She quickly checked her watch as she made her way to the seat that was waiting for her. Damn she was really late! He looked up to her as she sat down, a smile already showing on his handsome face.
"Hon, I am so sorry…" she began, but the apology was cut off quickly by the man sitting across from her.
"Hey it's ok, " His familiar touch as he took her hand in his, had the same effect it had always had. She felt the instant jolt, which preceded the contrasting instant calm. Yet still she felt the need to prevaricate longer.
"No, if you were this late I'd…" She felt his grip tighten slightly as his eyes sought hers.
"Yeah but Sam, *I* am the very personification of patience, you on the other hand…" the smirk was a well-known one, and she couldn't stop herself responding in kind, but it didn't quite reach her eyes, and of course, he noticed. Of course he noticed. He knew what today was; she just really didn't want to have to say this to him again.
"I just found out," She was doing a great job of keeping the tears locked away, but she had seen the momentary grief in his eyes as she said the words. The one thing that they both really wanted was the one thing that seemed out of their reach somehow. It was the same every time, the same hope, the same disappointment and then the same words…
"They said it isn't either one of us, we just have to keep trying," God they sounded so hollow, they'd been said too many times to even hope to be reassuring.
"Well you know that I *really* don't mind the trying..." That brought a smile to her lips, she knew how hard he was trying and she loved him even more for that. "Wanna walk me to the car?" He stood and offered her his hand, as she rolled her eyes at him.
"The car? Why can't you just use the terminal like everyone else?" She felt him stiffen slightly at her side even though the arm around her waist didn't alter its hold.
"Sam, lets not get into this again. You know why I won't use anything *they* brought with them." His voice was soft, but she couldn't miss the acidity lacing his words. It had been so long, and yet he still wouldn't give and inch. But then again, that was one of the things she had fallen in love with, even though it had caused its own share of problems.
He let go of her briefly to take his keys out of his pocket; his old Ford still looking as good as it had ever looked.
Giving her a quick kiss and pulling her into his strong arms he spoke into her hair. "Thank you for understanding about the ceremony, if it had been anything else you know I'd be there…but I utterly refuse to stand around and get a medal for something I hate…"
She cut him off by placing a finger gently on his lips.
"I know Jack, I just wish you'd come see Daniel, Teal'c and Janet…"
"Sam, please. They all knew where I was, but not one of them came to see me. You did. Even if it was to argue, you still came. To me that says it all."
She knew better than to argue this point with him. It was a classic case of stalemate and pride. His eyes had clouded over, she understood why. He missed them, but he wouldn't admit it. If she hadn't gone to see him that night, she knew without a doubt that she would have ever seen him again. Especially after General Hammond had died. For some reason, that had only consolidated his loathing of the Aschen, and to this day she didn't understand why.
Oh he had tried to tell her, on so many occasions before and since their marriage, but Sam couldn't, for once, believe him. To Sam it was simple logic: as a result of the treaty with the Aschen, Earth got everything it ever wanted… and so had she. She'd got Jack.
He'd mistrusted the Aschen from the moment of first contact and had become more vocal as the time passed and the treaty was sanctioned. He'd even gone as far as getting himself thrown out of the Oval office in the process of arguing his case. The final straw for him came when he had asked his team to trust him, to take the fact that he was *so* resolutely against this and just trust his instincts one more time, to believe in him.
In that briefing Sam had truly been at war with herself, part of her *knowing* that Jack wouldn't have ever resorted to emotional leverage if he wasn't out of options on something he was utterly convinced about. But the other part of her saw what the Aschen were offering, and she couldn't let her entire planet down, even for the man that she respected and loved more than any other. It seemed that Daniel and Teal'c agreed with her, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
He had resigned that morning, and left without speaking to anyone. She knew him well enough even then to grasp that as far as he was concerned, that was the end of it all. If the people he trusted most in the world wouldn't put the same faith in him, then how the hell could he convince the entire planet that they were making the biggest mistake of their lives? So he had just walked away, given up the fight. Which was the most out of character thing that she had ever witnessed. His team's negation of faith the last straw. Sam understood all of this. Yet she still couldn't bring herself to believe that the saviours of their entire world could possibly be anything other than wondrous.
So she had gone to see him that night, to try to convince him that he was wrong. That somehow his instincts were misplaced this time. To try to convince him to come back to them, because she knew that she didn't want to go to work there everyday and not see him.
That had been the first time they had really argued. Sure, they had disagreed before, but always as the "Colonel" and the "Major". That night, they argued as Sam and Jack. But neither of them would give and inch on their argument. Which left emotions and tensions running very high between them.
It was a few days later, when he came to collect his stuff; that those emotions had spilled over. He'd knocked on her door, asking for his signed hockey puck that she'd demanded as punishment for breaking one of her experiments. As she reached around to hand it to him, their fingers touched. That accidental contact a catalyst for the feelings that both were struggling to come to terms with. With a groan that seemed to be a mixture between desire and self-
recrimination, he took her hand in his and pulled her to his chest. As she felt his arms close tightly around her, she willingly angled her face upward to receive the kiss that they both knew was coming. That as they say was that.
He'd always said that she should be forever grateful for his predilection for playing with things. Because if he hadn't broken her do-hickey, she wouldn't have had his puck, and he wouldn't have had to go ask for it back. For once, she couldn't fault his logic.
She could remember it as if it was yesterday, long before they'd ever met the Aschen, he'd wandered into her lab looking for an explanation about sub-space fields and time inversions, a topic that he had become very interested in after his experience of one. Of course her explanation had only served to confuse him more.
During the course of her "explanation" he'd picked up a laser converter and promptly snapped the focal alignment. Having spent several days calculating the exact calibration of the laser, she was more than a little annoyed, even his puppy-dog eyes did little to dissuade her external ire. He'd grovelled for the better part of an hour, until Sam finally settled on her revenge. He'd broken something of hers; she was going to demand restitution in the form of something *he* valued. His Wayne Gretsky signed hockey puck! The very hockey puck that he treated with almost religious reverence, to the point that she wouldn't be surprised if he kissed it every night before he went to sleep.
In fairness to her CO, he had handed it over with less protestation than she imagined, although that really wasn't saying much. He'd pouted and sulked for a while, called her mean, ruthless and harsh and then proceeded to give her a list of exact "How to care for" instructions… it was *only* a hockey puck, for cryin' out loud!
She smiled to herself at the memory. She had a lot to thank that puck for, having it in the first place, led him to come asking for it back and then later that night, asking her for a whole lot more – which she gave very willingly.
Their relationship wasn't easy even without the complication of the regulations. Sam worked with and for the people Jack detested. She had taken all the vaccines that they had made available, when Jack wouldn't even have anything remotely Aschen in their home. To say that tension was present would have been a massive understatement. Yet they worked through it, each too grateful for the chance to be with the other to let something as inconsequential as planetary politics come between them.
He saw her loose herself in her thoughts, he knew that look; he knew precisely what she was thinking about. Even now it confused him as to how they could be so diametrically opposed to something so important and still be together.
He smiled and brought her face up to his to steel a kiss before he murmured.
"Speaking of Janet, maybe we should get a second opinion."
She really fought the temptation to roll her eyes at him,
"Jack, the Aschen are hundreds of years more advanced in medicine than we are."
"Sam, the Aschen are deceitful, sly…" her look stopped him, mid flow. This was old territory and quite frankly one of those issues that they agreed to disagree on. Otherwise their relationship would never have lasted more than a few weeks.
"So how long will you be gone?" She changed the topic quickly and he seemed glad that she had.
"I dunno, a few days probably. The cabin needs air, and I need fishing. Just come up when you're done, ok?"
"Yeah…" she couldn't help the break in her voice.
"Sam, what's wrong?"
"I just wish…"
"I know, me too"
He pulled her tighter to him and kissed her long enough and hard enough to make them both really wish that it would be lot sooner than three days before they saw each other again!
They were pulled out of their kiss by an insistent beep. Sam took the clip from her pocket, but stayed within the close confines of her husband's arms.
"I gotta go…"
"Yeah, go, run… do their bidding…" she flinched slightly at the bitterness that crept into his voice as he let her go and climbed behind the wheel.
"Jack…" now she was losing patience
"OK, I'm sorry,"
He leant out of the window and kissed her again. As he started the engine, he traced the outline of her jaw. "Have a good day Baby, I love you." Instantly her eyes softened and she smiled.
"I love you too Jack. Have fun finding fish," she giggled at his offended look.
