 08:01 AM
Subject: Don't worry.
I don't really know how to write this so I'm just going to come out and say it. I read your email yesterday but didn't get a chance to send a reply. Partly because I didn't know what to say, partly because I didn't have the time.
I was hoping to get to Colorado this weekend or next but it doesn't look like it'll be happening now. In fact, I won't be able to email you or anyone else for the foreseeable future and I won't be able to phone for a while. I can't say anymore as it's classified and I know you'll understand that.
Please don't think this means I'm having second thoughts because I'm not. I'll hopefully be able to get in touch at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Please let the others know they shouldn't be alarmed if they don't hear from either Jonas or myself and let my Dad know I'm okay when he eventually turns up.
Don't worry about something happening to me while I'm gone - we still have to talk over coffee so I'll be back!
In the meantime, keep safe and make sure you're still here for when I get the chance to get in touch again. I won't forgive you if you go and do something stupid and I come back to find you're not there!
I'm afraid it's goodbye for now.
Reading the words for the sixth time didn't make them any less cryptic. Jack re-folded the printout of Sam's final email and put it back in his pocket. No matter how many times he read it, he would never be able to make sense of it.
Re-reading it again wouldn't give him the answer to where she'd gone or why he couldn't get in touch with her.
The only chance he had of learning anything new was if Jonas had let something slip to Janet in one of their conversations. Hoping to get another clue or piece of the puzzle, Jack headed for the infirmary wondering if she'd be there so early in the morning. Fortunately the light in her office was on. Knocking softly twice, he opened the door and put his head around it before she had a chance to respond. "Hey Doc. Got a minute?"
She lifted her head and stared at him, blinking owlishly. "Ah, sure. Take a seat." Janet pressed the button on the computer monitor and the screen went black. "I didn't realise it was morning already."
"You've been here all night?" He did as he was told, entering the office fully and taking a seat as he studied her carefully. He had to admit that she looked exhausted. "What happened?"
"Lieutenant Havers suffered complications during the night, we were in surgery for three hours." A hand that trembled due to lack of sleep passed over her face and eyes. "She'll be okay if we manage to keep the infection from spreading any more than it already has." She gave him a small smile when her eyes were finally able to focus on him. "But that's not why you're here so... What's the problem?"
He hesitated for a second; pondering on whether he should broach the subject he'd come to talk about in case she didn't know anything - let alone anything new. He didn't want to risk saying more than he should but, at the same time, he needed to know what was going on. "I... I was just wondering if you'd heard anything from Jonas or Carter recently...?"
"I had some emails from them both yesterday." Janet glanced at the monitor briefly and then back at the expectant Colonel. "Jonas said they'd been in meetings all day, then Sam said that they might be unreachable for a while. I take it you heard the same?"
"Yeah." He reached into his pocket and removed the folded piece of paper, keeping it clasped in his hand. "It's to do with something classified, probably a mission, though I can't think what it could be if it doesn't involve the SGC."
Clasping her hands in front of her, Janet stared at him evenly, managing to keep her expression calm although inwardly she was struggling with a heavy sense of dread. "Do you think they're in any danger, Colonel? Maybe that's why they can't contact us?"
There was a small pause as he looked at her, his eyes darkening at the thoughts that crossed through his mind. "It's a possibility," he said slowly, reluctantly admitting that it was. "But I can't think of what kind of mission they could be assigned at Area 51. I'm not sure I want to know, given our past experience with test flights in Nevada." Shuddering inwardly at the thought of Carter and Jonas going through what he and Teal'c once had, Jack pushed the mental images attacking his mind to one side. "They'll be okay, Doc. Carter said we shouldn't worry if we don't hear from her, so whatever they're doing can't be that bad."
Her hopeful eyes met his. "Is that all she told you, Sir? She didn't give you a hint of how long they'd be out of reach?"
"She just said not to worry." His reply was honest even if the confidence he injected into his words was not. He tightened his hold on the folded piece of paper, crushing it into his palm as he pictured the words running across the page in his head. "She said that she expected us all to be here when she - they - get back so they can't be planning on staying away for too long." The sharp corners of the scrunched up paper in his hand bit into the flesh of his palm and he got to his feet slowly. "Don't worry, Doc. They'll get in touch soon."
"If you don't mind me saying, Colonel," her voice stopped him just as he reached the door, "you don't sound very convinced of that."
"Carter said she'd be back." His flat reply was accompanied by a shrug. "I have to believe she was telling the truth."
Janet said nothing to prolong the conversation and watched him leave. She'd been hoping he'd be able to convince her that everything was alright, that she'd had a sleepless night without just cause. He hadn't, and she knew their individual feelings of unease had grown as a result of their conversation.
Turning the monitor on again, Janet stared at the email her best friend had sent her the day before, re-reading the words.
'It doesn't mean something bad has happened.'
"Let's hope you're right, Sam," Janet muttered aloud to the screen. "Please don't let anything bad happen, wherever you are."
It had happened so suddenly. One minute they were standing in Sam's lab, surrounded by their things, discussing the emails they'd sent to their friends in Colorado... The next they'd been standing aboard an Asgard vessel, watching through the view screen as Earth got smaller and smaller.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Jonas stood barely a few inches away, his eyes narrowing as he tried to keep their focus on the shrinking planet.
Her breath was released in a long, heavy sigh. "That it feels like we're never going to see Earth again let alone live on it?" She saw his nod out of the corner of her eye. "Then yes, I'm thinking what you're thinking."
"We're doing the right thing, aren't we, Sam?" He looked at her with round, almost fearful eyes. When he looked at her like that, he reminded her of a puppy afraid of being scolded for doing something it shouldn't. "We *have* to do this. No matter what or who we leave behind?"
She turned to him then, meeting his eyes and speaking with a calmness she certainly didn't feel. He wanted reassurance; she was supposed to tell him they were doing the right thing. He wanted her to lie. "We weren't given much of a choice, Jonas. If Janet and the Colonel and everyone else were allowed to know what was going on, I think they'd probably approve. Eventually," she conceded with a ghost of a smile. "When we get there, I'll insist we get the chance to send some sort of message to them. As it is, I don't think it's right keeping this from the SGC. They have every right to know what's going on and I intended to make General Wright see that."
Jonas nodded and hesitated for a second before opening his mouth again. "Why do you think the President wants to keep it a secret from the SGC? I thought he trusted General Hammond and the others?"
"He does, Jonas, but... There's probably more going on than we know about. He must have a good reason to keep it a secret, one I doubt I'll personally agree with, but I'm sure we'll find out more when we get there." Sam shrugged and stared back out of the window; surprised to see Earth was barely a dot in the distance. "What I want to know is how the Asgard got involved and why they haven't let on to Colonel O'Neill. I thought he was the only one they'd get involved with."
"I believe I can answer that, Major Carter." The soft voice took them both by surprise and Thor seemed a little amused as they turned to look at him - as amused as an Asgard ever got, anyway. "It is because of our involvement in the Omega Command project that you are here. We insisted that your superiors ask either O'Neill or yourself to join the project so that we could communicate and work together through you. You will be our ambassador on behalf the people on Kaia and O'Neill will remain our ambassador on behalf of the people on Earth."
"Kaia? Is that where we're going?" Jonas lifted an eyebrow.
"That's the name of the planet they built the SGOC on." Sam gave him a quizzical glance. "Why?"
"No reason." The Kelownan shrugged and explained himself to both her and Thor. "That's Earth in Scandinavian. I remember reading it somewhere on the Internet. Just thought it was fitting."
Sam shook her head slightly. "Wonder who decided on naming the planet that."
"I believe it was General Wright, Major Carter." Thor, again, was the one to answer, his head tilted slightly to the side. "We will be arriving at Kaia shortly. Once you have settled in your new homes, the Asgard will honour our alliance with the Omega Command and share our technology."
"If you're going to share your technology with the OC, why won't you share it with the SGC? Surely you know by now you can trust them..." She took a step forward, gazing curiously at the small, grey alien standing in front of her. "You know they won't do anything stupid with it and they probably need it more than the OC since the Goa'uld know they exist..."
Thor gave a slight shake of his head. "I appealed to the Asgard High Council with that in mind but they decided our resources would be best used helping the people of Kaia develop technology that can be used against the Goa'uld. We would not be violating the Protected Planets Treaty we have with the Goa'uld regarding Earth and we have asked General Wright of Kaia to share all-important break-throughs with the SGC as soon as they are made. There is no one at the SGC we would trust with our technology now that you and Jonas Quinn are to join the Omega Command."
"We haven't said we'll stay," Jonas rejoined the conversation, mimicking Sam in moving closer to the Asgard. "We're only here because the President ordered us to come and have a look... We didn't say we'd stay forever, we have to get back to Earth..."
"That is not what we have been told." Thor stared from one astonished face to the other. "We were under the impression that you would be staying on Kaia for the foreseeable future. It is part of our agreement."
"We were under the impression we were going to be assigned to the OC on a temporary basis, to see how it worked and see if we can offer any additional information that would help those who already work there." Sam leaned against one of the walls, her brow furrowed thoughtfully. "If we were to stay - and at the moment I doubt we're going to have much choice - would we still be able to contact our friends? Would you be able to pass messages on for us?"
Thor shook his head, appearing almost apologetic. "I am sorry, Major Carter. One of the conditions in our alliance with Kaia is that we will not alert the SGC to the projects existence. We will be leaving one of our long-range communication devices so that General Wright can keep his superiors on Earth updated. Perhaps you will be permitted to use it to send messages to your friends?"
"It's a nice thought but I don't think it'd be allowed. If anything, getting messages from us through other people would make our friends more suspicious than they probably already are, Colonel O'Neill especially." Jonas' shoulders dropped, the thought of being unable to let Janet know where he was and that he'd rather be with her finally sinking in. "They'll want to know where we are eventually, when we don't get in touch like you said we would. What do you think they'll do?"
Sam shook her head and let her eyes slide shut. "I don't know, Jonas. Maybe General Wright will be able to explain when we get to Kaia or maybe they'll just tell the SGC we were sent on a dangerous mission and didn't make it back."
The cynicism in her voice did not go unmissed.
"You think the President would tell them we were dead so they didn't look for us?" He shifted uncomfortable, struggling to come to terms with what was going on.
"Anything's possible, I guess. I never thought the President would go behind General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill's backs and set up a second base off-world without telling them. I don't know what's going on any more." Her eyes opened and she pushed herself away from the wall. "Like I said before, I'm going to make it clear to Wright that keeping the SGOC a secret isn't doing anyone any good."
Taking a step closer to her, Jonas chewed nervously on his bottom lip. "Do you think he'll listen?"
"It's hard to say, I've never met him before. If he's like General Hammond, he might. If he's like some of the other General's I've met..." Sam sighed again and looked at him helplessly. "He won't care."
A flash of white interrupted the conversation and Heimdall appeared in the room, standing beside Thor. "We have arrived at Kaia. Your things have been transported to the coordinates we received from the Omega Command. If you are ready, we will send you to General Wright's office within a few moments."
"We're as ready as we'll ever be, thank you." She managed to give the two Asgard a small smile, one that faded the moment they disappeared. She sensed more than saw Jonas approaching her. "I don't just think we're never going to see Earth again, Jonas." Her head turned ever so slightly, her eyes locked on his face so she could see his reaction.
"I know we're not."
If he replied, it was lost in the light that engulfed them and helped them take the final step away from home.
Five days passed and they still hadn't heard anything from Jonas or Sam. The hope that whatever classified assignment they'd been given was only a temporary one died. Daniel, Teal'c, Janet and Jack had each tried phoning Area 51, also known as the Groom Lake Base, in the hopes of getting through to someone who knew where their friends were, but the phone either kept on ringing or they were put on hold until they eventually decided to hang up.
Even Lieutenant Haley had tried at her team mates' suggestion, telling the officer who eventually picked up the phone in Major Carter's lab that she was working on one of Sam's experiments and needed to talk to the woman in question. Her phone call had been transferred to another scientist who told her to pack up the experiment she was having trouble with and send it on; it would be passed to Major Carter as soon as she was available.
SG-1 were assigned a two-day mission, and went hoping that when they came back Doctor Fraiser would have some good news for them. Their hope was shattered when they arrived at the SGC to find Janet wasn't standing at the bottom of them ramp.
Jacob Carter was.
"Welcome home, SG-1." General Hammond stood beside his old friend; his eyes following the four team mates as they walked towards them. "Did you find anything of interest?"
"We didn't get very far talking to the natives," Daniel answered when no one else made a move to. "They were a little distracted by Teal'c's presence and by our weapons, but have invited us back for further talks of an alliance. I'd recommend sending a diplomatic team; it might put the Maeans more at ease."
"Understood, Doctor Jackson. We'll debrief in half an hour; in the meantime, get yourselves down to the infirmary." The General gave them a brisk nod and turned to leave.
"Sir?" It was Daniel, again, who chose to speak up. "Have you or Doctor Fraiser heard anything...?"
A brief sympathetic look passed over Hammond's face. "No, I'm afraid we haven't."
"I tried calling myself," Jacob joined the conversation, his gaze lingering on the Colonel's face so he could witness the other man's reaction to his words. "I was told Sam and Jonas were unreachable at the moment but that someone would let Sam know I called."
Colonel O'Neill didn't say anything as he walked out of the Gateroom but Jacob saw his hands clench at his sides. Teal'c and Daniel followed their CO, with Haley following at a slightly slower pace. General Hammond sighed and shook his head, waiting near the door for Jacob to catch up.
"They're not taking it well," Hammond murmured as the two men made their way to his office.
Jacob sighed and took the deep breath Selmac told him to take. "You can't blame them, George. Especially now they can't get in touch with them." He gave his friend a sidelong glance. "Do you have any idea what's keeping her and Jonas so tied up in Area 51?"
"I wish I did." General Hammond shook his head and closed the door behind them when they made it to the office. "I know it's none of my business since they're no longer under my command, but if we haven't heard anything from either of them by the end of next week I'll get the President involved if I have to. People can't just disappear into thin air and I know Major Carter and Jonas wouldn't agree to anything that demanded they never get in touch with their friends here at the SGC."
Sitting down in the vacant chair, Jacob let his shoulders slump and his calm mask drop to reveal the worried expression on his face. "I hope you find something because something about this whole thing doesn't sit right with me."
He tried to contact his daughter a further three times before he left Earth for the Tok'ra base. His call was diverted to a different department every time, resulting in the same useless answer: "I'm afraid she's unavailable at the moment. If you'd like to leave a message, I'll make sure it gets passed on."
He left feeling certain that something was wrong, wondering where on Earth his daughter was, unaware that the further he got from the planet, the closer he got to Sam.
They were treated like heroes and hated it.
Everyone at the SGOC - and everyone on the whole planet, for that matter - seemed to know who they were. The officers of the Stargate Omega Command facility, both the Americans and the Russians, acted as though they were old friends. Their families, who'd been invited to live on the planet after the officers had been given their assignment, all seemed to know who they were, too. Even the children who were waiting for the school building to be completed stared up at them in awe if they went outside for a breath of fresh air or a short walk.
On their first day, they'd been given a guided tour of the facility, surprised to find it almost identical to the lower levels of the SGC - as far as the inside appearance went. Three levels, including the one with the Stargate on it, were underground. The other four levels of the facility were built above ground with no mountain hiding it. It wasn't a secret, anyway. Everyone on Kaia knew of the program's existence and was in some way connected to it.
There were teams that went out on missions, just like at the SGC. There were scientists who stayed at the facility, working shift patterns. There was a small team of archaeologists and linguists who spent most of their time out on missions or studying texts and artefacts others had brought back; they were led by Doctor Victoria Samson, a woman who would give Daniel a run for his money when it came to the amount of languages she could speak. The other adults, the ones who weren't involved directly with the project, were in charge of building the other settlements in the growing city, and some had already been lined up or volunteered to take on the role of teachers when the school was up and running.
Humans weren't the only race present on the planet. Sam and Jonas hadn't expected to see any familiar faces but that's what they found. Half of the Jaffa who'd turned against the Goa'uld had moved without the SGC knowing to Kaia. Bra'tac was there, as was Teal'c's son, Rya'c. It was only when Sam saw him training with the other Jaffa that she realised she hadn't seen him at the SGC's off-world site last time she'd been there. There were also some Nox, some Tollan who had survived the Goa'uld attack on their word - Narim, Sam was told, had sacrificed himself so they could escape - and within a few days, several Asgard turned up. There were also some aliens Sam and Jonas had never seen before - some small, fluffy animal-like creatures and some tall, slender purple-skinned people who had become close friends with the Nox.
Every day, Sam went to General Wright's office. Every day, she fought to have the people of the SGC told about the second base. Every day, she was knocked back and told to drop the subject.
"I don't understand why they're being so stubborn," she fumed to Bra'tac and Jonas, pacing in the middle of the area of the city the Jaffa had been given to start their own settlement. "Things would get done a lot faster if the SGC was allowed to know and help... If we connected the computer systems controlling the two Stargates, off-world teams would have two chances to get to safety if a mission went wrong."
"Your people have their reasons, Major Carter." Bra'tac gave her a sympathetic look. "I understand your reluctance to withhold information from your friends but we have no other option. General Wright and these people have been very supportive of the Jaffa and of the other races they have welcomed here. We have finally found a place where we can make a safe home for our people without having to hinder our fight with the Goa'uld."
"I see your point, Bra'tac, but you're here willingly." Jonas sighed and continued dragging the stick he held through the dirt, drawing nonsensical pictures. "Sam and I weren't given a choice. We can't even let our friends know we're all right."
Bra'tac lowered his gaze and stared at the ground. "I wish I could help you but I cannot. I cannot risk General Wright taking back the sanctuary he has offered us."
"We know, and we wouldn't ask you to," Sam said sincerely with a small smile. "It's just good to see you, Master Bra'tac. It's nice to have another familiar face around."
He nodded to her as she stood and walked away, Jonas following just a foot behind. The two of them walked away from the Jaffa camp, passing through the buildings the Nox and Tollan were making together with the furry aliens and the purple ones. The planet resembled Earth but the city was like no other they had seen. The mix of different cultures and races made for interesting viewing. Even the section of the city that housed the families of those who worked at the SGOC showed signs of alien involvement.
Sam and Jonas walked through the houses and half-done buildings, turning away from the SGOC facility when it came into sight. They'd been allowed to choose where they wanted their homes to be. Sam had chosen a secluded spot on the edge of the forest that surrounded the whole area and Jonas had chosen a spot near-by. They were both going to have big homes built, almost in their honour, whether they wanted it or not.
Standing in the place her house would be in a few weeks time, Sam gazed around at the world around her, barely able to see the markers outlining Jonas' plot from where she was. There would be a considerable amount of distance between them, to give them privacy from each other, although neither particularly wanted it. The only reason they'd need privacy was if they were to get involved with someone and neither could see that happening.
Not on Kaia.
"We're on our own, Jonas." She didn't need to open her eyes to know he was standing right behind her. She didn't need to look to see the matching glimmer in his eyes. "I can't think of a way to get us out of here and I don't know if I could leave knowing they need us here. This is our home now, whether we like it or not."
