* * * * *
|| Samantha Carter ||
The stars stretched overheard in a great astral carpet, from horizon to horizon, as it was. The wind had died, and the rolling dunes lay still and silent, like waves frozen mid-crash, sparkling in the twilight.
The air was dead, reverently motionless, as though this was a holy time or place and it dared not stir a single grain. The tiny granules seemed to glow, adding a milky brilliance to the atmosphere; seemed to illuminate the surface as surely as the stars, as though drawing power off their soft white light.
It seemed a different world than the one I had stepped onto five months ago.
And the man beside me was different as well, his arm slightly extended behind me, brushing my back at irregular intervals. He knew that - for the moment, anyway - it was the closest I would let him get, and he was content with that. His expression was tranquil, is feet light on the sand, and I told myself I should be grateful simply to have his attention, not to mention his affection. He was a wonderful man, and he'd made it clear innumerable times that... that he loved me.
Unfortunately, the command to be thankful remained lodged in my head, never quite reaching my heart. My heart didn't want to be here; it didn't want to be with this man. My heart was somewhere else, with someone else.
But this had never been about my heart. From the very beginning, it had been about what was in our best interests, about what would save us from the Gou'ald, what we would do to stop them.
I only wished I knew who 'we' were.
"We shouldn't go too far from the rings," I reminded Martouf, watching his eyes flicker across the pearly swells of sand and admitting that Jack O'Neill probably wouldn't appreciate the ethereal beauty as this man did. "You know those storms can spring up pretty quickly."
He slowed and stopped at the base of a steeper knoll, acknowledging this. "I simply wanted to... enjoy this while it lasted," he told me, voice hushed, as respective as the venerating winds. "I wanted you to enjoy this."
I smiled, craning my neck, staring up at the glistening points of light. How many of those harbored worlds I'd stood upon? "I am," I assured him. "It's so clear... it's beautiful. It reminds me of a book I read, years ago, about a planet of unicorns. They were gorgeous horses with horns on their foreheads, and beautiful wings," I explained. "The baby unicorns would hatch from crystal eggs and point their horns toward the sky... and just drink in the starlight. It was what they lived off... starlight. I remember thinking how... poetic that was." Embarrassed, I kicked at the sand, which seemed more like powder and less like dirt.
"Do you think we'll find any... unicorn eggs out here?" Martouf teased.
"Plenty of starlight to go around," I quipped.
He was silent, staring across the silver moor as though actively searching for the winged creatures, and I slipped back into forbidden meditation. What would it be like to be out here with O'Neill? Would I have the nerve to talk to him about unicorns? Would standing under the starscape seem cheap and trite? Would the moment be as hallowed, as sacred, as it did now?
Or would he suggest a race to the top of the steep dune? Leap out ahead in unfair advantage, cursing as I caught and then passed him, laughing as we both slipped and slid in the shifting powder, like trying to swim up a waterfall or against the spill of hourglass sand.
I could see the episode itself, he and I in dreamlike third-person point of view. I scrambled up the failing slope, grinning even as tiny crystals found their way into my hair and boots and up the cuffs of my BDUs. O'Neill wasn't far behind, his greater mass and weight pulling him down, as though struggling against quicksand. He shouted up at me, and I merely laughed. Victory was in sight, was mine... and very likely would have been if Jack hadn't flailed a grasping hand in my direction, grabbing my ankle and yanking hard. Balance was abruptly lost; I tottered for a few long seconds before falling onto my side. Gravity pulled at the both of us, and we rolled-skidded down the collapsing heel of sand, laughing even though it got us nothing but dirt in our mouths. When we finally rolled to a stop at the base of the hill, it was with his weight pinioning me firmly to the soft ground. Without pause for hesitation, for THOUGHT, he kissed me, and the kiss was everything I'd always thought I'd never have. One hand lazily caressed my cheek, my hair, my neck... and then tapped me on the shoulder.
I opened my own eyes and found myself staring to confused blue ones.
* * * * *
Martouf frowned. "Are you well?"
I could only hope that in the opalescent light he couldn't make out the flush of my cheeks, brought on by abashment as much as the impromptu passion generated by the scene. "Yeah, I'm good. Look, maybe we should head back. We-"
Eyes hooded, Martouf unexpectedly leaned toward me, and his lips came within a centimeter of mine before I leapt out of the way. My heart racing, I held up a hand to ward off any further advances. It wasn't as though he'd been after me continuously since our arrival; since our broken kiss in my quarters, expressions of love had been mainly one-sided and manifested by words alone. I suppose to him, the moment was right, and I felt almost bad, witnessing the rejection on his face. "Martouf," I reminded him gently. "I'm going home soon."
I tried to wrap a half-dozen meanings into the sentence, hoping he'd at least pick up on a few. I'm going home soon; I can't get involved with you. I'm going home soon; I've made up my mind, so don't try and change it. I'm going home; it's Jack O'Neill I want, not you. Horrible, callous, but truer than even I realized.