"Sam, how many times do I have to tell you, you don't go fishing for the fish…" he began, "you fish for the fishing" she echoed the familiar line, unable to bite back the grin.
He smiled back at her and put the car in gear, winking at her as he mouthed "Bye". She watched until the taillights disappeared around the bend. God she loved that man, if it hadn't been for the very race he hated, she would never have been able to have him.
Surely that was reason enough for gratitude to the Aschen?
Sam stood. Listening to the announcement and exchanging smiles with Daniel.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States." The disembodied voice announcing to the crowd while the viewing screen was manoeuvred into position, before flickering to life with the real-time image of their President. Sam hid a smile; not even Apophis had been hated as much as her husband hated Kinsey. She quickly had to re-focus her attention as the ex-senator began to speak.
"My fellow Americans. Ten years ago this very day, a team, code named SG-1, then working in secret, came upon an alien race: The Aschen. With that introduction I was able to forge the greatest alliance this country, indeed, this world has ever known..."
Sam exchanged smiles with her friends as Kinsey allowed the applause to settle before continuing.
"I read now from Colonel Jack O'Neill's mission report of that first contact: 'These folks sound too good to be true. Willing to share their science and technology, friendly, smarter than we are. One thing's for sure: The goa'uld are coming... The Aschen could save our asses.' "
Sam smiled at what was essentially, typical Jack. Not even official mission reports escaped his 'less than military' approach to the military. Kinsey regained her wandering attention as he continued
"Well, guess what Jack? They did."
Sam was aware of the crowd laughing and applauding behind her. Kinsey was still clever. Using Jack's personality to win over the crowd was a masterstroke. She looked back up towards the figure on the screen, Ok, so not everything that happened through the Aschen was a good thing. Sam and SG-1 had had far too many dealings with the then senator to ever trust or like him. President or not.
"Jack O'Neill could not be here today, but those candid words hurriedly scratched down in a mission report ten years ago were prescient. Membership in the Aschen Confederation guarantees the security, the health, and the future of every human being on God's Earth. Dr. Samantha Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson and Teal'c... Would you please step forward?"
As Sam walked up to the foot of the gate with Daniel and Teal'c, her thoughts were with her husband. In that moment she wanted more than anything else for him to be here, sharing their glory, but she knew that feeling the way he did, it was impossible. As the medal was placed around her neck, her pride in the moment was subdued slightly as she remembered Jack's words 'who the hell wants a medal to remind them of the biggest mistake they've ever made?'
Kinsey's voice broke into her thoughts.
"Though the nations business has kept me from being with you in person, nonetheless I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you've done for me, and for our country. God bless you all."
As some of the very few remaining airmen fired a salute high above their heads, Sam smiled.
Sometimes Jack O'Neill was too stubborn for his own good.
As she raised her champagne glass, Sam toasted the only other man missing from today's proceedings.
"To General Hammond."
Daniel, Teal'c and Janet all silenced and observed the toast solemnly.
"I miss him. Especially today" the feeling was mutual to them all. He had been so much more than a General to them.
"Yeah, how long has it been anyway?" asked Daniel
"It has been six years." Came the answer from the ex-first prime. Teal'c especially had missed Hammond. But it seemed that Daniel was intent on another purpose.
"Which reminds me, what was Jack's excuse? I expected to see him here." Sam had been waiting for this. She knew that Jack had hurt them all by refusing to see them, but she also knew how much they had hurt him by not trusting him, even a little. It was something that she cursed, because she was always stuck firmly in the middle. It was Teal'c who saved her from the discomfort she felt.
"O'Neill has made his feelings very clear concerning the Aschen alliance DanielJackson"
"Well, he could have come to see us, Teal'c." He was right of course, but then again, if they expected Jack O'Neill to make the first move, they would be waiting an awfully long time.
"I almost didn't come myself."
Clearly, Janet's comment surprised Daniel enough for him to drop the issue of Jack. Sam mentally sent a million thanks to her friend.
"It's easier for you, Daniel. I mean your job wasn't made obsolete… and if I…"
Their collective shock at Janet's outburst was quelled immediately by the arrival of the Aschen ambassador, Mollem. Sam smiled to herself; Jack would have had a field day here…
"Forgive me for interrupting..." Mollem began, "Dr. Jackson, the Aschen delegation is eager to hear about your recent research gathered from the contingent world Europa"
Daniel looked at his friends and then back to Mollem, "Yeah, sure. Just let me say goodbye?"
Mollem nodded and left, Sam took this opportunity.
"So, you guys. Where are we going?" She looked expectantly around the group.
"I had planned to return to Chulak." Teal'c answered first, but Sam wasn't going to accept that. They very rarely got the chance to get together; she wasn't about to let them get away so easily.
"Oh come on Teal'c, we haven't seen each other in ages. Please." She knew that she had used her eyes, Jack had always said no male alive could deny her anything when she used her 'doe-eyes'.
"Very well." Teal'c relented with a smile. Jack was right!
"Dinner?" Daniel suggested, knowing that he was expected by the Aschen delegation, and thus eager to sort out arrangements.
"Sounds great." Sam replied, happily.
"Yes dinner" Agreed Janet
With the decision made, and goodbyes made, Sam wandered to the balcony with Janet, eager for a few more seconds with her friend, Sam was still curious about Janet' outburst earlier.
"So, what was that?"
"What was what?" Janet's feigned confusion not convincing Sam for a second.
"Going on again about being obsolete?"
She heard a small sigh escape her friend. "Think about it Sam. We've all taken the anti-ageing vaccine and the anti-cancer vaccine... and now the Aschen have these medical machines that can reverse tissue damage and mend broken bones... I mean where does that leave me?"
Sam duplicated her friend's sigh. "I guess when you put it that way I know what you mean... I mean, half the time the science they're talking about is so far over my head, I feel like a lab assistant..."
It was refreshing to have someone to talk to about this. She couldn't ever mention anything to do with the Aschen to Jack for fear of it starting another argument. But as she heard the loss in her friend's voice, she had to admit that not everyone had benefited from the Aschen intervention.
"Ah Sam, but at least you have something to do." Janet stated resolutely.
"Yeah… I suppose" Sam became aware that the mood was deteriorating, and was extremely grateful as Janet changed the subject.
"Okay enough of that, tell me by any chance are you and Jack…?"
Sam shook her head sadly. "Not yet. They say it isn't either one of us; we just have to keep trying..." she should have known by the look on Janet's face that she wasn't going to leave it at that.
"You know they still let me keep an office in Washington even though I have nothing to do. So I'd be more than happy to give you a check up."
"No, they said I was fine… " Why did this suddenly feel like a conversation with Jack? Was she so used to defending everything about the Aschen that she had become blind to the possibilities?
"Sam, the medicine that I practised may seem like the dark ages now, but I was your doctor for a long time. How long have you been trying?"
"Almost three years." Her disappointment was evident in her tone. She had wanted so much to make Jack a father again…
Sam knew that she wasn't going to get left alone unless she agreed to Janet's exam, it would be easier all round for her if she just went willingly now.
"When can we do this?" she asked her friend.
But something in the back of her mind was worried, that maybe Janet would find something that the Aschen doctors wouldn't tell her. A niggling doubt that had been in the back of her mind for nearly three years thundered back to the surface.
Maybe it *was* her fault she couldn't give Jack children?
Sam sat alone, waiting for Janet to return. Wanting nothing more than for Jack to be here with her, holding her hand and making her laugh. All of a sudden, the side door opened and Janet reappeared.
"Hey, sorry to keep you waiting, but I just wanted to double-check my results..."
"And I'm fine. Right?" Oh how she wanted Janet to tell her that she was right.
"Sam, I don't know how your Aschen doctor could have missed it, and frankly I just don't think it's possible he could have…"
Sam closed her eyes, trying to block out for a second the reality that was crashing around her, she could tell that Janet was about to deliver some very unpleasant news.
"You can't have children." Oh God, it was her fault. There *was* something wrong with her…
She felt the tears well as she forced the words past the lump in her throat "They said everything was normal,"
"In every other way it is," Janet continued in a softer voice
"Then this is a mistake." Her voice was shaking, belittling the apparent confidence of her words. 'Please God, let this be a mistake'
"Here let me show you the scan." As Janet turned the screen to face her, even Sam could see that there was no mistake. "There's no room for interpretation. Clearly your ovaries are damaged." The finality of that statement hit her hard, more so when she thought of Jack.
"Why?" She demanded of her friend.