Feeling awkward at first, Jonas put him arms around her, the gesture of friendship comforting to them both. "At least we're not alone, Sam. At least we've got each other."
It only took three weeks for their houses to be built. It was something Sam was pleased about, she found living in her quarters within the facility reminded her too much of the SGC.
She still argued daily with the General about keeping the SGOC a secret but she'd come to accept her position there. General Wright thought he'd managed to win her over by promoting her to Lieutenant Colonel and making her his Second in Command but that wasn't why she'd given up demanding to go home. She'd spent a long time in the labs, going over the projects the other scientists were working on, and knew how useful they would be in the battle against the Goa'uld. With help from the Asgard, Tollan and purple people - a race called the Mignon, they could probably have created some sort of defence for themselves against the Goa'uld within a year, two at most.
Knowing that almost made staying there worth it.
Her work in the lab with the other scientists and races was one of four things that kept her going. She was allowed to go out on missions with her own team; that was the second. The third was the thought that as soon as they made a big enough development, the SGC would be alerted to the second Stargate Command's existence and that would hopefully mean she got to see her friends again. Jonas was the fourth thing, his friendship growing to mean as much to her as her friendship with Daniel. He became another brother, the only person on the whole planet who truly understood how she felt, the only person she could talk about everything and anything with.
They spent their days off together, at either one of their houses, talking about their friends on Earth. They decorated his home so that Janet would like it if she were ever able to see it. They decorated her home with a certain Colonel who wasn't her in mind.
"Ready to go, Sam?" Jonas stood in the doorway to her lab, decked out and ready to go. He held an extra pack in his hand - her pack - and grinned when she looked up. He'd settled on Kaia as much as he could and was determined to make sure they made the most of their situation and took care of each other. In the back of his mind, he was constantly reminded of a promise he'd made Janet. "Ellis and Carson are waiting in the Gateroom."
"I'll be there in a minute, Jonas. I've just got to leave a note for Thor and Heimdall in case they arrive before we get back." She hesitated for a second, her fingers hovering over the keys of one of the three computers in her lab. She was almost as fluent when using the computer the Asgard had given her as she was when using Goa'uld or Tok'ra technology, but it was still new and a bit confusing sometimes. Finding the keys she needed, she resumed her typing, only pushing her chair away when the console beeped to let her know her work had been saved. "Okay, let's go."
He stood in the hallway patiently, helping her slip her pack over her shoulders and secure it before they started for the Gateroom, side by side. "Have you had your talk with General Wright today?"
"Yep," she matched his teasing grin with a mischievous one of her own. As their friendship had grown deeper, and because the atmosphere on Kaia was more relaxed than the one in the SGC, their real personalities had begun to show through their facades. "He thought I wouldn't have time since we've got a mission but I was waiting for him in his office this morning. Oh to have had a camera with me... His expression was priceless."
"I'll talk to Gleason in security, she might be able to get us a copy of the tape and, if it's clear enough, we can make a screencap to put up in the common room." His sense of humour was as wicked as hers and almost as appealing as she remembered Colonel O'Neill's being.
"Good idea." The bright smile she rewarded him with showed her approval and the sparkle in her eye warned him that she was in the mood to gossip. "You know, I don't think anyone here actually likes the guy. According to Price, he's been on a bit of a power trip since he got this command. And according to Sandra, Price's wife, he thinks he's in with a chance of being President of Kaia."
His laugh startled two airmen who were already in the elevator when they got there. The two officers, one whom had once worked at the SGC, smiled in greeting when they saw who had caused the carriage to stop at their floor. "Colonel, Jonas. You leaving soon?"
"As soon as we get to the Gateroom," Sam said with a small smile, nodding her head at Henderson, the one who'd spoken, and Rayleigh, the one who hadn't. "And it's Sam, okay? No one else uses my title unless the General's presence." It was one of the unspoken rules that made living on Kaia and working at the OC more bearable. There weren't as many restrictions so there weren't as many masks or barriers preventing friendships from developing.
"If you say so, Sam." Henderson grinned and pressed the button for the bottom floor again to get the elevator started. "Are you guys gonna be at the school recital next week? The kids and the teachers would love it."
Jonas exchanged a smile with Sam and nodded for both of them. "The first multi-cultural event of the year? We wouldn't miss it. It'll be fun to see how what the teachers have put together. It can't be easy having to come up with something the kids could do to entertain six races."
"Seven including you," Sam reminded him with a soft smile. "It should be interesting, a lot of the parents have been tricked into joining in because there's only 30 kids at school."
"Henderson's one of them," Rayleigh said, grinning slyly at his friend. "He's dating Carla, one of the single mums teaching at the school, so she bribed him into volunteering."
"Carla Johnson? Michelle's sister?" She smiled again when Henderson nodded, the tips of his ears turning pink. Michelle Johnson hadn't wanted to be alone on Kaia and since her sister had been trying to escape an abusive ex, the President had agreed to let Carla and her son, Jamie, join her. It was a little unnerving, Sam thought to herself as the carriage came to a stop at their floor, to know everything about everyone. Unnerving in one way, kind of comforting in another. "She teaches mathematics, right?"
Henderson looked proud as he nodded. "Upper and lower classes. She's smart enough to work here but she's needed more at the school."
"Colonel Carter, Mr. Quinn," General Wright barked at them the moment they stepped through the doors. Henderson and Rayleigh gave them sympathetic looks as they dashed off to their posts. "You were due to depart five minutes ago! We have three off-world teams due to return back today, you are preventing them from returning home. What if they're under attack of the Goa'uld? You should show some consideration for your fellow officers!"
"First of all, they wouldn't have to wait to get to safety if we joined forces with the SGC and second of all, I doubt very much that any of the teams out there are trying to come back at this very precise moment. OC-3 isn't due back until 1300 hours, OC-6 is due at 1500 hours and OC-7 isn't coming back till 1800 hours." Her expression was calm, her voice clipped. "With all due respect, *Sir*, maybe you should spend more time checking the roster and less time yelling at people who are just trying to do their job."
An unusual silence fell over everyone in the room. People stopped what they were doing, watching the scene with unrestrained curiosity, the only person present who wasn't on Sam's side being the General himself.
Wright's mouth opened and closed several times but nothing came out. "You have a mission, Colonel. We'll talk when you get back..."
"No, General, we won't. You can't do anything to me without losing the Asgard's support and therefore losing the confidence of the President and your place at the SGOC." She kept her voice dangerously low so only Jonas and the General himself could hear, knowing that embarrassing him publicly would only make things worse.
His mouth formed a tight white line, his eyes spitting fire at her. "Very well, Colonel," his words were curt at best. "Have a safe mission and we'll debrief when you get back."
"Yes, Sir." She refused to be the first to break eye contact, keeping her chin held high as he walked away. She saw Jonas move closer out of the corner of her eye and risked taking looking at his face, relieved to see barely contained amusement instead of the disapproval she'd been dreading. "Did I just do something stupid?"
"No." Jonas risked giving her a fully-fledged grin as they began walking up the ramp towards the active Stargate. "I think it was great. And you're right; he can't do anything to you. That's what makes it so cool."
"We're only safe as long as they still need us, Jonas," she said quietly, hearing the footsteps of their two team mates on the ramp beside them. "We need to get the SGC involved before we find a way of defending ourselves against the Goa'uld."
The Kelownan at her side nodded. They took the step forward together and appeared on the other side of the Stargate at exactly the same time. "As soon as we make some progress, Thor will insist the SGC is told. It's going to be okay, Sam. No one on Kaia will let anything happen to either of us. No one but Wright, anyway."
"I'm not worried about when we're on Kaia." She gazed pointedly over her shoulder as their companions, a Captain Jennings and a Major Miller, arrived, both men glancing around warily. "It's when we're off-world. Jennings and Miller are the only two people without family on Kaia, they're the only two who don't get involved with the social happenings. It's strange that they happen to be the two officers Wright assigned to be paired off with us, isn't it?"
"You didn't think to tell me this when we were still on Kaia?" Jonas glanced at the two burly men, swallowing when one of them narrowed his eyes in response. "You think we can trust them or not?"
She shrugged and pulled her cap on, forcing the smile she gave Miller and Jennings as they made their way over to the pair. "I'm probably being paranoid but watch your six, okay?" A subtle nod was his answer as their team mates stopped beside them. "Okay, guys, we're on the lookout for any remaining Asgard technology. We'll split up, go in sets of two but we'll check in every twenty minutes. The last time the Asgard were here they were fleeing from the replicators and although they're hopefully not a threat anymore, they might have left something behind that is." When all three of the men staring at her expectantly nodded, Sam continued. "Miller, Jennings, you guys go East. Jonas and I will go West, if you see anything unusual, don't hesitate to get in touch. And be sure to check in when you're supposed to, okay?"
Jennings and Miller nodded and started out in the direction she'd ordered them to go. Exchanging a glance with Jonas, Sam started to go the opposite way, trying to ignore the voice in her head that told her to go home.
The planet wasn't what she'd expect from an old Asgard base. There were very few signs of advanced technology and a lot of greenery. In some ways, it reminded her of Earth and of Kaia. There was a lot of grass, old dirt paths and a lot of trees. Colonel O'Neill, she decided with a small smile, would love it.
"It's kinda nice here," Jonas' voice broke into her thoughts, his eyes roaming over their surroundings. He was searching for some sign that the Asgard had been there once but had found none. "Peaceful. Unspoilt. Maybe the Asgard's base was underground?"
"Thor said we should be able to see it if the replicators left anything remaining. It doesn't look like they did." Sam shook her head and frowned, disturbed that they couldn't see even the smallest piece of evidence to say they were looking in the right place, and disturbed at the feeling she got when they walked out of the trees and into a small clearing. "Ah, Jonas?"
He stopped beside her, a hand moving to rest on his gun. "Yeah?"
"Do you feel like we're being watched?" The radio at her side chose that moment to hiss and cackle, making her jump. "Okay, maybe I'm being paranoid." She took the radio from her pocket and pressed down. "Miller, Jennings, report."
Another burst of static was followed by the voice of one of her team mates. "Colonel Carter, we found what looks like a few replicator blocks. Should be pack them up and head back to the Gate?"
"No, don't touch them." She exchanged a wary glance with Jonas, keen eyes scanning the woodland around them. "Take a few pictures but we won't be taking them home with us. Can you see any sign of the Asgard base?"
She sighed softly. "Okay, take a few pictures, then head back to the Gate. I don't want to stay here any longer than we have to. Jonas and I will meet you there. Carter out." Sam saw Jonas look around nervously as she clipped her radio back in place. "Worried I'm not just being paranoid?"
"With evidence that the replicators were here but no sign that the Asgard ever were?" He kept his hand on his gun, his eyes darting from one tree to the next. "The sooner we get to Kaia and talk to Thor about it the better. I'm sure he said the Asgard didn't find any replicator pieces when they came to check the planet was safe so..."
"So where did they come from if they weren't here a few weeks ago?" She started walking back the way they'd come before he had a chance to answer. "I don't know, Jonas, but something about this place gives me the creeps, let's get home as soon as we can."
They were almost out of the trees at the edge of the clearing the Stargate was in when they heard it: the telltale rumble as the Gate came to life. Without needing to be told, Jonas went one way and hid between a dense patch of shrubbery and trees while Sam went the other, unclipping her radio as she knelt down. "Miller, Jennings, come in." She prayed the crackle of the radio wasn't loud enough to attract the attention of whoever was coming through the Gate, wishing they weren't so close.
"We read you, Colonel. Did we just hear the Stargate activate?" It was Jennings who spoke, unlike before when Miller had been responding, sounding understandably nervous.
"Unfortunately, yes. Take cover and hold your position until you hear from me again." She kept her voice as quiet as possible, hearing branches split as whoever it was began walking along the mud path and towards her hiding place. "Over and out."
She kept her head down as the footsteps got close, leaves rustling and twigs breaking under the heavy footfall. She estimated there were four of them and hoped they were Jaffa. It'd been a while since she'd been in a gunfight, and even then she'd been taking orders from the Colonel instead of being the one giving them.
"These are recent tracks, O'Neill."
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart rose in her chest.
"Thought so. Jaffa?"
Colonel O'Neill. Sam's eyes darted to the bushes she knew Jonas was hiding under and managed to meet his gaze through the leaves and branches. His astonished expression would have been comical were it not for the fact she was fighting an inner battle with herself. Should she stay hidden and go back to Kaia without saying anything or should she let them know she was there and tell them about the Omega Command's existence?
"It does not appear so. These tracks are too small to be Jaffa. They appear to be made by a human but I believe General Hammond said this place had not been visited before."
"It hasn't, I remember asking for this assignment because it wasn't on the Goa'uld cartouche and no one else had been here. Maybe there's a village near by with people like us?"
"I don't think so, Doctor Jackson. The UAV we sent out this morning showed no signs of life or civilisation on this planet."
Lieutenant Haley. Sam could see their feet and froze. She couldn't let them know, not yet... They'd be angry and saying goodbye again would be too hard...
"Nope, it only showed trees. My favourite. Tell me again why you thought we should come here, Daniel?"
"Because I thought it would be an interesting walk through the forest?"
"If you wanted to do that, we could've all gone to Minnesota."
"We wouldn't be able to distract ourselves there, Jack. You know we'd be too busy thinking about them."
Them? Sam glanced again glanced over to Jonas, vaguely amused to see the look of astonishment still in place on his face. Could 'them' be *them*?
"Being on another planet isn't gonna make a difference, Spacemonkey. Until Hammond gets through to someone who knows where Carter and Jonas are, none of us will be able to *stop* thinking about them."
Her eyes closed as silence fell over the four people standing just a few feet away.
"Okay, campers. Here's what we're going to do. Teal'c, Haley, you guys go that way, we'll go this way. Check in after three hours. If we haven't found anything by then, we'll meet up and go home."
"Stay on your guard and move out. If you come across whoever made these tracks, get in touch with us immediately."
"We will, O'Neill."
The feet moved in opposite directions. Sam and Jonas remained hidden until there was complete silence, doing their best to avoid making any sound as they stood and brushed the dirt and twigs clinging to their clothes away.
In silence, they made their way back to the Stargate, standing behind some trees as they radioed the other half of their team to let them know it was safe. Five minutes later, Jennings and Miller appeared but still Sam and Jonas said nothing.
Jonas dialled the Stargate and Sam sent the GDO code through the open wormhole. When the light on her remote flashed to let her know the computers on the other side had received the signal - a new feature to the remotes the OC teams had developed - she led her team back through the Stargate to Kaia.
General Wright's snide comment about her team being home before they were due fell on deaf ears. She went to the small infirmary, speaking only to answer yes or no to the doctor on duty's inquiries. She left the facility before the debriefing could begin, without even leaving a message for General Wright to let him know she was going to be absent.
Only when she was in the safety of her own home did she stop and allow herself to think about their close call. She sat down in front of the unlit fire, wrapping her arms around her knees as she stared sightlessly at where the flames should be.
She would've known who it was even if he hadn't spoken. No one else would have entered her home without knocking first.
"We were so close, Jonas. We could've said something and gone home with them."
He sat down in the chair nearest to her, knowing she wouldn't welcome any gestures of comfort or friendship. Not yet. "We decided we were going to stay and help make this place worth while. As soon as we can tell them we're okay, we will. They'll understand."
"I'm not so sure. You heard Daniel; they're worried about us. No one's telling them anything and now we're just as bad by not taking the chance when we had it." She sighed and let her chin rest on her knees, curling up into herself as much as possible. "If they find out we were there and said nothing..."
"They won't, not until we want them to and by then, we'll be able to show them why we did it." He shifted in his chair, staring at her back. He could sense she was upset but knew her well enough to know she was in that place where she wanted to be alone even though she needed someone there. He wanted to say something to make her feel better but knew there was nothing he could tell her that would achieve his goal. "Thor and Heimdall are waiting on base. I told them about the replicator pieces Jennings and Miller found and they want to talk to us. It sounds serious."
"Right." Her voice was thick as she slowly regained her composure. She was grateful that he cared enough to follow her but she didn't particularly want to have to talk about how she was feeling. Thankfully, he seemed to pick up on it. "We'd better head back, then."
They each stood and headed for the door, heading back to the SGOC in silence, both trying to concentrate on what the Asgard wanted to tell them and not on their close encounter with their former team.
"SG-1, how was your mission?" General Hammond asked the question even as he began dreading the answer. The expressions his flagship team were wearing were enough to set him on edge. "Colonel? What is it? What did you find?"
The Colonel met his gaze grimly, a look of distaste arranging his features. "Haley and Teal'c found a few replicator blocks, Sir. Daniel and I found a whole lot more of them."
"Blocks? Not actual replicators?" He wasn't sure whether to be alarmed or intrigued, watching as the four people in front of him squirmed uncomfortably.
"Just blocks and a warning, Sir." Daniel swallowed, his face pale as he remembered reading SG-1's mission reports on their last encounter with the replicators. "The blocks were smaller than we're used to and spelt out a message."
"What was the message, Doctor? Colonel?"
Lieutenant Haley shuffled from one foot to the other, her anxious eyes unable to stay in one place for long. "It said that they were coming, General Hammond. It said the replicators were coming for the humans of Earth."
The occupants of the briefing room had been stunned into silence.
Jonas and Sam sat across the table from each other, glazed expressions on their faces.
"Are you saying," General Wright began, his incredulous voice slicing through the descended quiet, "that there are three of those replicator people out there somewhere?"
"That is what we said, yes." Heimdall blinked her big black eyes, focusing on the irate General instead of his two staggered officers. "We regret to inform you that we were wrong when we said we could destroy all of the replicators once we had them confined. Somehow, three of their creations escaped. We believe they are the robots known as First, Third and Fifth but we cannot be sure. The Asgard vessel that came into contact with them was destroyed before we could reach it."
The General slammed his hands down on the desk, startling Jonas out of his thoughts. "And you didn't think you should mention it sooner? I've read the reports; I know these bugs are as big a threat as the Goa'uld! The President will not be happy when he hears about this!"
"We have not been made aware of their presence since. We did not believe they would travel to your galaxy." Heimdall sounded haughty, obviously unimpressed by the General's show of anger.
"We have been preparing for this," Thor interrupted, trying to calm the situation. "All of the devices we have been helping Colonel Carter and your people built can be modified and used to defend Kaia and Earth against a replicator invasion. The force shields we plan to create will not permit the Goa'uld or the replicators to pass through it."
"Those plans are still a long way from becoming reality," General Wright seethed. "If those *things* make it on my base..."
Sam chose that moment to speak up, her quiet question diverting the General's attention from the Asgard and the Asgard's attention from the General. "Did you say Fifth was one of the escapees?"
"Yes, we believe Fifth was amongst the three who got by the security measures we put in place." Thor tilted his head to one side, surveying her curiously. "Do you remember encountering him specifically, Colonel Carter?"
"Yes, I do. He's the one who helped us escape, the one I betrayed." Her eyes were pained as they met his. "You have to send word to the SGC, Thor. Colonel O'Neill and his team need to know what they're facing. They may already know, they were on the planet, but that's all the more reason for you to go to them. If they're in trouble, you might be able to help."