It would have been easier to give into him, to have given in a long time ago. Maybe then the emptiness inside me would have found something to fill itself, maybe then the dreams would cease to be based on a man who I couldn't have and didn't want me. Maybe then I would stop sending the foolish letters, the letters that were never returned. There was nothing wrong with Martouf, in any case; he was a charming man, almost perfect if you overlooked Lantesh... which I did whole-heartedly. We trusted each other implicitly, though I sometimes thought that he was trusting Jolinar and not me. He would have made a nice substitute, but that was all he would have been: a substitute. A fling. And I refused to do that to him. The feelings weren't as strong anymore - perhaps the brief blending with Jolinar was wearing off, or maybe after all this time I was simply becoming immune, numb to those feelings - but I still cared about him, as a person and a friend.
"I have something to ask you," he broached, still the slightest bit sullen at my rebuff.
We began to walk again, away from the starlit dune from my fantasies and back towards the Stargate and the rings. "What is it?"
He looked over at me, suddenly pensive. "I have been discussing this with the Council, and they agree. We should execute a decisive strike against the Gou'ald at once."
"What? Isn't that what we're doing in a month?"
"In a month," he clarified, "We are saving your planet from the System Lords and destroying sixteen of their vessels."
"You had something more in mind?"
He dipped his head in acknowledgment of that. "It's an Earth saying, I believe: Strike while the iron is hot. We have the opportunity to cripple the Gou'ald severely, not simply destroy a few ships. A great many System Lords are taking part in this assault against your planet, Samantha, which means the casualties will be divided amongst them. Apophis is not a fool; he remembers his previous attempt to wipe your people out. I doubt he will even accompany his armies to Earth."
"I'm confused," I told him, trying to even my voice. "You're saying we're doing all this for nothing?"
"Of course not. It will certainly be a setback. All we're suggesting is looking at the grand scheme of things. Why not reap the maximum gain possible?"
I had to smile at the persistence in his voice. "And you want me to help you in this... strike."
"That IS what I'm asking."
We walked in silence for a few more moments. I could see him, out of the corner of my eye, watching me unabashedly, eyes intent, and I could feel the new tension in the air. I shouldn't have been so surprised that the Tok'ra were eager to take things one step further, to milk the opportunity for all it was worth... it just made me nervous. I was ashamed to admit that if this was some other planet, if it was any place but Earth that was in imminent danger of getting blasted back into the Stone Age in a month, I would have felt differently. I would have agreed that we should take advantage of the situation.
The Stargate came into view and I automatically stiffened, thinking of the journey that I had planned on taking in a couple weeks, back home, back to the life I had so willingly abandoned. I'd continued to get letters from Daniel and Janet, sometimes with a post script scribbled hastily on the bottom and signed by Tony or Teal'c. The letters were friendly and hopeful, but never anything approaching desperate for my return. They said they missed me, they said I was needed... but the wording was polite, almost formal; either they had forgotten who they were writing to or they were angry with me.
Why be so eager to return to that? Why give up a spot on what could be a very strategic operation simply to come home to a group of people who were probably lying when they said that the base wasn't the same without me? Conflicting desires and fears welled within me as the wind began to move again, lifting handfuls of silver sand into the air. Only a month ago I'd been going insane, wanting to return to Earth and my friends so desperately that I'd actually asked permission from Jack O'Neill. I'd never received a response, never asked Jadae what he had done when she had given him the slip of paper. Maybe he never got it, I thought deliriously. Maybe she gave both the letters to Daniel who never gave O'Neill the one intended for him, because they didn't want me back, never wanted me to come back, because all I did was piss him off, piss everyone off, and they were happier without me...
I was loosing my mind, I realized distantly.
* * * * *
|| Daniel Jackson ||
"The Council feels that we should attack now, while the Gou'ald are concentrating their weapons and their attentions on this planet. Our scouts have discovered the location of one of the Mothers... without creatures like those the Gou'ald are no more! You do realize that, don't you?"
"Yeah," snapped O'Neill, earning a sharp look from General Hammond. "That's what Hathor was, right?" I nodded. "Well yeah, we know that. And you know me, Jadae, I am all up for wiping the Gou'ald off the face of the, er... universe. But don't you think we're being a little... I don't know, greedy?"
He paused for breath and before Jadae could restate her points AGAIN I jumped into the fray. "I think what Jack's trying to say is that we should concentrate on one thing at a time. Maybe this is different for you because it isn't your world but it is ours. Now you've SAID that an attack like this won't affect the Gou'ald headed out this way but what if it does? What if they figure out that we know they're coming? They could change their strategy, they could... who knows what they could do?"
"They would suspect nothing," Jadae answered, her voice surprisingly calm.
"How can you say that?" asked Hammond. 'The Gou'ald KNOW us... they know what we look like, where we're from."