"I don't know Sam, I don't know what may have caused it or when it may have happened but obviously it was some time…" Janet had misunderstood.
"No!" now she was angry, all this time she had refused to believe her husband, and now, he may well have been right all along. "I want to know why the Aschen doctors looked me in the eye and told me that I was okay. Why did they lie to me?" She knew that she was crying, but she didn't care. She had let herself be blinded by their science, and they had lied to her…
"I don't know. But I'm willing to help you find out." Janet answered, obviously aware of the implications of their find.
Now more than ever Sam wanted her husband with her, how on Earth was she going to tell him that they could never have children, and the race he loathed must have known all along?
As soon as she walked through the door and saw his back, she had to fight hard to keep from just blurting it all out and then beating the living shit out of him. Something she knew that her husband would wholeheartedly approve of. Hell he'd be cheering her on! She knew she was late, but she *really* didn't care. What she did have to do however was control herself as much as possible if she wanted to pull this off.
"I've been waiting." Wow, she had never really noticed before, just how annoying his voice actually was.
"Sorry." it was abrupt, but it was the best she could do, and under the circumstances she thought that was pretty impressive.
"Is there something wrong?" Uh-oh, careful Sam don't give it away…
"No." again, with the terseness… now she knew why Jack used it. It was a great tactic.
"All right." He seemed to accept it, good job too cause she wasn't going to change the attitude.
Mollem pressed a few keys and a stunning projection of Jupiter appeared before her eyes. Normally that sight always captivated her, but not today.
"We're still not finding the necessary material to initiate the conversion." he commented in what all of a sudden seemed a really arrogant manner.
"We'll just have to find a way to collapse it faster; revise the calculations." she kept herself brisk and to the point, wanting to get this over with as fast as possible. It was bad enough to know that they had lied to her, now she wanted to know why.
She could tell he was thinking about her idea, "Interesting."
"Am I wrong?" Half of her was just about willing him to tell her that she was, then at least she'd have a legitimate excuse to punch him.
"Oh, no, you're absolutely correct, it's just that a year or so ago you never thought this project was possible and now you seem so... determined"
'To do you harm…' She thought, but she smiled politely
"You've convinced me."
"Did your people ever imagine converting a planet into a star?" Had she mentioned that he was condescending?
"No. I doubt it." That at least was the truth. That idea was *way* bigger than anyone on Earth would have thought of.
"I should think you would have at least considered the possibility, considering the rapid growth of your population and the viability of the planet."
She really did have to fight hard to control herself when he said that. "Humans don't think quite as far ahead as the Aschen seem to." she forced a smile to her lips.
"All right, since you're so determined, revise the calculations"
Ok, here was the kicker… "If I use our computers it will take weeks... on the other hand, if I can interface with the Aschen computer core"
"You know that's strictly for Aschen personnel"
Funny, she'd never once thought there was something wrong with that before, even when Jack had pointed that out to her, she'd argued that the system at the SGC was closed to non-SGC personal, what was the difference with the Aschen? Jack had shaken his head slightly and said, "Yeah Sam, it was off limits because we *had* something to hide." All of a sudden, it all made so much sense.
"It's not like you haven't given me access before"
"Samantha... Why do I let you talk me into this?"
As he typed, the display changed and Sam breathed a huge high of relief.
"There. You have core access"
She allowed him a smile before he left the room, a smile that vanished as soon as his back was turned. A few seconds later, Janet hurried into the room, as eager as Sam to find out more about what the Aschen had been upto since signing the treaty.
"Are you in?" asked Janet, but Sam was too busy trying to access the core memory to answer her friend. "Because the medical sub-core has its own code you're not going to be able to access..."
"I'm in, I'm in," Sam watched with anticipation as the screen displayed the core access menu that she has been seeking. "Now what? Its calling for search parameters" Sam watched as Janet thought for a moment.
"Right. Try 'medical records'." Sam frowned slightly.
"I don't think I'm going to find anything specific to me in here..."
"So maybe this has happened to some other people," Sam felt her stomach fall; this was what she was afraid of. It was bad enough that this had been done to her, but for others to be suffering the same way…
"Do a general search - 'Human Reproductive Statistics'."
As she typed, she read everything she could that came on the screen in the Aschen language, "That's it"
"You can read this?" Normally that would have made Sam laugh, but not today. Yeah she could read it, it had served the Aschen purpose to let her learn their language, but what she had learned was allowing her to learn things that she really didn't want to know.
"Janet, this can't be right. If I'm reading this properly, the world-wide birth rate has dropped almost ninety one percent in the last two years"
"What?" Janet's shock was eloquent.
"That's what it says right here. These are Aschen numbers." She continued to read as Janet took in the implications of her words.
"Yeah, but surely we would know…" the doctor's words echoing Sam's own disbelief.
"This is happening everywhere the anti-ageing vaccine has gone" abruptly the truth dawned on them both, the awful truth. This wasn't just Sam - this was the entire world.
"Turn it off." Janet's voice was measured, as she assimilated the information
"Janet, they're doing this systematically…" Sam tried to reason,
"Just turn it off, please" It was the hint of desperation that Sam heard in her voice that made her do as she was asked. "Ok, we can't let them know we know"
Sam frowned slightly, if that was all she was worried about, then there wasn't a problem. "Mollem leaves me alone for hours at a time," she tried to placate
"Sam, you're on the inside, you don't see them the same way I do." Oh how many times had she heard that before? It was a variation of one of Jack's favourite sayings. She had tried to reason with him so many times, to make him realise that the Aschen weren't as bad as he made out. Yet now, it seemed that Jack really had been right all along. Right from the start when he asked them to act on faith and trust him… dammit why hadn't she listened to him?
"Janet, they have done this to us deliberately; we have to do something." Her own hurt and pain began to bubble to the surface, this was too much.
"I know Sam, but we can't talk about it here. We'll talk tonight at the restaurant, okay? I have to go."
With that the petite doctor left. Leaving Sam alone with her thoughts. Right now the prevalent one being that at some point in the very near future, she had to tell her husband that the race he hated and had warned everyone about, had begun to sterilise the entire planet, herself included. That the child they had so sorely wished for would never be, because he had been right all along.
Sam sat facing her friends, watching as the undeniable reality of her findings struck home with each of them. True to form it was Daniel who reacted first.
"Guys, I think it would be public knowledge if something this catastrophic was happening to the entire population." As usual, the archaeologist tried to see another facet to the problem. It was a talent that had served them well as a field unit, even if it had annoyed the Hell out of her husband, but here and now, there was no other way for the data to be interpreted.
"Would it, Daniel?" argued Sam gently. "The Ashen can convert planets into stars, you don't think they could control the media if they wanted to?" Wow, she really was having some serious flashbacks to arguments that she had had over the last few years with Jack. Now she knew just how frustrated he must have felt.
"OK, Sam." Again Daniel tried to reason the facts. "Assuming the Aschen could keep something that big secret... it's been ten years. Why now?" He did have a legitimate point, she understood that. But *now* she understood a whole lot more. She understood where her husband had been coming from for the past ten years.
"We were completely taken in. This way they didn't have to fire a shot. It's slow, methodical, painless..."
"Okay then why provide a vaccine that almost doubles the human life span? That doesn't make any sense." Daniel made another valid point, but either he wasn't thinking the implications through, or he just didn't want to. She had thought this through a few hours ago…
"Unless that's the mechanism they've used to sterilise the population." Sam let Janet fill in the blanks for Daniel's benefit, although she doubted that he really needed them filling.
"They're certainly patient enough. All they have to do is wait." She commented. Knowing full well that any race with the foresight to turn a planet into a sun would find waiting a few hundred years no problem at all.
"Then within two hundred years, very few humans, if any will remain. The Aschen will have this world to themselves" Teal'c's statement brought the message home to everyone. What had they done?
"Well, we have to do something... I don't know; tell somebody." Sam could hear Jack in her head; for all he had seen, there was still a naivete to him that could be endearing.
Janet began to speak her emotions clearly on display.
"The night before General Hammond died he called me and said he needed to speak with me about something very important. Something that he couldn't discuss over the phone," she paused to take in a breath in the hope that her tears would be somewhat controlled. "The next day I told the Ashen doctors, I said this is impossible, he could not have died of a heart attack he was in perfect health, but they said their diagnostic machines were infallible"
Oh Sam knew all about their diagnostic machines, and so the truth behind Janet's insinuation hit hard. Especially since she had just realised why Jack had taken Hammond's death as further proof to his theory about the Aschen. Yet again, he had been right. How could she have been so blind?