It was her turn to be on the receiving end of General Wright's glare. "I give the orders around here, Colonel, not you! The SGC will not be informed of this discovery, if they find out it will be through their own doing. We are not authorised to disclose this program's existence and therefore we will not be able to share information with them. Is that understood?"
"Tell the President what's going on and let him decide!" Jonas got to his feet, shooting the General a venomous look. "If you've read the reports, you know how dangerous the replicators can be. If we're going to have a fighting chance against them, we'll need all the help we can."
"They haven't attacked Kaia and, unless they do, we will need no assistance from the SGC or anyone else." A vein in the General's neck throbbed. "If they attack Earth, we will begin the evacuations. There may not be enough accommodation built to house everyone just yet but, some day soon, with the help of our allies, we will." The last part was said with a pointed look in the direction of the two Asgard. "Until then, I don't want to hear another word about this and I don't want any rumours spread around my base. Jennings and Miller have already given me their word that they won't tell a soul what they found, the photographs they took have been destroyed. I strongly recommend you forget all about this conversation."
Sam stood up, staring at him unflinchingly. "You can't order the Asgard not to share this information with the SGC. They are allies with the people of Earth, not you or this facility. If they want to tell the SGC about this, they can and they will. If Jonas and I think the people of this world deserve to know about the danger they're in, we'll tell them ourselves. You might have Jennings and Miller under your thumb but you don't control us and never will."
"Colonel Carter, I can have you put on charges of insubordination..."
"Then stop wasting time threatening me with it and do it. Send me back to Earth and I'll tell the SGC myself."
"There's nothing to say you'll be assigned to the SGC, Colonel. I'm sure the President will see the risks in that."
"I don't need to work at the SGC to talk to those that do. They're my friends, General, a concept that is probably foreign to you if your attitude to everyone else on this planet is anything to go by. I don't need a reason to talk to them and I'm damn sure they'll be interested in everything I have to say about you and this facility."
"You'd be charged for divulging top-secret information to people without the appropriate security clearance. Your career would be over."
"I'd rather my career be over than my life and the lives of everyone on Earth."
The two officers stood defiantly facing each other, exchanging heated glares that could have melted the Iris over the Stargate.
"Thor," without taking her eyes off the General, Sam addressed the surprised grey alien. "You don't have to tell everyone at the SGC that the OC exists, I know you promised not to do that, but will you please at least warn them of the danger they're now facing? If you're right and Fifth managed to escape with First, they all need to be prepared for a possible confrontation. It's only fair."
"I agree, Colonel Carter. We will leave for Earth immediately to alert them of the situation." Thor gave her a small nod.
Heimdall tilted her head to the side to show her agreement. "Until the threat has been neutralised or we have been able to locate the replicators, you are advised to avoid visiting any planets that are rich in metallic materials."
They were gone before anyone could comment.
Sam gave General Wright one last glare before stalking out of the room, Jonas fast on her heels. Both were furious at his refusal, both scared for their friends back on Earth. Both hoping Thor's warning would get to them in time.
General Wright did everything he could to keep Sam and Jonas from talking about what they knew. They arrived at the SGOC the following morning only to learn they were being sent on another mission ASAP, their plans to work on the technology they were developing with their allies and fellows scientists postponed.
The planet they were sent to was revealed to be low in natural metallic resources by the UAV but they couldn't put the replicators out of their minds. They were both worried for their friends, wondering how long it would take Thor to return to Kaia after telling them the news so they could be absolutely sure SG-1 and the other SG-units were aware of what they could go up against.
Jennings and Miller went their own way without being ordered. Sam had time to shout after them that they were to check in every half hour but that was it. She didn't bother going after them or showing any anger - it seemed clear to her that General Wright was the only CO they'd take orders from, possibly because she was a woman, possibly because they wanted to stay in the General's good books.
Whatever the reason, Miller and Jennings lived long enough to regret it.
After realising they were late checking in, Sam left Jonas collecting samples, trusting him to look after himself even though they hadn't seen anything to suggest they weren't alone on the planet. He was ordered to check in every ten minutes, anyway, and to start following her as soon as he was done.
"Miller, Jennings, come in." Her tenth attempt at raising them by radio ended the same way: with static coming back in reply. "Stupid idiots," she muttered under her breath, needing to hear something in the stillness of her surroundings. "Gotta ask for them to be reassigned when we get home. Henderson and Rayleigh would be better team mates. At least they'd be trustworthy and listen to what they were... Oh."
She froze, her eyes locked on the object she saw protruding from a dense patch of bushes a few feet ahead of her.
A boot, almost identical to the one she wore. Still on the foot of the person wearing it.
Swallowing the lump that rose in her throat, Sam took a tentative step closer. She walked around the bushes and had to swallow repeatedly to keep from throwing up.
Miller and Jennings were both their, lying at awkward angles. Obviously dead.
Both of them, half of the team she was supposed to lead and protect.
Reaching for her radio, her gaze never left their bodies. "Jonas, come in."
"I'm here, Sam. You find Miller and Jennings?"
"Yeah... They're dead." She swallowed again and tried to look away but couldn't. There was something about the way they were lying, something about the way they'd died that she couldn't put her finger on. It didn't look like they had any obvious injuries, there was no blood. "Head back to the Stargate immediately, leave anything that'll slow you down. I'm heading after you but if you hear any gunshots, don't wait. Whatever killed them is most likely still hanging around. If you hear me fire, head back home immediately."
"I'm not going to leave you, Sam. We don't leave our own behind, remember?"
A twig behind her snapped and Sam spun on her heel, her weapon pointed in the direction of the noise. "How sweet." The creature she recognised as being First smiled sardonically at her.
"Jonas." Her eyes stayed fixed on the grinning being even as she heard the telltale sound of the small, spider-like replicators surround her. "Get the hell out of here and lock my code out of the computer when you get back. It's the replicators."
A small burst of static preceded his answer, the Kelownan obviously out of breath when he responded. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. First is standing right in front of me and the replicator bugs are everywhere else." She spoke through ground teeth, tampering her own fear so she could concentrate on making a command decision and getting her only other surviving team mate to safety. "Run for the Stargate and don't look back."
"What about you?"
The question went unanswered verbally. Jonas could hear the sounds of her gun being fired even as he made it to the DHD. He hesitated for a split-second, wanting to go and help her instead of leaving her behind.
"Get back-up," he mumbled, pressing the symbols for Kaia as quickly as he could, fumbling with his GDO. "We don't stand a chance without back-up."
He could still hear the sound of gunfire as the Stargate engaged and he jogged up the steps. The sound was accompanied by the familiar creaking sound of dozens of replicators heading his way.
Turning, walking backwards through the Stargate, Jonas fired at the metal bugs as they tried to get closer and follow him through. When he reached the other side, he yelled for the iris to be closed, relieved when none of the replicators made it through in time.
"Where in God's name are Colonel Carter and the other members of your team?" General Wright was beside him in seconds, showing no concern for any possible injuries the Kelownan might have gained.
"Miller and Jennings are dead." Jonas got to his feet, glaring at the General. "I don't know about Colonel Carter. She encountered their killers after finding their bodies and was able to warn me and order me home before they moved in on her. It was the replicators, Sir. We need to inform the Asgard and the SGC, whether you and the President agree or not."
The officers within earshot of the conversation stared in shock at the General and Kelownan. Not all of them had read SG-1's mission reports but they had been briefed on what they would be protecting Earth from after accepting their transfer to the SGOC. They knew the replicators were as bad as the Goa'uld - if not worse.
"Very well, Jonas." Even General Wright looked pale, the danger they were facing finally sinking in. "We'll have OC-1's iris codes locked out of the computer and then we'll contact the Asgard and the President."
"And the SGC," Jonas added calmly, making it clear he wouldn't let the General forget.
"And the SGC," General Wright spoke grudgingly, his beady eyes narrowed as he turned and stomped off the ramp towards the exit. "If the President agrees."
"What do you mean they've been reassigned? Where to? It's *classified*? Do you have any idea who you're talking to? Right. I see. I'll just have to call the President then, won't I? What the..." General Hammond's tirade was cut short when the power at the SGC went out, plunging his office and the rest of the base in darkness. He hung up without saying anything to the person on the other end of the line, instead glancing quizzically at the Colonel standing opposite his desk.
The two men left the office and went down to the control room, watching as the Stargate engaged of its own accord. "The Asgard, I'm guessing," Jack shrugged his shoulders and the pair made their way down to the Gateroom. "I take you didn't get very far with the guys at Area 51?"
"I got further than usual but quickly crashed into a tall brick wall." The General's expression was solemn. "Apparently they've been reassigned but I don't have high enough clearance to be told where to."
"I thought your clearance was as high as it got." The look Hammond shot him told Jack he'd thought the same thing. Thor stepped through the Stargate then, providing a welcome distraction. "Thor! Just the little grey alien we wanted to see. We found something we wanted to talk to you about but that communication thing you gave us doesn't seem to be working... Guess you haven't got a ship in the area, huh?"
"You want to talk about the replicators," Thor predicted, walking gracefully down the ramp towards the humans, the Stargate shutting down behind him as all the power went on. "I have come to warn you, O'Neil, but I fear my warning may have come too late."
Jack had to fight the urge to roll his eyes. "They left a message, letting us know they plan to come for us." His eyes narrowed when he realised Thor was having trouble meeting his gaze. "Any reason you didn't come in your ship?"
"The Stargate is a faster means of transportation." Thor blinked his big black eyes. "I was asked to bring word immediately."
"Asked by whom?"
Thor blinked again and looked away. "That is not relevant, O'Neill. I have been sent to inform you that the beings you know as First, Third and Fifth somehow managed to avoid being destroyed with the rest of the replicators. We did not believe they would travel to this part of the galaxy which is why we did not tell you sooner." The small alien paused and cocked his head to one side, listening to something no one else could hear. The device on his wrist glowed and when he touched it, the Stargate activated behind him. "I must go, there is a situation that needs my immediate attention."
"You can't just leave, you've got to tell us what to do! Give us a hint at least!"
Jack was ignored as the Asgard walked up to the top of the ramp and paused before stepping through. "I will return with more information when I can, O'Neill." With that, he was gone, heading through the Stargate to a neutral world so he could then gate from there to Kaia where the silent communication he'd been sent said he was needed.
The longer it took for the Asgard to arrive and the President to reply, the more agitated Jonas became. He couldn't stop thinking about Sam being out there somewhere with the replicators, wondering if she was alive and being tortured with her own worst memories or if they'd just killed her like they had Miller and Jennings.
He didn't think they would let her go so easily. If Fifth wanted revenge - and even if he didn't, First would without a doubt - they would keep her alive until she was begging for death. And with Sam, Jonas knew that wouldn't be anytime soon. She was too strong for that. He hoped.
The Stargate activated and the lights in the facility flickered for a few seconds. The Asgard. One of the Lieutenants in the control room announced as much but Jonas wasn't listening. He saw Thor arrive out of the corner of his eye and a few seconds later, Heimdall appeared in a flash of light, but he stayed put outside of the General's office.
"You can come in, Mister Quinn." General Wright opened the door and gave him a tight smile, one that grew even more strained when he noticed the Asgard moving towards him. "You may all come in."
"Has the President got back to you?" Jonas wanted to know before the door had closed. "Does he know about Sam? Are we going back for her? Can we tell the SGC and ask them to help?"
Thor and Heimdall exchanged confused looks. "Where is Colonel Carter? Your message did not give us much information. What is the problem?"
"Sam's been taken by the replicators," Jonas said hurriedly, staring hopefully at the General. "General Wright was waiting for the message to be passed on to the President so he could let us know if we can go to the SGC for help."
General Wright sat down heavily in his seat. "The President just contacted me, he seems to agree with you, Jonas, that it's time to let General Hammond and his officers in on the secret. He seems to believe the situation warrants giving them knowledge of this facility so, like you say, they can hopefully help us recover Colonel Carter." He sighed heavily, his unhappiness with the President's decision clear on his face. "We are to leave for the SGC immediately, Mr. Quinn. Thor, Heimdall, the President has asked that one of you will accompany us and help us get by the SGC's iris."
"I will accompany you to Earth, General Wright. I was talking to O'Neill when Heimdall alerted me that our presence was required here." Thor turned to his companion, as if to get her approval, and Heimdall nodded. "We must leave immediately. Colonel Carter may not have a lot of time."
For the second time that day, the SGC suffered a blackout created by the device the Asgard used to open the Stargate. Heaving an annoyed sigh, Jack led his team to the Gateroom, wondering what was going on. The Asgard had once been his favourite race of aliens but given the way Thor had acted on his last visit; he was wondering whether it was time to change his mind.
"Doc," he greeted Doctor Fraiser with a nod when she joined them in the elevator. "Heading to the Gateroom?"
"Yep." She gave him, Daniel and Teal'c a tight smile. "It's been a slow day, thought I'd see why my computer keeps dying on me."
Janet had become closer friends with the other members of SG-1 following Sam and Jonas' departure. Daniel, Jack and even Teal'c had been known to stop by her office to make sure she was okay and to talk about their missing friends, taking turns in reassuring each other that wherever they were, they were fine.
The four of them - Lieutenant Haley was still in the lab - made their way to greet their guests. They walked through the blast doors just as the Stargate closed and the lights went back on; Janet and Jack stopping still the moment they saw who was waiting at the base of the ramp, Daniel and Teal'c almost walking into them.
"Jonas." Janet took a step forward, a smile forming on her face, but froze when he made no move towards her. "Jonas?"
"It's good to see you, Janet." The smile he gave her lacked its usual enthusiasm. "Colonel, Teal'c, Doctor Jackson." He nodded at them in turn, and then addressed the man at his side wearing an Air Force dress uniform. "General Wright, this is Doctor Fraiser and SG-1."
The introduction for some reason spurned Jack into action. He covered the space between them and stood a few feet away, his eyes blazing. "What the hell is going on here? Where'd you come from?"
"Apparently," General Hammond's tone was cold. "They've come from the Stargate Omega Command, an off-world facility built a year ago on a planet called Kaia. Mr. Quinn and Maj-Colonel Carter have been working there for the past six weeks."
"Didn't it occur to anyone that we might be interested in that information? That we had a right to know?" Jack's surprised outrage was obviously shared by Daniel and Teal'c, who both took a step closer. Janet hung back, still shocked to see her would-be-boyfriend standing there when she'd been fearing the worst. "Does the President know about this or is it an NID thing? You turn traitor on us, Jonas?"
"The President is fully aware of the project, Colonel O'Neill. He is the one who authorised it and made it possible for Colonel Carter and Mr. Quinn to join us." General Wright matched the Colonel's heated glare with one of his own.
Jonas took a step forward, getting in between the two men. "I know you're angry, Colonel O'Neill, and you have every right to be but hear us out, please."
"Give me one god-damned reason why I should."
"Sam's in trouble." Jonas made sure his voice carried throughout the stunned room, making it impossible for any of his former team mates, his former General and Janet to mishear.
Daniel took a step closer, his expression one of concern. "What kind of trouble, Jonas?"
"Big trouble." Jonas' eyes remained fixed firmly on the Colonel staring at him in disbelief. "The replicators have her. First, possibly Third and Fifth as well." He quirked an eyebrow, recognising the fear that flared briefly in Jack's eyes. "Can we leave the explanations until after we have her back?"
"General?" His head was the only part of his body that moved. "Permission for SG-1 to assist them in recovering Carter?"
General Hammond didn't hesitate at all. "Permission granted, Colonel. Now let's take this up to the briefing room so we can get started."
Firing her weapon hadn't been necessary for anything other than getting Jonas to leave but Sam had to admit it was more than satisfying to see dozens of the metal bugs blown to pieces. They hadn't advanced on her, even after she'd started shooting, and she knew that was a bad thing. It meant First had other plans for her and not the same fate that had befallen the other members of her team.
She only stopped when the clip was empty. That was when First's smile had grown even bigger, the replicators forcing her towards him like a farmer's dog herds sheep.
"I have been anticipating this meeting for quite some time, Major - sorry, it's Colonel now, isn't it? Though less time has passed for you, I'm sure." He reached out and touched her cheek, grinning when she flinched and tensed, bracing herself for the intrusion she felt certain would come. "No. The honour should go to Fifth before all else. He is the one you betrayed."
He started walking away and the replicators gave her no choice but to follow. She was led to a cliff-face and watched as First lifted a hand and touched what looked like a part of the rocky surface. It was only when it started folding back on itself that she realised it was a door made entirely out of small replicator blocks.
First pushed her inside, the replicators staying out as the door closed behind them. It wasn't as dark as she'd thought it would be, strange glowing lights pointing upwards illuminated the series of caves she was in.
"Fifth, you have a guest!" First kept on smiling, keeping a hand on her arm to keep her from moving away. "I think you will be pleasantly surprised."
A shuffling noise attracted Sam's attention and she looked to the entrance of one of the caves to see a shadowy figure looming there. The person stepped forward, into the light, and she recognised him.
"Fifth, look who's here to see you." First gave her a small shove, pushing her closer towards him. "I thought you deserved the right to enter her mind first. Perhaps you will learn this time that humans are inferior to us and are not to be trusted."
"Perhaps." Fifth's face remained blank and impassive. He took a step closer, his gaze intense as it swept over her, taking note of the physical changes in her appearance. He had not aged at all, or changed in any way in the time that had lapsed between their last meeting. His eyes were a little less bright, a little less naïve but other than that... he was the same man... the same creature... she remembered betraying by following orders. "Come with me," he ordered, his voice leaving no room for protests.
As slowly as she could, Sam followed Fifth through a series of tunnels, ending up in a well lit, surprisingly dry cave. She jumped when the entrance she'd walked through closed behind her and wondered whether the whole complex was built out of replicator blocks or if it was just the doors. Maybe if she was left alone she'd be brave enough to investigate.
Fifth stood in front of her, his unblinking eyes staring deeply into hers. She said nothing as his arms were raised; his hands placed either side of her head. He leaned in and let his forehead rest against hers, their minds and thoughts joining as one.
Remorse and guilt were the first things he searched for and he was surprised to find them in abundance. He accessed all of the memories and thoughts she had where he was concerned and forced them to replay, choosing not to make her a witness to what he was seeing.
He was in a nearly deserted room with grey walls and lots of flashing lights and buttons. Samantha - then a Major, now a Colonel - was seated at a bench. They were in her lab. She looked up at the smallest of sounds and Fifth saw the man he recognised to be Colonel O'Neill standing in the doorway, waiting with a hesitant expression on his face as though he expected her to turn him away.
Fifth knew better.
He watched with a great deal of interest as the Colonel entered the room and silently took a seat beside her. For several minutes, neither of the humans spoke.
"What we did was wrong, Sir." She was the first to speak, the one to break the silence. Fifth watched, intrigued, as Colonel O'Neill looked up at the sound of her voice but failed to look surprised. "From a moral standpoint, using his humanity against him was wrong."
Colonel O'Neill nodded, his features arranged in an expression of grim acceptance. "I know, Carter. There's nothing we can do about it now."
"Don't you feel anything? Any remorse?" The insistent tone in her voice wasn't what caught Fifth or the Colonel's attention; it was the pleading note that lurked beneath the surface of her voice that did. "He helped us and we betrayed him."