She leaned forward, eyes bright and full of inspired intent. "The Tok'ra wish to help." She smiled. "In fact, the Tok'ra insist they must help. Another joint operation, if you will. We will take you to the planet of the Mother. Not only that, we will fight alongside you. We will even provide you with the proper attire so that the Gou'ald will see you and think you Tok'ra. After our victory, we will retreat to a Tok'ra world and from there you may return home, the System Lords being none the wiser." With a self-satisfied bow of her head, Jadae sat back in her seat, lapping up the impressed gaze Teal'c was sending in her direction.
* * * * *
"I have a bad feeling about this," spoke up Tony Warren almost jubilantly. "But that sorta comes with the territory. These Mothers are the ones that allow the Gou'ald to reproduce, and if we knock em out, our prospects in the future are gonna look a lot better. I'm... convinced. I can't believe I'm saying this, but let's do it."
Jack actually appeared to squirm. "Do what? We don't know where, when, who..."
"We will provide you with all of that information," Jadae assured him. The Colonel scratched absentmindedly at the back of his head but said nothing.
"What does Sam think about this?" I blurted.
The effect was instantaneous. Warren's gaze went directly to the tabletop. Hammond shifted in his seat. Teal'c worked his jaw, and Jack looked impossibly uncomfortable.
Sam - and her leaving - might have affected him more than anybody else, but even for stoics like Teal'c and jokers like Tony, the subject was touching. Just mentioning her was practically a taboo... and lead me to believe that everyone missed her a lot more than they led on. Heaven knew that that was certainly the case with me.
The sudden change of atmosphere wasn't lost on Jadae, who glanced around the table with knitted brows before looking back at me. "As I told you, I haven't seen much of the Lieutenant Colonel as of late. All correspondence between us goes through a middle-man, since I've been relocated. I did talk to Martouf shortly becoming here, however, and he told me that she said she would be perfectly happy to remain at the base, with him, and coordinate the attack from there."
"Really now?" muttered Tony.
The woman seemed generally confused by his comment, and by the choking, cloying sense of tension that had filled the room. "I'm sorry... is this unacceptable?"
All eyes went to Hammond, and I felt a twinge of sympathy for the man. Not only did he have to deal with the everyday pressures of running a top-secret, very hazardous project, for months he had been dealing with the concept that aliens were on their way, with the express goal to either wipe all of us out or take the human race as slaves. On top of that, he had something personal on his hands, something that had to do with needs and feelings more than strategy and regulations. It was a situation Jack was uncomfortable in; I hated to think how it had to affect the General, his private loyalties and his friendships. It was hard enough for those of us who didn't report to any section of the brass, of the government.
"It's acceptable," he said.
* * * * *
Tony and Teal'c shot from the room the first chance they got, Jadae and Hammond, deep in discussion, taking it slower as they headed for the embarkation room. Jack... Jack stood, paced the carpet a few times, and ended up by the window, looking out on the dialing Stargate.
Leave or stay, I wondered. Lately, I'd been a chronic abandoner, fleeing when at one time I would have stayed to comfort and console and repair, not leaving or letting go until things were right again, or at least on the road to recovery.
Another pang of guilt propelled me in Jack's direction. I'd accused him and Sam of changing - which they certainly had - but I had changed as well, in a different but no less horrible way. Somewhere along the line I had gotten lazy and given up on trying to fix things, told myself that it wasn't my responsibility, convinced myself that they could work it out on their own. At some point I'd stopped being a friend to Sam and Jack just as surely as they'd stopped being friendly to one-another. It was a travesty I doubted I'd ever truly forgive myself for.
"'Perfectly happy' my ass," muttered Jack bitterly.
I scrutinized him from where I stood a couple feet back. He and Sam... they'd stopped being friendly, but they'd never stopped being friends. He'd never stopped missing her or loving her, and he'd never stopped wanting her back -- all this I knew without even having to speak to him about it. What did that say about or team, I fretted, that I wouldn't talk to him, he wouldn't let himself talk to her, and she probably figured she COULDN'T talk to him.
We fancied ourselves proud, all of us. There was a reason it was considered a sin.
I opened my mouth to speak. I'm not sure what I would have said, and I'd never know because at the same instant Jack whirled back towards me. "Daniel, what's wrong with me?"
Behind him, in the Gate room, the aqua rush spilled and sloshed back in on itself. I couldn't answer.
Jack shook his head, eyes dark, face drawn, one hand rubbing through his hair. "W-what's wrong?" I stuttered, figuring that it was the least bit of courtesy I could extend and half-hoping he wouldn't answer.
He did, in a less-than-eloquent way. "I... I can't tell. There's just this thing and I keep seeing... he's... I don't know, but I keep seeing..."
I narrowed my eyes in confusion.
"Sand," muttered Jack, and he left me standing there.
* * * * *
Coming soon... The Adversary
The more feedback I get, the more I write... it's a vicious cycle