"You believe he was murdered" It was once again Teal'c who stated the un-stateable.
"At the time, no. I believed the same as everyone else, that the Aschen were our saviours..." Janet's voice cracked and Sam saw Daniel take her hand covertly under the table.
"So we can't tell anyone, we have to keep this to ourselves." Daniel this time was almost spot on. But Sam had to tell someone...
"Well I have to tell Jack."
She sensed the group still at the mention of him, even now there was so much that had been left to fester between them all, and it showed.
"Maybe you shouldn't." Sam snapped her head around to Daniel, knowing instinctively where he was heading with this.
"Daniel, if you're even suggesting he knows about this…" She couldn't even begin to comprehend a reality where that would be true… never.
"I'm just saying that he left everything pretty damn quickly, and he was so utterly convinced that the Aschen were bad, yet he never once showed us any proof. I mean, he was a Colonel, Sam… a well respected one at that… special forces trained… and if Hammond knew…"
"Daniel, I'm going to pretend I never heard you say that. Otherwise I would be leaving right now. I know you have issues with Jack, but they are your problem. To even attempt to say that he knew about this…"
He nodded slowly, "I'm sorry, Sam. Of course he didn't know. If he'd have had any proof there's nothing that would have stopped him."
She looked straight into his eyes, accepting his apology.
"But we do need his help Daniel."
"How Sam, what can he do? All the contacts he did have denied all knowledge of him when he went to them with his whole "The Aschen are taking over the world" speech. How loyal do you think any of them are now? And you *know* how well he gets on with our president. Even if by some miracle, he could catalyse the mobilisation of what is left of all the worlds forces, what good would that do us?"
Sam hated the fact that Daniel was right. Jack had lost all credibility with "the powers that be" a long time ago. Yet she knew her husband. She knew that he could help them, he always could. He may have let her and Daniel take the leaps in logic, let them defy laws that were supposed to be indefiable, but at the end of the day, he was the rock that held them all together. The force that tied them so closely, that held them when they needed tempering, but that let them free when they needed space. That, coupled with his tactical brilliance, had made them the success that they had been. That was evident when he left, because had SG-1 left with him that day.
Sam was spared the need to answer by Teal'c, who, with his usual adherence to the cold truth commented, "They would be defeated. As were the Goa'uld."
The disturbing finality with which he spoke seemed to bring home exactly the depths of the mistake they had made and the danger that their planet was in. It was a sensation that they had long since forgotten, but now…
"We have to think of something else."
"Like what, Daniel?" Sam's patience was thin, her worries clouding her eyes.
"I don't know... contact the Tollan; find the survivors of the Tok'ra, there have to be some left out there." They all knew that he was grasping at straws, but right now, straws were all that they had. "Teal'c, what about the Jaffa?"
"Few remain loyal to the Tau'ri since the war's end. There are only a few healthy symbiotes available for implantation."
Again the sober reality struck home to Sam, on more than one level. "And we don't even control the stargate. Oh, God... what have we done? This morning we were celebrating..." She had to look away at that moment, the enormity of their short sightedness falling like a lead weight in the pit of her stomach.
Daniel was obviously grappling with the same emotions, as he commented. "Now I wish we could take it all back."
A spark of something lit up in Sam's eyes, just as she was about to voice her thoughts the waitress arrived to clear their table, allowing her a few more seconds to solidify the veil of abstraction. As the waitress left, Sam let the idea free to her friends.
"Maybe we can." Her eyes shone with another long forgotten sensation, something that must have captured the attention of her friends. "Maybe we can take it back." The conviction in her words seemed to ease the negativity in the pit of her stomach. This felt right and refreshing at one in the same time. It had been too long since her energies and mind had been channelled in the face of such danger. When they were still SG-1 this was a weekly occurrence, having only a few moments to direct her ideas to a solid and functional plan to save the day. It had been too long, far too long.
"How?" Oh yeah, she had Daniel's attention. The other's too.
She fought hard with herself not to blurt it all out as quickly as her thoughts were flying inside her head. "General Hammond showed us." She looked expectantly at the table, unsure if they would remember, after all, it was another lifetime ago.
"He left us a note." Daniel answered and at that moment, she could have kissed him. Maybe it wasn't such a long time ago, maybe they hadn't changed all that much. How many times had Daniel immediately understood enough of her "techno-babble" to focus on the theory behind it? How many times had Jack and Teal'c watched on waiting for their orders to be simplified? How many times had that dynamic saved lives? Too many times to count.
"What? What are you talking about?" Janet questioned. Sam almost smiled, she'd forgotten that Janet needed a more detailed explanation. It felt like it had all those years ago, except that
rather than simplifying a theory to her Colonel, she was explaining a whole mission to her friend. Subconsciously, she smiled as she used the same tone she always had with her husband all those years ago.
"A number of years ago a freak accident sent us back to 1969. We know that by dialling co-ordinates on the opposite sides of the sun at the exact moment of a solar flare it causes the wormhole to turn back towards Earth on itself and creates a time distortion." Sam even found herself pausing momentarily to make sure that her audience was up to speed. "Theoretically, we could send ourselves a message."
"Wait a second, I thought you said it was impossible to predict the exact moment of a solar flare." Daniel's familiar role of "nit-picker" was thoroughly adhered to once again.
"For us, yes, it was." Unless you had a very smart General, she thought to herself. "But with access to Aschen computers..." She knew she didn't need to say anymore. Her mind had slowed down a little from its "mile a minute" jumps; now she let the others have the time they needed to digest her proposition.
"Wait a second here..." Janet interrupted, sounding remarkably Jack like. "We're considering changing the lives of the entire human race on Earth; do we have the right?"
It was a valid point, but in the face of the other options…
"If we don't, then we will live to see the end of the entire human race on Earth."
It was as simple and as damning as that.
He wouldn't be expecting her yet. After all she was a day early. Approaching the now familiar wooden building that her husband had taken great pleasure in introducing her too all those moons ago, she wondered just exactly where she would find her errant husband. On the pond, probably.
Just in case, Sam peered though the small window in the front door, if there was a hockey game on he'd be sunk in his favourite chair, beer in hand, shouting at the set just in case the players could actually hear him. It was one of his most endearing qualities. The fact that he still owned an "old-fashioned" TV and VCR, and the fact that the hockey game was a recording years old, didn't diminish his comments or enthusiasm.
There were so many special memories that this place held for her, but this time, she knew that when she had revealed her purpose for this visit, things would irrevocably change for them both.
Sucking in a breath, she forced herself to begin to wander to the pond when suddenly her thoughts jarred and her vision converged on the man walking in her direction. As always, her heart skipped at least one beat at the sight of him. Even now, without the anti-ageing vaccine, he was still the sexiest man she had ever known.
"Hi." The impartiality of her greeting spoke volumes about her state of mind. For the first time, standing face to face with him, and knowing everything she knew, she realised just how badly their refusal to trust him would have hurt. She suddenly understood why he shut himself off from all but her, but perhaps worst of all, she finally grasped how hard it was for him to watch her work for the people he loathed. How much he had sacrificed of himself, of his instincts and beliefs so that their marriage would work. Jack O'Neill was not usually the compromising type.
The fact that she didn't go into his arms for their customary kiss did not go unnoticed. The frown that crept onto his brows eloquent of his confusion, his guarded echoing of her greeting showing her that he knew straight away that something wasn't right.
"So… catch anything?" She was stalling and they both knew it, but for the life of her she just wanted to delay the argument for as long as possible. She could tell he was under no illusions to her reticence, he may not know what exactly had stopped her greeting him as she normally would, but he knew enough to know that whatever it was, it was big. So he continued to watch her.
"Sam, get on with it. I'm not getting any younger here." She almost smiled as he sat down. He had never been a patient man.
"Right," she mumbled to herself. Placing a hesitant kiss on his cheek as she sat beside him. Now he really must know that there was something wrong, they'd usually be in bed (or at least on their way there) by now!
"What are you doing here a day early?" His question cut straight to the crux of the matter. Had he always done that? Been able to see when she needed that push. Yes, she answered herself.
She took a deep breath, God she didn't want to do this. "It turns out we made a mistake. A big one."
"Which one? We made a few... " He was giving her no help.