"Militarily speaking, we had no choice. Given our positions, our role to protect this planet and the people on it at all costs..." The Colonel shrugged helplessly, his own discomfort at knowing what they did obvious. "It was a risk we couldn't take as officers in the US Air Force, Carter. Yes, I feel... bad... but we did what we had to do for the sake of our planet. He wouldn't have been welcome here, you know as well as I do he'd be treated like a lab rat, taken apart piece by piece until our scientists knew how he worked and how he was put together in the first place. The *other* scientists," he added, catching the slightly hurt look that passed briefly over her face. "I didn't mean you."
"I know, Sir." Still, her gaze remained lowered. "We... We could've sent him to live with the Asgard. They would have welcomed him if he agreed to share information on the replicators' weaknesses with them."
"Too big of a risk, Carter. He could've made more of his little bug-buddies and then where would we be?" Fifth stared at Colonel O'Neill when he reached out, almost as if he meant to touch her shoulder comfortingly, but then withdrew his hand slowly before contact could be made. "We have to decide whether a risk is worth taking or not. In this case it was one we couldn't leave to chance."
A sad, fleeting smile curved her lips. Fifth was surprised to see the sadness in her eyes when she looked at her Colonel. "Our obligations to doing what's best for the planet always seem to cost a lot."
She meant they cost their humanity. Fifth knew that, and knew Colonel O'Neill did too. He also knew, however, that when he responded, it wasn't their humanity the Colonel was thinking about.
"Yeah, sometimes they cost too much."
It was something else entirely.
He spent hours going through her thoughts, sometimes letting her accompany him and be a witness to all the things she'd seen and done, other times choosing to travel through her mind alone. Fifth was pleased to find he hadn't been wrong about her, that she did seem like someone he could trust... If only her obligations for her planet hadn't got in the way.
Going through her mind helped him to understand how hard it had been for her to go through with her CO's order and it also helped him to understand the Colonel's decision in the first place. Earth had been put in jeopardy so many times and they had both sworn to do whatever necessary to protect it, even if it cost them their lives.
He discovered her knowledge about the SGOC and learnt all about the planet, Kaia, where it was situated. He knew if First or Third were to learn the same information, Kaia would become their next target, the place they would go after destroying Earth.
Fifth closed his eyes more tightly and concentrated, taking both Sam and himself in his own unconscious mind.
"Why are we here?" Sam glanced around, recognising the place as being somewhere she'd been before. She wondered why they were there, whether it was her memory being accessed or his.
"I wish to speak to you and do not want to risk my brethren listening in." Fifth reached out and took her hand, the gesture meant to offer reassurance. He'd seen many people do it to her before. "Do not be afraid, Colonel Carter. I do not wish you harm. I understand now that you did what you have to do."
Her expression was still wary. "Then what do you want? What is there to talk about?"
"For the moment, I only wish you to know that I mean you no harm and that I will try to keep your thoughts and memories of the place you call Kaia out of reach of my brethren. They will use such knowledge only to inflict pain on your people and exact revenge." Fifth let her hand drop to her side. "I cannot guarantee First will not be able to get past the blockage I have created in your mind but I have done my best."
"Then thank you, I think." She managed a small, weak smile but the fear in her eyes was clear. "What's going to happen to me, Fifth? I believe you don't want to hurt me but... How long will First keep me alive once he's accessed my mind?"
Fifth lowered his eyes, feeling shame at being the same race as his brethren. "He will keep you alive until it stops being a source of amusement for him. I do not know how many times he will access your mind and force you to confront the memories you wish to forget or travel to all the places you recall ever having been... Only when he tires of you will he let you die and I fear that will not happen soon."
"Thank you for being honest with me." She inclined her head slightly, grasping her hands tightly. "It's more than I deserve."
He looked up at her then, a small frown marring his brow. "Try and be strong, Colonel Carter. You will need all the strength you can muster."
The connection between them was broken and she slid to the floor unconscious, no sound escaping her. Fifth arranged her carefully, making sure she wouldn't be too uncomfortable when she woke up.
He moved to the wall of the cave and touched it, giving the command to the replicator blocks in his way to move aside and let him pass. He turned to look as they reformed after him, securing Colonel Carter as their prisoner.
Fifth sighed and headed through the tunnels to the main room, ready to join his brethren and share with them some of what he'd learnt. He'd try and help her hide her secrets but hoped her people would try and rescue her soon.
He didn't like her chances of survival, or his for that matter, when his brethren discovered his desire to betray them once again.
The Stargate activated and four men stepped through. Jonas felt as though he'd temporarily rejoined SG-1 but wished it could have been under better circumstances. Lieutenant Haley had been left on Earth; General Hammond didn't think she'd had enough experience to handle the mission and General Wright objected to having someone who was so young *and* a woman on the team.
"It's not your fault, Colonel." Jonas ignored the warning glances he got from Daniel and Teal'c and went on regardless. "You didn't know they would escape and you didn't know Sam was in a position where they could find her either. If we'd stayed in Nevada, this wouldn't have happened."
Jack shot him a glance that was somewhere between annoyed and surprised. "Then why didn't you stay there? Why'd you have to go without telling anyone where you were heading?"
"We didn't know we'd be there for so long," the Kelownan said with a shrug. "To be honest, we were furious when we found out General Wright had no intention to send us back. And it was worse when we were told we couldn't contact you guys and Janet because you weren't allowed to know about the OC. Sam argued with General Wright every day without fail but he never listened. He's a bit power-mad, the only people on the whole of Kaia who were happy serving under him were Miller and Jennings and they're... Well, they're not around anymore."
"They're your two team mates, the ones who died?" Daniel quickened his pace so he fell into step with the two men. "They got along with Wright?"
Jonas nodded and repressed a shudder as the thought that their bodies were somewhere on the planet with them assaulted his mind. "Sam didn't think we could trust them. She was going to ask for them to be reassigned when we got home because she had a feeling as soon as we were done being useful, General Wright would want rid of us. As long as we're on Kaia, we're safe because everybody knows everybody else but off-world... It'd be easier to dispose of us and say it was just an accident."
"You didn't know you were going but not coming back?" Daniel exchanged a look with Jack. "Didn't the Asgard offer to bring you back to Earth?"
He shook his head and gave them a troubled look. "The Asgard entered an alliance with the SGOC that made them have to swear never to reveal its existence to anyone, especially the SGC and the people that worked there. Thor and Heimdall didn't like it but they had to abide by it. Besides, it's because of them we were taken to Kaia in the first place. They stipulated that they wanted either you, Colonel, or Sam to be their contact and since they trust Sam to work with the technology they were going to share with the OC... She was given the assignment and I was sent with her to do what I could to help."
"When was she promoted? Before or after you got to Kaia?"
"After." Jonas rolled his eyes and gave Jack a small smile. "General Wright thought that if he promoted her and made her his Second she'd stop fighting him about getting the SGC involved. He was wrong, it only made her fight more." The smile disappeared, replaced by an almost desperate look. "You have to believe me, neither of us wanted to keep it a secret. We argued whenever we could, and we're pretty sure everyone else on Kaia agreed with us, but while General Wright's in charge, making suggestions the President uses to base his decisions on... There was very little we could do."
"Guess so." Jack stopped when Teal'c cut in front of him suddenly and held his hand up for silence. He looked around and saw what the Jaffa had seen - two dead bodies and a lot of small tracks in the sand. "Replicators?"
"It would appear so, O'Neill." Teal'c frowned and squared his shoulders. "I suggest we proceed with extreme caution if we are to find Colonel Carter and take her captors by surprise."
"Okay." Inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly, Jack reached for his weapon and got it ready. "Let's go get Carter."
In absolute silence, the four men continued on, completely unaware that their every move was being watched.
They stood watching Jacob and Mark Carter hurling abuse at each other, sometimes hurling breakable objects.
Sam tried to turn away, tried to ignore the younger version of herself sitting at the table between the rowing men with silent tears streaming down her face but First wouldn't let her. He held her, forcing her to watch it, watch the moment her family as she knew it had fallen apart.
"You could've said something, Samantha," First murmured, his voice close to her ear. "You could have spoken up and made them see sense, but no. You were a scared coward, sitting there in silence, doing nothing as their relationship was damaged beyond repair."
"I couldn't do anything. They wouldn't have listened to me if I had." Her words were said between ground teeth, her hands clenching into fists at her sides. "And they're talking now. Things are okay."
"But not as okay as they could have been." First grinned at her as the younger Sam Carter buried her head in her hands and sobbed, an antique vase belonging to her late mother shattering as Mark Carter threw it at his father in a fit of rage. "Admit it, you're pleased they had this argument. If they hadn't, they'd be closer and you'd be out of the picture entirely. It's your fault they split your family apart and, if you're honest with yourself, you'll see how you wouldn't want it any other way."
She shook her head wordlessly, a tear fighting to slide down her cheek. "That's not true, I'm not like that. I don't like it when people fight and argue."
The scene changed before her eyes. Her father and brother vanished, Jonas Hanson appearing in their place. He stood towering over another Sam, one that sat in the corner with her arms wrapped around herself.
"He seems to think you do," First whispered viciously.
"You're always causing trouble, you know that, Sam?" Hanson stood with his hands on his hips, glaring down at her, his furious eyes glassy. "You like it, don't you? You like making people angry. You're always doing something to wind me up. Saying things to make other people fight, making me feel stupid because you know I get angry."
The real Sam covered her ears with her hands and kept her eyes firmly closed. She remembered the moment only too well. It'd been the first time Jonas had hurt her and the last time. He'd been drunk and the first sign of physical abuse had been the push she'd needed to end the relationship. He'd shouted at her before but she'd always put it down to the alcohol, always thought he meant it when he apologised the following morning when recovering from his hangover. The moment she was reliving was the last night she and Jonas had spent as an engaged couple.
"It's no fun if you don't watch," First chuckled humourlessly in her ear. "Perhaps we should move onto something else?"
Her hands moved from her ears to her eyes, shielding herself from whatever scene he chose next to torment her with and hiding the tears that threatened to escape her eyes.
First smiled triumphantly, taking his time in picking what memory he wanted to use to break her next.
They approached the caves with extreme caution. Jack went first, followed by Jonas and Daniel with Teal'c bringing up the rear. The caves appeared deserted but the tracks clearly led into them.
Each step was carefully measured, every crevice lit by one of their torches before they moved again. They heard nothing but the sounds of their breathing and the occasional small piece of rock being moved aside by one of their feet.
The tunnels seemed to go on forever, twisting and turning, some sloping upwards and some sloping down. The further they went, the dryer it seemed to get. Darker, too. Teal'c kept his eye on the sandy-mud on the ground and noticed that the replicator tracks seemed to stop.
"O'Neill." His voice made the other three men pause, the Colonel backtracking. "There is no sign that the replicators came this way. However, there is a footprint here that is smaller than any of ours. I believe it belongs to Colonel Carter."
"Then let's keep going." Jack moved to the front of the line again, his shoulders tense. "Keep your eyes open for any signs of replicators and any more footprints that might belong to Carter. Finding her and getting out of here is our main priority, we can take care of the bugs later if we have to."
They started moving again, heading along an even darker path. They noticed another hole in the rock and without needing to make it an order, the four made their way over to investigate.
What they found in the small room stopped them cold, dread churning their stomachs.
The sound of replicators coming towards them shook them out of the haze but all of their exits were blocked by the bugs.
"Colonel O'Neill, SG-1." First turned to them, leaving Sam to fall to the floor like a limp doll when he released her from his grasp. "How nice of you to join us."
The four men were ushered into the small room by the replicators as First strode passed them and into the now-lit tunnels. He smiled smugly as the wall started to build itself behind him, enjoying the startled expressions his captives wore.
Inside the small room, Teal'c was the first to compose himself and move. He knelt down beside the unconscious woman, checking first for a pulse and allowing a sigh of relief when he felt one. "She is still alive."
"Thank God." Jonas dropped to his knees beside her, reaching out to take her chilled hand. "I'm never going to get used to seeing that."
"You're not the only one." Jack stood apart from them as Daniel sat down as far away from the replicator-made door as possible. He surveyed the cave, trying to keep his thoughts from wandering to the woman lying just a few feet away and the fear he'd felt when seeing First holding her. He had to concentrate on something else - anything else. He had to get them out of there.
Charlie was gone. His son was dead.
It was all his fault.
His gun, his carelessness. His child, *dead*. Because of him.
Sara left. Hurt and sad.
Their child, taken from them. Scarring her for life. Because of him.
Sam, a target and a victim. In danger and hurt.
Always his fault.
Her life threatened so many times, by him more than once. Her mind tortured now.
Because of him. Everything was because of him.
"The saying 'you always hurt the ones you love' is very apt in your case, Colonel O'Neill." The voice of the cold and calculating replicator rescued Jack from the memories assaulting his mind. It was different this time, First had chosen to make it different. He wasn't going through each memory in turn and forcing the Colonel to be an unwilling tour guide. No. He was forcing the human to relieve so many terrible things so suddenly... "It is the ones you care for deeply that seem to suffer in your life. I know in your darkest hours you fear it is because of your involvement in their lives... What if I were to confirm that was true?"
"It's not true." His jaw was clenched, his eyes screwed shut though it did no good. How could closing your eyes save you when you were trapped inside your own head? "It's not my fault."
First chuckled and shook his head, slowing the memories and taking them to a place he knew Jack dreaded. "Is this your fault, Colonel? Or is this Samantha's?"
Prying one eye open, Jack stared in horror at the scene First had chosen to play. Ba'al, standing in front of him with a bottle of acid and sharp-bladed knives within arm's reach. He bit his lip to keep from crying out when the knives sliced effortlessly through the air between them and embedded themselves in his flesh. He turned away as the acid fell on his chest, able to recall the way it had felt with too much clarity.
And again, and again. Over and over.
First was just as determined as Ba'al had been in making him suffer, taking perverse amounts of pleasure in trying to be the one to break him.
"Tell me, Colonel." Ba'al and the other Jack disappeared. They were back in the deserted Gateroom, one of First's favourite places. "Do you blame Colonel Carter for what happened to you as much as she blames herself?" The replicator-man grinned at the vehemence directed at him. "Don't you think that you deserve it, Colonel? For all the pain you've caused those who dare to love you... Don't you think you deserve to feel so much pain in return?"
Jack said nothing. His ground his teeth together, staring fixedly at the inactive Stargate. He refused to allow his captor any further satisfaction or amusement.
"You may think you are strong enough to survive." First circled him like a shark circled its prey. "But you are wrong. Colonel Carter believed as you do that some form of rescue would come, and you've seen what has become of her. You will break soon, Colonel. Both you and Colonel Carter and your companions, even the Jaffa. You will all break and beg for death before my brethren and I are through with you." His grin grew wider, almost manic. "This is what you deserve. For hurting so many and for tricking Fifth into betraying us."
He still remained unresponsive, a nerve in his jaw jumping with effort.
"I want you to know one more thing before I finish with you for today. I want you to know that after you are gone, your planet will be next. Everyone there will suffer and eventually die."
First laughed joyously.
"And it will be all your doing. All your fault. Be thankful that you won't have to live with it."
The Colonel was dropped unceremoniously to the floor, joining Sam in unconsciousness. Teal'c stood with his shoulders squared, refusing to let First see any fear. Third was still occupied with Daniel, Fifth was taking his own sweet time with Jonas... First turned to the Jaffa and smiled.
"It looks like you are next, Jaffa. Do not try to resist, it will only make it so much worse."
Teal'c couldn't have resisted even if he'd wanted to. The replicator people had done something to them, drugged them somehow - maybe through the air or maybe it was something on the walls or floor that they needed to touch. Teal'c could barely move. He'd had to watch, powerless, as his friends had been invaded, one by one. O'Neill had been the first, then Fifth had chosen Jonas without even glancing in his or Daniel Jackson's direction. The archaeologist had started protesting and that had sealed his fate as Third's victim.
Leaving him to go last.
"Be brave, Teal'c. Like the Jaffa you are." First found his warning to be amusing as he grinned again, taking the final step forward, his hands moving to Teal'c's head. "Your turn will be over soon."
"You abandoned them, Doctor Jackson. How does that make you feel?"
Third seemed to like dwelling on his decision to ascend. It intrigued him. The guilt the human felt at leaving, and then at choosing to return both confused and amused him. Humans were weak, after all. They felt so much conflict because they were independent of their brethren.
He liked making Daniel relive the confusion he'd felt when Oma had first presented the option of ascension to him. He enjoyed the human's fear of the unknown, his desire to live and experience something new while helping his friends...
He enjoyed the frustration and the guilt Daniel harboured from when he'd been an ascended being and had been forbidden from helping as much as he'd wanted to.
"You made your decision to leave for yourself, Doctor. You didn't do it for the greater good or to help your friends. You did it to try and free yourself from the guilt you felt at failing Sha're and Sarah. You're a coward, Daniel Jackson. That's all you've ever been and all you ever will be."
Daniel remembered failing Sha're when she went into labour. He remembered her death, being unable to prevent it despite the scenarios that had ran through his head during the moments after Teal'c had fired the Staff Weapon. He remembered feeling as though he'd failed her again by letting her son leave not once but twice.
He remembered Sarah. He remembered letting her down during their time as a couple, so many arguments because he'd been so focused on his work and not on her.
"You don't care about me, do you, Daniel? It's all about your career and how you can further it." Sarah stood with her hands on her lips, glaring at him. Daniel, the one reliving the moment, could clearly see the tears running silently down her face and the way her hands trembled where they rested. The Daniel of the moment had been oblivious, his head stuck in a book he'd read a thousand times before. "If you deny it, I'm leaving. I can't do this anymore, Daniel. If you want me to stay, say so and I will. If you don't... If you don't love me, I'll go now and I won't come back."
The Daniel in his memories had looked up on briefly, a faintly annoyed expression on his face. The present Daniel could remember exactly what'd been running through his head at that time. He'd been irritated that she was trying to distract him, exasperated because she didn't seem to understand how important his work was to him.
Far more important than her, at the time.
"Do what you want, Sarah. We'll talk later, okay? I'm a bit busy now."
She had turned on her heel and stormed out of the apartment then, and out of his life until that fateful meeting years later.
When she became a Goa'uld.
"You didn't think of saving Sarah when you were an ascended being, did you?" Third was at his side again, smirking at Daniel's obvious discomfort. "You are selfish, Doctor Jackson. You left your friends when they were doing all they could to save you and returned to their lives when you feared you were being forgotten. Replaced even, by Jonas Quinn. Do you not fear that your friends wish you had never come back? Do you not think they prefer Jonas Quinn over you?"
Daniel stared straight ahead, desperately trying to force Third to relive good memories. Trying to think of the good times he'd shared with Sarah Gardner, his first love. The good times he'd spent with Sha're, her willing student as she sought to teach him the ways of her people. The good times he'd spent with his friends, the good things to come out of his ascension like being able to help his friends in some small, untraceable way... The reassurance of his friends that he was still welcome in their lives, that they still cared for him, that there was room for both him and Jonas Quinn in the universe.
"You are more resilient than I expected." The corners of Third's mouth upturned in a sly smile. "You will not be so strong when First has his turn."