"Our alliance with the Aschen." There, she had said it. But rather than the half-expected deluge of "I told you so's", her only reaction was a very quiet and almost un-Jack-like,
"Oh that..." She would have thought that this was not her Jack O'Neill had it not been for the rest of the sentence. "Not working out, is it? Gee I wish I'd seen that coming… Oh, wait... I *did* see it coming." This was what she had expected. It was a part of him she knew well, a part that sometimes made her smile, but mostly made her want to hit him, hard. But this time, she had no defence. He had been right, and he *had* seen it coming, and she, like everyone else hadn't believed him.
"It isn't what you thought Jack." The subtle pain in her voice caught his attention. She saw his head lean slightly to one side as his eyebrows rose, his cue for her to continue.
But this was hard.
"When I was in Washington, I went to see Janet." His eyes narrowed watching her intently, reading everything her own eyes showed. He knew not to reach for her right now, because if he did she'd crumble right on the spot. "She told me that I can't ever have children, no matter how hard we try, that we can *never* have children."
The urge to throw herself into his arms and cry out her grief was almost too much to resist and she could tell by the way his muscles tightened and his eyes shadowed with such unbearable pain that he was struggling with the same emotions. But he took her lead and let her regain enough composure to continue.
"Jack, we got into the Aschen computer network; they keep statistics on everything. In the past couple of years, without our even knowing it, they have managed to sterilise over ninety percent of the population... The other ten percent are probably just a matter of time."
She knew that he had heard her voice crack ever so slightly. She saw him move so quickly that before she had really registered his intent, she was swimming in the sensation of his arms clamped so tightly around her and his hand pulling her head to his chest while he rocked them both gently. The familiar calmness she found whenever he held her took over, allowing her to proceed.
"We don't know how they've done it, or even how they've managed to keep it a secret this long Jack... "
She felt his arms tighten subtly around her, but he lifted her chin so that he could look deep into her bottomless eyes. She already knew the question before he voiced it.
"So ... What've you already decided to do about it and how do I fit in?"
Again, his perception should have startled her. Perhaps a long time ago it would have done. But not now, it only confirmed everything she knew about him.
"Jack, we need you to help us." She was still in his arms, but there was a gap emerging between them, slight, but there non-the-less.
"To do what?" His voice had hardened slightly.
"We can undo this…" She never got to finish the sentence as he moved abruptly away from her.
"Oh here we go…" He began to walk away from her, but she followed him, determined that he hear her out. So many times they had left things alone, things that had been important to one or both of them. It was probably how their marriage had survived, the willingness to leave well alone, but this time she couldn't leave it. This time it wasn't just her marriage at stake, it was the fate of the human race.
Catching him up and making him face her she continued, almost desperately.
"Jack, we can send a message back through the stargate to ourselves, ten years ago. We stop this from ever happening."
She knew the second she had his attention, because she saw the conclusion he had drawn. The one she had known that he would, the one that was about to cripple them both.
"Stop *this* from happening?" Yes, he'd understood the implications.
"Jack…" her voice virtually pleading for his understanding.
"No Sam. Let me get this straight." She could see behind his eyes the mask of pain but the anger was there too. That had always been a lethal combination.
"Say we do this: What happens to everything that's happened the past ten years?"
And there it was – the real kicker. Her heart lurched at the prospect of what she was about to tell him.
"It won't happen." Her voice was so quiet that she hardly heard it herself. He had though, because his eyes had hardened and darkened even more. But he continued.
"So we don't go to P4C 970; we don't meet the Aschen, then.... What? "
She had known all along that his questions would be difficult to answer, but she hadn't realised how much they would hurt her. How the reality of her plan was going to cut at her soul
"I don't know, Jack… " Her admission was even quieter this time. Which seemed to add fuel to his simmering anger, an anger that although tangible, was as restrained as ever.
"Let me tell you something Sam, if you want to erase your mistakes, that's fine. My conscience is clear. I warned everybody, I threw up the red flag and *everyone* including you, shut me down." The bitterness she heard laced in his words stabbed at her very being, but he wasn't done yet. "But dammit, the *one* good thing to come out of this was enough for me to shut up and go quietly, like a good boy. I put it behind me from the moment you handed me my puck because I knew without a doubt that having you was worth it. If that makes me selfish, then so be it."
She would have smiled at the memory had the situation not been so intense, but he interrupted her flashback with bitterness and anger.
"Now you stand there and tell me, 'oh by the way Jack, now I actually believe what you have been saying to me for the last ten years, I think we have to change it. So sorry and all, but it's already been decided and we're going to change the past so this future will never exist. Deal with it.'" His eyes were positively spitting fire now, his body a mass of barely held onto rage, but still he carried on. "You don't like the way it's turned out for the planet, and you
are willing to sacrifice us for because of that. I applaud you honey, but I'm not that magnanimous anymore. I like not having to save the world, I like fishing I like the fact that the single most pressing issue in our lives was if we got a dog or not."
"Jack – I'm talking about the future of the human race. I wouldn't be the woman that I am if I put myself before that."
"No you wouldn't, but if you do this… you *won't* be the woman I know, because I won't be allowed to know you like I do."
It was there in a nutshell, her choice.
Jack or the planet.
Yet she'd made her choice and as much as she loved her husband, she couldn't sacrifice her entire planet for that love.
"We're doing this, Jack. We have to." A tear tracked slowly down one cheek as she made the pronouncement, a tear that he watched trail for a second or two, and then wiped away with is thumb. Pressing a light kiss to her lips, he whispered, "Let me know how it turns out." His own pain echoed in the raw whisper of his tone.
More tears fell as she held his hand in place over her cheek, allowing their foreheads to touch.
"Our chances are a lot better with you than without you, Jack. We know what we have to do. I am almost positive with the Aschen computers and solar observatory I can predict a flare a few hours of it happening, and we should be able to get our hands on a G.D.O. So it'll come down to accessing the gate within that window, dialling the right address and sending the message.
Against her head, she could feel the negative shake of his own.
"I can't Sam. I won't willingly help you destroy the only good thing in my life this last ten years."
With a force of will she didn't know she possessed, she pulled away from his embrace and looked directly into deep, dark liquid brown that she knew so well.
"I'm sorry Jack,"
He smiled a cruel and bitter smile.
"Yeah, so am I."
With that she turned her back on him for what she knew was going to be the last time she ever saw that man as her *husband*.
She slowly moved herself off the platform and immediately caught sight of Daniel and Teal'c. She had to brutally remove herself from the cabin, and the scene that was so recent and raw. She had a job to do, regardless of her pain; she had to do it.
Daniel took one look at her face and got the message.
"You're kidding me, he said no?" Daniel's disbelief was almost comical. Teal'c on the other hand, was his usual pragmatic self. His, "That is unfortunate," indicative of how well he understood his former Commander.
"We can still do this." Her determination was as much for her own benefit as it was for theirs. "Daniel, did you track down the G.D.Os?" From here on in: strictly business.
If he was taken aback by her biting manner, he said nothing, only answering her question. "Ah, yes and no. From what I could gather from the museum records, there's only one original remote left on display at the SGC."
"Okay then that's our next stop." Efficiency was what would get her through this, not past remembrances. Especially when that past, that wonderfully loving past wouldn't exist for very much longer. Hardened with that thought, she continued. "Teal'c, you'd better return to Chulak, we don't want to arouse any more suspicion than we already have. It'll take at least two days but we'll contact you when it's time."
"I will be prepared."
And she knew that he would be.
As the elevator doors opened to the familiar surroundings, the pang of nostalgia that jolted through Sam actually surprised her. It was all so familiar, and yet disturbingly different. There were no SF's wandering around, no alarms sounding and no SG-1.
She sensed Daniel smile slightly with the same memories, but that really annoying tour guide chipped in again.
"All righty everyone, everyone please step all the way out, we've arrived at level 28. Can anyone guess at what special room is on this floor?"
No one could possibly be *that* happy… wow. She could hear Jack in her head, knowing exactly what he would think of her… "Tour Guide Barbie"… no, she clamped him away. That wouldn't help her get the job done.
"The Gate room?" The young boy was right. Which meant people really did know about this stuff now. That felt strange, to have lived this for so long, at the highest levels of national security, for it now to be an open subject was a little strange. Even stranger was the guide's next words…
"That's very, very close... Anyone else?"
Even before her frown had chance to settle she heard Daniel comment.
"He's right. It's the Gate room." She knew Daniel wouldn't be able to resist, but she could have happily shot him then for risking blowing their cover! Now she knew how Jack had felt when they went on missions… she quickly stopped herself again, just as the guide began again.
"What I'm sure many of you don't know is that officially it was known as the "Embarkation " room because, that's where the SG teams "embarked" from. Okay, now we're walking..."