Daniel glared at the intruder but said nothing. He knew the replicator's words were probably true and knew Third knew he knew. There seemed little point in responding and making the experience last longer.
All he wanted was for it to be over, to be out of his own head and back in the cave with more than a replicator-built imitation of a man for company.
Sam closed her eyes and pretended she was still unconscious as Third let go of Daniel. She opened them slightly as the creature peered down at the unconscious heap that was her friend, then at Jonas who Fifth had released moments before, and finally at herself and the Colonel, who was on the floor beside her.
"We can do no more until they wake." Fifth appeared in the open door, his gaze wandering briefly to Sam. "We must share what we have learnt with our brethren and wait for First to finish and do the same."
Third let his eyes roam over their prisoners once more. "I suppose you are correct. Should we leave First alone?"
"They are in no position to harm him or anyone. We have stripped them of their weapons and taken their mobility. There is little they could try." Fifth stepped out into the tunnel, waiting for his companion to join him. "First will be done soon. He will join us when he can."
The door closed behind them and Sam allowed herself a small sigh of relief. For a second she'd been so sure Third knew she was awake and would use her again. It had already happened to her four times and she wasn't sure how much more she could take.
Besides, she wanted to be conscious when her friends came to. She couldn't remember them joining her and knew more than anyone else how disorientated and shaken they would feel when they woke up. She wanted to be able to help them, to be able to tell them they weren't alone having wished more than once for someone to be with her when she had come around.
A groan escaped the man on the ground at her side. Sam shuffled over to him quietly, her actions sluggish. She put a hand to his face as he jerked awake, doing her best to smile encouragingly. "Don't try and move just yet. Wait for it to pass."
"Wait for what to... Ahh." His confused brown eyes shone with sudden understanding. He swallowed the nausea that struck and struggled to bite back a groan as a sharp, blinding pain shot through his head. When it was over, his eyes focused on her once again. "Is it over now?"
"As over as it ever is." Offering him another small smile, Sam eased him into a sitting position, glancing briefly over her shoulder at where First still stood with Teal'c. "When he's done we'll have to pretend we're still unconscious or he'll start over again with one of us." He kept hold of her hands when he was upright, staring at her intently but saying nothing. "Sir? Are you okay?"
Jack blinked and looked away. "Fine. I was going ask you the same thing."
She studied him intently, taking note of - not to mention hurt by - the way he refused to return her gaze. "You have every right to be angry with us for not letting you know where we were but we had no say in the matter, Sir. I've been trying to get General Wright to listen for a long time... I suppose since you're here with Jonas, he finally did."
"I'm not angry about that, not much anyway." His eyes returned to her face, letting her see the guilt he felt. "Jonas explained your situation pretty well."
"Then what's bothering you?"
"If I said nothing was bothering me, would you believe me and let the subject drop?" He glanced at her hopefully but was unsurprised to see her raise an eyebrow and shake her head slightly in response. "Didn't think so. I just... feel responsible for this happening. We found a warning on P7... On some planet that said they were going to come for the people of Earth. If we hadn't betrayed Fifth..."
Sam reached out and put a hand on his arm, keeping on eye on the replicator behind so she'd know when they had to pretend to be unconscious. "It probably would have still happened. First and Third could have still escaped and Fifth would be their target, too. We did what was for the best."
"Doesn't feel like it right now... Hey." He gave her a startled glance as she lay down and pulled on his arm until he did the same thing. The look in her eyes was enough to keep him silent and follow her lead.
With their eyes closed, they could only hear as First let Teal'c go. They held their breath in unison, listening to First's footsteps as they got closer to where they lay. Several long, tense moments passed before First decided to let them be and moved away. They remained frozen in place until the footsteps faded and the wall rebuilt itself, shielding them from peering eyes.
"Is it safe now?" Jack asked from the side of his mouth, opening one eye to look at her for confirmation. Sam gave a small nod and pushed herself up, crawling over to Teal'c, Daniel and Jonas. "Are they gonna be...?"
"They'll feel sick and have a headache but they'll be fine." Her hand moved from Teal'c's neck to Daniel's and then to Jonas. "Daniel should wake up first, then Jonas and then Teal'c. We'll have to keep it down or one of them will come back before the hour's up."
"An hour? Is that all the time they give you to recover?" He got to his feet and walked over to sit nearer their friends, watching as she settled herself next to Jonas, her hand lingering on the Kelownan's arm. "You guys seem pretty close. Closer than you were...?"
She lifted her head from her contemplation of her unconscious friend and managed a small smile in response. "He's become one of my best friends, Colonel. He was my only friend for a while, the only person on a whole planet who knew what I was going through because he was going through the same thing." She glanced down at Jonas again. "He should wake up soon, Fifth said he wouldn't hurt him."
"Fifth said... what? Did you make another deal with him or something?"
Sam shook her head. " No, he just understands why we did what we did and still has enough of his humanity left to know his brethren are wrong to do this. He promised he'd help me keep Kaia a secret from the others, to stop them from being able to attack there as well as Earth and I assume because he knew from my thoughts that Jonas knows as much as I do that he helped Jonas, too."
"Do you think he'd be willing to help us get out of here again?" The Colonel lowered his gaze to his team mates, waiting for one or all of them to start to stir. "I know we can't offer him anything but..."
"Maybe we can offer him something." A thoughtful look passed over her face. "I agree we can't take him back to Earth," she started to explain slowly, catching the look on her face. "But there's the chance we could offer him a safe place to stay on Kaia. It's already a multi-cultural community so he wouldn't be any different to anyone else..." She frowned a little as she thought aloud. "There's always a few Asgard around and I'm sure they would have no problem accepting help from him..."
"Can't risk it, Carter. What if he changes his mind about being a good guy and decides to make some bug people and replicators to help him take over?"
Raising her eyes, Sam stared at him calmly. "I don't believe he'd do that, Sir. And with all due respect, it's my call this time. Kaia and its safety is my responsibility, not yours."
"The safety of my people is my responsibility, Carter. And while we're on this mission, on this planet..."
"Jonas and I are technically no longer your people. The residents of Kaia are not your people; they're mine. If I think taking Fifth back with me would be beneficial to them and, through them, Earth..." She squared her shoulders and tried to block the regret she felt at seeing the hurt her words caused him.
"Fine." Jack crossed his arms over his chest in a subconsciously defensive motion. "But don't come crying to me if it all blows up in your face."
The only response he could see her make was to swallow hard. He pulled his eyes away from her throat and stared fixedly at his team mates, at the ones who were still *his* people. Daniel was starting to stir but Teal'c remained motionless, leaving him to wonder, and to fear, what torture had been inflicted upon his friends.
First enjoyed making the Jaffa suffer. He was the strongest, both mentally and physically, of them all and breaking him would be almost as much fun as seeking revenge on the Major responsible for Fifth's betrayal.
Teal'c was strong because of his training, because of his upbringing. Underneath all he'd learnt, however, was a very human soul. One that was just as battered and fragile as those of his human counterparts.
"Do you remember this?" First glanced at the Jaffa at his side, unsurprised at the lack of a response. Teal'c was being stubborn, resolutely remaining silent no matter where in his mind First forced him to go. "Your friend, Fro'tak. He believed in you, trusted you... and you let him down."
In front of them, a younger Teal'c stood watching from a window as Fro'tak was led away from the city on Chulak. Fro'tak was shouting, protesting his innocence, and glanced up at the window.
"How could you do this, Teal'c?" Fro'tak yelled as two other Jaffa escorted him none-too-gently away. "You know I live to serve our God! How could you lie and betray me? I will not forget this, Teal'c! I will never forget this!"
The younger Teal'c turned away as the older one remembered the events that had led up to Fro'tak's banishment. He had been training to becoming First Prime to Apophis, had been so determined to do right by his father's memory. Apophis had all but told him the position was his... *If* he could follow orders and root out the weakest members of his army and prove to Apophis he was willing to do whatever it took.
Fro'tak was one of the weaker Jaffa. He had less experience fighting than most of the others, often chose to stay at the back of the contingent in battles rather than going up front and fighting to the death for his god.
Fro'tak had also been one of Teal'c's friends. They had known each other as children, joined Apophis' army together and helped one another train.
Teal'c had been given the choice of his friend or his god and he had chosen his god.
"Your loyalty to Apophis came back to haunt you, didn't it?" First smiled as the scene before them changed. An older Fro'tak kissed Drey'auc, Teal'c's wife and gave the female Jaffa a winning smile. First's smile grew as he felt the tension radiating off the man at his side. "He had his revenge on you, Teal'c. Apophis granted his request to return to the city after you left, didn't he? Fro'tak was not only welcomed by the god you'd spurned but by your own family. Your wife took him as her husband, your son took him as his father... That's what you get for being a traitor, Teal'c."
Teal'c clenched his fists at his sides, his jaw clenched as the replicator man manipulated his memories and Fro'tak continued to kiss his wife. Drey'auc had been the one to encourage him to do whatever necessary to serve his god, whether it be excluding Fro'tak or destroying whole villages that refused to bend to Apophis' whim.
Her betrayal, her joining with Fro'tak still hurt. Rya'c's words while under the influence of Apophis' brainwashing still hurt.
"You are a traitor, Teal'c. You have betrayed so many." First shook his head, a mockingly sorrowful expression on his face. " You betrayed Fro'tak in trying to please your wife and god. You betrayed your wife and your child as well as your god when you chose to join with the Tau'ri. You let Drey'auc down by leaving her to raise your son alone; you let Rya'c down when his mother died supporting your decision to spurn your place on your world. You betrayed Daniel Jackson by taking the life of his wife and destroying his dreams of a future with her. You betrayed Shaun'ac by trusting the Tok'ra, a move that cost her her life."
First laughed at the tense expression on Teal'c's face, seeing the fire burning in his dark eyes. "You are worthless, Teal'c. You will eventually betray everyone who has ever trusted you and then where will you be? Alone. With no friends, no family. No purpose. A fallen warrior, a disgrace to your father's memory."
Teal'c remained silent. His eyes remained fixed forward, his muscles aching with tension. He wanted nothing more than to tear First limb from limb with his own bare hands, to get revenge for all the replicator had inflicted on himself and his friends.
He would have to bide his time, though. He would have to wait.
The opportunity would arrive. He just had to be patient.
First, privy to his thoughts, found them all the more amusing. There was no way the Jaffa could harm him, of that he was quietly confident. The humans and their companions would be his prisoners until he was finished with them and allowed them to die.
First returned and caught them off-guard. Jonas and Sam had been talking quietly, discussing the possibility of taking Fifth back to Kaia with them. Teal'c, Jack and Daniel all managed to fool the replicators into thinking they were still unconscious, and had no choice but to watch as their friends were dragged to their feet.
Jonas could have escaped the replicator's notice but he jumped up when Sam was pulled into a standing position, leaping to her defence when no one else did. "Leave her alone, you've hurt her enough."
"Jonas..." The warning note in her tone had been ignored.
First laughed as Jonas was grabbed roughly by Third. "Your loyalty to one another is touching," he smirked, holding Sam securely against him. "It is also your weakness. Your loyalty, or lack of, is what brought you here in the first place." He turned back to Sam, his inhuman eyes gleaming. "I wonder, Colonel Carter, what we will learn this time."
His hands moved up her arms and cupped the sides of her face. His fingers tensed and clawed their way inside, his eyes sliding shut as their minds joined as one.
"Sir, I don't know if you can hear me...the Tok'ra have offered you a deal. There's a symbiote that needs a host. They think it could cure you. Now, it may be your only chance. It would only be temporary. It would come out of you as soon as they found another host. Sir...are you getting any of this?"
"Yeah, I'm right here."
"Over my dead body."
"Sir, the symbiote's host died while they were on a mission. The Tok'ra have strong reason to believe that the symbiote has vital information to reveal and this would give him that chance. Now, they promised that if no other host was found within a reasonable amount of time, the symbiote would sacrifice itself rather than stay in an unwilling host. Sir...please..."
The Colonel nodded once, slowly, before his eyes closed.
First shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. "It's amazing what you can get someone to agree to if they have feelings for you, isn't it? Amazing how you can manipulate them into doing whatever you want them to do, even when you know it's something they would ordinarily never choose."
"You could never understand what it's like to care for someone so much." Sam kept her head up, refusing to let him get to her. "You don't have feelings, you're not even real. You're a machine, a ruthless monster with no heart and no soul."
"A machine currently holding your life and the lives of those you care about in it's hands," First sneered. "How do you live with the guilt, Colonel Carter? How do you live with knowing you've caused him so much pain?"
"I have never purposely hurt anyone and I never will."
"Really?" The replicator casually flicked through her thoughts like pages in a book. "We'll concentrate on Colonel O'Neill for the time being, shall we? Let's see. You were stranded together on what you believed was an ice planet but was actually Earth. He could have died then, Colonel, and what help would you have been? You rescued him when he didn't want to be rescued, selfishly ripping him away from a woman he had come to care about because she wasn't you. You asked him to ignore his feelings and pretend they didn't exist because they were an inconvenience to you. You rejected him repeatedly, knowing how it would sting. You asked him to do something you knew he would hate, thinking only of what it would mean for yourself if he died."
First circled her, shaking his head in disgust. "If that's what you get when you care for someone, I'm glad it is a flaw I do not share with you humans. I cannot see how he could possibly still care for you after all you have done to him. Perhaps he doesn't. What would you do then, Colonel? How would you feel if he no longer shared your feelings?"
"I'd cope. I'd get on with my life. It wouldn't be the end of the world."
"If you say so, Colonel." First grinned at her, loving the thoughts he could sense swirling around in her mind. "It would be interesting to put it to the test..."
"You do not belong, Jonas Quinn." Third grinned, feeling the internal struggle that had started inside the Kelownan after his external struggle had been silenced. "You have never belonged. You are not one of them, you are not human although you appear to be. They will never truly accept you as one of their own nor do you deserve it. Your feelings for them will never truly be returned. Your friendship with Colonel Carter is one sided yet you have not realised it. Your relationship with Doctor Fraiser was doomed to fail, just as your relationship with Alaina failed."
"Don't you dare mention Janet or Alaina..." Jonas growled at the replicator, his anger over Sam's treatment mingling with outrage that the creature beside him would dare mention the two women he'd allowed himself to love.
They were on Kelowna, in the home Jonas had shared with Alaina James. Alaina had been diagnosed with a fatal blood disease several months before and her time was growing short. The real Jonas did his best to avoid the recollections but it was proving to be an impossible task. His counterpart sat at the bedside of Alaina as she grew weaker, her pale skin strained as she fought to hold on.
"Promise you won't leave me, Jonas," Alaina spoke quietly, her voice pained. "Promise you'll stay with me until the end. Promise me you'll never forget."
"I promise, 'Laina." He held her hand as tightly as he dared, his head bent so he could kiss her white knuckles. "I'll stay with you forever. I'll never leave."
Her eyes closed and her chest rose and fell evenly, slowing down as time passed them by. Her grip on his hand loosened and with tears running down his cheeks, Jonas stood up and walked away.
He sat in the other room, crying silently as she slipped away, unaware that her love was no longer at her side.
"You left her to die alone," Third accused coldly. "You broke your promise to stay with her then, and you broke your promise to never leave her and the place you'd loved her when you chose to leave for Earth."
"I was with her when it mattered," Jonas spat out, his fingernails digging in his palms. He briefly wondered if the marks he made on his skin would be present when he was outside of his mind, holding onto the thought in an attempt to distract his attention from lingering on Alaina's death. "When she needed me, I was there. She died believing I was with her. That's the important thing."
Third shook his head, having no qualms about letting his disagreement show. "You still broke your promise, Mr. Quinn. She died alone when you said you would be with her. You didn't deserve her, you didn't belong with her. You don't belong on Earth and you don't deserve Doctor Fraiser's affection."
The impromptu Christmas party was where Third took him next. Jonas remembered it well. He and Teal'c had convinced Colonel O'Neill to go to a local bar to celebrate Christmas when they learned all the other SG-teams had made plans, either with their families or with their colleagues. They had been as surprised as the Colonel when Sam and Janet had turned up of their own accord, with a few of the other women from the SGC for company. A few minutes after spotting her team mates, Sam and Janet had joined them at their table and had spent most of the evening flittering back and fourth between the men of SG-1 and the rowdy women from base.
In reality, Sam and Janet had been friendly to them, and the evening had ended with his first kiss with the petite Doctor.
In his mind, Third manipulated his memory so that Sam and Janet didn't join them and didn't even acknowledge they were there.
"This is how it should have happened," Third told him maliciously. "They should have stayed with their own kind, spurning the two aliens and the human Colonel. You do not deserve their friendship for what you did to Alaina. You don't deserve to live and breathe among them. You don't belong there, Jonas Quinn. You never have and you never will."
"Then why does part of you believe I'm telling you the truth?"
He came around with a gasp, sitting up and turning away from the others just in time to empty the contents of his stomach in one corner of the room. Wiping his mouth, Jonas turned back to them, his face a pale shade of green.
"Have you recovered, Jonas Quinn?" Teal'c, the one sitting closest to him, surveyed him with sympathetic eyes.
"Yeah, thanks, Teal'c." Jonas managed a fleeting smile, one that failed to reach his haunted eyes. He was grateful the Jaffa was still prepared to show him friendship, especially after the seeds of doubt Third had sowed in his mind. He glanced around, noticing Doctor Jackson had his eyes closed, resting his head against the cave wall while Colonel O'Neill remained sitting up, his hand occasionally going to Sam's neck. "She's still unconscious? How long's she been out?"
A nerve in Jack's jaw jumped. "First finished with her about an hour before Third finished with you. She hasn't come round yet."
"You think it's because she's been through it more times than we have?" He chewed on his bottom lip, gazing worriedly at the still woman's face. "She'll be okay, right?"
"We hope so, Jonas." Daniel managed a weak smile, his face showing the concern he felt.
Another voice joined the conversation, catching them by surprise. "She grows weaker with every assault." Fifth took a step forward from his position concealed in the shadows. "She will not be able to live through many more of First's visits. Her mind can only take so much."
Teal'c, Daniel and Jack gazed at him warily but Jonas acknowledged him with a small nod. "Is there any way you can help her, Fifth? Any way you can bring her around?"
"She should awaken soon." Fifth moved to stand beside them, staring down at her unmoving form. "I have been keeping track of her recovery times. She should wake within the next minute."
Two men, two aliens and one replicator watched over her. Jack glanced at his watch and found it had stopped, having to resort to counting to sixty in his head. As he neared 57, Sam began to stir, her eyelids slowly opening. She looked dazed, her eyes glassy. She blinked several times but made no attempt at moving any other part of her body.
"Sam?" Jonas scooted over, stopping when he was sitting almost as close to her as Colonel O'Neill. "Are you okay? You feel sick or...?"
She blinked again but her lips didn't move.
"Carter?" Jack reached out and touched her cheek, watching her gaze move slowly from Jonas to him, her eyes taking a few seconds to focus. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Her tongue came out to moisten her lips, her eyes locking with his. "I can't move."
"Fifth?" His hand moved to cover hers, squeezing it reassuringly as his eyes travelled upwards to meet those of the replicator. "This is only temporary, right?"