At that moment, Sam didn't know which was the most funny, the finger quotes or Daniel's bemusement. It was only as the tour all stopped in the corridor that Sam focussed herself once again, only to see a picture of them, of SG-1 as they once were. She stared at the faces staring back at her, the poignancy of the moment threatening to break her composure. It was only the timely interruption of the tour guide again that brought her from her melancholy.
"And these people compromise the famous SG-1, arguably the most important, although not my personal favourite team of the entire command."
She looked at Daniel and had to stifle a cough at his righteous indignation.
"And we're walking..."
So they walked, the sooner they could loose the guide…
As they entered the Gate Room, Sam's heart began to beat faster. It was just as she remembered it, everything was identical, save for the fact that it wasn't used and the gate wasn't real. A fact that the guide confirmed a few seconds later.
"While of course the real stargate is in Washington at the JR Reed Space Terminal, this one is a perfect replica of the original. Should you want photos, they're twenty-seven dollars each and please do not touch the stargate itself, as you'll leave fingerprints. See you on the other side."
With that she was finally gone, much to Sam's pleasure.
As they walked up the ramp, Daniel voiced his frustrations.
"This is ridiculous."
"I know, but we couldn't break away until there were more people around. Once we're in the control room…" Sam's plan to stay completely centred on the plan was obviously not being reciprocated by Daniel, who was still grumbling about the tour guide.
"Not her personal favourite SG team?"
She allowed herself a smile, grateful for Daniel's humour "Just don't ask for the photo." but her own answering smile died abruptly on her lips as they continued up the ramp.
Slowly coming towards them was a figure that was more than a little familiar, one that she knew intimately and would recognise in half a heartbeat. Oh God, he had come, he had actually come. She had to fight the smile from cracking her face in two. God she loved that man.
As he passed, he looked directly at her, telling her everything with one glance. To anyone else caring to notice, nothing of import had happened, but for Sam, it was immense. Yet, the only affirmation that he was actually there at all was in true Jack O'Neill style. Completely belying the importance and poignancy of his decision, his only words…
"And we're walking..."
She shook her head and smiled.
She had to stop herself running up the stairs into the briefing room. She couldn't believe that he'd relented, and yet somehow she had known deep down that he wouldn't stand back and watch. He may have sacrificed his instincts, his beliefs and his natural born attachment to butting in, but he'd never once sacrificed his integrity. Not in all the years she had known him. Even when it had been the hardest thing in the world not to act on their mutual feelings, when those feelings had been placed on display in the most public of ways. After that, when things between that had been so tense. If she was honest, even before that they had always walked a fine line, but while they had been on the same team, his honesty and principles had denied him the ability to act on the feelings they shared.
The Aschen had taken his career, his friends, his chance of a family and to some extent his pride. It had been so hard for him, she knew that, but he had taken their ability to love each other freely as his assuagement. And now he was going to give that and the last ten years up so that they wouldn't be able to take his honour.
She couldn't stop herself touching his shoulder and squeezing tightly as she moved to the back of him. Neither could she stop herself answering his small smile as he covered her hand very briefly with his own, for that special moment, Daniel had been utterly forgotten. She couldn't resist her question as she sat down.
"So what made you decide against getting the dog?"
As usual his comeback was immediate.
"I'm still thinking about it."
The look in his eyes told her everything that she needed to know. He still didn't like what he was about to do, but he was going to do it. She'd asked for his help, and he was giving it.
He held her gaze for another heart-breaking second, then shifted abruptly to the mass of hastily scrawled diagrams on the table in front of him, causing her to re-focus on the task at hand. She had no time to dwell on emotive subjects; she had to act. *They* had to act, and if she new Jack O'Neill at all, he was about to show them exactly how.
"While I was waiting for you two to show, I took the liberty of doing a little shopping for you." It was his first acknowledgement that Daniel was even present, but the slight glance at his one time friend seemed to erase the past, an unspoken understanding appearing between them; this was more important.
Jack continued detailing his previous actions, he may not have been a serving Colonel for a good few years, but to look at him now, you'd think he'd never been away.
"The Zats are completely operational. This, however, presents a problem."
Sam looked at the object his pen had just pushed into the centre of the table, for a second unsure of his meaning, until it suddenly dawned on her,
"It's a replica." Dammit, without their old GDO and hence the old GDO code…
"Daniel, was this the only one?"
Before he could answer her question, a familiar voice interrupted them, causing all three of their heads to snap around in unison towards the disturbance.
"Excuse me, you people aren't supposed to be…"
As soon as Jack heard the voice, he was already on his feet, standing taller than the man they once knew as Sgt. Davis.
Davis was obviously shocked to see three out of four members of SG-1, 'briefing' themselves. At first it seemed he hadn't recognised Jack, then all of a sudden, the light of recognition dawned on the Sergeant's face.
"Sergeant... what're you doing here?" Sam bit back a smile as she heard Jack stumble over the name.
"I ... I work here now. I'm sort of the operations tech advisor." Davis looked around the long wooden table, taking in the long known faces. But it was Daniel who answered him.
"Oh. Well you're doing a great job." Even though Davis smiled at Daniel, it was clear that one, he wasn't happy at the presence and two, hadn't a clue that Daniel was taking a page out of the 'Jack O'Neill Handbook of Inappropriate Sarcasm.'
"Um, this section is closed off." Poor guy, he was only doing his job after-all, when suddenly, his face cleared and an idea seemed to take root in his mind.
"You're here for old times sake." He was right, they were here precisely for the sake of 'Old Times'.
"That's it exactly." Jack answered, as Davis looked once more to the table, well more accurately at the results of Jack's 'shopping'.
"Where did you get those?"
"The Zats?" Jack's voice radiated matter of fact innocence, "Armoury... We're taking them." Sam smiled at him, when in doubt, tell the truth.
"Oh, no, no, no." Oops, obviously not the best way to gain his confidence, Jack. She decided to help him out a little.
"Sergeant, please this is really important." She acknowledged that there was probably more than just a little use of 'doe-eyes' but hey… Davis looked at Jack, who nodded in affirmation. "D'you know where our real G.D.Os went?" It couldn't hurt to ask now, could it?
"I'm not a sergeant anymore and you're not Colonels," he glanced between herself and Jack. "And you're not supposed to have that remote either..." Sam was quickly trying to think of another way around this, when she heard Daniel say,
"Oh that's good because actually we don't want *that* one we want the real one"
"It's in the White House… in the Oval Office… on the President's desk." The reply was nothing if not patronising, as if asking how the hell they didn't already know that.
Jack turned to her, "Kinsey grab a souvenir on the way down?"
Obviously he had. This was not good.
"Look guys, I don't know what…" Davis began again, but this time was stopped in his tracks by Jack, who had lost what little patience he had had.
"Ahh Wal…ter…" Wow, Sam thought, he did know his name after all! "Right now I need you to trust us. Turn around, walk away; pretend we weren't even here. I'll bring everything back I promise…" Davis looked at the table, with more than a hint of scepticism as Jack closed the deal. "…Thursday."
"Then you'll tell me what's going on?"
"Absolutely everything." All the scene needed was her husband to have held up three fingers and said 'scout's honour'. But Davis was finally sold.
Both she and Daniel thanked him. Jack smiled a self-satisfied half smile as Davis left them, reminding them all.
Immediately they returned to their plans, as Jack pointed out the flaw in their strategy.
"Ok, last time I was in the Oval office I got kicked out. Can we do it without a G.D.O?"
"Radio?" asked the archaeologist. But Sam knew that it wouldn't work.
"There's an EM dampening field around the terminal, part of the automated defences."
Jack's face gave away nothing as he spoke. "So we're about as far back in time as we're going to get."
Sam had another idea though. "I think we can still get it…"
"How?" Daniel asked.
"You." Came her reply. Jack looked at her, obviously needing further explanation.
"Daniel, you now have an obligation to tell our President how your research mission to Europa went. Especially since you have already reported to the Aschen delegation. Just divert his attention and pocket the GDO." She had made it sound so simple, but Daniel's dubious look told her that he wasn't very convinced.
"Oh yeah, divert his attention… no problem." It might have filled them all with more confidence, had he at least tried to sound assured.
She was seated around a table in their favourite restaurant, Janet on her right and Jack on her left, a cup of coffee in front of each of them. While Daniel had gone to Washington to get the G.D.O, she and Jack had needed to bring Janet up to speed with their plan.