"I do not know," Fifth said sincerely, his brow furrowed as he knelt down beside them. "I believe it will pass but I cannot be certain. No one else has been through what Colonel Carter has so many times..."
Jack tightened his grip on Sam's hand, witnessing the fear flicker across her face. "It'll pass soon, Carter. It'll just be like the nausea."
"Nice try, Colonel, but there's nothing wrong with my hearing. Just pretty much everything else." She tried to return the pressure on his hand but her fingers remained motionless. She breathed out slowly, maintaining eye contact with him. "If this isn't temporary, you guys will have to leave without me."
"Not happening." His hold would have been painful if she could feel it. "We don't leave our own behind, remember?"
"We left Fifth behind when we shouldn't have because it was the right thing to do in the eyes of the Air Force. Leaving me behind now if you get the opportunity to escape is right. It's the same thing, Colonel. You have no choice."
Their eyes locked. Jonas and Daniel traded knowing glances as Teal'c and Fifth curiously watched the silent conversation taking place. A battle raged between the two Colonels, one neither was willing to let the other win.
"We're not leaving you, Carter." His voice was quiet but firm, his eyes saying everything he couldn't. "If the situation was different, you wouldn't leave any one of us behind."
You wouldn't leave me behind.
"No, I wouldn't."
"Then it's settled. If the opportunity arises we all go together or Teal'c, Jonas and Daniel can head back to the 'Gate and get back up." He let go of her hand and rocked back on his heels, putting a small amount of distance between them. "I know this is a long shot but would you be willing to help us get out of here, Fifth?"
Fifth stared at him without speaking for several long minutes. "It may not be possible, Colonel O'Neill. My brethren still do not trust me entirely. If they were to learn that I was here speaking to you like this, they would destroy me. If I were to let you go again, they would know without a doubt that I was responsible."
"What if you could come with us?" Jonas glanced briefly at Sam, waiting to see the agreement on her face before continuing. "You can't go back to the SGC or Earth but... You know Kaia is different. You learnt about it through Sam and me. It wouldn't be so hard for you to fit in there, you could have your own space and we'd be able to keep you as busy as you want to be working in the labs with us or the Asgard..."
Appearing interested Fifth looked between Sam, Jonas and Jack. He saw the reluctance in O'Neill's eyes but saw only honesty in Sam and Jonas'. "If I were to agree to risk my life to help you and I was to go with you to your world... Would it be possible if I brought a companion?"
"A companion?" Daniel repeated. "You can't mean First or Third..."
"No, I don't mean them."
"Then who? Have you created more of your kind since escaping the Asgard?" Teal'c stared at him unflinching, anxiously awaiting the answer. It would be hard enough to escape First, Third and the replicator bugs they commanded... If there were more...
Fifth shook his head but remained tight-lipped.
"You're going have to tell us who your 'companion' is if you want us to agree to letting you bring whoever it is." Suspicion evident in his voice, Jack waited expectantly for Fifth to answer.
"My brethren and I brought her with us when we left Halla. First and Third believed they could revive her... I spent a long time trying to fix the mistakes that made her how she was... When I was able to repair the damage your weapons caused, she awakened and she was like me. Is like me." His words tumbled out in a rush, his eyes unblinking. "She has seen the error of her ways and wishes to either destroy First and Third or fix the flaws they have. Because of this, they cannot know that she has recovered. If I were to leave with you, I would have to bring her with me. I promised I would never leave her to fend for herself or let the others know of her condition."
"Reese!" Daniel blinked in astonishment, seeing the surprise he felt reflected back at him on his friend's faces. "You're talking about Reese, aren't you? How did you... Are you sure you've fixed the errors in her programming?"
Fifth nodded, a small smile playing on his lips - the first they had ever seen him wear. "I am one hundred percent certain, Doctor Jackson. She remembers all that she said and did while in your custody and regrets it. She knows, Colonel O'Neill, that she gave you no choice and she regrets that she betrayed your trust, Doctor Jackson. I know she would appreciate the opportunity to make it up to you." His attention returned to Sam and Jonas, the two people he knew would have the final say in whatever decision was made. "Would you allow Reese to accompany me to your world if we were to help you destroy our brethren and escape?"
"We'd have to think about that, Fifth." Sam answered slowly, testing to see if her paralysis had worn off. It hadn't. "I believe that you think you've helped her but we need to be convinced of that ourselves before we can agree to take her with us. She put Earth in jeopardy before, what she did is one of the reasons we couldn't risk taking you with us last time. If I were to agree and let her come to Kaia, I'd have to be as convinced as you are that she wouldn't hurt anyone there. The safety of the people we work with and their families is more important than our lives."
"I understand, Colonel Carter." Fifth stood and walked to the door. "I will do my best to return before the others do. I don't want to hurry you but it would be wise of you to have made your decision by then. I will need Reese's help to defeat First and his followers."
He left them alone in silence, the wall rebuilding itself as he made his departure. Sam continued trying to force her heavy limbs to cooperate, Jack continued watching her and Teal'c, Jonas and Daniel did their best to discreetly fade into the background. Jack's fingers edged closer, eventually reaching out for and retaking her hand in his. Her eyes moved to look at him when her head refused to turn, managing to convey her thanks without words.
Two hours and three close calls later, Daniel and Jonas were jolted from their lightly dosing states by the sound of relieved voices. Straightening up where they sat leaning against opposite walls, the pair glanced over at their friends to see Sam sitting up, with Teal'c and Jack hovering either side of her.
"You okay, Sam?" Jonas shuffled over, sitting as close as he dared with the Colonel and Jaffa in protective mode.
Her answering smile was tremulous but present regardless. "I'm fine, Jonas. Just feel like I have pins and needles at the moment."
Daniel glanced briefly to Teal'c for confirmation, catching his friend's small reassuring nod. "You're not in any pain? Do you think you can walk?"
"It's nothing I can't handle." Her smile grew a little strained, her hands clenching as a wave of nausea struck her. "I think I can walk so it looks like we're getting out of here. All of us," she added with a pointed look in Jack's direction.
Teal'c tipped his head to one side, studying the paleness of her skin with concern. "Does that mean you are agreeing to allow Reese passage to Kaia?"
"Yes, it does." She held up a hand to still the protests she knew would be forthcoming. "I know it's a risk but the odds are in our favour. Fifth truly believes he's fixed what was wrong with her and I really want to think he's right. If he's not, there's always a few Asgard present at any one time and I'm sure they'd be able to help out if Reese did turn out to be the way we remember her. Besides, you got through to her once, Daniel. It could be done again if need be." She shrugged tiredly, her eyelids drooping. "It could be our only chance to get out of here alive and hopefully rid ourselves of the replicators - the dangerous replicators - for good."
"How can you be sure the Asgard will be able to control Reese if her true colours turn out to be different to what they seem to be?" Colonel O'Neill struggled to keep his military mask in place, noticing, as did the others, that her condition - despite having improved dramatically - was once again deteriorating.
"They studied her intensely when she was on Halla. The Asgard understand the technology and wouldn't have sent us to Halla unprepared if they had know the replicators had created more... robots, for want of a better term. And Fifth will be there, too. He'll be able to help if anything goes wrong." Sam lifted a shoulder without opening her eyes.
"If his feelings for her don't get in the way," Jonas said quietly.
"They won't, he won't let them." Sam opened her eyes at the certainty in the Colonel's voice, the two sharing a look of deep understanding. "No matter how hard it is, Fifth knows he'd have to do what's best for everyone else. That's part of what humanity is."
"Humanity also involves a certain amount of selfishness, O'Neill, not to mention the ability to care for someone so much death is preferable to losing them." The discreet meaning beneath his words did not go unmissed by the others trapped in the cave. "How do you know Fifth will chose to loyalty to Colonel Carter and the people of Kaia over his loyalty to Reese?"
Daniel was the one who answered, breaking into the conversation before either Sam or Jack could open their mouths to protest. "*If* Reese turns out to be different to what Fifth thinks, he'll be as disappointed as everyone else and will know it's wrong. He'd do what he had to. From what I've heard about him, from what I've seen... He'd do the right thing."
"The decision's been made." Her voice was soft but confident. "Now all we need to do is hope it's the right one."
No one entered the room for another hour. They were beginning to fear First had caught onto Fifth's divided loyalty and had made good on his threat to destroy him so were indescribably relieved when the wall moved back to reveal Fifth standing there.
"Have you reached a decision?" His eyes fell immediately on Colonel Carter, the one he knew was in charge - of his fate if nothing else. He smiled slightly on seeing she was looking better than she had when he'd last seen her, relief at his brethren having not caused too much permanent damage coursing through his veins.
"Yes, we have." She watched him guardedly when he remained outside of the cavern they were imprisoned in. "Shouldn't we talk about this in here? We don't want anyone overhearing..."
"First and Third have been disabled by myself and Reese. Our brethren are under our control now." He looked as pleased with himself as he felt. It hadn't been easy to do but he'd been so confident the humans would agree to his terms that he and Reese had decided to disable their fellow replicators while their captives were relatively safe, trapped in the cave out of harms way. They had mutually decided risking their own lives was preferable to risking themselves and the people would help them. "I apologise for keeping you waiting. Reese and I thought it would be best to disable First and Third before we spoke to you in case they were growing suspicious."
Giving him a surprised nod, Colonel O'Neill glanced at Colonel Carter, exchanging dozens of words in just several seconds. "How did you know what the answer would be?"
"We didn't." Fifth gave them a small shrug and stepped back from the door. "Reese and I were discussing the possibility of leaving our brethren and being free and we decided we would do that with or without your help. We would prefer to join your people on Kaia, Colonel Carter, so that we can aid you in whatever way we can and serve some sort of purpose but if necessary we will try to survive on our own. Please, you are not our prisoners anymore. You do not have to stay here."
With Jack's help, Sam got to her feet in unison with the others. On unsteady feet with her former Commanding Officer at her side just in case she needed some help, Sam made her way towards the young replicator. "You and Reese are welcome to come with us to Kaia, Fifth. Any help you can give us in defending ourselves and our allies would be very much appreciated."
Fifth's smile grew and his eyes lit up. "Thank you. We will do all we can to help your people."
"We will also share the information our brethren has gathered over the years," Reese chimed in as they entered the main chamber of the cave systems, the young woman appearing no different than she had during their first encounter. Her smile was uncertain, though, and her eyes remained lowered. "I must apologise to you all for my behaviour during our last meeting. At the time I knew no different. My father had left me with many flaws but I'm pleased to say Fifth has helped me overcome them. I would like it if we could become friends and forget what is now the past."
"Consider it forgotten, Reese." Daniel swallowed the lump in his throat, amazed and moved to see the childlike woman had not only been repaired but had seemingly matured, too. He remembered the guilt and anger he'd felt at her senseless demise and felt revived himself that she had been given a second chance, just like he had. "It's good to see you."
"Likewise, Daniel." Her smile lost some of its uncertainty, warmth creeping into it and lighting her face. She took Fifth's outstretched hand and her smile grew even more. "All of our brethren are now disabled. First and Third will never again trouble you or us. I have removed their information drives, Colonel Carter, and you're welcome to perform whatever tests you deem necessary on them."
"Thank you." Sam managed a small smile, concentrating more on staying upright then on what was being said. "Do you know where our weapons and GDO's are? We'll need to get back to Kaia and Colonel O'Neill's team will need theirs to get to Earth."
Her words served as an unwelcome reminder that the five people who'd at one time or another formed SG-1 were now split, between two worlds as well as two teams. Jonas edged imperceptibly closer to the CO of OC-1 while Daniel shuffled uncomfortably on the spot. He caught sight of the hint of sadness in his friend's faces and was unable to quash the feeling that he was responsible.
"They are safe; we took them so First and Third couldn't attempt to go through to your worlds. I'll get them on our way." Reese again gave them a smile and turned to leave. Fifth kept a hold of her hand and the couple led the weary teams out of the cave, allowing them their first breath of fresh air in too long. Stopping by a small group of rocks, Reese knelt down and moved some of the smaller stones, picking up two carefully wrapped packages. Standing, she held one out to Jack and the other out to Sam. "I was careful to make sure they were undamaged when I hid them."
"Thanks." Jack took the one she offered him, unwrapped it and passed it to Daniel as he discarded the cloth that had been covering it. "So, Reese, if the others didn't know you were... ah... alive, where've you been hiding?"
The group of seven slowly made their way through the threes towards the Stargate. Reese and Fifth walked beside Daniel and Jack, prepared to answer any questions the pair wanted to throw at them on their way. Teal'c and Jonas kept a discreet distance away from Sam, both giving her the space she needed to keep her independence but staying close enough so that they were within arm's reach if she were to need them.
"There are more caves a short distance from the base First created. Fifth helped conceal me there and came to visit when First and Third were busy elsewhere." Reese answered without hesitation, too pleased to be free to feel affronted by the humans' questioning.
The questions continued all throughout the slow but steady walk to the Stargate. Once there, Jack and Daniel turned to face the two members of OC-1 and Teal'c almost reluctantly left Sam and Jonas to stand beside his team mates.
"You guys can use the 'gate first," Colonel O'Neill said gallantly. "Unless you want to come back with us first and get checked over by Doc Fraiser...?"
Jonas appeared tempted by the suggestion but looked to Sam for guidance, his face falling at the message he saw there. "We should really get back to Kaia, Colonel. General Wright ordered me to escort Sam back as soon as we found her."
"And we need to get Fifth and Reese settled," Sam added with a small smile in their direction. "Not to mention explain to the General why they're coming back with us."
"Rather you than me," Jack quipped with a ghost of a smile, one that faded the moment she looked up at him. "You will keep in touch this time, right?"
"With any luck, we'll be able to send someone through to Earth in a few days to start sharing information and technology. I'll do my best to make sure both General Wright and he President see the importance of establishing a partnership of sorts between Earth and Kaia..."
Jack blinked once then blinked again. "Sure. You do that. Just keep in touch this time, okay?"
"Will do, Sir. Even if it's only through Thor and the other Asgard." She managed a smile and felt Jonas' fingers brush against hers briefly in a comforting gesture. "Tell Dad, Janet and Cassie I'm thinking of them, okay? And tell General Hammond General Wright has nothing on him." Her last comment was delivered with a genuine glint of humour in her eyes.
Daniel moved to stand beside the Kelownan as Jonas began pressing the coordinates for Kaia on the DHD. "Any messages from you, Jonas?"
"Ah, yeah. If you don't mind." Jonas grinned sheepishly. "Can you tell Janet I... that nothing's changed on my end? She'll know what it means."
"No problem." Daniel returned his grin with a smile of his own, raising a hand to shield his eyes from the binding glare of the wormhole as it flared to life. He cast a backwards glance over his shoulder as Sam keyed in OC-1's code for their iris. "Take care of each other," he told the pair quietly, his gaze lingering on Sam's still too pale face.
"We will." Briefly embracing both Teal'c and Daniel, Sam exchanged a long look with Colonel O'Neill. Jonas busied himself with ushering Reese and Fifth towards the Stargate and Daniel and Teal'c conveniently found something else to occupy their attention. "I meant everything I said in those emails, Sir... Jack. I just want you to know that."
He nodded briefly, his eyes unable to leave hers. "I know. I did, too. We'll work something out, Carter. I'm sure there's coffee or some form of it on Kaia, right? I'll just have to stop by for a cup sometime."
"You'd be very welcome. No matter what General Wright might say." She took a step towards the Stargate when she realised Jonas and Kaia's newest residents were waiting for her. "Take care of yourself, Sir."
"Likewise, Carter." He tipped his head in her direction as she joined her companions at the top of the steps. He watched as she led the way through, fighting the urge to follow and order Daniel and Teal'c to do the same. The Stargate disengaged and Daniel began entering the coordinates for Earth.
"We will see them again, O'Neill." Teal'c stood at his side as the Stargate once again opened. "Colonel Carter and Jonas Quinn will not let General Wright ignore their requests any longer."
"Hope not, Teal'c, but they tried before..." Jack shook his head as they started walking towards home.
"Then we've got to hope General Wright's learnt his lesson and understands it's vital to have a link between the SGC and the SGOC." Daniel joined the conversation encouragingly. "Teal'c's right, Jack. We'll see them again, soon."
Following his team's lead, Jack took the final step towards Earth and brought the rescue mission to a close.
"Did the President say who would be coming, General?" Daniel stood beside General Hammond in the control room, waiting with an impatient Colonel and unbelievably calm Jaffa as the Stargate finally engaged.
General Hammond shook his head and tried not to smile. "All I know is what I told you, son. We're to open the iris if we receive the IDC the President specified because he's sending someone through from Kaia to start diplomatic relations between our two commands." The urge to smile vanished entirely. "General Wright might be attending, too, and he's apparently not pleased with the arrangement to say the least."
Jack snorted as the four made their way down the stairs after the Sergeant confirmed they'd received the right code and opened the iris. "Bet he's not pleased. Carter and Jonas pretty much said he was power mad. He probably doesn't like the idea of having to listen to someone else."
"Well if he does come through, he'll have to listen to me whether he likes it or not." General Hammond wore a determined expression, his eyes fixed pointedly on the watery-blue surface of the event horizon. "According to the President, General Wright has been the biggest opposition to letting the SGC know of the SGOC's existence. He put forward some convincing arguments apparently."
"Apparently," Jack echoed. "Don't suppose the President let you in on what they were, did he?"
"No, but I intend on asking General Wright."
Daniel and Jack exchanged amused grins, both aware that Hammond wasn't likely to let the other General off lightly. Neither said anything, but their grins grew when General Wright himself stepped through the 'gate.
The General wore a scowl as he walked down the ramp towards them. He made it almost to the bottom before realising he wasn't being followed. His scowl deepening, he spun around to face the Stargate in time to see Sam, Jonas and a woman no one at the SGC recognised walk through, the smiles on their faces letting Wright know that something had been said on the other side after he'd left.
"General Hammond." Sam quickly joined him at the base of the ramp, smiling warmly in spite of the heavy load she carried. "It's good to see you again, Sir. I understand you've already been introduced to General Wright. This is Doctor Victoria Samson. She's the head of our Archaeology and Anthropology department at the SGOC. She's brought a few items she'd like to share with the SGC."
"It's nice to meet you, Doctor Samson." General Hammond gave her a small smile in place of shaking her occupied hands.
"Likewise, General Hammond, Sir. It's an honour to be here, I've read so much about the SGC..." Doctor Samson glanced at Daniel and smiled shyly. "Doctor Jackson, it's great to finally meet you in person. I've read all of your reports from the SGC and several of the papers you'd written before that."
Daniel smiled in return and reached out to help relieve her of the journals and box files she was carrying. "If I'm not mistaken I've read a few of your papers, too. Didn't you write a thesis on the woman's role in Ancient Egypt?"
To his surprise, Doctor Samson blushed and nodded, her gaze dropping to the floor. "Yes, I did. That was one of the first papers I ever wrote."
"It was fascinating. Your theories were quite refreshing." Daniel glanced away from her momentarily to address General Hammond. "Would it be alright if Doctor Samson and I took this stuff to my office, General? I'd love to take a look at it and cross-reference as much as possible with our database while she's here to help."