As they had explained it to the doctor, the enormity of what they were about to do had really settled on them, leaving the mood tense and sombre. Sam knew she had to broach the subject that she had been working on: The next part of their scheme.
"I think this is the note we should send." She unfolded the paper and angled it so that both Janet and Jack could see it.
"That's it?" Janet voicing the opinion that she knew her husband shared.
"I thought about including more information, but I think in this case, the simpler the better." This made it real. It was really going to happen, and that was a difficult realisation.
"Why don't we just stick one on a rock and throw it through?" He was half-serious and her half smile showed that she was grateful to him for trying to lighten the mood a little. He knew that the finality of their actions had just hit home. But she had to deny him his levity.
"It would never make it through the automated defences."
He caught her hand in his rubbing his thumb slowly over her knuckles, "Can we at least mention who won the Superbowl in 2004?"
She almost smiled, "No."
"World Series?" It was the look of "awww please Mom" that did it.
She smiled a little smile. "No"
"Grey Cup." Even Janet smiled at that, but time was moving on and they had to meet Daniel shortly.
"I put it in my own handwriting so I'll be able to recognise it when I read it..." The smile has still on her lips as she spoke. Janet and Jack nod, but she could tell from his slightly bowed head, that he was about to say something she wasn't going to like.
"I think we should all write a note of our own. Case I don't make it to the gate, you can keep trying." His voice was quiet, controlled, but the depth of the reaction stunned her. The realisation was profound.
We either succeeded or we'd be killed trying.
This was; in its simplest form a suicide mission.
And we all knew it.
Sam stood still, her concentration seemingly focussed entirely on the hologram of the sun displayed in front of her. Yet she was fully aware of the room around her, of its occupants and the mood. She could sense that her husband was more than a little uncomfortable here, after all it was s the first time that he had ever set foot in this building and his eagerness to act combined with his distrust of the race in this building is amplifying to its peak. His tension is there, simmering away, tightly held in control until the time to act. Sam knew that they all felt the same way, but to see her husband like this compounded her own unease.
She caught his movement in her peripheral vision, listening to his velvet voice as he motioned towards the display.
"Hot in here?"
As she had done so many times before, she pushed the emotions from her mind and concentrated on the science. It was easier.
"This is a real time representation of the actual sun, recorded by Aschen satellites all over the solar system." He nodded slightly before going back to keeping watch. Janet's question came next.
"How do you use it to predict a flare?"
"I've been studying Aschen knowledge of solar dynamics for the Jupiter ignition project. There are significant changes just beneath the surface of the sun preceding a flare that are detectable by the satellite net..." She pointed to a spot on the hologram. "Look right here... If my calculations are right, there should be a flare in about five seconds."
They quieted, waiting for whatever it was that the sun was about to show them. Sure enough the flare appeared right on time. It was a beautiful representation that on any other day would look amazing. But today, it just added another sense of absolute finality to their mission.
"That's it." Janet stated with wide eyes.
"Now all we need to do is for the computer to predict another flare." Sam looked at her friend, wanting this to be over, the intensity of the moment to be channelled into action. "Have you got your travel papers for Chulak?"
"Yeah, all set." Sam held out a small piece of paper, giving her friend her final instructions as she took it.
"Give this to Teal'c. It's the coordinates he'll need." They catch each others gaze one last time, a look that means so much than could ever be verbalised.
"Daniel's here." Sam's head snapped around at the sound of her husband's announcement.
No sooner had the words died on his lips than Daniel walked through the doorway. He's carrying a small silver box, the type that he normally used to transport his archaeological evidence.
"Did you get it?" She heard Jack ask impatiently, eager to find out if the mission was a go or a bust.
"Yes." He doesn't smile as he hands the box to Jack, but there is mutual respect in their eyes.
Janet and Sam walk to stand with the men, Sam's arm snaking subconsciously around Jack's waist. He leans into her slightly, but she can feel the tension in every muscle of his body. Again, she knows that he is about to say something that she won't like.
"Sam, I think you should leave this to us now."
She had known all along that he would try this, and she had a pretty good idea of his motives, but she asked him anyway.
"Why?" Her words were calm and controlled, causing his eyes to soften as he looked at her, letting her see the fear in them. Fear for her.
"Sam, look. That's the last heavily defended place on Earth, and you know what are chances are for coming out of this." He was trying so hard to convince her without patronising her. "I just don't want to risk your life when I'm don't have to."
Part of her loved him more in that moment than ever before, he didn't realise that if they got that note through the Gate, it wouldn't matter where she was. Stepping back slightly from him, she looked straight into his deep eyes and said in a tone that brokered no argument.
His only response to her was a small, resigned nod. Noting his reaction, she stepped back into his arms and held him tightly.
They would do this together.
Somewhere in the distance a bleep was heard, then Janet's voice.
"The sun is beeping."
Reluctantly Sam left her husband's arms and walked over to the console to put the last piece of their plan into place.
"We have a flare prediction. Fifty-seven minutes from now."
They walk trough the terminal building, Jack's arm wrapped securely around her waist, a bag slung casually over his shoulder. He spared a brief nod and glance at Janet who was now descending the escalators. For someone who has never been in this building before today, Jack certainly knew his way around. It didn't surprise her.
As he guided her to a more secluded area, they walked past Daniel, who was carrying another "rock box" as her husband had taken to calling them. As they reached an isolated area, Jack let go of her while he loaded his piton gun and placed the Zat in a more useful position in the bag.
Just as he had finished, they heard a disembodied voice announce, "Outgoing travellers to Chulak, please stand by in the departure area."
"That's one hell of a boarding call." Jack quipped, she knew he was trying to lighten the seriousness of their mood. But as she stood and watched Janet walk through the Star Gate, she didn't think that there was a force in the world able to lighten her spirits, not even a force as encompassing as her husband's.
Sensing the futility of his effort, Jack took her hand and led her to the balcony, his thumb all the while brushing over her knuckles. He smiled into her eyes, his own brown pools conveying everything he couldn't find the words to say.
"Not long now." He murmured to her after checking his watch.
She realised in that second that couldn't leave it like this, with things unsaid. So looking directly into his eyes she fought to control her tears.
"Jack, promise me one thing?" He looked down at her, his eyes so soft, urging her to speak.
"Promise me you'll come and ask me for the puck a lot sooner than it took us in this lifetime?"
His eyes clouded and closed for the tiniest amount of time before he lowered his head slightly and kissed her slowly and deeply, while his hands moved to cup her face as if she were the most precious thing in the world.
As he traced the angle of her jaw, she managed a weak smile for him, as his voice sounded low and husky.
"I love you Sam, I have for a very long time."
She found it difficult to speak, unable to voice the complexity of her feelings. Settling for actions, she leant into his kiss once more, her only sound feathering against his lips. "I love you too."
Someone neither of them wished to see forcibly removed them from their moment.
"Colonel O'Neill?" She felt him pull away from her, giving himself a second to focus on the man stood at our side.
"Melon?!" For the first time since early that day she had to bite back a grin, some things never change and her husband's inappropriate sarcasm was one of them. He had achieved something she didn't think even he could do, he made her want to smile.
"Mollem." He corrected.
Jack had always had her agreement with one point concerning the Aschen. They had no sense of humour.
"Mollem." Jack corrected himself, "I'm sorry it's the war you know." Once again she has to fight the grin as he tapped the side of his head as if to add weight to the claim as Sam felt his hand tighten on hers in an unspoken warning… no giggling.
As usual the by-play between the pair went unnoticed, Mollem, obviously doubtful of her husband's motives, continued to question Jack. She couldn't blame him really; Mollem knew first hand just how deeply Jack hated his race. "You didn't come to the Anniversary celebration?"
"What's to celebrate, I say." The bitterness was back, but it was precisely what Mollem wanted and expected to hear. Jack really was good at this game.
"Surely the Aschen have proven your earlier misgivings erroneous. For all we've done."
She could feel his muscles bunch beneath his jacket felt as he purposefully allowed his hand to brush against her stomach, holding there for a fraction of a second too long. "Yes. You've certainly done your part."
Again the alien missed the unspoken gesture and the utter abhorrence with which he spoke, something that Sam thought was probably a very good thing. It didn't stop her own heart skipping a beat at his only real hint to all that they had had taken from them. Mollem spoke again.
"What brings you here?"
Sam knew that Jack was thinking on his feet. Obviously deciding in the end it was easier to tell a half-truth, rather than a full lie.