"That'd be fine, Son. General Wright, is there a time limit as to how long we have access to the information you've brought?" Hammond glanced pointedly at the other General, waiting impatiently for a response.
General Wright only scowled further so Sam jumped in to supply General Hammond with the information he required. "All the information we have with us is copied from our computers so it's yours to keep. We brought copies of our databases with us so, with your permission, I'll help install everything on your computers. It'll mean our off-world teams will be able to return to Earth if, for any reason, the Stargate on Kaia is unavailable. I'd also like to take copies of some of the SGC's files back so the same can be true for SG-units."
"That would be acceptable, thank you, Colonel." General Hammond spared her a smile before his annoyance at General Wright's behaviour returned. "Do you have to leave at a specific time?"
Jonas fielded the question after exchanging a glance with Sam. "General Wright has to return to Kaia this evening, Sir, but Sam and I can stay until we've done all we have to do. Vicky - Doctor Samson - has permission to stay for as long as she thinks she needs to, for as long as she's welcome."
"General Hammond, if you're not too busy later could I have a word with you in your office?" Sam spoke before anyone else could, knowing General Wright wasn't going to volunteer any information too easily. "I know General Wright will be occupying your time discussing the basics about the OC until he leaves - I have the reports the President asked you to bring, Sir. You must've forgotten about them," she said with a sweet smile in her Commanding Officer's direction and then turned back to her former General. "Perhaps we could talk after that, General? I could answer any questions you have about the reports then."
General Hammond gave her an approving look while General Wright glared. "Thank you, *Colonel*. Maybe you should join us in discussing the reports since you clearly don't believe I'm capable myself?"
"I'm afraid I'll be busy, Sir, following orders. If you do have any problems, though, I'm sure the President would be more than willing to take your call and help solve any problems you or General Hammond may have." The sweet smile returned, accompanied by a cold glint in her eyes. "General Hammond, would it be okay for Jonas and myself to get started? We should really try to get back to Kaia by tomorrow morning and I have some information I'd like to go over with Lieutenant Haley..."
"Go right ahead, Colonel. I'm sure General Wright and myself can cope by ourselves for a few hours." The glint in his eye was nothing short of scheming. "General, let's go to my office, shall we?"
General Wright sighed intolerantly and snatched the ring-bound reports Jonas held out to him from the Kelownan's hands. Without looking or talking to any of his officers, he stalked out of the room leaving General Hammond with no choice but to follow.
"Ah, why don't we head to my office?" Daniel said to Doctor Samson, his brow furrowed as his mind tried to keep up with the strange events. "We can start going over this stuff..."
Doctor Samson smiled in response and the two archaeologists left the Gateroom amidst an animated conversation about the papers they'd each written or read.
"Jonas." Sam spoke as she, Jack, Teal'c and Jonas left the Gateroom and headed to the elevators. "Why don't you give Teal'c or Colonel O'Neill everything you have that Doctor Carson didn't send through and take the rest to the infirmary?"
"Okay." For once Jonas didn't hesitated, the grin spreading across his face being the biggest Sam had seen in a long time. While waiting for the elevator to stop at the right floor, he and Sam quickly sorted through the files they'd brought until Jonas was left with everything meant for Doctor Fraiser's viewing.
The elevator stopped on the appropriate floor and the Kelownan left with a bounce in his step. Sam and Jack exchanged amused smiles and Teal'c appeared to smirk to himself for a few moments.
"So what's the deal with General Wright?" Jack asked curiously, the silence getting to him as they approached her former lab. "He seemed more uptight today than he did when his Second was MIA."
She flashed him a secretive smile before answering. "If I'd stayed MIA, he'd be a lot happier. He probably wouldn't even be here today. As for why he's particularly sour today..." The smile returned, only bigger. "You'll find out soon, I'm sure."
"Does it have anything to do with your little pow-wow with General Hammond later?" The Colonel gave her a sidelong look, mystified by the all-knowing smile that was still present on her face.
"You'll just have to wait and see, Colonel. You'll find out tomorrow like everyone else." With her final cryptic comment spoken, Sam stepped into her - Lieutenant Haley's - lab, effectively drawing the conversation to a close.
Teal'c followed her in, allowing himself a small smile at the bewildered expression on O'Neill's face. It was nice to have his friends in one place again, even if it was just for a short time.
That evening the group met up in the commissary for dinner. Sam, Jonas and Doctor Samson were pleasantly surprised to find General Hammond had organised a special meal for them, consisting of all the luxuries they had to make do without on Kaia or at least create their own version - pizza, potato chips, cream cakes and ice cream.
"Oh, wow." Doctor Samson sat down in between Sam and Daniel, her eyes growing wide as she surveyed the food laid out before them. "I can't remember the last time I had real pizza and ice cream."
"What, you mean Ellis' ice cream substitute doesn't taste like the real thing?" Sam wore a look of mock-surprise, sharing a knowing smile with Doctor Samson.
Doctor Samson shuddered and helped herself to a slice of pizza with a heavy topping. "To be real ice cream, it should ideally be frozen. Not just ice, cream and really cold fruit yoghurt mixed together."
"I think Ellis' ice cream is okay." Jonas, sat across from them barely inches from Janet's side, defended the makeshift ice cream even as he dug into the real thing before eating anything else. "It tastes good."
"You would say that, you're Ellis' guinea pig when it comes to the new flavours." Sam rolled her eyes and smiled over the top of her cup of real coffee. "Just remember we're aiming to get the refrigeration problem solved by the end of the week and once we do, we can order as much ice cream and frozen food as we want."
"Thank Thor for that," Doctor Samson added with an exaggerated sigh, making the two women chuckle.
From across the table, Janet studied Sam intently, frowning in concern when she noticed both her friend and Jonas looked thinner than they had done before leaving for Area 51. "How are you getting food to Kaia? Do you grow anything there?"
"Oh yeah, we have the crops and food stores. At the moment, we send our order to someone at Area 51 using an Asgard long-range communication device - like the one we brought with us for you - then someone gets it all together and the Asgard come along, beam it up and bring it to us," Jonas explained between bites of pizza after seeing the disapproving look on Janet's face at his ice cream feast. "The problem we have at the moment is storing frozen foods. Our refrigeration system went down last week so we've had to get rid of a lot of stuff and can't get more until it's fixed."
"What about cooking facilities? How do they compare on Kaia with the ones here on Earth?" Daniel looked from Sam to Doctor Samson, intrigued by the thought of setting up a new civilisation on a different world.
Doctor Samson smiled softly. "We have all of the same facilities as you have here. They're not as good - the electricity and telephone lines usually go down about once a month - but we're improving them all the time with both technology from Earth and technology from our allies have introduced. The Tollan, I think, have helped a lot with that."
"The Tollan live on Kaia?" Jack arched an eyebrow in Sam's direction.
Shaking her head in answer to his silent question, Sam fought the desire to sigh. "There were only a few Tollan survivors, and those there were lived with the Nox until they were told about our operation on Kaia by the Asgard and chose to join us."
Teal'c looked up curiously from where he sat in between Daniel and Jonas. "Did the Tollan give a reason for wanting to join you? They have been adverse to sharing their technology in the past."
"They said they wanted to help us fight the Goa'uld to avenge those they lost, and that they felt they owed something to us after learning of their High Council's misguided plans to help the Goa'uld attack Earth." Sam gave him a small smile and caught Jonas' gaze. She saw the Kelownan nod his encouragement and set her coffee cup down. "The Tollan aren't the only race to have relocated to Kaia. Teal'c, Bra'tac wanted to tell you himself but wasn't allowed to... He and the other Jaffa have their own village on Kaia, a short walk away from the SGOC."
The Jaffa put down the slice of pizza he was about to eat. "My son? Is Rya'c there with them?"
"Yes, he is. He likes helping out wherever possible and has started training with the other Jaffa." She smiled reassuringly. "One of the things I talked to General Hammond about was the possibility of you visiting Kaia so you could see him. The General's agreed you can come back with me and Jonas tomorrow if you'd like."
"I would like that very much," Teal'c graced her with a full-blown smile. "It has been too long since my son and I last spoke."
"Then the two of you will have lots to catch up on tomorrow." Pushing her chair back, Sam stood when she spotted General Hammond in the doorway, her former CO beckoning her towards him. "Well, I have things to do so I'll see you all in the morning."
Jack arched an eyebrow when he noticed the General waiting near the door. "Didn't you get through everything in the two hours you were with Hammond?"
"We got through most of it," the secretive smile she'd wore earlier was back. "We still have a few small details to go over. See you tomorrow."
She sauntered across the busy room towards the General without saying anything else. Jack's eyes stayed on her, narrowing as he watched the two exchange words, with the General smiling at something Sam had said.
The two people left the room, oblivious to Jack's scrutiny, and despite his companions' attempts at drawing him back into the conversation, the Colonel remained focused on his wandering thoughts, his mind working overtime to try and figure out what was going on.
The following day, the staff of the SGC were surprised to find themselves invited to an awards ceremony to be held in the Gateroom. General Hammond started the ceremony with an official announcement about the SGOC, letting everyone know at the President's request of the off-world Air Force base, telling them they would be allowed to request reassignment if they wished and would also be working a lot with the second command.
Several awards and promotions were given to various teams, all of them surprises to the person receiving them. It was the way they preferred to do it at the SGC, sometimes in small ceremonies for the team in question held in the briefing room, other times - when morale needed a boast or there were a lot to be given - in a public ceremony for all to attend.
"Before I draw this ceremony to a close, there's one other small bit of business I have to do." General Hammond glanced at Colonel Carter where she stood at the base of the ramp beside Jonas before glancing to his flagship team and the man who commanded it. "Yesterday, Colonel Carter informed me on behalf of the President that General Wright, the Commanding Officer of the SGOC, was retiring. She had been instructed to ask me if there was anyone I could recommend with enough clearance to take his place and only one person came to mind. Please come to attention."
Everyone did so, some struggling to resist the urge to whisper to the person standing next to them, others sporting knowing smiles.
"From the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force and with the President's blessings, in recognition of Colonel Jack O'Neill's exceptional leadership skills and dedication to his duty I hereby authorise his immediate promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. Colonel, please step forward." Even the General couldn't keep a small grin from crossing over his face at the stunned expression his Second wore. Daniel nudged Jack none too discreetly to get him moving, several people in the audience unsuccessfully disguising chuckles with mock coughs. "The United States Air Force recognises that you have fulfilled tasks and duties beyond the responsibility of Colonel."
Sam walked towards them after the General's assistant gave her the box holding Jack's new insignia. She helped the General remove the Colonel's eagles and replace them with a silver star each side.
"It is with great pleasure that I bestow upon you the responsibilities, the respect and the rank of Brigadier General." General Hammond's smile grew as Jack lost his stunned expression, his cheeks flushing instead. "Well done, son."
Returning the salute Hammond gave him, Jack nodded slowly. "Thank you, Sir." He turned to Sam and saw the proud grin on her face. "Colonel."
"Congratulations, General." She saluted him before walking back down the ramp to her place at Jonas' side.
Still numb, Jack followed her lead and took his place beside Daniel and Teal'c, doing his best to ignore the way his team mates watched him proudly.
"Thank you all for your time and for the commitment you've shown your duties here at the SGC. It has been an honour serving with you all and I hope to continue that honour for some time to come." General Hammond addressed the crowd with a proud, fatherly smile. "Dismissed."
Countless congratulations were said, dozens of people were the centre of attention as their awards and promotions were celebrated by their colleagues. People Jack didn't know well and some he didn't know at all went up to him to congratulate him, some telling him it was about time and asking if he was going to accept the position on Kaia. He didn't manage to escape the commotion until forty minutes after the ceremony had ended, immediately going in search of his friends as soon as he could.
He found them in the briefing room, watching the goings on from a safe distance away. Even General Hammond was there, engrossed in conversation with Sam at one end of the room. Jack was congratulated again by his friends and his team, eventually managing to break away from the smiling group and approach the General and Colonel talking quietly in the corner.
"General O'Neill." George spotted him walking towards them and greeted him with a grin. "Congratulations, Jack. You truly deserve it." He shook the younger man's hand, his pride obvious.
"Thank you, Sir." A slight blush stained his cheeks and Jack fought the urge to duck his head under the heavy praise. "About the position on Kaia..."
Sam chose that moment to jump in, throwing him a slight smile. "It's not mandatory, Sir. The President and General Hammond agreed you'd be the ideal candidate but the choice is ultimately yours. You've been invited to come back to Kaia with Jonas, Teal'c, Daniel, Doctor Fraiser and myself to have a look around and meet some of the people you'd be working with if you accepted the position but you won't be forced into anything. You can choose not to take the position."
"Trying to put me off the idea, Carter?" He grinned lopsidedly.
"Not at all, Sir." Matching his grin with a wider smile, she lowered her gaze briefly. "I'm trying to make sure you don't feel pressured into accepting the command. You do have to see it for yourself to truly believe it exists."
He nodded his understanding; still having trouble coming to terms with the fact the Air Force had a second Stargate facility that hadn't been shared with the SGC. "I look forward to it. When do we leave?"
"You leave at 1100 hours, General," Hammond answered with a grin. "I myself will be arriving on Kaia at the end of the week to have a look around, won't I, Colonel?"
"Absolutely, Sir." Sam smiled at him warmly, her eyes showing the small twinge of regret she felt at having to keep the information from them for so long. "The President agrees that anyone from the SGC is welcome at anytime. Our computers will be able to recognise your codes after today."
"Can I ask what happened to General Wright?" Jack noticed the discomfort in her face and decided to change the subject, earning a grateful look for his trouble. "Would I be right in assuming he didn't retire by choice?"
General Hammond scowled. "You'd be right, yes. General Wright has been relieved of command for concealing facts the President should have been made aware of. He was withholding information regarding the progress the SGOC had made in developing technology to use against the Goa'uld. The President was under the impression no major developments had been made, so he was very surprised when Thor dropped by to let him know plans for a defence shield were almost ready to be passed on for construction purposes."
"He was determined to keep the SGOC and Kaia to himself," Sam contributed softly. "Thor himself was supposed to be bringing him back to Earth this morning."
"Oh." He tilted his head to one side, unable to resist lightening the mood by giving her a teasing grin. "Doesn't that mean you're currently in command, Carter? If he was relieved this morning and the new CO hasn't officially been appointed yet..."
"Yes, Sir. That's why I need to get back there pretty soon." She turned to General Hammond. "Would it be okay if we started to get our things together, General? We really should get to Kaia as soon as possible so I can check everything's okay and so General O'Neill can see for himself what he'd be taking on."
General Hammond nodded and reached out for her hand. "I understand you're anxious to return, Colonel. As soon as you're ready, you can go. Hopefully now that we know of the SGOC's existence it won't be so long before you're back to visit."
"I hope not, Sir, and I look forward to seeing you when you come to visit in a few days' time. I hope you like what you see." The two exchanged a short but warm embrace, both pleased at getting the chance to say goodbye.
"I'm sure I will, Colonel." General Hammond winked as he released her and took a step back. "From what I've heard, it seems like a good place to consider retiring to."
Sam gave him another small smile before moving away to tell SG-1, Jonas, Janet and Doctor Samson that it was time to get ready to go. Janet had requested and received permission to go and talk to Doctor Carson about some of the files he'd sent, and Daniel had asked to see some of the larger artefacts Doctor Samson hadn't been able to bring through the Stargate with her. Janet, Daniel and Doctor Samson would be staying on Kaia until after General Hammond had arrived and had his tour and Teal'c had been granted permission to stay for as long as he wanted to reacquaint himself with his son. Sam suspected either Janet or Jonas would request a reassignment to be nearer the other but didn't want to dwell too much on who would go where.
Things were changing again and it made her uncomfortable. She was pleased to finally be able to let her friends in on the secret that had been weighing heavily on her shoulders and her heart, but she couldn't help worrying about how everything was about to change. Again.
Side by side, they walked through the hallways of the SGC towards the Gateroom. It was something they'd done hundreds of times before but it still felt unfamiliar and a little strange. It was something they hadn't done in a while. And in some ways it was something they hadn't done before; General O'Neill asking Colonel Carter questions about the place they were going, the place she considered to be her second home.
"So, what's it like at this Omega Command?" Jack shot her a glance out of the corner of his eye, noticing he didn't need to worry about walking into anyone as the hallways were deserted. Probably because everyone was still celebrating, although the party had been relocated to the commissary to make their departure possible.
She smiled briefly. "It's a whole new world, Sir. Pardon the pun."
"It can't be too different from here if it's an Air Force base...?"
"Well... it's half-Air force, half-civilian," she explained softly, lifting one shoulder in a casual shrug. "Most of the officers working there have families and those people were given first refusal to the homes completed. Suffice to say, we have a few dozen families already living there and, with the Jaffa settlement and various other races we've come across, it's already a pretty big community and growing at a steady rate."
"Families?" He raised an eyebrow at hearing for the first time that there were more than just Air Force officers living off world. "What about the kids? Education and stuff like that?"
"We have a small school, newly built. Most of the other parents who don't work at the OC teach, as do some of the others. Bra'tac himself takes a lesson twice a week to teach the kids about the Jaffa culture. It's a multi-cultural school, just in a way that's never been done before." The smile was back, curving the corners of her mouth slightly before being replaced by a thoughtful look.
"Cool. So..." He let his breath out in an over-exaggerated way, racking his brains for another question to ask. Funny. When he'd been packing his bag with enough clothes to last for the week, his mind had been brimming with questions. But the moment he'd been given the chance to ask, they all flew out of the metaphorical window. "Anything else I should know? You guys got a different regulation manual I need to memorise or something...?"
He thought it was a lame question so was surprised to see something akin to interest cross over her face.
"Actually, Sir... General Wright was in charge of re-writing the current regulations for the OC's purposes. A lot of regulations have actually been thrown out on Kaia because they just don't work anymore." Her gaze remained fixed ahead, almost as if she was trying hard not to look at him. "It's more laid back at the OC, there aren't that many people living on Kaia as there is here on Earth so it's impossible to uphold certain standard regulations."
"*Certain* regulations?" His interest was well and truly piqued.
"There's no secrecy between the people of Kaia and the people of OC, for example." She was trying not to smile again, he could tell. The corners of her mouth were twitching. "We're not forbidden from discussing our daily life because everyone there has a right to know what's going on. They chose to live on another planet, they need to know what they've got themselves into and what they might have to deal with."
"Oh. I see."
As much as he tried to keep the vague sense of disappointment he felt out of his voice, he ended up failing. Sam detected a note of regret and had to fight to smother a grin. "And there are other regulations that don't exist, too. You'll find all about them in good time, I'm sure. Actually, you'll probably be overseeing most of them - the President has agreed to let the CO of the base have complete control as far as regulations are concerned, as he's in no position to see what's working and what isn't. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to forbid people from socialising with one another because they happen to work together when the only people living there are in some way connected to the program. It wouldn't make for a healthy community if no one could talk to each other." She paused as they reached the Gateroom, remaining at his side as they watched the Stargate engage and headed for the ramp. "Ready to go, General?"