"Well, you know our friend Teal'c. I missed him at the celebration. He's coming into town. I brought him a hat." Ok, she'd got the rest of it, but were the hell does the hat part come in?
Thankfully they were spared any more questions as the 'Boarding call' announced "Incoming travellers from Chulak. Please stand clear of the Arrival area."
Jack checked his watch, not bothering to hide his glee at Mollem's reaction. She could almost hear him saying "ha! Score one for O'Neill!" in his head. Outwardly, he unassumingly stated "He's right on time."
They both watched on as Teal'c, accompanied by a younger Jaffa, emerged from the event horizon. Both were carrying staff weapons, which quickly aroused the attention of the attendants, just as it had been meant to do. This is it. Jack gave her hand a poignant squeeze, before slowly letting go completely.
As if in slow motion, the attendant walked over to Teal'c.
"I'm sorry, sir, but weapons are not allowed." Right on cue, Daniel walked through the security scanners, his box setting off the machine. She saw it and faintly heard him mumble something about it being archaeological equipment. By the time she looked back, Teal'c had walked to meet the attendant, his deep voice easily distinguishable.
"We carry these for ceremonial purposes only."
But as they had hoped for the attendant remained adamant. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to let me have it."
"Very well." With that unfortunate choice of words, Teal'c fired his weapon straight at the man's chest, killing him immediately.
At the same time, Daniel opened his box, took out his zat and removed the other attendant from the equation.
As the alarms began to fill the air, Mollem turned to Jack, who Sam could tell took the greatest of pleasures in shooting him at point blank range.
Without further ado, Teal'c dialled up the co-ordinates she'd given him while simultaneously doing his best to take out the defence system. Her husband had gone into soldier mode and had just fired the piton over the gate, allowing him the quickest access to where they needed him to go. She watched as he climbed, still as fit as he had ever been. With her attention diverted between her husband, Teal'c and Daniel, she saw that the Gate had finally activated, but she can also tell by the lasers hitting her Jaffa friend that that act had cost him his life.
She looked back to Jack, firmly pushing the sorrow from her mind. He was already on the edge of the balcony, just about to push himself off. But before he did, he turned to her with real fear in his eyes.
"Stay here!" That tone was so familiar, it was the voice of command. It may have been a long time since she had heard it, but she still obeyed it by instinct. Knowing why he had ordered me to stay put. They needed a back up, just in case, but more poignantly she knew that he didn't want he to die if she didn't need to.
With emptiness settling over her heart, she watched on as he slid down the rope. Teal'c had taken out some of the defences and Daniel was doing his damndest to give Jack a clear line of passage. But it wasn't enough, she saw him get hit, once, twice, three times. Watching in slow motion as he fell off the line. He was so close that her heart had stopped beating. But she knew that now, without the advantage of the speed of the slide, he was an easy target for the
defences. She flinched as he was shot over and over and over again, unable to stop the tears running down her cheeks. With every ounce of strength he had left her husband started to climb the steps to the event horizon, but to no avail. She knew the precise moment the Aschen System had taken her husband's life, the scream of his name from her soul marking the instant.
Knowing what she had to do, she ran quickly down the escalator, peripherally aware that Daniel's attempt had also failed, leaving another friend lying dead not four feet away from Jack's body.
Running blindly and feeling the impact of the lasers, she didn't care about the pain. Then finally, before she knew it, she was there, grabbing the note from her husband's hand. His blood coating her fingers. Then feeling the final shot upon her back, she fell side by side to with her husband, hand upon hand.
The last thing she was aware of was the note entering the event horizon.
It was over.
We were all standing by the star map running over the final details of our next mission when the sergeant's voice interrupted us.
"Who is it?" Asks the General urgently as our attention is diverted. I know that there are no teams due back so I know this can't be good. I can feel Janet get ready for action just in case.
As the code is transmitted and registered, I watch as the computer recognises the sequence. The shock in the tech sergeant's voice palpable. "It's... SG-1, sir."
"Hello..." the Colonel moves to the front of the room, hiding his surprise with his usual dose of attempted wit.
But it's Janet who voices the question uppermost in all our minds. "How can that be?"
The General Hammond turns to the Colonel, whether he is seeking the proof of his own eyes or some form of explanation I have no idea, but I have to stifle a giggle at both possibilities.
"Let's find out. Defence teams stand by! Open the Iris."
We all watch on as the iris opens, for a moment nothing moves but then something that has never happened before, does. A small scrap of paper leaves the event horizon and falls quietly to the grating of the ramp. We all hurry downstairs, eager to see what this bizarre turn of events could mean. My own curiosity peaked to its apex.
We enter and General Hammond orders the defence teams to stand down, while the Colonel walks up the ramp toward the paper. He picks it up and reads it, his eyebrows coming together in what is universally recognised as his confusion. Daniel can take the strain no more as he asks less than patiently.
The Colonel looks up, and hands the note to Daniel. "You tell me."
As he takes the note, he begins to read out loud. "Under no circumstances go to P4C 970. Signed Colonel Jack O'Neill" His voice clearly shows astonishment, as he looks at our CO. "That looks like your handwriting."
His answer is immediate. "It is my handwriting. And that's my signature."
Ok, so we all know that *our* Colonel O'Neill didn't send it, who did? My mind starts racing with possible explanations.
"Sir may I?" Janet ask taking the note from General Hammond's hands, "That looks like blood, sir."
"Have it analyzed."
With that the doctor leaves with the note in hand. I don't like the implications of what we are seeing. A blood-covered note sent from a time line or a reality outside of our own, written by the Colonel, warning absolutely against going to a specific planet. While I am busy cataloguing in my head what all of this might mean. I hear the Colonel speak.
"General, wasn't '970 on our mission list?"
Oh my God, yes it was. It was scheduled for a recon mission in three weeks time; sometimes it really surprises me that he can be so quick to assess the situation9.
"It was," confirmed General Hammond. "Not anymore. I'm not taking any chances." He looked up to the technicians in the control room. "I want P4C 970 removed from the dialling computer immediately. Dismissed."
With that, he left, leaving us all more than a little stunned at the revelations of the last few minutes.
My brain was working a mile a minute with the permutations, one of which I had to voice.
"I wonder why you sent it... I wonder when." Ok, so two possibilities were voiced.
The colonel just looked at me with those deep dark eyes of his, "Yeah, you gotta wonder."
I was only half concentrating on the figures on my laptop, my mind and imagination still taken up by the strange note that had arrived yesterday. When suddenly, I was taken back to the present by the arrival of my CO.
I turned around; brutally resisting the urge to straighten my hair or smile too brightly into his damn sexy eyes as a cheeky grin stole across his face.
"Just thought you'd like to know," he continued on as he came into my lab, picking up a small screwdriver from the bench as he advanced. "Doc Fraiser got the results back on the note thingy." I surreptitiously removed the more breakable parts of my apparatus to the back of the desk as he came to stand right in front of me.
Raising my eyebrows to urge him to continue as I saw his attention caught by the flashing light on my voltage meter.
"Oh right," he mumbled as he caught my eyes, "well it was my blood." That I could have and had worked out for myself, but he caught my attention next in a way he never had before. He went completely still, and I mean completely. No fiddling with anything, no rocking on the balls of his feet, no hands in his pockets, just still. It was almost eerie.
"My blood was on the note," he reiterated, and then paused, taking a shallow breath before continuing. "So was yours."
That I hadn't guessed at.
The look in his eyes said it all. Whatever had happened was dangerous enough for blood to have been spilled the fact that we we're together when it was spilled ignited an almost perverse pleasure in me. In him too, I could tell by his eyes.
"Just thought you might like to know, although I know it'll only make you even more frustrated cause you can't find any answers to this one." He smiled, so did I, he knew me too well.
"Just one of life's little mysteries, Sir."
He began to walk away, a smile in his eyes.
"Yeah Carter, a it is a little mystery, just like when are you going to give me back my hockey puck? You know I love that thing and you've had it *ages*" This time my smile turned into that giggle. He sounded just like a little boy, asking for his confiscated slingshot back from his class teacher.
I shook my head at him and relented. He was right, I had had it a very long time.
"If you're good and don't break anything else," I said pointedly as I saw his hand reach for the refractor on the ledge, "you can have it back later. It's in my quarters, come by before you go home."
His smile threatened to crack his face in two. I laughed and he grinned that sexy lop sided smirk of his.
"You've been taking good care of it, right? Not used it as a paper-weight, door stop?"
I groaned and pushed him out of my lab.
"See you later Sir."