In an overtly gallant gesture, he motioned for her to go first after they both saluted General Hammond, who stood watching from the control room. "Lead the way, Colonel."
Sam rolled her eyes but did as he said, noticing the rest of 'their' team were moving towards the ramp from the corner of the room they'd been gathered in. Taking a deep breath, keeping her head held high, she walked up the metal ramp confidently, stepping into the cool wormhole without hesitation.
Smiling faces were the first thing he was aware of on arriving at the other side. The second was that the Gateroom at the SGOC was almost identical to the one they'd just left, with the only exception being the slight change in colour scheme. The walls at the SGC were all the same plain, dull grey. At the SGOC, they were a pale shade of light blue.
"Welcome to the SGOC, General O'Neill." A somehow familiar man in a Major's uniform greeted him with a smile before turning to the woman at his side. "Hey, Sam. Take it everything went smoothly?"
"Hey, Matt." Carter returned the stranger - Henderson's - smile and walked down the ramp towards him. "Everything went fine. How were things here?"
Henderson shrugged after nodding a greeting to the others. "It was okay. Wright unwillingly left this morning with the Asgard, and the school recital has been rearranged for Friday so you and Jonas could be there. The teachers thought it'd be a good idea if General Hammond were able to attend while he's here visiting. You're invited, too, General O'Neill. The kids would love it if you could come."
Jack shifted from one foot to the other when he realised the eyes of all the occupants of the Gateroom were upon him. "Ah, sure. I'd like that... Carter?"
"Aren't you gonna introduce us to your friend?" Jack raised his eyebrow expectantly.
"Of course, Sir." Rolling her eyes and trying hard to resist smiling, Sam stood between the two men. "General Jack O'Neill, this is Major Matthew Henderson. He's one of the few officers who've been here from the very beginning of the program."
Returning the Major's salute a little stiffly, Jack let his arm drop back down to his side. "You look familiar, Henderson... Have we met before?"
"Yes, Sir. Briefly, Sir. I worked at the SGC for six months before being given this assignment, Sir." Henderson grinned proudly.
"Cool. And it's Jack, not Sir. It seems things are a little less formal around here and I don't want to be any different."
Henderson grinned again, his cheeks a little flushed. "Yes, S-Jack. Sorry. General Wright insisted we always address him by his title even when off duty."
"Well I'm not General Wright. Thank God." Jack stifled the urge to shudder. "So, Carter, is this where the grand tour begins?"
"I guess so, General." She winked at Henderson and smothered a cheeky grin. "Well, this is the Gateroom, also know as the embarkation room. It's called that for obvious reasons as this is where teams *embark* on their missions through the *gate*."
"Funny, Carter. Real funny." The dour expression he wore contradicted his words. "So where do we go from here?"
Sam just smiled and led him away from the base of the ramp towards the blast doors. "The infirmary is on the same level so we might as well go there next and so you can be introduced to Doctor Carson."
"The infirmary's on the same level as the Gateroom?" Janet quickened her pace until she was walking just a few feet behind Sam and Jack. "That'd make my job easier."
"It's actually because of a report you wrote ages ago about the inconvenience of being so far away from the Gateroom in medical emergencies; it was taken into account when building the SGOC," Jonas informed her with a bright smile. "Plus the SGOC is smaller in height but bigger in width so it makes sense for some of the important departments to be on the same floor."
"Cool." Jack walked in unison with Sam, watching her constantly out of the corner of his eye so he'd know when she was turning a corner or changing direction. He lost track of the number of doors or hallways they passed on their way, and was extremely relieved when they reached their destination, but also knew he wouldn't be able to find his own way there for a while to come.
A tall, grey-haired man with kind blue eyes suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. His features seemed human enough but there was something that most certainly was inhuman... "Samantha! Jonas! Victoria! You're back safely. Good, good, good. Ah, and you've brought guests?" The lean man rubbed his hands together and beamed at them. "May I presume this distinguished gentleman is General O'Neill and that this fetching young woman is Doctor Fraiser?" He noticed Teal'c and Daniel hovering in the background and grinned even more. "And Teal'c and Doctor Jackson, too! How wonderful!"
"How've you been, Doc?" Jonas grinned at the man, trying and failing to hide his amusement at the expressions on his friend's faces. Sam and Doctor Samson were unsuccessfully trying not to laugh, making it harder for him to keep his composure. "Anything interesting happen?"
"Nope, nothing. Nothing at all, my good man." Doctor Carson's grin didn't falter, not even for a second. "It's been quite dull, actually. Dull, dull, dull." He shook his head. "Perhaps you'd better explain to your friends, Samantha, that although I may look ill by your human standards that I am indeed quite normal? My dear, Doctor Fraiser looks quite concerned!"
Deciding not to even try and hide her smile, Sam decided to take pity on the others. "Doctor Carson is from a race called the Mignon. As you've probably noticed, his skin is a different shade to ours but he is perfectly healthy." She turned to the man in question with a warm smile. "Janet's come to talk to you about some of the files you sent through for her. Could you spare an hour or so to discuss things with her? I know it's short notice but..."
"For you, my dear, I will." Dr. Carson smiled at her in a fatherly fashion and looked to Janet. "My dear Janet - may I call you Janet? - it would be a pleasure to discuss such things with such a brilliant young mind. We have few people here with a medical background such as yours so I'm sure it will be most intriguing for us both."
"I'm sure," Janet had no choice but to return his smile. "Though I'm not sure my mind is very young..."
"Compared to me, you are a mere child, my dear." Doctor Carson held a hand out for her and smiled when she took it.
Jack tilted his head to one side and studied the old man. Like the others, he felt comfortable in his presence and none of his instincts were screaming that the strange doctor was untrustworthy, but that in itself felt strange. He wasn't used to instantly trusting or liking people. "How old are you, exactly, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I don't mind at all, General," Doctor Carson bowed courteously. "In your years, I am four hundred and seventy two. The oldest age anyone of my race has lived to see was five hundred and two. Alas, my time in this life grows short but it has been a good life. I cannot say how pleased I am to be involved in this project for my last years."
"Don't say that, you know you're probably going to outlive us all." Sam gave him an admonishing look to which he responded with another smile. "Now if you'll excuse us, we still have a tour to finish and I'm sure Teal'c must be anxious to be reunited with his son."
"Of course." Doctor Carson nodded and looked at them all in turn. "We will see each other again, I'm sure. Jonas, my dear boy, will you be keeping myself and the good doctor company?"
Jonas blushed lightly. "If you don't mind."
"The more the merrier, the more the merrier."
Shaking her head, Sam led the others out of the infirmary as Doctor Carson ushered Janet and Jonas into his office. "As you can see already, the SGOC is quite different to the SGC. I think you can see now what I mean about it being more relaxed here?"
"Oh, yeah. It's nice, actually," Daniel enthused with a smile as they passed a small group of smiling people of mixed races. "It's great to see so many different cultures working together and getting along. How many of them are there in total?"
"Different races?" Doctor Samson adopted a thoughtful expression. "Seven or eight so far including humans and Jonas. We're hoping to have more representatives from other planets once we've established contact with them."
"Wow. That's quite an achievement." Jack looked to Sam when they stopped outside an elevator. "So all of these races have kids that go to the school you mentioned?"
"All of them, yes." She gave him a smile that could only be described as proud. "At the moment, human children are the ones in the minority but that will probably change after our new recruits get here. Plus three of the human women who already live here are expecting children, as are quite a few women from the other races."
The elevator arrived on their floor and the group of five piled in. Doctor Samson pressed the button for the appropriate floor and after what seemed like five minutes, the carriage finally stopped.
"The Gate level takes some time to pass," Doctor Samson explained quietly as she took the lead. "It's understandable given the depth it needs to be to house the Stargate." She led them through three doorways and down two corridors, coming to a stop inside an office occupied by several people of different races. "This is the Archaeology and Anthropology department. We work on our own quite a bit, but sometimes also in conjunction with Sam and the other scientists."
"Wow!" Daniel looked around the busy office in obvious awe. "This place is great!" He shuffled a little self-consciously. "You have more here than I have in my lab."
"Maybe more in content but less in quality," Doctor Samson gave him a slightly reassuring smile. "A lot of the artefacts we're studying are replicas, Doctor Jackson. And a lot of the files you see on our desks and bookshelves actually contain your reports and findings. Without your work on the Stargate problem, we wouldn't have had any idea where to begin."
"Vicky, would it be okay if Daniel stayed here with you?" Sam asked as she hid a smile at Daniel's flushed cheeks. "You could maybe give him a short tour later on after you've showed him around here...?"
Doctor Samson gave a small nod. "That'd be fine. Are you heading outside now?"
"Yep. I want to get the tour of the villages out of the way before it starts getting dark. We can finish up inside later." Turning slightly towards the door, Sam motioned for Teal'c and General O'Neill to precede her out into the hallway. "We'll catch up with you later, Daniel, if you don't mind?"
His head bent over a book Doctor Samson had handed him, Daniel's reply was distracted at best. "That's fine, Sam. See you."
Exchanging an amused look with Doctor Samson, Sam followed her former team mates out of the office and into the corridor, ready to start the next phase of their tour.
They went to the small Asgard section, the Nox and Mignon village and the Tollan site before heading to the place Sam knew Teal'c wanted to see more than anything else. Several Jaffa were still training when they arrived at the settlement, and Sam was pleased to see Rya'c and Bra'tac were among them.
"Bra'tac, Rya'c! There's someone here to see you!" she called out, waving to them when they both looked up. A grin spread across her lips as she saw the look of pleasure light up Rya'c's face when he noticed who was with her.
"Father!" Rya'c wasted no time in excusing himself from his training, running over to them with Bra'tac not too far behind. "You have finally been granted permission to visit?"
"Rya'c." Teal'c embraced his son warmly, grateful to Sam and Jack as they took a step back to allow him time with his son and his oldest friend. "You have grown again, my son. You are still training with the others?"
"Every day, father," Rya'c answered proudly. "I attend school too, father. I learn many things there that other Jaffa have not had the privilege to."
Teal'c gave his son an approving look and kept his arm around his shoulder as he turned to Bra'tac. "Master Bra'tac, you are looking well."
"Teal'c." The two Jaffa greeted one another by clasping the other's arms. "It is good to see you, old friend. I am pleased the time has come that you can know of our location. Please, accept my apologies and forgive me for not revealing this information to you sooner."
"There is nothing to forgive. Colonel Carter and Jonas Quinn have explained that there was no alternative open to you." Teal'c smiled down at his son. "I am just pleased to finally be here."
"Teal'c," Sam spoke softly, reluctant to interrupt their conversation, but knowing she and Jack had to move on if they were going to finish the tour and have a decision made to tell the President before the day was done. "Would you be happy staying here if the General and I continued?"
"I would, Colonel Carter." He nodded his head to her, the smile still present on his face. "Thank you for allowing me to come with you."
"You're welcome, it's about time you were able to see where your son lives. Bra'tac, Rya'c, you know where to find me if you want to get in touch for any reason." Returning the smiles they gave her, Sam turned to Jack and tilted her head slightly to one side. "Should we continue, Sir?"
"After you, Carter. You're the one who knows where we're going." Jack motioned for her to take the lead and easily fell into step beside her, glancing at her as they walked away. "So... You really like it here, huh?"
"I do now," she answered truthfully, keeping her eyes locked on the path they were walking along. "At first, I hated it. I wanted to go home and told anyone who'd listen that I didn't want to be here. Now... I know how important this place could be if the SGOC joined forces with the SGC. I still miss Earth, it'll always be my first home but Kaia... It's my home away from home. It's an improvement in some ways but not in others."
"How is it an improvement? What's good here that isn't on Earth?" He held up a hand in a defensive gesture when she glanced at him sharply. "I'm just curious, honest. I'm not disagreeing with you, I'd just like to know why you think that."
Sam shrugged and returned her gaze to the scenery ahead. "There's no conflict here. No wars between the different races. Everyone coexists peacefully regardless of the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs. I know it'd be virtually impossible to create this level of peace and understanding on Earth... That's why I like it here. It's... safer, in a way."
"Makes sense." Jack looked away from her when he realised they were approaching a house on the outskirts of the small wooded area between the Jaffa contingent and the new settlement they were walking towards. "So who lives in this house? It looks more human than the rest of them."
"That's because this is the start of the Tau'ri settlement. Well, for now. We're hoping the races will all mix together in the future and expand beyond the boundaries of their individual towns." She stopped at the base of what could pass for a garden path leading up to the first house. "This is my house, the Asgard helped build it after studying some pictures someone brought with them from Earth. Jonas lives in the next house along and just beyond that is the rest of the Tau'ri village."
"It's a nice place." Jack gazed up at the moderately sized house, deciding that it looked like a nice, comfortable place to live. It reminded him of a cross between his house and one that his best friend from years ago had lived in when they were children. In a way, it was a little strange to see something familiar in such an alien place. "And the school and the SGOC is in the middle of all of the settlements?"
"Yep, the SGOC is about a mile in that direction," she said pointing to the right of where they'd come from. "We can either head back there now or go to the village so you can meet some of the other humans working and living here. It's your choice, you're the one with a decision to make."
Pausing once more to glance thoughtfully up at her house, Jack shrugged and turned his attention back to her. "We could head back to the SGOC if you'd like and I can think about it on the way? There's a lot I need to process before I can decide either way."
"Okay, that sounds good. We can head back to the SGOC and I'll finish showing you around the facility." She shrugged casually, but couldn't mask the tiny bit of disappointment she felt at knowing he hadn't made his mind up.
They walked together in companionable silence through the lightly scattered trees and passed the school, where several children of different races were playing together oblivious to the strangeness of the situation. The people they passed, both adults and children alike, all smiled and waved and some even stopped to make small talk before carrying on with whatever tasks they'd been in the middle of doing.
Their tour of the SGOC was done quickly and quietly, with Sam refusing to let him linger anywhere for long. After they'd been everywhere and seen everything, she led him back towards the Gateroom, up the small staircase to the control room and up another small staircase through the briefing room to the former office of General Wright.
"This place is almost as good a copy of the SGC as Hathor's fake was," Jack commented, helping himself to the comfy leather chair behind the desk as she closed the door. "Couldn't you guys have come up with something a little more original?"
"I can't answer that, Sir. I was still at the SGC when this place was designed and built." Crossing her hands behind her back, she stood in front of him, conscious of the fact it looked like she was standing at attention. "So General, will we be putting your name above the door or should we find someone else?"
"You want a decision right *now*?" Arcing an eyebrow, he lazily swung his legs up so his crossed feet were resting on the desk. "Geez, you don't give a person much time do you?"
"Sorry, Sir, but I'm under orders." The apologetic smile she gave him was a little strained. "The President wants Wright replaced as soon as possible so we can continue our work. We're this close to finding a way to defend ourselves from the Goa'uld and when we do that, we can equip Earth and..."
"Carter," he interrupted, waggling a finger at her in an almost condescending gesture. "You're babbling."
Swinging his legs back down to the floor, he leaned forward and folded his arms, resting his elbows on the smooth wooden surface. "I got a question for you. If you find a way to defend Earth from Goa'uld attack... What'll happen to this place? Won't it be rendered kind of... useless?"
Appearing relaxed as the question was one she could answer, Sam shook her head and uncrossed her hands, letting her arms fall at her sides. "No, Sir. Even if the Goa'uld are no longer a threat - and they still will be, even if we can defend ourselves - this place will still be important to our technological development as well as our cultural understanding. As it is, the President is currently looking into ways of involving other countries on Earth in the OC program." She paused and gave him a small smile, her eyes finally locking with his instead of darting around the room "So... Do you have an answer?"
"Well... I guess I do... Long distance relationships are never easy maintain so I'd imagine they'd be even harder to work out if the two people involved lived on different planets..." Unable to fight the grin that threatened to spread across his face, Jack stood and walked around the desk slowly.
Her brow furrowed and her hands became clasped in front of her. "Col... General?"
"It's up to you, Carter." He stopped moving when they were standing a few feet away, maintaining eye contact the whole time. "Drop the rank, it doesn't matter here, does it?"
Sam looked away, focusing on the filing cabinet in the corner of the room instead of on him. "Well it..."
"Sam." His voice, he noticed with smug satisfaction, silenced her almost immediately.
Her eyes widened at the use of her first name and she blinked up at him. "Not really, Sir."
"Okay. So it's up to you. If there's a chance for us, I'll take the assignment and we can work on it." Jack reached out and touched her arm, ensuring that there was some form of contact between them. He smiled when she looked up at him in surprise. "If not, I'll go back to Earth and use the distance as an excuse for why we're not together."
"That isn't a very... logical... way of making this decision, Sir. You have an important choice to make, it'll have ramifications on the rest of your life..."
"I know it will, so let me know what I'm doing."
"General..." She desperately tried thinking of a way to come up with a better reason why she couldn't make the decision for him but remained frustrated when none came. His silence and patience smile only served to frustrate her further. "Sir...?" He still remained silent, just staring. "Jack!"
"That's better." His smile turned into a fully-fledged grin. "Thought you'd forgotten my name."
"I can't make this decision for you. I won't..."
"You can and you will or we'll be standing here for a long, long time Sam. There's nothing to hide behind now. No regulations, only our fear. I'm asking you. Is there a chance for us if I stay?"
The grin had faded, replaced by a serious expression that made her swallow hard.
"I..." She hesitated and licked her lips, her mind racing. Finally settling on an answer, she closed her eyes in defeat. "Yes, there is but I don't want you..."
A brief kiss stunned her into silence. He grinned slyly when she opened her eyes in surprise. "You were saying?"
"I was saying I don't want you making a decision because..."
Another slightly longer kiss cut her off.
"Because of me. This is about your life..."
"A life I want to share with you."
"Are you sure?"
The look he gave her was nothing if not incredulous. "That's a stupid question if ever I've heard one. Seriously, Sam. You know I've already given some thought to an off-world base. In the last few years, I've seriously been thinking about retiring again... I'm getting too old to go exploring the galaxy but we both know retirement would bore me... This is perfect. I get a desk job that's still interesting and I get you."
"What if you get bored with your desk job and want to go home...?"
"As long as you're with me, I won't want to go anywhere." Sam smiled softly at his words, something he noticed immediately. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing." Her smile widened just a little, her gaze dropping to the floor momentary before shyly returning to his eyes. "Just thinking how this place brings out a side of you I've never seen before. Either that or you're going soft."
"I am *not* going soft. If I *was*, I'd says it's you and not where we are that's bringing out this side in me. But since I'm *not* soft, I won't say that." Jack grinned, an arm sliding easily about her waist and drawing her closer.
"So I can tell the President?"
He kissed her again, deciding he liked his newfound method of getting her to stop talking. "He can wait till tomorrow, can't he?"
"I suppose so but he did ask to know straight away..." A longer, slightly more insist kiss left her breathless after he pulled away. "We can tell him in the morning..."
"I like how you think, Colonel."
She smiled softly and leaned into his embrace, kissing him again, the contact definitely something she could see herself getting used to. "I did say you'd adore me when you got to know me, General."
"I always said you were usually right... So... Where are our quarters...?"
"Let's skip the quarters... It's just as easy to go home."
"Lead the way, Colonel. Lead the way."
End of story.